My favorite things to play with when I was growing up were my mother’s old clothes that we kept in our dress up bin and wooden blocks. I used my imagination with both and played for hours on end. Life isn’t so simple anymore. Somehow, neither is play. Kids are surrounded by so much stuff that they don’t have the chance to just use their imagination for learning. Case in point, the day after our first Christmas with all three kids, our house looked like Toys-R-Us had vomited into our home.
There was so much stuff that my kids were overwhelmed and ended up just playing with the cardboard boxes that some of the toys came in.
Since then, we have simplified, asking family and friends to perhaps give gifts of spending time together. Because people automatically link giving gifts with happiness, they still want to give something that can be wrapped, so we ask that it be something that promotes the kids having to think or create. I thought I’d share the ones that we found most joyful and engaging.
Engaging Family Favorite Gifts
Note: For more information on toxins in toys, what to look out for and for safe toy companies, see Green Toys, Clean Toys and Toys Made Close to Home.
1. Kiwi Crate
These are the newest rage in my house. My mother found the company and gifted both my 7 and 9-year-olds with these ‘crates.’ What’s awesome is that they come in the mail once a month. My kids run to the mailbox religiously around the time they know one should be showing up. Inside each box are numerous activities geared toward their age that involves science and art. They really get to think, learn and create.
Kiwi makes crates for ages 0-16, so there is something for everyone. The purchaser can choose how many months they’d like to gift the boxes for.
This is MY favorite game. My kids will argue and say they like it more, but I don’t think it’s possible. This is Tic-Tac-Toe taken to the next level times 10. The amount of thinking and strategy required is why I love it. It is exciting and fun as you really have to think out of the box to win, especially as everyone you play with gets better at it. As a starter, it’s easy to play at any age, but the more you learn about the different strategies, just by playing, the more challenging it is, esp. when playing versus someone who is also a more advanced player. This is a game that the kids can play together, you can play with the kids and parents can play versus each other.
Kiss Naturals makes science kits designed for kids to make their own lip balms, soaps, bath bombs and such. My kids are always asking for the kits that enable them to make their own products, but most companies putting them out use toxins and dyes that I don’t want the kids using. I was so pleased to see a company come out with ones using safe ingredients. For instance, here’s the ingredients for the lip balm kit: beeswax, shea butter and safflower. No dyes, fillers or junk!
Wildcraft is an awesome herbal adventure game where kids can have fun while learning about 25 important edible and medicinal plants and their uses in mostly first aid situations. According to the makers of the game, “When our son was little, we always wanted to play the nature and cooperative games with him. However, he always pulled out Candyland or Chutes & Ladders. Then it hit us! Why not make a nature-based educational game featuring all the things kids love about those timeless board games? Also, why not make cooperative play even MORE fun than competitive play? Wildcraft was born!
Artterro’s goal is to make it fun, easy and affordable for people to create art with family and friends. Each Artterro eco art kit is a collection of beautiful, natural materials and creative project ideas. They offer a fun, engaging art experience that delights creative kids and grown-ups alike! Their packaging is made of recycled materials and it can be upcycled into a beautiful, customizable frame for your finished artwork. The kits feature high-quality natural materials like 100% wool felt, 100% post-consumer waste decorative handmade paper, glass and wooden beads, cotton thread, hand batiked cotton fabric, and copper wire. All of their packaging inserts, bands that wrap around the boxes and marketing materials are printed on recycled paper using vegetable based inks and renewable energy.
The Yoga Garden Game is designed for having fun with one another rather than against each other. Yoga is a series of exercises designed to strengthen the body and calm the mind. The benefits of yoga have been known for thousands of years and include increased concentration and relaxation. Kids naturally are good at and enjoy yoga. Since the yoga positions are named after animals and objects found in nature, kids can use their imaginations while learning different poses.
My kids love this marble run. We’ve had it for about 4 years and it still gets used often. There are multiple runs that you can make following the directions or the kids can come up with their own as they learn how each piece works.
These toys are so much fun, inspiring creativity and imaginative play. They are unique in that each block has a magnet inside, adding a new dimension to block building. Tegu is a toy business founded to address unemployment, neglected natural and human resources, and the need for entrepreneurship in Honduras. They use natural and non-toxic materials. Honduras offers beautiful, globally unknown hardwoods which can be harvested in a sustainable manner; these woods serve as their primary raw material. Their magnets are safely enclosed inside the wood and their coatings are water-based and non-toxic. In fact, you can view their CPSIA mandated General Conformity Certifications on their website (Tegu).
I love any and all of the Quercetti toys and so do all three of my kids. Most of these are toys that require children to use their brains for problem solving. Made in Italy, Quercetti “is constantly committed to supplying safe non-toxic products using only certified materials. We are serious about the responsibility we have so all our products are tested by recognized external labs meeting the international toy safety regulations. We can even provide a Safety Assessment for any of our products.
For all our printouts we use only FSC certified paper, made of pure ECF (Elemental Chlorine Free) cellulose and recycled fibers: for a low environmental impact, the inks employed in our off-set printing process are vegetable-based and we make no use of isopropyl alcohol”(Quercetti). ***** Five Stars from my children!
9. Green Toys
Green Toys sets are simple, allowing kids’ imaginations to take over their play. They are made mostly of plastic recycled milk containers, made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) that is reprocessed. An independent, third-party laboratory tests products to ensure there are no traceable amounts of phthalates or BPA. The toys have no paint and packages are recycled corrugated boxes without plastic, cellophane or twist-ties. The sets are simple, allowing kids imaginations to take over their play.
My daughter loves to wear her dolls! What a great way for kids to engage in play, acting out what they see their parents do at the same time.
**Raising Natural Kids serves as an affiliate for Amazon, and links any products we use in our own homes and with our own families to Amazon when applicable. Any monies earned help us to run and maintain this blog.