...and it ain't some creepy melodrama villain after Annette Funicelli and Dick van Dyke!
It almost seems like a blessing that all these toy recalls have happened in the last year or so. Finally the idea that the products we buy for our littlest community members need to undergo the highest scrutiny is gaining visibility, as well as the idea that products created by slavery-like factories in a very unregulated country might not be of the highest quality!
We're working on buying things made locally, and then in the USA, and then by scrupulous countries, not just for toys but for all things. I need a new water bottle, and Sigg is both safe for me and my breastfeeding and occasionally water-sipping baby, and it's produced by a country that's meticulous in creating its products without harming the environment. And I'm okay that this once every several years purchase is not a local one. We do the farmer's market, buy things made by work-at-home moms locally, and also just try to reduce the amount of stuff we require from the earth, too.
Okay, so getting back to toys. There are a couple of points that are shaping the purchases of my friends it seems (forgive the overlap, etc.):
1) Not made in China (NMIC), but also not made in other unreliable and unethical countries...and this just might include the USA! See below....
2) Ah yes, ethical purchases! Why support a country's economy when it's subjecting its people to human rights abuses (Howdy, China!), or tacitly encouraging the child sex trade (hello, Thailand!)?
3) Safest for our babies. Now, it surprised me to learn that Europe has much higher standards regarding toys than the US. So European toys are likely the best bet. They don't allow phthalates in toys, which is a big one for me. Companies that sell to a broader market actually adjust their products to meet the European criteria, so it CAN be done! I'd rather get the Euro toys than the ones made especially for US babies with this very dangerous plastic modifier.
4) Wood, metal, or cloth toys only. This goes along with finding the safest toys. Cut plastic out of the equation completely. Now, you have to be careful here, because just because a toy isn't plastic doesn't automatically make it safe. Those recalled Thomas trains were metal with lead paint, MIC. And lots of wooden toys are MIC, too, like Melissa and Doug toys. So we are left searching for safe options. I'm trying to collect some resources on that, which I'll include below.
5) Playability vs. marketability. Most of my friends are staying away from branded characters, like Dora, Disney princesses, and Elmo. Experts agree that toys are better when kids can get more play out of them, when they are not tied down to recreating storylines from a TV show or using a toy in only one way. Open-ended toys, like those typically made by good US and Euro companies, will offer more fun and be used by children for generations.
5) Quality over quantity. This is something we're trying to abide by for our whole lives, but it's especially good to remember around Christmas time, and especially for babies. Babies don't need a million toys. Even my daughter, who loves "the new," just needs us to rotate which toys make an appearance in her life, and suddenly they are new and exciting! I'd rather give her a few high quality toys that are safe and fun, than a hundred low quality plastic toys.
Okay, so where do we turn for these safe and ethical and play-full toys?
Oompa Toys is a good place to start because it lists products by country.( http://www.oompa.com/ )
Amazon has Haba Toys--some of this brand, like the cloth ones, are MIC, but the wooden ones tend to be made in Germany, and each product makes it clear (well, if it says, "lovingly designed in Germany" that's probably a good hint it was manufactured in China). There are natural toy shops in a lot of towns now that can address these concerns, too. I found some strong research on this issue as well as resources for good toys in the last issue of Mothering Magazine, which should still be out now (I get mine at B&N). I'll add more as I see links on the ongoing online discussions of this. Add those that you find, too!
((Here's another good site I just found advertising on TBW: http://www.downtoearthtoys.com/ )))
Hopefully, as we strive to provide the best environment for our little one, while being kind to the greater environment, we'll work to model this behavior in all the things we use and purchases we make. China is the factory of the world right now, so it's virtually impossible. Some purchases are just made. But we can cut down on what we purchase. While our house is full of stuff manufactured on the cheap of cheap plastic and other materials, we can at least go on using it, rather than demand new products of the earth. And when the time comes to replace a few of the things, we can look to local and high quality sources.
For now, we'll have some fun playing!
Additional Resources I've come across:
www.healthytoys.org/ is a new website that most parents are saying is indispensable. It will also give us a chance to get the movement for safe toys and products some more attention. It's shocking how many products have lead in them, for instance, like shoes from Target. Of course kids try to chew on shoes! Ai yai yai! I try to be a laid-back mom and let my kid get into the dirt and all, but it's hard when the dirt may be on lead-carrying shoes or pesticide-laced grass... well, getting informed is going to be the first step!