It’s the brave (and optimistic) parent who ventures into the toy store aisle this holiday season in the wake of the past two years’ massive toy recalls — 25 million in 2007 alone, thousands more in 2008. And this year? So far we’ve seen toys being yanked from the shelves for sins that include lead paint, hormone-disrupting plastics and choking hazards. Yet, like it or not, the holiday season is gaining on us and, if your kids are like mine, their wish list is growing by the day, if not hour.
The sheer volume of available toys offers up a good place to start, says Toronto mom of three and greenmom.ca founder, Monique Fabregas. “Quality over quantity,” she says simply, noting that many of the better toys also cost more.
Yet even some “quality” toys — from companies that we’ve come to trust — have been implicated in recalls. Big names such as Mattel and high-end toys such as Thomas & Friends, have all had issues.
“I try to stick to materials found in nature, such as wood (treated with non-toxic or vegetable-based paints, wool, organic cotton, natural rubber…),” says Fabregas.
If your child desperately wants a plastic toy, avoid the “bad” plastic — polyvinyl chloride — which is toxic from manufacture through to disposal. It often contains lead and phthalates — a family of chemicals that play fast and loose with hormones. Give the desired toy a sniff: “If it smells bad, it is bad,” points out Fabregas. It shouldn’t smell like anything at all. If it has that beach ball smell, give it a toss.
And be leery of toy stores that won’t allow you to open toys to smell and investigate them closely. The best ones are anxious to ensure that the products they sell are safe and healthy for kids.
Some brands that stand out (and are becoming widely available) include Vulli, Miyim and Sassy. Discovery Toys has also gained a good reputation. And, while it may be plastic, LEGO remains a playroom staple — which delights Fabregas, an architect, noting that LEGO has always been and remains PVC-free.
It’s important to stay on top of recalls — to ensure that existing toys get culled if there a danger to your kids and to plan your holiday shopping. Some wonderful sites include healthytoys.org and the Government of Canada’s healthycanadians.ca
Where to find “eco” toys in Toronto
• Baby on the Hip, babyonthehip,ca
• Diaper-Eez, diaper-eez.com
• Kids on the Hip, kidsonthehip.ca
• Grassroots, grassrootsstore.com
• Inquisitive Kid, inquisitivekid.ca
• KaiKids, kaikids.com
• Mastermind, mastermindtoys.ca
• Moms to Be and More, momstobeandmore.com
• Organic Lifestyle, organiclifestyle.ca
• Organic Nature, organicnature.ca
• Peekababy, peekababy.ca
• Pistachio, epistachio.com
• Scholar’s Choice, scholarschoice.ca
• Spoiled Baby, spoiledbaby.ca
• Treasure Island Toys, treasureislandtoys.squarespace.com
• Ten Thousand Villages, tenthousandvillages.ca
• Toys R Us, toysrus.ca
• Scooter Girl, scootergirl.net
• Little Footprints, littlefootprintstoys.com