Toys with a Conscience

The holiday season can be a tough time for the conscience. We want to give presents to our children, but we don’t want to overwhelm them with consumerism. We’re concerned about fair trade and how things are made, but we don’t always know how to determine this. Plus we have a limited budget for presents so price is also a consideration. We have to get creative.

First, it’s good to remember how little children really want. A ball in a big box wrapped with lots of paper (could be newspaper) to rip off is always a hit. In a great column from last year, GeekDad identified the 5 Best Toys of All Time:

A Stick

A Box


Cardboard Tube


I would add toilet paper, pots, pans and wooden spoons to this list.

For great ideas on handmade gifts, check our community thread on The Annual Mothering Homemade Gifts Ideas Contest. It’s six pages and still going. Come vote for your favorite idea.

If you have a budget for store bought gifts, take a look at Mothering’s Natural Toy Review Guide 2011. It includes reviews of Dolls and Doll Houses, Baby Toys and Rattles, Art Supplies, Push, Pull & Ride, Games & Puzzles, Educational and Imaginative Play and Blocks and Stackers.

This is the criterion we used for selecting toys to review:

Must be designed for use by children ages infant-16 years.

Must be made of at least 80% natural or recycled materials.

Must be manufactured in the US or Canada or in a facility outside the US that is proven to provide fair working conditions.

Must meet all current US testing standards.

Toys like these contrast with what the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) calls the Nagging Nine, toys and games most advertised on children’s cable television networks during “Black Friday” week. According to CCFC, “Lego Building Sets, which lead the list, were advertised 415 times during these seven days. “If we want companies to stop advertising to kids, we have to stop rewarding the ones that do,” said CCFC director, Susan Linn. The Nagging Nine is a play on the title of Mothering’s article, Why They Whine by Gary Ruskin, an exclusive report on how advertising to children is designed to make them whine for new toys.

If you want to support artisan toy manufacturers who “preserve unique handmade and small batch toys, clothes and all manner of children’s goods in the USA,” check out the Handmade Toy Alliance. Make a donation to the organization or support the members with your purchases.

See the natural wooden toys that we just added to the Mothering Shop. The educational toys, arts and crafts and kids room furniture are made by Guidecraft, a 40-year-old company and leader in the industry.

Buying with a conscience doesn’t have to be cumbersome. There are plenty of companies deserving of our respect and our patronage. We just have to know where to look. Let me know how you keep your integrity intact during the holidays.




Peggy O’Mara  (101 Posts)

Peggy O’Mara founded in 1995 and is currently its editor-in chief. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has lectured and conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League International, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four.

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4 thoughts on “Toys with a Conscience”

  1. The majority of Guidecraft toys are manufactured in China. I don’t buy children’s products produced in China due to poor labor conditions including child labor, exposure to toxic chemicals in the workplace, worker’s inability to organize, long workdays and weeks, lack of rest periods and restroom breaks, substandard, locked housing, and no pregnancy or maternity benefits. In addition, the entire supply chain in China is compromised hence the large number of recalls for contaminated paints and materials.

    I understand that it is easier for Mothering to work with a large supplier but your choice to support Chinese-made goods in your store does not support your description of “quality natural toys.” It certainly doesn’t reflect my values.

  2. I make a lot of our gifts and we try not to buy anything from China which narrows it down. I’d rather spend more on a well made hand crafted toy from an Etsy artist or make it myself.

  3. One of the big hits at our house, when my children were young (7-9) was to give each child a coconut complete in the hard husk. But we did not give them any ideas how to open them. We turned them loose in the garage and with some hand tools and let them figure it out. It kept them busy for quite a while and when they did finally break into the coconuts, they really enjoyed the hard earned treats…

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