Euphoria’s Blog for Green Mamas

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Choosing the Best Toys for Babies & Toddlers June 27, 2009

Filed under: Baby & Toddler — Rachel @ 8:14 pm
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If you are pregnant with your first child, be warned that a mass of toys are soon to invade your life.  It starts off as a trickle, but by your child’s first birthday (let alone Christmas), you may be seeing stars (and flashing lights and garish colors and more plastic than you’ve ever owned).  Before you start investigating elaborate storage and rotation schemes… STOP!

The truth is children do not need a playroom full of toys.  In fact, a shopping spree at Toys R’ Us is not even in your child’s best interests.  Why does the average American house overflow with toys?  Because (a) Parents/Grandparents enjoy buying them (b) Stores profit by selling them and (c) Our culture insists that MORE is always better!  The toys we give our children create their world.  They send quite tangible messages regarding value, possessions, beauty, and possibility.  Is the point to be entertained?  To have the best?  To know the most?  Or, is it for the child to grow by creating, imagining and discovering?

Last fall my family underwent a A Waldorf Toy Revolution – a process that both simplified and enriched our play life.  If you’re looking to simplify your child’s playthings or hoping to choose the best toys for your baby or toddler the first time around, here are some general suggestions organized by age.  The idea is to avoid going overboard (you don’t need 5 rattles) and to have a wide variety of toys that gently stimulate all of your child’s senses.  The more simple and open-ended the toy, the greater possibility for creative use now and when he or she is older!

 Babies Newborn to 6 Months

  • 1-2 Cloth teethers (organic cotton would be ideal; definitely washable)
  • 1-2 Wooden teethers (one very simple, one with manipulative parts such as rings)
  • A bell (enclosed in a ball or teether)
  • A rattle
  • A crinkle toy (something with crinkle foil in it – could be a soft teether, book, or other toy)
  • 1-2 Cloth baby books with simple pictures or textures

Babies 6 Months to 12 Months

  • A few balls for rolling
  • A simple soft doll (small, without detachable clothes, gentle expression)
  • A stacking ring
  • A nesting toy
  • A wobbling toy
  • A squeaking toy (push button or squeeze)
  • A set of rainbow silks
  • 5 or so of your favorite board books.  For more variety, start visiting the library!

Toddlers 12 Months to 18 Months

  • A simple musical instrument such as maracas or a jingle bell stick (not battery operated)
  • A push toy that encourages a walker or helps a child that’s still learning
  • 2-3 wooden cars, trucks, buses and such
  • A wooden boat for the bath
  • A small set of wooden blocks with interesting shapes and surfaces

Toddlers 18 Months to 24 Months

  • Block crayons or crayon rocks
  • Eco-dough or homemade modeling play dough
  • A pull toy
  • A ride-on toy
  • A new musical instrument, such as a drum or tambourine
  • 5 or so beautiful picture books.  For more variety, keep visiting the library!

2 Years Old

  • Tempera paint, quality paper & a painting smock
  • Play food, pots and utensils
  • A child-sized broom and dust pan
  • A soft baby doll with more details
  • A large set of blocks (consider irregular shapes, such as tree blocks or extra large cardboard blocks)
  • Animal or people figures (natural brands such as Animalz, Plan dollhouse, etc)
  • A new musical instrument such as a harmonica or banjo
  • 2 or so manipulative toys such as Lacing beads and Plan’s Nuts & Bolts
  • A sturdy scooter (trikes are actually more challenging for most children)

In many cases, a child will still enjoy toys for younger children, if their playthings are carefully chosen.  The rainbow playsilks that baby simply loved to touch become rivers and meadows for the toddler’s toy animals.  The nesting blocks become homes and caves.  Granted, the infant teethers and such have a very limited use.  But, do NOT get a lot of those.  Infants are more comforted by familiarity than anything else.  Find something that works and stick with it.

Please notice what’s NOT suggested

  • Avoid electronic toys that flash, play canned music (that you will grow to hate), move by themselves, etc.  These toys encourage passive, entertainment-oriented play.  They also require batteries which are dangerous and expensive.  Think that plastic flashing toy is cheaper than the wooden alternative?  In some cases, it’s the batteries that cost the most!
  • Avoid buying lots of options for the 0-12 months stage.  At this age, your child needs so little in the way of stimulation over and above interaction with YOU and daily living.  If you wear your child while you cook, shop, etc. her mind will be fed with the stuff of real life. 
  • Avoid educational toys.  Your toddler does not desperately need to learn colors, numbers and letters from his toys.  These abstract concepts are simply not developmentally meaningful to a toddler.  And, they WILL come naturally without any special toys that can only be played in one correct way.  Your own words are more powerful than any Leapfrog Learning Toy.  The experience of painting is a truer introduction to color than a push-button teaching toy.  Educational toys limit play possibilities and set up standards of “correct” play that don’t encourage creativity or imagination.
  • Avoid toys you find unnattractive. Seriously.  A child’s toys do not (and should not) remain stuffed away in a playroom.  They become part of your home and your life.  Beautiful toys can actually add to your home environment.  Selecting toys made with natural materials, such as wood and cloth, brings the natural beauty and textures of the world right into your home.
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Top 10 Toxic Baby Products May 16, 2009

Filed under: Baby & Toddler — Rachel @ 3:44 pm
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Overwhelmed by all the info?  Not sure which “non-toxic” items for baby are essential purchases?  Here’s my list of Top 10 Toxic Baby Products, in order of approximate danger.  Balance this priority list against your budget to determine what to buy for baby:

1.  Baby Mattresses:  for the crib, bassinet, cosleeper, etc.  avoid like the plague mattresses that are covered with vinyl, filled with polyurethane foam, and treated with chemical fire retardants.   Babies and toddlers spend 10-14 hours a day sleeping, inhaling air just inches away from these dangerous chemicals.  For more info see, What’s Wrong with Conventional Mattresses?  Organic mattresses are made with materials like cotton, wool and natural rubber.

2.  Waterproof Mattress Pads:  “Normal” mattress pads designed for babies utilize vinyl to provide waterproof protection against diaper leaks or accidents.  For the same reasons as above, these are definitely not safe.  A dense wool puddle pad can also provide waterproof protection, without the poisonous fumes. 

3.  Cheap Wooden Toys:  In general, choosing wooden toys over plastic ones is a win-win for the environment and for your child’s safety.  However, know your source.   Toys cheaply made (and often in China) often use lead-tainted paints.  Lead poisoning is so serious that it’s just not worth taking a single risk.  A responsible toy-maker has it’s paints tested for lead.  Testing is routine for European manufacturers and may become routine in the US starting in 2010.

4.  BPA-contaminated Bottles:  Baby bottles made with polycarbonate plastics (clear and hard) emit the toxin BPA.  While the seriousness of BPA exposure to young infants is debated in our country (Still Not Sure about BPA?), other countries, like Canada, have outlawed BPA-emitting plastics in children’s feeding products.  Nowadays, BPA-free baby bottles are easy to find and quite affordable.  Still, don’t assume it’s BPA-free.  Read the label.  Or, just choose glass – it’s definitely safer and more environmentally friendly.

5.  BPA-contaminated Sippy Cups:  Same as above.  Sippy cups are workhorses.  It makes sense to opt for stainless steel sippy cups, over BPA-free plastics since they wear well and minimize the use of any plastic.

6.  Soft Plastic Teethers:   It’s smart to avoid plastic in general, but any soft plastics – like those most baby teethersare made with – are likely to contain phthalates.  Phthalates are a class of chemicals that soften plastics.  They are hormone disruptors, like BPA.  Not something you want baby chewing on.  For more details see, Toxic Toy Alert – Phthalates.  Opt instead for cloth or wooden teethers.  If you must do plastic, check that the label claims its phthalate-free.

7.  Baby Washes and Lotions:   Phthalates come into play here too.  Most baby washes and lotions use artificial scents or “fragrances”.  Any artificial smell is typically packed with phthalates, ready to do their hormone-disrupting worst.  What’s more, these cosmetics are often packed with cancer-causing chemicals, even ones declared “unsuitable for use on infant skin”.  There is no adequate policing of the cosmetic industry.  You’ve got to become informed at www.CosmeticDatabase.com and/or rely on brands that are certified organic, free of chemical additives.  For a case study, see Johnson & Johnson products Removed from Shelves in China!

8.  Popular Diaper Creams:  Diaper creams are cosmetics too and likely to carry the same concerns as the above.  I list them separately because your loyalty to Desitin, Balmex, Butt Paste or the like may be so strong that you forget to evaluate it’s safey too!  Check your miracle cream’s toxicity rating at www.CosmeticDatabase.com.  Here are some case studies I’ve done: Desitin – Safe or Toxic? and My Cosmetic Purge.

9.  Pesticides in Baby Food:  Pesticides are poisons.  Their “safety” levels are based on exposure in adults, not in tiny baby bodies that eat far more produce than the average adult.  Buying organic baby food definitely adds up faster than conventionally grown baby food, but it’s worth it.  I can’t, as a parent, feel very good about serving up bug poison.  If your budget burst a few items earlier on this priority list, try to make baby food at home from organic produce.  It is a bit cheaper.  Or, for maximum savings, grow your own.

10. Disposable Diapers:  Not too well known is the fact that disposable diapers aren’t entirely “pure” no matter how white they’ve been bleached (and actually, bleach is part of the problem).  Disposable diapers contain chemicals that are known to cause skin irritations, bleeding, fever, infection, cancer, sterility, and even death if ingested. Read more about Health Risks with Disposable Diapers.  Of course, using cloth diapers is actually cheaper.  But, if cloth is not your style, safer options include Tushies and 7th Generation disposable diapers.

*Note:  It was difficult to order these dangers, but I realize that some kind of frame of reference is helpful when dealing with the realities of life (limited budget).  Because of the extremely well documented dangers of lead poisoning, I placed “Cheap Wooden Toys” above BPA issues.  In reality, we are still learning about the potential ramifications of BPA and phthalate exposure.

 

Creative Play for Your Baby November 6, 2008

Filed under: Baby & Toddler — Rachel @ 7:07 pm
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One of my favorite discoveries this fall was a set of books by Christopher Clouder and Janni Nicol. Creative Play for Your Baby and it’s companion, Creative Play for Your Toddler, are thin little volumes packed with gorgeous photographs of toys you can make for your children!

If that sounds like a stretch for you, trust me – it isn’t. Party because the books are Waldorf-inspired, they utilize a limited amount of natural materials such as found wood, felt, cloth, string, etc. and are fairly simplistic. The directions are good enough for this crafting newbie. But, it’s really the photographs that make it a fabulous book. They are very clear and so inspiring!

Added to the toy-making instructions are concise explanations of the why’s and how’s behind creative play, from a Waldorf perspective. It’s a great way to introduce yourself or a friend to the richness and beauty of the Waldorf traditions.

In fact, it’s a great way to introduce your child as well! Aria and Liam have LOVED making toys together. After emptying their room of many plastic and battery-operated toys, it’s refreshing and beautiful to set some homemade, natural toys on our shelves.

After requesting both books from my library, only to have to return them soon because my dear friend Bethany requested them as well… I am ordering the toddler one for myself and the baby one as a Christmas gift for a sweet new mommy I love.

 

A Waldorf Toy Revolution October 14, 2008

Filed under: Family Culture — Rachel @ 8:54 pm
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Palumba.com

 

In my house we’re having a Toy Revolution.  Mmm-hmm, that’s right.  Last year it was a diaper revolution (welcome cloth diapers).  Closely followed by a plastic revolution (goodbye BPA and pthalates).  Now, we’re rounding out our lifestyle with a Waldorf Revolution… which can be simplified (overly so) as a Toy Revolution.  Just in time for Christmas!

My little ones are almost 4 and 20 months.  Now is the time for change!  It’s little noticed.  In fact, I think that the growing mountain of reject toys is a bit more painful for me (I hate money wasted).  Anyhow, I am completely inspired by Waldorf’s standards of beautiful, natural and open-ended toys that allow room for the imagination and create a peaceful, nurturing play space. 

Sound wonderful?  Start small: take out all battery operated toys and those ugly plastic ones that your children play with rarely.  Think simple.  If the toy talks, moves for the child or is only able to be played with in one “correct” way (like, umm.. Leapfrog), it doesn’t allow the child to interact creatively.  The time for learning facts is not now.  Early childhood is the time to explore, imagine and dream.  Afterall, creativity is at the root of real genius and creating makes a family come alive. 

As I take toys out of the room, my children play more attentively with their favorites like legos, dolls and our wooden train set.  In fact, we’ve noticed that they are arguing less too, but that’s just pure luck, right?  Less toys means clean up is easy.  And, now we have room to add some good ones!  Next time I’ll share some wonderful new additions from quality art supplies to imaginative play.  Many of them I’m putting away for Christmas gifts.  It’s been a lot of fun!

 

Toys, toys, toys are on the way! June 28, 2008

Filed under: Baby & Toddler,Children (3-6 years) — Rachel @ 9:54 am
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Guess what?!?  I have an announcement to make…..  Toys are on the way to EuphoriaBaby.com!  We’re so very, very excited to have on order a whole assortment of high-quality toys, all non-toxic and natural of course!  We’ll be offering several European and American toy lines, including Haba, Selecta, Kathe Kruse and Plan Toys. 

I cannot tell you how much fun it was to search out the best, safest toys for newborn through 2 years.  I’m talking wooden teethers, cloth teethers, BPA-free plastic teethers, soft baby toys, wooden baby toys, wooden pull toys, wooden cars, balls, sweet baby dolls, adorable knit wool animals, phthalate-free bath toys, and the list goes on.  We’ll also be stocking European wooden pacifier chains, stroller toys, and playmats, which are so much nicer than typical Babies R’Us finds and refreshingly plastic-free!  Expect to see toys offered online in 2 weeks and more developments to come on the baby front!

Here’s a sneak peak at one of my favorite items for the newborn.  I just cannot get over how cute this is!  I love that, unlike typical baby gyms, this one has interactive and protective sides, plus a more sturdy overhead toy bar.  Contact me to reserve your Haba “Dream Meadow” ($162) since we only have a few on the way! 

Do you have some favorite high-quality, non-toxic toys?  Please do share!  I’d love to consider adding your favorites to our store.