Before you are a parent you think the only thing to be concerned about with a new baby is keeping them from rolling off the bed or choking on a random object. But the 21st century has ushered in an entirely new and not-so-obvious mountain of concerns. The mountain of imported mainstream toxic toys and the many dangers they can have is a mountain every parent will face. From toys that make noise at ear-damaging decibels to toxic chemicals in everything from wood to plastics, unfortunately we can no longer assume a product is safe because it’s on a toy shelf in our favorite stores.
Why Are Safe Baby Toys Important?
A recent study found harmful chemicals in 25% of children’s toys. This is extremely alarming as children are particularly sensitive to chemical exposure due to a number of factors like their rapid metabolic rate and fast growth of organs and tissues. Chemical exposure is not only from touching toys, but mainly from inhalation of chemicals diffusing out of the toys in the room. A room full of plastic toys may at first glance seem to be wonderland for a child, but we’re seeing the opposite is true, and with the baby and toddler market being flooded with so many new high-tech and plastic toys, it’s all the more important parents do their research before stocking their own toy shelves at home.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates and enforces federal standards for children’s toys like sharp edges, choking hazards and lead paint, but this does not mean it actually tests the toys for safety before they hit the market. A toy is only recalled after the damage is done and a formal complaint is filed. Toys imported from countries with lower standards on chemical use can easily find their way onto your local toy shelves and into your child’s hands. It’s up to parents to educate themselves and filter what toys their children are exposed to.
Here are a few things to keep an eye out for and avoid:
PVC plastic & phthalates. Phthalates are used with PVC plastic to make toys flexible (bath toys, teethers, and balls are a few examples). These chemicals are extremely dangerous because of its toxicity and need to be avoided completely if possible. Choose toys made of FSC-certified wood or plastics #1, 2, 4 and 5. (Look for the sign on the bottom of the product. It normally has an arrow around it shaped like a triangle.)
- Lead. It is illegal for toys to have more than 100ppm concentration lead yet every year there are numerous recalls for toxic levels in toys. Lead can be found not only in paint, but also in plastics due to their ability to make them flexible. When these plastics are exposed to heat the chemical bond breaks down releasing a dust that can be inhaled. Lead ingestion can cause IQ deficits, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and deficits in vocabulary, fine motor skills, reaction time, and hand-eye coordination. High levels of lead can even cause permanent brain damage and death. You can limit exposure by avoiding imported painted toys and imported plastic jewelry. Look for toys that either have no paint or use water-based, lead-free paints as well check for recalls.
- Bisphenol A (BPA). This chemical is used to harden plastics. Even small amounts have shown to disrupt hormones and cause serious reproductive damage in females and males as well as other health issues. Limit exposure by choosing glass, polyethylene or polypropylene.
- Formaldehyde. Can be found in wooden toys and composite wooden toys. Just because a toy is made of wood does not mean it’s non-toxic. Formaldehyde is considered carcinogenic and is emitted from plywood and particleboards in toy manufacturing. Look for wooden toys that are made of solid wood and not pressed wood and look for the non-formaldehyde label on packaging.
Now that we have an idea of some of the dangers lurking in toys, let’s look at how to safeguard our playroom with some of our favorite non-toxic toys from companies who work hard to create quality baby and children’s products.
Wooden Toys are the Safest and Most Beneficial!
During the early infant months of birth through 6 months, babies love things they can hold and make noise with as well as put in their mouth. One of the first toys a parent will need is a teether. Teethers promote hand-eye coordination as well as gross motor development. Given it will be one of the most popular items for your babies’ mouth, our first choice is all-natural solid wood. Untreated wood is non-toxic, durable, sustainable and naturally antibacterial. Another reason is the wonderful benefits exposure to natural elements provides. There is extensive research showing the association between nature and health. Exposure has been linked to benefits such as improved attention, lower stress, better mood, and reduced risk of psychiatric disorders. The developmental years from birth to 3 are crucial so exposing your child to as much of the natural world as possible will be greatly beneficial.
This wooden teether by Maple Landmark is one of our favorites!
Made of Vermont maple this untreated teether is perfect for babies to get their hands and arms around and small enough to be comfortable in their mouth.
The next toy to add to your infants collection will be a rattle. This rainmaker rattle by Maple Landmark is made from cherry hardwood and is untreated.
The sound of the beads is great for encouraging engagement and teaches cause and effect.
Another favorite is this colorful Classic Wooden Rattle by Bannor Toys. Based out of Iowa, this family has been making beautiful non-toxic wooden toys since 2011. The bell shaped ends on this rattle make it perfect for little ones to put in their mouths and the soft sound makes it gentle on everyone's ears! It's lightweight and has 2 food-grade silicon rings. The wood is finished with beeswax/flax oil
Older infants ages 7-12 months like to pretend, build, drop, push and pull things.
This is the perfect time to introduce a first plush animal.
This organic lovey doll giraffe by Under the Nile is a great choice as it is smaller at 10" so it's perfect for small hands and is perfect to tuck in a carry bag. It's stuffed with 100% organic cotton which makes it pure inside and out! Truly the perfect bedtime buddy.
Another must have toy for your toy shelf is a great collection of basic building blocks.
We love the My First Blocks set by Maple Landmark as they are made of locally sourced, sustainable harvested maple hardwood. Blocks are one of the best toys to encourage creativity.
Now the fun begins and your baby is officially a toddler! 1-3 year old’s love to create, pretend and build. Get your little one started with puzzles and pretend food and keep adding to their block collection! Now is a great time to jump start their plush collection too! Here are a few of our favorites!
This solid wood family by Tender Leaf Toys is a great way to encourage imaginative play. Their toys are made from reclaimed rubberwood from the latex industry and their toys are hand painted with non-toxic water-based paints.
PlanToys is another company we love! Their passion for the environment, child safety and development make it a staple when filling your toy shelves. Their wooden toys are made from reclaimed rubber trees, their inks are plant-based and they use formaldehyde-free glues. They also use eco-friendly processes in every single step of production! This TableWare Set is a great first addition for pretend play.
Once your child enters the preschool and kindergarten years, they will have a longer attention span and will need toys for fostering imaginative play. Building and stacking will become more complex and is great for creative learning and problem-solving. They also introduce children to early numeracy skills like height, weight and comparison. The list goes on!
We love this farmyard stacking toy by Tender Leaf Toys as it is a fun way to teach popular farm animals as well as encourage hand-eye coordination. The individual animals can also be used in hours of imaginative play.
They also have a wonderful firetruck which is a necessity for every child.
This is a durable firetruck and comes with several accessories which can be stored within the truck.
The ages from 3-6 are filled with the desire to create and one of our favorite ways to encourage that creativity is with these Extra Large Beeswax Crayons from eco-kids. We love these crayons for their rich color and their extra large size making them great for early learners and not so gentle hands. They are made of beeswax which is all-natural, renewable, and eco-friendly. These crayons are safe and fun for children of all ages!
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