Sustainable kids toys

Tuesday 11th April, 2023

So here's the thing. You used to have a beautiful house. Minimalist, modern. You used to be able to sit down on a sofa without first checking for bits of plastic.

Then children happened. Well, to be more specific in this case, children's toys happened.

Toys seem to work on a gas-like principle- filling whatever space they are put into. Yes, I'm sure there are parents out there who manage to contain their kid's toys to their bedrooms or playrooms, and whose little darlings put everything away after playing with it. However, for the rest of us mere mortals, having children means for the next decade or so (until they graduate to games consoles or phones) your previously pristine house will be filled with tat.

However, at the risk of sounding dreadfully middle-class, sustainable toys are easily the best.

There's no way around it- they are more expensive. To an extent, you are paying for the label. But these toys are also made from better materials as well as being fair trade, ethically sourced and all that malarky. And there is something nice about giving your child a toy knowing that it wasn't another child who made it.

One of the things my wife and I love about toys like the Grimms range is that they facilitate open-ended play. What does that mean? Well, a set of nice, coloured blocks can be anything- a house, hospital, pony sanctuary etc. Kids have the freedom to build and adapt it to their own story/narrative. But a Paw Patrol Battle Fortress (or anything similarly garish that ties into a loud animated TV show) can only be that one thing. Don't' get me wrong, if your child is fanatical about Bluey, Peppa Pig (shudder), or whatever- you shouldn't feel guilty about the odd bit of plastic rubbish. But sustainable toys tend to be a lot better at letting your child, well, play. Rather than just parrot the plot of a TV show.

Ruben's Barn is another personal favourite- because their dolls are actually nice. A lot of plastic dollies are just a bit stiff and un-huggable, with uncanny valley style faces and slots for half a dozen AA batteries. Ruben's Barn makes fabric dolls which are good for roleplaying and can be happily dropped, cuddled, or chewed by a toddler without breaking. Also, their baby dolls are the size of an actual baby- which will save you a small fortune on doll clothes.

Orchard Toys are my personal go-to for any board game. They're educational, without being dull, and the graphics are nice. The best test of a board game is "Can I explain the rules without my child's eyes glazing over" which all Orchard Toys games I've tried pass. Their games go from 18 months up to 8 year- so there's enough variety to make an Orchard game a regular birthday/Xmas present. My favourite thing about them is that they replace pieces and missing instructions for free! Which is useful, considering how much my daughter loves chewing bits of cardboard.

A dressing-up box is vital- and not just as a place to dump clothes that you and your spouse can't fit into any more. A lot of dressing up stuff is either made of that cheap, nasty plastic that snaps and leaves jagged edges, or polyester so flammable it will make your child into an instant Olympic torch. Charlie Crow however, does good quality, sustainable kid's costumes. As a company, they minimise fabric waste and donate a lot of resources to schools etc. Stock up on a few choice items with World Book Day (the bane of every parent's life) in mind.

Every child should have at least one wooden sword. Call it history if you have to justify it. Swords can help your child be a pirate/knight/sword-themed superhero or what have you- so there's imagination in there as well. Any castle, stately home, or site of tentative historical relevance will have a veritable armoury of weapons to choose from.

Speaking from the voice of bitter experience, it's always a good idea to explain to your child that we never hit anyone hard, or any family pet, and we never, EVER hit daddy in the nadgers. Depending on your child's bloodlust, some wooden swords may chip at the edges. Just use some sandpaper to remove any sharp bits and you're good to go.

Sustainable toys also tend to keep their value. As sustainable toys tend to be made of better materials, with higher production standards- they tend to last longer. Although the initial investment does seem a bit daunting, there is a strong second-hand market for branded sustainable toys and you can comfortably pass them down to younger siblings.

Finally, I would like to gently remind those parents reading this that having a second/third/fourth child just to get some more use out of the Grimm's Rainbow set is a false economy.

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