Sustainable Toys

Toys are a fundamental part of children’s learning and development. They give children joy and teach them an array of skills and concepts including object permanence, colours, numbers, problem solving and fine motor skills. However toys can also contribute to environmental damage. They use resources and energy to create, are often produced using plastic, and poorer quality toys are prone to breaking and entering landfill prematurely. Luckily, there are ample ways in which children can enjoy an array of toys without impacting heavily on the planet.  

We are part of our local toy library. It is a fantastic initiative whereby you pay a small membership fee to join, and an even smaller hire fee to borrow toys. The cost covers maintenance, repairs and purchasing new toys. You can borrow toys for a two-week period, which seems to be the exact amount of time required before the kids get sick of their ‘new toys’ and stop playing with them! It is like Christmas once a fortnight, where the kids can shop for a new temporary toy to bring home. They love taking the old toys back to swap for new ones! It is also a great sustainability initiative that reduces the need to buy new toys. There are toy libraries right around Australia, so there is bound to be one near you.

On one occasion, we borrowed a red oven for a toy kitchen. It was quite big and included pots and pans for great cooking themed imaginary play. My son loved it so much that he was sad to give it back after the two-week loan period. I knew he wanted his own permanent oven toy, so I decided to make him his very own red oven!

I visited the Green Shed – the second-hand shop at the Canberra tip – to find supplies. I purchased an old bedside cupboard which resembled the shape of an oven, a few old door knobs to feature as hot plate switches and an assortment of pots and pans to cook with. I gave it a nice coat of red paint and painted on black hot plates to give it an oven-look. Once complete I threw in some old, empty food containers and boxes to use as pretend cooking ingredients. He was thrilled and it remains one of his favourite toys. I also had a great time hunting down second-hand supplies and being creative designing the toy.

It is a little battered after a few years play, but still going strong!

My next project was to make a mud kitchen. I enlisted some help from my husband and father-in-law, and we designed and constructed an outdoor kitchen for the kids to enjoy. The feature piece in the construction was an old-kitchen sink which was destined for landfill. We picked this up at the Green Shed, along with two milk crates for seats and more pots, pans and utensils to enhance the kitchen experience. Our kids have spent countless hours mixing mud pies, erupting bicarb soda volcanos, and mixing coloured foam in their sink.

DIY toys can be very simple to make, particularly for very young children. When the kids were babies, I made rattles out of old drink bottles with various objects inside to make different noises, such as rice and nuts. Just make sure you seal the lid tight to stop little ones ingesting things they shouldn’t.

By making home-made toys from recycled materials, we saved on the resources, packaging and energy consumption used in the manufacture and transportation of brand-new toys. We also prevented resources from entering landfill by giving them a new purpose and home. And as a bonus, it was substantially cheaper than buying a new toy!

On the rare occasion when we want to buy a toy to permanently reside in our playroom, such as birthdays and Christmas, we buy second-hand toys from Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace or the local Op Shop. We have found some amazing quality toys with plenty of life including Tonka trucks, a workbench with tools, costumes, Hot Wheels garage and tracks, basketball ring, totem tennis and an array of books. This option means there is no packaging, and we are not contributing to the production of new toys.

Making your own toys and borrowing from toy libraries is a lot of fun and a great way to make your own ‘Local Impact’ on the environment. I would love to hear about any up-cycled toys you have made for your kids in the comments below.

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