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We like to joke that our kids would rather play with the box than the toy that came in it. Yet when it’s time to shop for holiday toys, we find ourselves overwhelmed with choices and feeling the pressure to buy the latest headache-inducing, battery-operated plastic gizmos.

Since our holiday shopping habits set expectations for our little ones, we're always looking for fun and festive ways to teach our kids to be good stewards of the earth. Seventh Generation is committed to helping you find options that work for your family and keep the health of the environment in mind, and we’re sharing them in our Conscious Consumer Revolution blog post series. Here’s what we’ll be thinking about this year when we’re toy shopping:

  • Choose “slow toys”. Traditional toys like cloth dolls, wooden blocks, and metal wagons might not have all the bells and whistles, but they’re the ones our kids reach for again and again. Well-made toys that encourage open-ended, imaginative play will have a longer lifespan than mass-market plastic toys that only work one way. Not only are these toys fun, they don’t require batteries — which means there’s less environmental impact (and less irritating noise.)
  • Add on to existing toys. Instead of buying new and different toys that distract from current favorites, add-ons keep your child interested in the toys he already has (a win for everyone). Expansion sets of blocks, doll accessories, extra train tracks, and craft supply refills can renew interest in a tired toy.
  • Try a toy rental or swap. Toys that are exciting in December are usually tossed aside by April, which can add up to a lot of wasted money and resources. We love the idea of a toy rental service like Green Pinata that ships a new toy every few weeks without filling your home (or the planet) with clutter. Toy swaps, which can be done online or in person, are another great way to find “new to you” toys for your child.
  • Give a secondhand toy a new home. How special would it be for your child to have grandma’s doll or dad’s train table? Little ones will have no idea their beloved toy is used, and older kids will appreciate cool “vintage” toys. With a little elbow grease, used toys can be fun and safe. Whether you’re shopping your attic or a secondhand store, here’s what to look for:
    • Family heirloom toys: Look for loose or broken parts, fix, and clean up
    • Soft toys: Check for loose eyes and noses, then wash on hot with gentle detergent inside a pillowcase  
    • Hard toys: Clean thoroughly with a disinfecting spray
    • Battery-operated toys: Look for battery leakage; avoid buying electronic toys if you can’t check that they work
    • Recalls: Avoid buying toys with no packaging or label, which makes it hard to check for recalls
  • Keep safety in mind. Choosing a toy that will amaze your child is fun, but it's vital to consider safety, too. Potentially toxic button batteries and small parts that end up in baby’s mouth cause thousands of emergency room visits during the holidays. Fortunately, most toy-related injuries are easily avoidable with a few precautions. Check out our toy safety guide before hitting the mall or secondhand stores this season.
  • Make it a scavenger hunt. If you’ve ever shaken a box to guess what’s inside, you know that half the fun of getting presents is the anticipation. Instead of a huge stack of gifts that gets ripped open in seconds, buy fewer toys and give clues to where they’re hidden around the house.
  • Give experiences, too. They might be a little harder to wrap, but a horseback riding lesson or membership to your local aquarium is a gift that will be remembered for years. If you save up the money you’d normally spend on gifts that are quickly forgotten, you might be able to take a family vacation, go to a water park, or spend a night at a hotel in your city.  

What ideas do you have for conscious and sustainable toy shopping? Join the conversation in the Generation Good forum.