If you've ever stepped on a Lego, you know the frustrated feeling of childrens’ toys scattered around the house. A dedicated playroom is great for containing the mess of toys, but it's hard to know what belongs in the playroom. Children spend hours sitting on the floor and exploring every corner. Do you know what chemicals are in the cleaning products you use? Young children seem to put everything in their mouths. Do you know where their toys were manufactured or the materials of which their toys are made? Where can you find high-quality and organic toys? When do they have too many toys?
Play is an integral part of childhood development, so it's wonderful to let children explore their imagination, develop social skills, and practice small motor skills. It's important, though, to be cognizant about the toys, decor and other items in a playroom to ensure they aren't doing more harm than good. So where do you start?
Choose Open-Ended Toys | Open-ended toys are those that can be used in multiple ways. From day-to-day and as a child grows, these toys grow with them. Blocks, magnetic tiles, play food, dress up clothes and dolls are examples of open-ended toys. A cardboard box is the quintessential open-ended toy. These toys encourage children to practice open-ended play, through which they use their imagination, problem-solve and explore creativity. Open-ended toys also last longer and engage children over a larger age range, thus reducing purchasing, waste, and clutter.
Purchase Organic Toys | Although toys are increasingly safer, many toys are made with toxic chemicals. In the United States, some toy companies must report chemicals that are present in their products and the data is available through an online searchable database. Cotton is often grown with synthetic fertilizers and plastic is made from fossil fuels. You can reduce the likelihood of unwanted chemicals by purchasing organic toys such as fabric dolls made from organic cotton or organic wooden blocks free from lead and BPA.
Buy Fewer Toys | Children do not need a lot of toys. In fact, research shows that fewer toys serve children well. Too many toys, and particularly closed-end toys, leave children feeling overwhelmed with too many options. Fewer toys allow children to play with toys longer, learn more from them, and use their imagination to discover different ways to play. Limiting the collection of toys in a playroom also reduces stress of clutter, saves money on unnecessary purchases, and reduces waste when children outgrow their toys. Fewer toys is a win!
But there are still many high-quality, organic toys that make great additions to a playroom. The following organic toys and open-ended toys help keep a playroom fun, educational and sustainable.
Organic Wooden Blocks: Made from real-wood that is 100% lead- and BPA-free. Blocks offer endless opportunities for creativity.
Organic Cotton Plush Toys: Machine-washable with lots of different styles for infants and young children.
Play Silks: Large colorful scarves that children can use for all sorts of imaginative play from forts to dress up to dolls.
Wooden Play Toolbelt and Tools: Children can fix anything and everything around the house with their own set of pretend tools made from sustainable rubber wood.
Wooden Dollhouse: Made from natural wood, this dollhouse is not decorated so children can decorate it themselves.
Photo by Michal Parzuchowski on Unsplash
Try a Natural DIY Home Cleaner | Ditch the chemical-laden cleaners and opt for a simple alternative you can make at home. Castile soap is a great option, and it can be mixed with just a couple of other ingredients to make a quick and easy everyday cleaner that won't leave your playroom stinking like synthetic chemicals.
Limit Use of Antibacterial Products | Despite providing a sense of cleanliness to many, research suggests anti-bacterial cleaning products might cause more harm than good. Without killing the bacteria, the products impact the bacteria enough to allow them to evolve defenses against the chemicals. Overuse of anti-bacterial products, particularly in households, where it's not all that helpful or necessary, has resulted in superbugs which are becoming resistant to traditional anti-bacterial products, like medical antibiotics. In fact, the Federal Drug Administration in the United States banned use of anti-bacterial components in certain products as a result. Stick to regular soap and simpler cleaners.
Clean Less Often | Really
In his book Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child's Developing Immune System, the co-author, Jack Gilbert, explains that a little bit of dirt and germs in and around young children helps stimulate their immune system and encourages it to explore its surroundings. He suggests that increases in conditions like asthma and allergies in developed countries is related to over-protecting our children from the "elements" of the real world. Save yourself the time, money and stress of feeling like you always need to clean. A few germs and dirt in the playroom might just be the key to a strong immune system for your children.
Kids creativity: let them use their playroom in different ways
Furniture and Decor
Purchase Sustainable Furniture | Sustainability comes in many forms. A piece may be made from eco-friendly or organic materials. It might be second-hand or vintage. Maybe the components are more durable or are made of recycled materials. Additionally, some new furniture pieces release VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the air, so no- or low-VOC finishes result in fewer toxins in the air. Check for certifications from third parties that verify relevant sustainable metrics with respect to products.
Decorate Slowly | Take time to find the right pieces that match your aesthetic, your space and your needs. Rushing to create a glamorous or complete playroom often leads to impulse purchases. Give yourself time to curate items with intention. You can learn how the space is used and find great secondhand pieces. You can also invest in pieces that you've researched, are certified as sustainable, and might be more pricey but a better long-term investment.
And most important: Let kids have fun!
Photo credits: Senger Naturwelt
Jen has a passion for pairing her creative pursuits and big ideas to translate emerging topics in sustainable living into actionable habits everyday families can employ. She is a parent, a member of the Executive Team for Ethical Writers and Creatives, and a Board Member and Treasurer of her local library. You can count on Jen and her work to inspire modern families to rethink the status quo because our choices today can light a brighter tomorrow.