It’s my little girl’s 8th birthday next week and like all other kids she loves going to the toyshop. Even though I already got her present, she just wanted to browse a little so that’s what we did over the weekend. For many years, I have noticed that the choice of sustainable toys, particularly in the large toy shops in Ireland, and probably in other Western countries, is very limited. By that I don’t mean that there isn’t a vast array of toys, quite the opposite, but there are very few options of more, durable, high quality, sustainable toys. At the weekend, I made it my business to browse every single aisle of this shop, which is part of a large chain located in most larger towns and cities in the country.
To say I was disillusioned, angry and frustrated doesn’t even come close. Here we are in the middle of the most serious and existential environmental crisis threatening our planet and one of the biggest retail industries is pretending it isn’t happening. When I say that 95% of the toys in the shop were plastic toys, then I mean that the five remaining percent consisted of books, jigsaws and art materials. Not only were the toys made from plastic, but the wrapping contained even more plastic than the toys themselves. The trouble is, that as long as people are buying these products, nothing is going to change, at the end of the day it’s money that rules the world and there were plenty of customers in the shop.
I have always loved children’s toys, long before I ever had children I had a large collection of toys, books, dolls, games etc. which I would use in school as part of my teaching. Especially wooden toys are close to my heart and originally this had nothing to do with environmental reasons. I just like the feel of them, they are timeless and I still have some of the toys that I played with as a child.
I remember when I started teaching in Ireland we had a certain budget to spend on toys for the classroom. As I wanted to make the money go as far as I could and I didn’t want to be seen over spending, I bought some cheaper plastic toys, even though I didn’t really feel happy doing that. I wanted to give the children as much choice as possible, so off I went to get my few bits in the toyshop. Well… when I say the toys lasted a month, I might even be exaggerating. Thankfully we had a very generous principal and I was able to get some new bits but this time around I stuck to what I knew and loved.
Plastic isn’t all bad either, it would be untruthful to say that we lead a plastic free life, there are many traditional toys and games made from plastic and other materials, but they are durable and timeless and again can be passed on from generation to generation. I still have my Lego bricks and Playmobile figurines and my children play with them now.
The material is just one “problem”, it’s also the production these days, that seems to see toys as quickly disposable items not designed to last any length of time. Additionally many of the toys are produced in countries where working conditions and regulations are unethical.
It is up to us parents and educators to teach our children, that toys shouldn’t be seen as disposable, and to treat them with some respect and care. If children know they will get a replacement every time something breaks, it’s no wonder that toys last not time at all and we’re sending out the wrong message.
For some years I had to look further afield ordering my resources and presents from Germany, as there weren’t many alternative options. In my early teaching days my priority was durability, quality and educational value even though the environmental factor was always there as well. Today all of these reasons are still very valid for me, but in recent years it has become clear, that we can’t continue to abuse our planet for much longer and the signs are loud and clear. I am a mum now and one of the biggest priorities for us is to try and do our bit to preserve our beautiful Planet Earth, our home. There are many fantastic initiatives and people with great vision and amazing commitment, but we can all be a part of this movement to change things for the better.
It’s also important for our children to see that what we do matters, we are their role models and our children need to learn about the reasons behind choices. Like any other children our girls get sucked into the marketing ploys of the latest toys that are a “must have” and believe me it’s not easy to say “no” a lot of the time. That’s why it’s good to have choices up our sleeve so our children will still get nice presents and treats without feeling deprived. I know it can be very difficult to deal with peer pressure and of course we need to make a compromise every so often. Sometimes it’s simple ideas we need to make a change and to help us out in these situations, so I compiled a list with some alternatives:
Some ideas for alternative presents for children:
Stationary (nice diary, colouring pencils, pens etc.)
Voucher for books, CDs, cinema, zoo, museum, clothes, swimming pool, activities such as music lessons, art lessons, sports etc.
Voucher for a special day with the family (go to the beach, have a picnic etc.)
Voucher for a workshop
Sustainable Toys from small alternative shops
Creatively wrapped money present to save towards a bigger present
People often think that sustainable, high quality toys are very expensive but they don’t need to be. It’s more cost effective to invest in a few durable bits and pieces that last a long time, than to keep replacing cheaper plastic versions. Many traditional toys, such as wooden train tracks, shops, kitchens or doll houses can be added to over the years and again that takes the pressure off financially.
I had been ordering our toys from Germany and other places in the past and I know that’s not ideal either, as we try to shop local as much as we can. Thankfully there is a growing trend of new alternative toy shops (and other gift offers) throughout the country now and also more and more Irish based web shops that offer a more sustainable and durable selection of toys. Here is a small selection for you to check out below (I have no affiliation to any of them but have ordered from some or like the look of their websites):
There is also a growing number of swap and second hand opportunities such as Facebook groups and local flea markets for example.
Here are two great groups based in Ireland:
I hope you find some ideas useful and we can all be a part of a positive change for our children’s future.
To read more about introducing a more mindful lifestyle and being part of a positive change check out “Roots and Wings – Childhood needs a Revolution” and our Mindful Games. Thank you!
Also available now: Mindful Games for parents and educators.