Train up a child in the way they should go: and when they are old, they will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6
The toy industry is massive – it generated over $20 billion in sales last year and made a huge impact on the environment. Plastic toys, which tend to be inexpensive and vibrantly colored, account for 90 percent of the market,. And while they pose the same risks as any other plastic item, these playthings have short life-spans and are often impossible to recycle. Sometimes they only last a few days or weeks before being broken.
One of the things that separates plastic toys from other plastic objects is that they’re essentially destined for the landfill.Plastic toys pose a unique challenge because they’re typically composed of other materials too, such as metals. The recyclable components can’t be separated out, and become prohibitive for recycling centers,
Environmental experts say to look to the products of eras past ― when toys were made from durable materials that could be passed down from one generation to the next. Before World War II, heavy-duty toys were the standard. But once metal became hard to come by, plastics took over ― and have dominated the industry ever since.
Look for Items made from wood, cotton, metal and natural rubber as alternatives to plastic toys.
And why not buy your child/grandchild an experience rather than a plastic toy? Here are some ideas:
1. Tickets to an event. Give your child tickets to an event that allows them to feel grown-up, special, or just something to look forward to. Most of all, it’s something to do together.
2. Magazine subscriptions. Not only does she look forward to receiving mail every month, but magazines such as these that are low on fluff and high on quality give a child a on-going dose of fun education and encourage their literacy skills!
3. Classes. Encourage what your child loves or is good at. Be it dance, art, athletics, horseback riding, music, storytelling, or carpentry, give your child a chance to enhance their skills doing something they love or want to learn. The only word of caution here is to book the classes before you gift them – it’s all too easy to promise this gift and then not follow through on actually booking them.
4. Memberships. If there’s a zoo, aquarium, museum, theatre, or music venue in your area, gift your child a membership so they can attend regularly. Not only will it provide on-going events together, but you’ll get to explore more in depth each time you attend. These are especially good for large families, as typically getting a “family rate” is significantly cheaper than purchasing a day pass once or twice.
5. Dress up clothes. Dress-up clothes used to be hand-me-downs from Grandma, so visit your local thrift store and fill your dress-up wardrobe with inexpensive, REAL clothing (not the cheap Disney pre-made stuff that only allows your child how to pretend to be one movie character). Our favorites are aprons, old-fashioned shoes, feather boas, fans, hats of all sorts, old ball gowns, scrubs, and the like.
6. Repurposed play food & kitchen items. Put together an entire kitchen of play food by collecting used containers from your own kitchen, such as spice jars, salt & pepper shakers, and empty boxes (such as from baking powder, cornstarch, sugar, and baking soda), then cleaning them out well and carefully taping shut any sharp or loose edges. If they’re already “pretty” enough as a gift, leave them be, but if you want to “prettify” them, paint and decorate them to make them look just right.
7. Their own travel supplies. Whether it’s a toiletry bag to keep their toothbrush in the next time they spend the night at Grandma’s or a backpacking backpack all their own, having their own travel bag or supplies for on the road gears children up for adventure and helps assuage fears of the unknown by fostering independence. If you’ve traveled away from home before, perhaps slip a few photos from the trip into the gift as well.
8. A piggy bank. Help your child begin to learn important budgeting and saving skills by giving them a piggy bank.. You can seed the piggy bank with a cash gift too if you so desire!
9. Music. Music is the language of the soul and can stir the heart, the soul, and the mind – so whether you want to gift your child classic rock or classical rhapsodies, give a gift that can inspire for years. My husband and I still return to music we first heard decades ago when we feel the need to dance, grieve, or just sing at the top of our lungs while we do family housecleaning – and our children do the same with the music they each love.
10. Musical instruments. Listening to music is essential, but making it and creating your own sounds, melodies, and rhythms is even more so. Whether it’s small, like shaker eggs and maracas, or large, like a guitar or keyboard, the ability to create music informs and shapes the mind AND spirit.
11. A photo album. Whether blank, filled with photos, or gifted with a small camera, a photo album helps create the story of one’s life. Whether the child uses it to tell the story of a single event or the events of their life, this can become a treasured item for years to come.
12. One-on-one outings. Do an activity together of the child’s choosing, such as skating, swimming, skiing, bowling, painting – you name it! Intentional time together having fun is the best part of this gift.
13. Nature up-close. Give a gift that will help your child observe and interact with nature on a regular basis. A few ideas include a butterfly garden to watch caterpillars morph into butterflies, a bird feeder + bird seed + bird field guide a bug house, or even just a magnifying glass, a pair of binoculars, or a telescope. If your child or grandchild loves to really get in and study things, a high-quality kid’s microscope also be a great gift (for studying puddle water, of course!).
14. Their own kitchen tools. It has surprised me over and over, but some of my kids’ favorite presents have been their own tools to use in the kitchen when they help us cook. Invest in simple-but-sturdy whisks, wooden spoons, measuring cups, and measuring spoons
15. Their own work tools and outdoor equipment. Give your child their own gardening tools, their own workshop tools, their own fishing rod, their own hiking stick, or their own gardening gloves. These “just like Mom and Dad’s” type tools give a sense of independence while emulating their role models AND give them the tools to discover the world – literally.
16. A watch. Not only does having a watch help a child develop a sense of time and how quickly a certain period of time passes, but it gives a sense of independence. Knowing when an event will happen or knowing that they have 15 minutes to complete an activity and it’s their responsibility to finish in time can be a very empowering, encouraging thing.
17. A calendar. Whether it’s a calendar with kittens on it or a homemade calendar with family photos, a calendar provides a sense of connectedness to what’s going on in the family. This can be an especially fun gift for kids in the 6-9 year old range who are starting to develop a sense of longer time periods and who want to KNOW how long it is until vacation starts or when someone’s birthday is or when a certain friend is coming to play.
18. A fun or fancy bath towel. It’s simple, but having your own, designated, super-amazing hooded bath towel that turns you into a shark or a beach or a frog or a duck makes bath time fun for years on end.
19. A sleeping bag. Not only can a sleeping bag be a fun new place to sleep, but it can be a Cave of Wonders to be explored by flashlight, a place to escape to read books by yourself, or the top of a living room fort.
20. A special article of clothing. Give one article of clothing that you know your child would really love and that they don’t need. Perhaps a fancy dress, a beret, a certain style of jeans, a scarf, a piece of jewelry, or a tie-dyed t-shirt.
21. Art and craft supplies. When the supplies are on hand to just CREATE, amazing (and messy) things happen. Fill a basket with supplies you know your child will use – everything from googly-eyes and pom-poms to sparkly paper and scissors – and include a few items your child hasn’t used before, just for the fun of it. It’s funny how new paper and unused supplies never cease to inspire.
22. Books. Books inspire children to explore worlds and emotions they wouldn’t otherwise discover – and in often delightful ways.
23. Games. A well-designed game can provide hours of entertainment all together as a family.
24. Puzzles. Again, these are waaaaaaay more fun to do as a family than all alone, so find a few puzzles that can be done by people of all ages in your family (or work multiple puzzles at multiple levels).