By Stevanne Auerbach
Buying the right gift for your child always poses a challenge. This gift list makes it easier by assigning added value to products from companies that are thinking green and being socially responsible.
Over the past years I wanted to recognize those companies striving to make better, safer, and more natural toys; companies making products that help children learn about the environment or providing leadership in making environmentally safer manufacturing processes.
We launched “The Dr. Toy Green Toy” award last year giving the first to Blue Orange Toys and this year to the Green Toy Company, both located in San Francisco. These are two of the companies, among others, included in this gift guide who have launched a campaign to better the environment by making a promise to its customers and a commitment to society to both make products that are safe and high quality and creatively use recycled, kid-safe materials. In the case of the Green Toy Company, it has adopted business practices that keep manufacturing local to California, which saves in carbon emissions and creates local jobs.
Expand the awareness of GREEN by starting your own garden, recycling, borrowing books from the public library, and showing your children how to sew, fix things, be creative, use their imagination, not waste food or water, walk whenever possible, share toys, and, most of all, learn more about why we must each change and become more earth friendly.
Hope you can locate the right toy from among these for the children on your holiday gift list.
1. Action Products—OLogy Germ Soaps—Helpful
$14, 4-12 yrs., 800-772-2846, www.actiontoycompany.com
Interesting and innovative concept to help your child learn about germs by making them—in soap form. Easy steps are outlined in a fact-filled instruction booklet. This series is produced in cooperation with the American Museum of Natural History and focuses on authentic, educational experiences, while appealing to a child's sense of fun, exploration, and wonder. It is a great way for children to learn science with hands-on experiences.
2. ALEX—Learn to Write!
$6.99, 3-5 yrs., 800-666-2539, www.alextoys.com
An excellent portable double-sided erasable board to take on a trip or use at home. Turn a wheel, select an A to Z picture, and trace the letter. Good way to introduce your child to writing letters. Safe, washable, water-based blue ink marker included. Wipes clean with a damp cloth. Easy introduction to write the ABCs. Printed on recycled paperboard with soy ink and water-based varnish.
3. Blue Orange Games Pengoloo—The Fun South Pole Eggspedition!
$29.99, 4-8 yrs., 415-252-0372, www.blueorangegames.com, info@blueorangegames
The Great Egg Finding Memory Game! Our penguins are ready to play with your child and the whole family. Roll two colored dice and lift two wooden penguins to find the matching hidden eggs. Be the first to collect six penguins with their eggs on your iceberg to win. Memory and a little luck will help you succeed in this clever South Pole Eggspedition. Skills developed in this game include: color recognition, visualization, memory, and social skills. Expand memory and visual perception by remembering egg position. Placing penguins in numerical order also strengthens number association. Good to follow up playing the game by reading about penguins and seeing a film. This company replants two trees for everyone that is used for its production.
4. Blue Orange Games Double Shutter Junior, Shut the Super Box,
$21.99, 6-10 yrs., 415-252-0372, www.blueorangegames.com, info@blueorangegames
Arithmetic is more fun with Double Shutter Junior. Roll the dice and add up the dots to shut tiles of your choice. The tile total must match the dot total in any combination you want. Only flip a tile from the second row if the tile in front of it has already been shut. The player who shuts the Super Box or has the least amount of points remaining wins the game! Skills developed in this game: include number recognition, arithmetic, strategy, and probability.
5. Creativity for Kids Medieval Garden
$24.99, 6-8 yrs., 800-311-8684, www.creativityforkids.com
Medieval Garden is a new garden and growing kit. Castles and dragons have attraction for children, so it's a wonderful setting to create a garden. Use metallic paint to decorate the castle dish, tower, and resin dragon. Add soil, wheat grass, purple ruffles, basil seeds, and water, and then watch the garden grow. It's the perfect hiding place for mystical dragons to roam. Kit is a nice combination of pretending and gardening with a medieval theme.
6. EDC Publishing See Inside Planet Earth
$12.99, 7-12 yrs., 800-475-4522, www.edcpub.com, email@example.com,
From frozen deserts to steaming jungles, our planet is amazingly rich and varied. But it is also under threat. Take a closer look at the challenges facing planet Earth today and discover what we can each do to make a difference. This colorfully illustrated book features a hardcover book with flaps. The book is produced from well-managed forests, controlled sources, and recycled wood or fiber.
7. Funrise Toys Tonka Go Green Garbage Truck
$39.99, 3-9 yrs., 800-882-3808, www.funrise.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Go green! This new free wheeling truck teaches environmental responsibility and behavior. This life-like vehicle recognizes whether recycled material is placed in the proper bin, provides positive messages that reinforce the need to recycle, and includes real recycling action sounds! Featuring hands-on play with a waste sorting lever, waste bins, and truck driver figurine, this truck is sure to offer hours of fun and encourage imaginative play. Great new concept and one that families who are striving to teach children about social responsibility will find a great addition.
8. Green Toys Green Toys Cookware & Dining Set
$39.99, 3-12 yrs., 415-829-9971, www.greentoys.com, email@example.com
Young chefs will enjoy playing with their make-believe culinary treats that have real benefits for the earth as young chefs concoct them with the environmentally friendly Cookware and Dining Set from Green Toys™. Made of recycled plastic, this 27-piece set comes complete with a Stock Pot and Lid, a Skillet, 4 Plates, 4 Bowls, 4 Cups, and 4 Place Settings (Fork/Spoon/Knife). The Green Toys Cookware and Dining Set is made locally from recycled plastic milk containers that save energy, reduce landfill waste, and lower greenhouse gas emissions, all in the name of Good Green Fun™. This product and company won the the Dr. Toy's Green Award for 2008. What a sensible concept to find recycling play products made in California.
9. ImagiPLAY PuzzlePlay Rainforest
$19.99, 3-5 yrs., 800-882-0217, www.imagiplay.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a playset and puzzle in one! Kids will engage in hours of imaginative play with enchanting creatures of the Rainforest, then challenge the analytical side of their brain to piece the puzzle together. Made from rubberwood, an earth friendly hardwood, this versatile 18-piece plaything is sure to delight while sparking the curiosity about these wondrous animals.
10. KAPLA Kapla 200 Piece Wooden Building Set
$69.99, 3-12 yrs., www.kaplatoys.com, email@example.com
Enjoy the newest version of Kapla 200 natural toned wooden planks made of marine pine from France. This is a popular building set and enables variety and hours of construction and learning fun. Create castles and creatures and landscapes and cityscapes using imagination and gravity. There is not a single snap or screw or interlocking part. Kapla is lightweight and suitable for young builders and older experts. It is a unique open-ended building toy introducing kids and parents to Kapla stacking, building, designing, engineering, and construction. Includes an illustrated instruction manual with basic building techniques and packaged in an attractive box for easy storage. Perfect for the entire family to play with.
11. Idbids Idbids Waverly Eco-friendly Starter Kit
$39.99, 3-9 yrs., 877-443-2437, www.idbids.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
In the land of green, little is the new big! Meet the Idbids, characters who want to find little partners who discover the big part they can play in keeping our earth happy, healthy and green-one iddy biddy step at a time. Children are invited to join the lovable Idbids to learn the steps they can take to keep our Earth happy, healthy and green. The Idbids Waverly Eco-friendly Starter Kit contains one plush Waverly toy handcrafted using 100% organic Egyptian cotton, which has been colored with natural organic dyes! Also included in the kit is an organic cotton cinch sack for the child to wear, “iddy biddy steps for a greener world” storybook, the Idbids Field Guide-both printed on recycled paper with eco-friendly inks-and an online reward program. Waverly, the water drop Idbid, is a little dreamy, very sweet, and loves a good laugh. Of course, as an Idbid, he also has a serious side. Waverly is particularly, and deeply, concerned about protecting the earth's water resources and keeping them clean. Waverly, along with his friends, Scout the cloud and Lola the flower of the bunch, teach kids that their “iddy biddy steps make a big difference.” The Idbids Field Guide cleverly simplifies environmental sustainability for children and lets children track their progress.
12. ISEO Chemdis Modena the Racer
$19.95, 2-6 yrs., 877-289-0730, www.rubbabu.com, email@example.com
This is a new and innovative vehicle that will fascinate your young race car driver. For the budding Formula I or NASCAR fan, this car has all the characteristics for little minds to imagine the wonder of a grand prix race. This unique tactile racer has classic beauty and is very much a toy at the same time. Most popular in a red body with wide black tires and red hubs, it is soft and smooth to the touch, made of 100% natural rubber foam and, therefore, is biodegradable like all Rubbabu products. Covered with brightly colored nontoxic flocking, it is available in red, turquoise, orange, green, blue, yellow and black. This is a racing car that runs easily on floor or carpet. The Modena will not damage your furniture! This squeezable racer encourages tactile stimulation and is great for little ones to roll around. The toys made in India are super colourful, velvety smooth, and soft to the touch, yet sturdy enough to handle years of abuse. The products are all safe and well made and offer a lot of play value.
13. Kids Think Big Think Green!
$15.50, 3-8 yrs., 917-297-4537, www.kidsthinkbig.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Think Green! is the first children's book in history to have its own eco-audit on the back cover. The eco-audit shows how many resources were saved printing Think Green! on recycled/post consumer processed chlorine free paper. Maybe Think Green! will set the trend for all books. This book introduces and educates our youngest generation on ways to think and act green through colorful illustrations showing simple everyday ideas for children to help keep the earth clean and safe for all people, animals, fish, and birds. There is a page for the children to write and draw in their own ideas!
14. Maple Landmark Montgomery Schoolhouse ABC Blocks
$53.00, 18-36 mos., 800-421-4223, www.maplelandmark.com, email@example.com
A set of 28 blocks with a proportion assortment of letters and numbers for creating words and making arithmetic combinations. Each block is printed with letters, numbers and simple pictures such as a chair, tree, hat, duck, or telephone for word and object recognition practice. The 1-3/4" cubes are cut from high quality local rock maple and sanded smooth. Each product is proudly stamped with “Made in Vermont” on the package. Children enjoy playing with these blocks that are easy to build and stack.
This company has made a commitment to the community and has continued to grow and thrive in Middleberry, Vermont.
15. Maple Landmark Made By Me™
$3.95, 5-8 yrs., 800-421-4223, www.maplelandmark.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Children will enjoy this creative kit that will allow them to construct a wooden vehicle. Each single kit comes with a vehicle body and four unfinished wheels and axles for assembly. The body is about four inches long, crafted from pine and sanded smooth. Choose from a truck, tractor, train or tugboat. Assembly is easy with some glue and a hammer. The train engine kit also comes with an unfinished smokestack. Easy to follow instructions are included. Young builders can decorate with crayons, markers, paints, glitter and anything else. This is a wonderful product that will keep children engaged in creative playtime. Maple Landmark is named after the Maple Sugar business and farm his family operated for more than 65 years.. The products are classic and stem from the traditions of early craftspeople making a variety of toys from wood.
16. OWI Robotic Arm Edge
$ 53.95, 10-12 yrs., www.robotikitsdirect.com
(Also available from Lawrence Hall of Science Gift Shop)
The Robotic Arm Edge is the newest version of award winning Robotic Arm Trainer. Users can command the gripper to open and close or rotate in a variety of base, elbow, or wrist type directions. The Arm can lift and carry up to 100 grams of weight. Five gearboxes, joints, and motors power this unique product. Also included on all five-gear boxes is an innovative search light design on the gripper and a safety gear audible indicator to prevent any potential injury or gear breakage during operation. Robotic Arm Edge is designed for the future engineer who has some experience assembling kits with small parts.
17. Sprig Toys Sprig Adventure Series Discover Rig™
$59.99, 3-6 yrs., 970-472-0321, www.sprigtoys.com
This is an exciting new environmentally attuned product. Your child will be able to power a new line of toy vehicles with lights and sounds. Made from Sprigwood™, a child-safe, bio-composite material derived from recycled wood and reclaimed plastic, the Sprig Adventure Series harnesses the natural energy of push- and pump-action play to power lights and other electronics-all without batteries. The various characters are wearing LED-lit hats that plug into durable, attractively designed vehicles and engage preschoolers with audio that guides them through exciting adventures as they play. The rugged, kid-powered and totally green adventure vehicles are the first products from this new, environmentally responsible toy company created by award-winning industry veterans. The series is built around The Discover Rig™-a sturdy, battery-free vehicle with a removable push bar. The Discover Rig™ is powered by preschoolers' natural kinetic energy. When a child rolls the toy forward, it triggers the generator that powers both the vehicle lights and plug-in characters, taking the child on a self-powered safari of the imagination. In keeping with the dedication to produce green toys, no decorative paint is used and packaging is minimal and earth-friendly. The kid-powered electronics precludes the need for batteries. So Sprig Toys, made in Canada, does not contribute to the glut of used batteries that, in just a year, totals enough to reach the moon.
18. Wham-O Re-Flyer Recycled Frisbee Disc
$8.99, 5-12 yrs., 888-942-6650, www.wham-o.com, email@example.com
Whether you're in the backyard or schoolyard, or at the beach, lake, or park, keep the action alive with the Frisbee® disc! New from Wham-O is the Re-Flyer™ Recycled Frisbee® Disc, made from 60% post-consumer recycled plastic and packaged using recycled cardboard. This is a green and socially responsible product for lots of physically healthy activity that offers hours of endless fun. This product won the Dr. Toy's Best Classic Toy for 2008.
19. Wild Republic Bindi Outback Adventure Talking Doll
$19.99, 3-5 yrs., 800-800-9678, www.wildrepublic.com
This is a new product that offers some inspiration as well as value. The company, Wild Republic, in a partnership with Australia Zoo, offers products inspired by Bindi Irwin. The highlight product in the line is the fully articulating Bindi doll. Recorded with Bindi's real voice, the doll recites several different environmental phrases that send a powerful and relevant message direct to children and empower them to know that they can make a difference in their world while they engage in imaginative, adventure play with the doll. Complete with accessories for pretend wildlife and nature exploration, the 10-year old real life daughter of the late Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, Bindi is completely involved in the development of the product line and the messages that the doll says. As a brand of toys designed to educate children about the wonders of the wild through creative play, Wild Republic and Australia Zoo communicate the excitement of nature through the Bindi doll. In addition, all royalties received by Australia Zoo from sales of the Australia Zoo Bindi Irwin toy range go directly to Australia Zoo's conservation programs such as Endangered and Priority Species Breeding, Field Study, Habitat Acquisition, and Animal Rescue.
20. Zabazoo Stonees
$24.99, 4-12 yrs., 877-528-5252, www.zabazoo.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
A fundamental concept as an early childhood construction product, Stonees are colorful, easy to use, rock-like contoured shapes that offer an alternative to traditional wooden blocks or plastic pieces that stick together. Stonees are actual crushed stone that is rebonded and sealed. The colors of the Stonees are stone pigment, not painted or dyed. It is an open-ended educational toy perfect for development of fundamental skills as well as stimulation of imagination and creativity. By handling, stacking, building, and balancing different structures, children use fine and gross motor skills, problem-solving abilities, creative concept thought, and imagination, while also applying an underlying eco-awareness. This creates a careful tactile experience that engages kids and keeps them coming back to build different and more challenging structures.
A Partial Guide to
Local Toy Stores
The Ark Toy Store
1812 Fourth St., Berkeley
Toy Go Round
1361 Solano Ave., Albany
Sweet Dreams: Candy and Toy Store
2901 and 2921 College Ave.
www.sweetdreamscandy.com, 549-1211 and 548-8697
Games of Berkeley
2151 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
Five Little Monkeys
Mr. Mopp's Children's Books & Toys
1405 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley www.shopinberkeley.com, 525-9633
Boss Robot Hobby
2953 College Ave., Berkeley
Grove Street Kids
1644 Martin Luher Kng Jr. Way, Berkeley
A Child's Place
1898 Solano Ave., Berkeley
5511 College Ave., Oakland
Lawrence Hall of Science—Discovery Corner Museum Store
Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy, author of 15 books and hundreds of articles on toys and play, is the only Ph.D. in child development evaluating the best developmentally appropriate educational toys and children’s products for Dr. Toy’s Guide (www.drtoy.com). Dr. Toy is the author of Dr. Toy’s Smart Play/Smart Toys, a book that provides tools to enhance the child’s “PQ” (Play Quotient), which is available for sale at Habitot and The Ark Toy Stores. She will be doing a special play and toys event on Jan. 10 at 11 a.m. at Habitot on Shattuck Ave. for parents and kids.