Note: This article was originally published in 1991, and the products and resources mentioned may not still be in existence.
About this time of year, the handier of us on staff cut out of work an hour or two early and head home to our workshops to put the finishing touches on a doll house or a wagon. I'm usually halfway through a desk or a dresser for my daughter (which I typically finish at 2 a.m. on Christmas morning, sometime after I've hung the stockings by the chimney with care).
This year, however, is different. My daughter wants "real toys."
After a few frightening visions danced in my head (mutated action figures, bleeping/zapping/zooming video-game heroes, etc.), I bravely ventured forth. And here, fellow parents, is the good news: There are toys out there that are in keeping with your values and your kids' idea of fun — and that can be delivered to you by tree time.
Wishful thinking, you say? Well, not one to leave such a serious sheep to chance, I called in the pros. Last month, kids from MOTHER's extended family played games, read stories and pushed trucks. The results? A kid-tested treasure chest of toys that will provide hours of fun and learning about conservation and saving our planet.
This combination story/tape/stuffed rabbit almost caused a brawl when it was time for the children to choose a toy to take home. Frolic is a snowshoe hare (13 inches long, snow white, fluffy, soft and snuggly, with wide feet indicative of his name) who learns friendship and self-discovery as well as the dangers and delights of the Arctic north. All the children loved Frolic and his story — he really is cute (I don't use that word freely). Kids can learn about endangered species, the animals of the Arctic and friendship. It's suitable for a variety of ages, from the wee-est ones to those who can read stories to themselves. The tape, book and rabbit can be ordered separately, but the combo is $41.95 from the Smithsonian Wild Heritage Collections through Soundprints Corporation. The Soundprints catalog features many tales of endangered species, and children's books on topics such as the rain forest.
Save the World
The Save the World game is designed to involve the entire family in vital ecological issues: the ozone layer, endangered species, the great forests of the world and our oceans, rivers and lakes. Each player guides a colorful "endangered species" playing piece across a beautiful "world board," answering questions along the way about ecological issues. The first player to collect the correct number of "environment tokens" — the keys to developing a more ecologically balanced world — is the winner. The rules are easy and our kids had fun playing — and practically whipping the adults. For two to six players ages 9 and up, from Crown & Andrews/USA. Available at stores around the country for about $20.
Extruded from 100-percent post-consumer recycled high-density polyethylene (recycled milk cartons), these blocks have the look and feel of real wood. But unlike traditional wood blocks, no trees are cut, and they're waterproof, warp-proof, crackproof, nontoxic and can be cleaned with soap and water. Best of all, no splinters! The kids found the shapes and colors fun and thought these were "better than the 'regular' blocks because they save trees." Available in nine shapes and three colors. The blocks range in price from $1 to $5 a piece, all the way up to $59 for a 28-piece starter set.
Holgate's Recycling Truck
Fire engines and army trucks are a thing of the past. As one six-year-old put it, "I like my fire truck, but this is like the truck that comes to our house to take away what we used to throw out." Well put: Playing with this truck reinforces what kids see happening around them. It comes with two peg people and three barrels for sorting various recyclable materials. The 9-inch truck has a removable roof and is safe for ages 2 and up. Available at toy stores for about $23. Comes with a lifetime guarantee.
Save the Forest
Children as young as five can learn about ecology with Save the Forest. Follow the path through the forest, finding animals, collecting litter and scoring points. Lots of activity for players, including collecting puzzle pieces to form animated forest scenes. A fun game that teaches kids to respect nature. For two to four players. Order from The Developing Child for $16.