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Cooperative Games: Returning to the Essence of Play

 

by Anne Mijke van Harten, contributor to DrToy.com

In cooperative games people play together instead of against each other. This results naturally in a win/win situation for all players. In less then no time, the focus has shifted from each one for themselves and trying to be the best, to working together to attain the set goal. The challenge of cooperative play is for each participant to explore and discover their own potential and to express that potential in the game, which then naturally adds to the potential of the group. The atmosphere during this kind of games often is a mixture of happiness and creative thinking, in which everyone is involved.

A sense of belonging

In our society the last century placed much emphasis on individuality and distinguishing oneself from others. This is easily to observe in the kind of games that were played. Competitive games teach us to be the strongest, the smartest, the fastest… But there can be only one winner, which evidently makes the other players all losers. This creates a feeling of separation instead of feeling welcomed and connected to others and the world around us.

It is my belief that by nature we feel inclined to belong. Not even so much in order to reach a goal, but simply because it is enjoyable being together. The structure of cooperative play encourages children to work together and to support each other. Since everybody-wins-or-everybody-loses in cooperative play, children can relax and appreciate everybody’s role in the game- no matter how small or big. During these kind of games, children are open, moves are discussed and children from different age groups or children and adults can easily play together. Children’s positive characteristics and behavior are strengthened and conserved by co-operative play, characteristics that are very valuable for our current society.
Co-operative musical chairs

Just as in ordinary musical chairs, a chair is taken away in each round. Yet all players continue playing. When the music stops, they have to make sure they seat themselves on the remaining chairs. This calls for co-operation and creativity. The music will only start after everyone is seated (so no time pressure, no stress). Then another chair is removed. A variation for advanced players is no feet touching the floor. Beware of everyone’s safety and choose chairs that are very solid!

The nature of play

Play is an expression of children’s natural desire to explore the world and themselves. This can be observed all the time, where, through their playful exploration, children test the limitations and possibilities they meet along the way. Quite effortlessly, they create all sorts of games in this discovery process, in which basically nothing more is needed than their imagination and whatever materials or resources are available. To children, everything is play and it is through playing that they love learning and learn quickly. To play is to have fun!

From a certain age onwards, children start to experiment with making and applying rules in play. In their own play, they create their own rules, such as- ‘we must stay behind this white line’ or ‘we must keep our eyes closed’. Those rules are not fixed but played with- experimented with… In this kind of play all participants are free to introduce new rules.

Also, children encounter forms of play in which the rules have been set beforehand (the games we buy in the shops, a lot of circle- or group-games as well as all sports). In these mostly –competitive- games the goal is that one individual or one group must win and the others must lose.

I am caught by the fact that all these games, so carefully designed by adults, encourage children to oppose each other. When we are aware that play is a child’s most important learning tool, we may ask ourselves if what we teach children through competitive games– to tolerate the uneasy feeling of being beaten, to pinpoint others’ weak spots in order to be able to beat them, to acquire the notion that it is ‘nice’ to beat others even if they themselves do not enjoy being beaten – really are the values we want to teach and instill in them.
Healthy competition

In competitive games, apart from things like learning the games and social rules involved, children also have to deal with the effort required to handle their feelings in losing or winning a game. Children lose a lot of energy in this, which otherwise could go to fully experiencing and engaging with their play, Many parents ask themselves how a child that has difficulty losing can be helped to handle this aspect of life. Often games result in children screaming angrily that the proceedings ‘were not fair’, not to mention the many times boards and bricks end up flying through the room! Even now, as a ‘grown-up’, you may still remember how unpleasant it was for you to be the last one chosen for a game. The certain possibility of failure creates stress and often makes children nervous and tense. And it’s not only them; observe grown-ups at soccer matches! Feelings of enmity are quite observable- they just seem to pop-up when people compete. Nevertheless, we still somehow feel that competition is ‘healthy’ for us. With competitiveness so deeply ingrained in our society, co-operative play encourages us to engage in new, and different ways of thinking.

Returning to the essence of play

At this moment there isn’t much choice in the kind of games that we can offer our children. Try this: go to a regular toyshop and ask for a game in which children play together, not against each other. You will quickly find that more often than not competition is involved. In my point of view, we encourage a one-sided development in society by the games we offer our children. When we see cooperation as a more natural way of being together and integrate this into our schools, homes, daycare-canters, etcetera, playing together instead of against each other will soon become a matter of course.

In a playful manner children will begin to see their own and other people’s strong points, their self-esteem will rise and they will discover the fun of being successful together. They will joyfully engage play in its full potential. Imagine more and more children who have learned to be cooperative and truly playful, growing up to be adults, and taking their places in society… We can contribute to this positive current by simply starting with offering a choice in the kind of games we teach our children.

As a facilitator in the area of play, Anne Mijke van Harten is the founder of ‘Earthgames’ in the Netherlands. She develops playful materials, writes articles and is giving workshops about the benefits of cooperation in education and society. Anne Mijke is educated as a social worker, play therapist, and is a Heart Focus trainer. She is a representative for the International Council for Self-esteem.

More information www.earthgames.nl.

Cooperative Play from Bag-O-Loot

 
Has this ever happened to you? You finally get the family around the table for game night and you are faced with two choices. You can play a game that is made for kids, but you would never play on your own; or you can play a game that you like but the kids can’t really enjoy without a lot of help and coaching.

This dilemma is resolved with the irresistibly fun card game, Bag-O-Loot. Basic play of Bag-O-Loot is similar to a rummy-type card game. You match cards and put them together in groups called collections. Collect five matching cards and you have a Bag-O-Loot. Simple enough, right?

But imagine the added dimension of fun if players can take these collections from each other by playing a matching card. You can just hear the laughter and the groans, can’t you? Bag-O-Loot is all about the player interaction. That is what makes the difference between a good game and a great game that you will want to play again and again.

Currently there are two versions of Bag-O-Loot — the Classic edition which is designed for ages ten and up and the Junior edition which lets kids as young as six get in on the fun. The Classic edition adds a bluffing element which delivers a level of strategy and intrigue that is not particularly obvious when you first learn the game. The bluffing is what makes Bag-O-Loot such an excellent game for adults to play with or without the kids. (more…)

Dr. Toy’s Toy Assembly Tips

by Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy

Giving gifts should be fun experience, not complicated by worrying about how to put the pieces together. The assembly of toys itself can be an enjoyable, creative process, if you follow these suggestions from Dr. Toy.

First, plan the project and gather tools you may need:
Scissors. (You need these for cutting through those hard to open packages.)
Screw drivers, with the needed straight, star, hex, or Phillips head bit. (Needed to install some batteries.)
Pliers or an adjustable wrench.

Add Value:

A fun way to add value to the project is to give your child a chance to trace an outline of each tool and identify it with a name. This is a good way for a child to learn about tools and how to use them. You can also tape the name of the tool on the handle for reinforcement.

Take an Inventory of the Parts:

At the outset, read the directions to see all the pieces that should be included. Carefully account for all the parts to assure you have all you need. Then place the smaller pieces in a container (a box or storage bag) so you don’t loose any.

Nothing like starting and then not being able to find the critical screw you need.

Batteries:

Get the number and size of the batteries you need. For gifts that need batteries, install them before wrapping. This assures instant enjoyment with the new present.

Directions:

This is a good way to share the project with your child. Read the instructions out loud and follow them together. This is a good time to go slow and not be frustrated. Some stores offer the assembly for extra cost, but look how much fun you might be missing. Kids, depending on their age, will have fun reading the instructions out loud. You can discuss following instructions and putting things together. All good skills for children to learn.

Special Assembly Project:

Some gifts should not be put together in advance—for example, a tricycle. Dad (or grandpa) and an eager child will have a great time putting the new tricycle together. (Of course, paper and a ribbon around the box are fine, but doing the entire assembly together is a terrific shared experience.) The entire process of seeing how the tricycle is assembled is a great learning experience for the child and even more fun when happily shared by adult and child together. Great photo op from box opening through assembly—from reading instructions to the excitement of the first ride.

Wrap Assembled Toys:

Toys that require assembly should be removed from the original package and put together ahead of time. Then you should wrap them so they are ready to play with when they are unwrapped. What is extra fun is to leave a part sticking out from the wrapping so child can play a game of “three guesses” as to what it is. A game can add to the excitement. You can also create a “feely bag” with small toys inside and play “guess what it is!”

Select the Right Products:

Always include gifts like blocks and construction toys that children use to create and assemble by using their imagination. Puzzles and games are gifts they enjoy and participate in playing together with the whole family.

Recycle:

Save wrapping paper and ribbons in a scrap box for re-use later for collages and other creative projects.

Most of all have a great holiday full of adventure and fun each day. Memories are made of these experiences. We long remember the fun we had opening presents but most of all the satisfaction of putting things together as a family.

Let’s play!

What’s Right for Baby

by Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy

New babies need gentle stimulation, selective entertainment, and constant safety. These criteria need to be an essential part of your attention each and every day as well as anyone else who helps you care for and nurture your baby.

Balance between play and stimulation, quiet and rest, nutritious food and liquids, good music and the avoidance of TV blare are all part of the natural process of nurturing baby.

Parents are the baby’s “First Big Toys.” Talk, laugh, sing, play games, and have lots of fun together. Add some special items to your baby’s experiences when he or she is ready from small musical toy, soft hypoallergenic plush, and a teether with ring.

There are many good resources that give you plenty of support and guidance as a new parent. Check Club Mom and www.drtoy.com for parenting resources to give you support and answer your questions.

Take time out each day to enjoy the fun of playing together. Remember that you are your baby’s first “Big Toy” and knowing that you provide the first and most important stimulation, mental, physical and emotional support.

You can find simple and inexpensive toys to use at home, in transit, and when you are visiting others. Create in your Travel Tote Bag a good variety of items that will amuse, delight and gently stimulate your baby. Keep a variety of safe and fun toys in your baby travel bag. This bag should contain the essentials you need whenever you are away from home.

Select the products you choose for baby carefully. You can create a suggested “New Baby Gift List” for others who will enjoy making a contribution to your baby’s playtime as they grow. This list is handy as a reference for you to share with friends and family who are looking to find just what you and baby will enjoy the most. It is handy for your baby shower or family gatherings such as your baby’s first birthday.

Here are some of the basics for your gift list:

A mobile with its bright colors and soft shapes helps baby focus and provides gentle stimulation while awake in the crib.
A rattle gets the baby’s attention and helps sooth an upset.
A rubber ducky eases baby’s bath time and makes it more fun.
A wonderful soft, washable and hypoallergenic stuffed animal is…?
A music box, tape, or tape recorder relaxes the baby and induces sleep with no fuss.

As babies get older and more coordinated, they’re ready for toys that offer more interaction.

A mirror is a great way for the baby to enjoy its image and be entertained. It helps build recognition and social interaction.

Cloth blocks are eagerly gripped and provide easy exercise.

A Crib Gym builds small muscles and coordination. A flexible playmate with overarch can provide safety and stimulation also on the floor.

A Flutter Ball or Chime Ball amuses and focuses attention in the direction of the sound.

When children start walking, they happily use push-and-pull toys as they build those leg muscles.

Shape-sorting boxes teach and give practice with eye-hand skills.

Look for quality products from companies such as Brio, Haba, Fisher-Price, Playskool, Sassy, and Tiny Love.

Examine the product’s box for its tested, recommended age range. Be sure your baby is ready for the product.

Some specific safety tip reminders for your baby:

Watch as the baby reaches out and make sure there is nothing hazardous it can grab hold of.
Always make sure there are no dangerous small pieces, loose ties, or ribbons within reach.
Don’t allow an older child to give the baby a small object.
Keep the space around your baby safe at all times.

The right toys at the right time will help your baby grow up happy and healthy. My book, Smart Play/Smart Toys, will provide more details on products that are best for baby.

You can find more about the best new toys for babies by frequently reviewing this website for specific suggested products.

Let’s play!

What’s Right for Toddlers

by Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy

Toddlers actively explore their world and want to touch, smell, and taste everything. Watch carefully and child-proof the play space. This age is a great time for lots of good, safe toys, and varied play experiences.

The right toys help toddlers learn about color, shape, size, and weight. As they check things out, play helps them develop strong muscles and minds. With blocks they gain small muscle strength and counting skills. It’s fun to build up blocks, knock them down, and then rebuild. Your toddler will laugh at his accomplishments.

The toddler enjoys a soft doll or plush animal, a pail, a shovel, push-pull toys, a jack-in-the-box, a bubble pipe, pounding sets, ring stacks, puzzles, books, and tapes. Toddlers love to play with household objects such as plastic dishes, pots, pans, and cups. A small broom gives the toddler a chance to sweep.

When selecting toys, consider their durability. How long will the toy last under “toddler testing”? Is it child-proof? A product should be long-lasting, substantial, and made of good, strong materials.

Stuffed toys must be hygienic and washable; with no fluff the child could pull off and put into its mouth. Protect the child from small parts or anything tiny that could cause choking. All products must be nontoxic.

Look at toys by Brio, Fisher-Price, MEGA BLOKS, Playskool, Discovery Toys, and Little Tikes.

The toddler plays with or near other children, at its own pace. Contact with other children is important, so play groups are excellent for socializing. Observe how the child interacts with people and objects. This is the time to build confidence and self-esteem. The way a child feels affects its physical, emotional, and mental growth.

The toddler comes to learn about cause and effect: hit a peg with a mallet and it falls into the hole; push a button and music plays or a doll dances; turn a handle and a jack-in-the-box pops up.

Interesting new sounds come as the toddler creates words like “ma ma, da da, and bye bye.” An understanding of words expands as the toddler picks up your tone of voice and your meaning, and becomes aware of your feelings.

Playing games with you is a favorite pastime. Patty-cake, peek-a-boo, and clapping to music are new entries to the toddler’s repertoire. People and animals fascinate, and the toddler loves to make sounds, laugh, giggle, act silly, and be surprised. Toddlers love to play.

The toddler is very much attached to the people who are closest. Relationships formed during the earliest months influence emotional progress and the connection and friendship between toddler and parent is the basis for moving into the larger world of friends and other players.

Parents who play and respond to their children are more important to their offspring’s health and well-being than any toy.

You can see moods reflected in the activities a toddler selects. Give the toddler freedom to express these moods, and make whatever adaptations to the play area that is needed. Be ready to change the toy, offer a snack, or take time out for a nap.

Time has no importance as the toddler will be absorbed in the activity of the moment: pouring water, rolling a ball, or watching a spinning pinwheel.

The age at which a toddler begins to sit up, stands while supported, and walks about holding on to the hands of others is a highly individual thing and depends a great deal on height and weight.

At the beginning of the second year, your toddler’s attention span is not great. A toddler has a natural curiosity and is interested in watching, exploring, moving, and knocking things over. The toddler’s world is opening up. If not carefully supervised, injuries can happen. For example, the toddler will open bottles or boxes to touch or taste. Anything that is potentially dangerous must be placed in locked cabinets and well out of reach.

Your toddler usually…

Imitates the actions of others: tries drinking from a cup, talking on a telephone, hammers with a mallet on wooden pegs after seeing daddy drive a nail or mommy tap a tight jar cap to loosen it.

Likes to experiment for reactions to objects that bounce, make noise, light up, or change colors.

Delights in fitting things together and stacking blocks, toys, and cups.

Likes to assemble and disassemble–all the while learning sizes, shapes, colors, weight, and sequencing.

Enjoys quiet play, like a picture book that includes talking about the pictures, pointing to them, and learning new words.

Likes to listen to music and imitate the sounds from toys, CDs, records, or tapes.

Tries to understand your words.

Shows excitement when a favorite toy is seen or a favorite animal appears in a book.

Likes building things, creating art, digging in sand, looking at and pasting pictures, playing with animals, squeezing objects, taking walks, going on rides, throwing things, and water play.

Always take along interesting small toys for your toddler to play with when traveling. He will be happier and so will you.

Let’s play!

What’s Right for Preschoolers

by Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy

Preschoolers have a lot of energy. They are interested in everything. Their vocabulary, self-expression, and imagination are rapidly expanding.

They like play that is dramatic, creative, and active. Their love of play makes preschool a fun-filled learning environment. They develop social skills, a sense of responsibility, and expand communication skills through play.

The best products for your child have a lot of high “play value.” You want long-lasting products that will provide hours of fun, like wooden blocks, construction play sets, games, and puzzles. Look for various textures, shapes, sizes, and colors.

For indoors, select a good mix of art supplies, play sets, books, and tapes.

Your child will enjoy a tricycle and varied outdoor play equipment.

Take your child to the toy store. The child will be excited by the many choices. This is a great way to hear what your child thinks.

Let the child create a “Wish List,” so you learn what is preferred. Give your child a chance to make selections based on some of the practical choices you have made in advance.

Consider toys by ALEX, Brio, Discovery Toys, Fisher-Price, Folkmanis, LEGO, Little Tikes, MEGA BLOKS, Learning Resources, Playskool, Radio Flyer, and Small World Toys.

Here are some aspects to consider when you are making selections:

Look for quality.
Consider the materials used.
Examine workmanship.

It is said that we “get what we pay for,” but, unfortunately, this is not always true.

Imagine your child playing with the product.

Children have short attention spans; even the best toy will be used for only a short time.

Rotate toys to help reduce boredom.
Study age labeling for appropriateness.

You can learn a lot by observing which toys and other products your child plays with at preschool. Products that are too complex are frustrating, and those that are too easy are boring.

Only show the child how to use the product, if help is needed. It’s best to allow children to discover things for themselves. They learn how to figure things out if given a chance to do this. It helps them to learn how to tackle challenges when they learn how to solve things on their own.

Toys offer a variety means for self-expression and creativity and can be used in many ways.

An angry child can use a foam bat and ball, a bop bag, or hand-puppets to safely express pent-up feelings. This is a lot safer and channels upsets in non-destructive ways.

For creativity, a child benefits from the use of clay, finger paints, crayons, art supplies like Do a Dot pens, and crafts.

To encourage learning, supply games and puzzles that involve the sorting of shapes, sizes and weights, plus a good variety of books and tapes.

Coordination and balance improve with physical activities. Eye-hand skills improve with a ring toss, bean bags, and construction products. Try to find activities that challenge, stimulate, arouse curiosity, elicit expression, and give the child a sense of satisfaction.

Whatever your preschool child does, it should be fun that demonstrates enthusiasm for play.

My book, Smart Play/Smart Toys, will provide more details on products that are best for preschoolers. You can also review this website for specific suggested products.

Let’s play!

What’s Right for Primary-Grade Children

Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy
 

Children grow quickly, rapidly moving through various developmental stages. During the primary grades they are actively expanding their interest in
friendships, learning, and outdoor play. Peers are very important.

The types of toys their friends play with and their activities influence children as they spend time together.

Children express their ideas, creativity, feelings, abilities, and personality in play. They share the "give-and-take" and challenges of getting along.

Encouraging your child to play with both younger and older children provides a full range of social experiences.

You can choose among many useful play products for five- to eight-year-olds.

Active toys develop large and small muscles. Consider skates, jump ropes, construction, and adventure toys.

Creative toys develop imagination. Explore musical instruments, varied art supplies, crafts, a dollhouse, or a train layout.

Educational toys enhance learning in reading, writing, math, science, or geography. Stimulate your child's mental abilities, thinking process, and problem-solving skills with a chess set, strategy board game, a book, music or a musical instrument, science project, telescope, or a new hobby.

Select toys that will challenge the child to practice skills, expand abilities, and have fun independently.

Many great choices are available from such companies as Alex, Briarpatch, Educational Insights, Hasbro, LEGO, Leap Frog, Learning Resources, MEGA Bloks, Milton Bradley, Playmobil, Small World Toys, and Wild Planet.

Create special places for both quiet study and active play. Your child needs easy access to all the wonderful products you have purchased and also space to make things or create for themselves.

Find new ways to store playthings so your child can take responsibility for putting things away. Shelving makes storage easy. Boxes or bags can hold a lot. Shoe boxes are useful for tapes, small pieces, and art supplies. Large boxes can be decorated. A hammock is a good way to store stuffed and soft toys or dolls. A toy chest must have safety latches. Help your child learn to put toys away after they are used. This is safer and playthings last longer.

Take some time each day to play with your child. You will both enjoy spending time together playing checkers, a board game, a puzzle, or doing a craft. Quality time translates into fun and benefits everyone.

Here are some suggested toy products for this age group:

  • Art supplies
  • Bicycles
  • Books
  • Construction toys
  • Dolls, dollhouses, figures, toy soldiers
  • Electronic games
  • Jump ropes
  • Kites
  • Musical instruments
  • Non-electronic board games
  • Puppets and marionettes
  • Puzzles
  • Software
  • Tools
  • Transportation toys

As resident Play Tutor, a very important job is to identify your child's talents — and all of us have one or two, sometimes never discovered! The Play Tutor works to put the child in touch with those talents, sees which are of most interest, then supplies the support and materials to let the youngster take off!

At the same time, never, never push your child in a direction that is where the child does not want to go. The wrong direction may, more likely, be where you want to go! And one you may have neglected. Give the child ideals, love, and the freedom to seek its own course.

As examples, sketching, painting, modeling clay, woodworking, sewing or embroidery, needlework (cross-stitch, petit point, plastic canvas projects, or knitting), wood or linoleum engraving, leather work, model building, beadwork, photography — are all arts in which your child might find a special interest. Other projects can include weaving with a loom, jewelry making, papier-mâché, creations, model trains, and throwing pottery.

My book, Smart Play/Smart Toys, will provide more details on products that are best for primary school age children. You can also review this website for specific suggested products.

Let's play!

What’s Right for Older Kids

by Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy

Between ages nine and eleven, children experience rapid social maturation and physical growth. They are in transition. As they grow older, their interests grow more sophisticated. Despite the changes, they still need to have a good balance of activities at home, school, and play. At this age, friends have a significant influence on a child. However, with your encouragement, their talents and interests will expand.

Older children like to make things, work on projects, and see results of their efforts. Gift ideas include hobbies, crafts, or construction sets. They like computers, cameras, typewriters, robots, and scientific materials. Other possible gifts include sports and creative arts equipment, stuffed animals, and collections. Also consider books, board and video games, and a variety of tapes.

This is the time for children to discover and expand their interests and talents. They can pursue music, art, dance, and writing. Their ability to concentrate for longer periods of time will be reflected in their interests after school. Provide time for them to spend alone and to be productive discovering and practicing their talents and skills.

Your child at this age will find these types of toys appealing depending on their interests and experiences:

Arts – pens, paints, clay and other art supplies
Baton – cheerleading can be a very active outlet
Binoculars – bird watching is a terrific hobby
Books – love of reading lasts a lifetime
Camera – taking photos is a fun hobby and can lead to a career
Camping equipment – managing in the outdoors gives confidence and appreciation of nature
CDs – and tapes, build an interest in music, which nutures the soul
Chemistry sets – can unveil a talent for science
Computer - always a practical and valuable tool for learning
Construction sets – some children enjoy building projects for a long time, even into adulthood.
Crafts – learning to make things is satisfying and the creation can become a great gift.
Exercise tapes – help children to be more active and healthier
Flower press - fun hobby and a way to learn about nature
Juggling sets – helps with eye-hand coordination and better balance
Kites – always a delightful way to spend a windy day out of doors
Oil-painting – explore the value of art and learn more about painting
Papermaker – can be a great way to learn how paper is created
Pets – when the child can handle the responsibility, a pet can be a greatly rewarding experience
Sports equipment - sports activity every day keeps children physically fit
Stuffed animals – enjoyed by all ages
Telescope - explore the vastness of the stars
Workbench and tools – learning new skills and building things gains confidence and satisfies
Yo-Yo – fun for all ages

Children will find products by the following companies interesting: Action Products, Alex, B. Dazzle, Discovery Toys, Educational Insights, Channel Products, Folkmanis, Leap Frog, Learning Resources, LEGO, MegaBloks, Owi, Tangle Toys, University Games, VTech and Wham-O and Wild Planet. You will find more specifics on companies and products on Dr. Toy’s Guide www.drtoy.com.

Children appreciate positive alternatives. When children are constructively occupied, they are happier, more satisfied, and more productive at home and in school. Reading, playing games, flying a kite, throwing a Frisbee, and engaging in a hobby help make them smarter, more social, and more self-confident.

Friends and individual pursuits are important, but as children grow older, they also need time to interact with their parents. So find some fun group activities to do together-ones that allow everyone to win. Play is the smart way to learn. Through play children learn best.

My book, Smart Play/Smart Toys, will provide more details on products that are best for older children. Let’s play!

Let’s play!

Eco-Friendly Toys: How to Go Green

From Gifts & Decorative Accessories
Toy industry recognizing, responding to sustainability issues
Stevanne Auerbach

Maple Landmark Blocks

The world we live in is going through dramatic ecological and environmental changes. The toy industry is growing more aware of the issues and is becoming more responsive to the changes in a wide variety of ways. There are new operational safety standards, more eco-friendly practices being employed by companies and retail outlets, and more innovative green products being produced and sold. Those in the toy industry are also taking new green principles and practices back home, into schools, and reaching out to others. Some changes are small, but each change makes a contribution to reduce the carbon footprint and helps to make our homes, work sites, and products safer and less toxic.

Many toy companies and retailers are already making great strides, tracking materials used in their products, reducing waste and energy used in their manufacturing processes, and ensuring their products are packaged in recycled materials. These are terrific steps. Company executives can also take steps to better assess their environmental practices and to assure their supply chain involves only environmentally certified sources. They can also affirm that suppliers provide valid information about additives used in manufacturing and the conditions under which they are made are environmentally safe and more socially responsible.

How can companies and individuals move to inspire children to appreciate the environment and help them to take better care of our natural resources? We might start by showing by example what we adults do to conserve energy. We can show them how we take better care of our homes and offices. We can illustrate how we reduce our carbon footprint in a variety of ways. We can look more closely at what we do every day-use paper or cloth bags instead of plastic, conserve energy, recycle, and take some time each day to be in nature, out of doors, walking, growing vegetables and in other ways appreciating the fragile balance of nature.

We can also consider what we give children to play with. We can examine the products that are produced for play. We can find out more precisely about the materials and the process used to make them. We have some excellent examples of playthings that are made safely, are healthy to use, and have plenty of special values in their message.

While green products constitute a small number among all the choices of products available, we need to start somewhere. The awareness grows as more families are thinking and considering new directions that are safer, more balanced and healthier. More families participate in Earth Day Celebrations around the world as more parents and teachers become better informed about the deleterious issues affecting our planet.

The awareness is spreading and that in itself is encouraging. Each step helps. Each step moves us toward a healthier home, community, work place and environment.

Laurie Hyman, one of the founders of the Green Toy Inc, says: “Parents want to feel good about the products they give their kids. Toys have always been judged by their play value, but now they are also being judged by the ‘ingredients’ they are made from. Parents want toys that are made from safer, greener materials that are both good for their kids and good for the earth.

“Everything we do at Green Toys Inc., from recycling through manufacturing, assembly and warehousing, is in California, 99 percent in the Bay Area,” Hyman said. “This concept of “reverse globalization” keeps the supply chain local, keeps jobs here in the U.S., and helps reduce our carbon footprint. In addition, our choice in materials for our products and packaging helps save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Green Products

We have identified products that help children learn more about their world. We have found products made from organic materials or produced in ways that are healthier. Hopefully those who understand their intrinsic value will want to locate these products and make them available for stores, schools and homes. You will find a roster of books and websites at the end of the article that may inspire you to learn more about what you can do to participate in working to create a healthier place for everyone to live.

Green Toys Recycling Truck

Sort bottles, cans, and paper or just have a blast. Eco-conscious kids will learn recycling basics while playing with this super cool recycling truck that has a movable recycling bed and open/shut rear door. The eco-friendly design has no metal axles. The Green Toys Inc. Recycling Truck is made in the U.S. from 100% recycled plastic milk containers that save energy and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all in the name of good green fun. Product is for children 3 to 9 years old. Price is $24.99

Hugg-A-Planet Foundlings

The Foundlings line is the original organic cotton plush toy line that was introduced when green was just a color and long before it was a movement. Made in the U.S., the line includes Bunny, Bear, Rabbit, Elephant, Puppy, Lab, Turtle and Whale. Combines a 100% organic (no pesticides) cotton shell with a fill of unbleached cotton clippings. The embroidered eyes are created for safety. This is one of the most environmentally safe toys made in the world today. It takes three years of chemical- and pesticide-free farming to certify a cotton crop as organic. Organic farming protects ground water and the farm workers. The cotton used in Foundlings is free from pesticides and other harmful chemicals. The product is hand-made in Vermont. All the soft animals are machine washable and safe for all ages. Product is for children 1 to 3 years old. Prices range from $15.95 for Bunny to $29.95 for Elephant.

Maple Landmark teethers

Maple Landmark Woodcraft Maple Teether Pair
A unique and traditional wooden teether that is safe, sturdy and perfect for baby. This is natural and unfinished wood that is the right choice to overcome concerns about toxic finishes. Sold in a pair, these maple teethers measure about 31/2″ in diameter. The lumber for the teethers is harvested locally by lumbermen who have been in the wood business for more than 150 years. The Lathrop family harvest lumber from family forests. The Lathrops believe in working with the Vermont Family Forest Assn. and other forestry groups to protect, stimulate and cultivate natural resources. Price is $15.50 a pair.

GobbletGobblers

Based upon the all-time favorite, this is a fun strategy game that will keep the family hungry to play for hours. Pick your Gobblers and line up three of them in a row to win the game. The Gobblers have a strong appetite and can gobble up smaller Gobblers. These cute little characters test strategy and stimulate memory. The pieces have a bright and colorful all-wooden design. Easy to learn, it is a quick thinking game that is fun to play. Designed for two players ages 5 and up. Play time: 2 to 5 minutes. Price is $19.99.

Go Green Activities

Think sustainability and longevity. Toys should not be used once and thrown away like a water bottle. A good toy that is well designed, durable and fun will last forever and be passed on to the next generation. Value in this case is tremendous. One toy company president reminded us that when he grew up, he played with wooden toys his grandfather built and today they are passed to his great-grand children. Not only do they produce no waste, but also carry along sentimental value through time.

Other ways your company can provide local support for green activities include:

• Support the local Toy Library where you live. http://www.usatla.org/Welcome.html
• Work with schools to help make them more green. www.ase.org/section/program/greenschl
• Change the types of light bulbs you use at home and at work.
• Walk, bike or car pool instead of driving alone whenever possible.
• Read more to find out how others are improving work place and home.

See additional resources at the end of the article.

Green Companies Commitment

When we launched the Dr. Toy’s Best Green Products Award Program, we wanted to recognize innovation in green products that were making a difference, being made using new processes, and/or based on principles such as planting new trees for those that were being used to produce their products. Green awareness has grown throughout the toy industry because of many factors-consumer demand, product safety issues, wider realization of the precariousness of our planet and a broadening of green principles that reflect daily practice. We applaud each change.

We are pleased and proud to identify the best Green Products and all of the conscientious companies that are making these products. We looked at many qualified companies. They each are making a difference and making many important contributions both in product development and eco-friendly practices. Even if the practices are not extensive, these are companies that have been either leaders in this area or are now participating in the growing number pledged to move ahead and continue to make a difference.

We hope the summary of these principles reflected by the growing group of green companies will continue to inspire others to match the effort. Toy companies and toy stores share the commitment to help preserve the world we live in. They are leading providers of new products, expanding awareness, and inspiring others. Green products reflect these goals. More companies are practicing green principles in their daily operations, providing support to local and national organizations that are making a difference, and providing information and resources to consumers.

As one company said, “Going 100% green won’t happen overnight, but moving in a new green direction is the best place to start!”

We urge you to review both product details and why the company is considered a leader in promoting green practices. This was challenging as each company in the green company roster is sincerely practicing the principles by producing high-quality products and have already made large differences. We hope the activities of these companies will be reviewed and replicated by others who want to also benefit from the important changes being made as more are interested in expanding green practices.

Some of the companies actually manufacture eco-friendly products that reduce the carbon footprint through carefully thought out manufacturing processes. Their products reflect commitment and consumers have had enthusiastic responses.

Some of the practices already in place among green companies include using:
• recycled paper and other eco-friendly materials in minimum quantities in the packaging.
• recycled materials in the manufacturing process.
• Polylith, a synthetic “tree-free” paper made of 100% polypropylene, one of the most eco-friendly alternatives to vinyl. This rugged synthetic paper is waterproof and can be wiped clean with a damp cloth.
• organic products that are chemical-free.
• natural dyes.
• glues and other materials that are non-toxic.
• new processes for plastic-based products.
• both sides of paper.
• factories that are Fair Trade certified.
• manual methods to assemble products.
• local facilities for manufacturing.

Green Company Practices

Following is a list of some of the actions that companies already practicing green principles in their workplaces and factories have taken:
• Install energy-saving lighting fixtures throughout office and plant.
• Save electrical energy by turning off lights.
• Reprogram computers and other electrical equipment to shut down automatically when not in use.
• Install solutubes, which allow for natural light to illuminate key workstations.
• Eliminate the emission of any Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) into the atmosphere.
• Use recycling procedures that all employees participate in. This could include recycling cans, bottles, paper, cardboard, cell phones, electronics, electronic media, landscape waste, and construction debris.
(One company recycled 2,170 tons of material, saving 37,000 trees in the process.)
• Eliminate individual plastic water bottles.
• Minimize driving alone during work hours by using environmentally friendly options such as teleconference, video-conference, carpools, and public transit.
• Reduce use of paper through electronic billing and management.
• Express the company’s environmental messages via press releases and advertising.
• Promote consumer awareness by supporting and promoting public participation in Green practices in homes and schools.
• Use materials in new ways.
• Replant trees.
• Inspire special programs and services and contribute to the preservation of the planet.
• Minimize or eliminate unnecessary packaging. For example, Blue Orange Games packaging is designed to be used as a playing board or a place where you can store game pieces.
• Write quick rules directly on the packaging so even if paper instructions are lost, the child can still remember how to play the game.
• Be proactive on a small scale at the company level. At the office, stop using plastic bottles or cups. Purchase aluminum water bottles for each employee.
• Recycle printed paper and reuse or shred for packing material.
• Replace paper towels with fabric towels.
• Turn off half of the warehouse lights.
• Compost all food products.

In summary, the three best suggested activities retailers and companies can do to be greener:
• Visually make changes — light bulbs are simplest — and offer to recycle packaging, as it shows a commitment to the general public.
• Be honest about being green. Consumers are very aware of what feels right to them about green.
• Educate or make available green information to customers and train employees to really hear what the customer wants.

Recognizing Green Companies

We began recognizing green companies and practices in 2007 with the first Dr. Toy Best Green Company Award presented to Blue Orange Games. We recognized Blue Orange Games as the first company to launch a campaign to better the environment by making a promise to its customers and a commitment to society by re-planting two trees for every one used in creating its games.

Blue Orange Games Company founders Julien Mayot and Thierry Denoual use high-quality, kid-safe materials, plus they recognize the future in their business practices today. This recognition considers how the company uses a sustainable way to provide an important component to all their wooden games, blocks and puzzles. Plant trees where you cut them is the essence of their tree campaign, and Blue Orange has planted more than 50,000 trees since 2007.

Blue Orange Games is in the process of being certified as a San Francisco Green Business by http://www.sfgreenbusiness.org. Even without a certification, it has taken a great step to reduce its environmental impact at the company level. Check with your local green business organization to find out how to make similar commitments. For more information, go to www.blueorange.com.

Green Toys Inc. is the second company we recognized in 2008 to launch a campaign to better the environment by making a promise to its customers and a commitment to society to use recycled plastics to make new products. Robert von Goeben and Laurie Hyman, co-founders of Green Toys Inc., were acknowledged for their creative use of recycled, kid-safe materials and in adopting business practices that keep manufacturing local to California, which saves in carbon emissions and creates more U.S. jobs. This recognition considers how this company uses a sustainable eco-friendly approach in its material selection, packaging and business philosophy, which results in high quality, fun toys.

Green Toys Inc. creates and manufactures environmentally and socially responsible safe toys and offers consumers a trusted source for toys. They provide transparency about its eco-friendly raw materials and California-based manufacturing processes. Made in the U.S. from 100% recycled plastic milk containers that save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are safe for busy little children. Green Toys Inc. products have been enthusiastically embraced by retailers and consumers who appreciate their innovative and colorful designs and manufacturing innovations. For more information, visit: www.greentoys.com.

In 2009, the Hugg-A-Planet Co. was recognized for its long time commitment and innovative products. Hugg-A-Planet is the third Best Green Toy Company we recognized. We have known the company since it started and always admired its products and principles. The Foundlings Line is the original organic cotton plush toy line that was introduced when green was just a color and long before it was a movement. The products are all made in the U.S. from 100% organic material (no pesticides) and is one of the most environmentally safe toys made in the world.

We will announce the winners for 2010 on August 1st.

Green Standards and Certifications

“Greener standards and certifications like EcoLogo will help identify the real environmental leaders in the toy industry and should increase their market share over time,” said Scot Case, vice president of TerraChoice, managers of the EcoLogo Program. “Environmental standards will help shape the design and development of toys that are more environmentally and socially responsible by making it easier for parents, grandparents and family friends to buy greener products.”

In 2009, the EcoLogo Program, one of North America’s oldest and most respected multi-attribute environmental standards and certification marks, announced that it would establish the first comprehensive environmental toy standard for use in the U.S. and Canada.

Dr. Angela Griffiths, executive director of the EcoLogo program, says the standard address a gap in the toy industry. “Children’s toys became a priority for the EcoLogo Program when our research demonstrated that there are no common criteria for environmentally sound toys and children’s products in North America,” she said.

The Seven Sins of Greenwashing Study conducted by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing in 2009 shows toys and baby products were found to attract an above-average frequency of environmental claims. It is for this reason that these products are at a higher risk of greenwashing (the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service). Alphabet blocks claiming to be “natural”, cotton toys purporting to be “certified non-toxic” and “biodegradable building blocks” were all found in the study and can be considered vague and misleading if not supported by meaningful information or proof. Marketers and manufacturers should provide honest and accurate environmental claims on their toys and baby products to ensure they are not greenwashing.

The EcoLogo Toy Standard will identify environmental leadership in this product category and is also intended to encourage the design and development of toy products that are produced in a way that is more environmentally and socially responsible.

In April 2010, EcoLogo released the first draft of the Toy Standard, which includes criteria for play products made from wood, plastic, rubber, textiles, metals and bio-based materials. The current draft excludes products made with added fragrances; anti-bacterial or antimicrobial agents; heavy metals such as lead, cadmium or mercury; or substances or components that are known carcinogens, mutagens or reproductive toxins.

EcoLogo standards are developed in an open, public, transparent process, and there are numerous opportunities to be involved. The typical standard development process lasts 12 to 18 months. Anyone is able to participate in the process, including concerned individuals such as parents and grandparents, toy manufacturers, retailers, government agencies and non-profit advocacy groups. Currently, more than 150 stakeholders have signed up to participate.

The EcoLogo Toy Standard development process is being managed on behalf of the EcoLogo Program by Catherine Wilt and the staff at the University of Tennessee’s Center for Clean Products, who are leaders in the development of environmental product and material standards, and is supported by Dr. Sally Edwards, director of the Sustainable Children’s Products Initiative at the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

The Toy Standard is also being developed with the assistance of a diverse and well-qualified Advisory Committee. The members of the Advisory Committee represent the toy industry, environmental non-governmental organizations, retailers, and general users. A full list of the project team and advisory committee members, including their bios, can be found at: http://www.ecologo.org.

As the EcoLogo Toy Standard is still in the development stage, companies and manufacturers looking to fit their toy products to this standard should continue to stay up-to-date on its progress.

In the meantime, companies can begin to document “greener” activities that they have implemented such as tracking and cataloging materials used, waste and energy reduction and incorporation of recycled packaging.

Interested companies should also become active in EcoLogo’s Toy Standard development process, which will allow them to be better prepared to strategically address criteria likely to be included in the final standard. Once the Toy Standard is finalized, any manufacturer that demonstrates compliance with the standard is eligible to apply for EcoLogo certification.

The first draft of the Toy Standard, as well as all other public information about the standard development process, can be found on the EcoLogo website

To receive updates and notifications on the development of the EcoLogo Toy Standard, contact Katherine Stewart at the EcoLogo Program: kstewart@nullecologo.org, (800) 478-0399 ext. 231.

Comments have been received from a variety of perspectives on the EcoLogo standards and readers are encouraged to review and respond with your perspectives.

Barbara Rainville of Maple Landmark Toys reviewed the EcoLogo standards and said, “Tiered standards are important because it does give manufacturers a place to start. If the certification is important to the manufacturer, it will encourage, promote, or otherwise outline ways to effect positive change going forward. Since manufacturers are spread across the globe, certain standards may not be able to be achieved. This does not mean a product is not worthy of certification at all, just maybe not on the highest tier.”

Rachel Murray Meyer, toy safety and quality expert, said, “Toy companies that take the lead in using resources efficiently will be at a competitive advantage, both economically and by being in a more favorable position with both retail customers and consumers.”

Finally, going green does require a change in attitude and perspective, but by taking small steps to modify what has been practiced in the past, we can make a huge contribution to make our homes, community, schools, work sites, industry and the world safer and less toxic in the long run. At the very least, we can make a start.

More Green Resources

Publications:

• The Earthworks Group, The New 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth, www.50simplekids.com
• Joanna Yarrow, 1001 Ways to Save the Earth, www.chroniclebooks.com
• Kim McKay and Jenny Bonnin, True Green Kids-100 things you can do to save the planet, National Geographic, http://www.betruegreen.com

Green websites:

www.greenamericatoday.org
www.globalgreen.org
www.greenmatters.com
www.worldwatch.org
www.foe.org
www.theecologist.org
www.eartheducation.org
www.thegreenguide.com
www.kidsplanet.org
www.epa.gov/kids
www.droptheplasticbag.org
www.planetpatrol.info
www.earth911.org/for-students
www.healthychild.org

A Whole New Environment in the Toy Industry

 

How to Survive and Prosper
by Rachel Murray Meyer

In the summer of 2007 there were millions of toys recalled. Consumers Union labeled 2007 “The Year of the Recall.” The majority of these recalls were for design related issues such as small hazardous magnets and small parts in toys for children under three years old. The minority of recalls, contrary to popular belief, was for lead in paint.

With an Act of Congress, The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) was created to address these issues. Extensive changes include new lead limits for toy components, a reduction in the limit for lead in paint, and new restrictions imposed on Phthalates, a group of chemicals that is typically used to soften PVC. Here are some tips to help you adapt:

1. Commit to Design, Manufacture, Sell and Distribute Safe Toys throughout the supply chain.

2. Know the age group that the toy design will be appropriate for. Proper age grading determines the design and test requirements. Especially look out for small parts, which can pose choking hazards for children under three. Visit the CPSC website for complete CPSC Age Determination Guidelines or down load here: http://www.cpsc.gov/businfo/adg.pdf.

3. Become familiar and comply with the new Federal Legislation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) (2008) and frequent the website for updates: http://www.cpsc.gov/about/cpsia/cpsia.html. Here are a few highlights:

a. New limit requirements for lead in toy components
b. Reduces the limit for lead in paint
c. Requires general conformity certification certificates
d. Phases in third party testing
e. Requires Tracking Labels on children’s products
f. Makes ASTM F963-07e1 mandatory
g. Limits for certain phthalates.

4. Products shipping into the US and within the US, manufactured on and after November 12, 2008 need a General Conformity Certification certificate to accompany them. The CPSC has indicated this can be done electronically. See this link: http://cpsc.gov/about/cpsia/faq/elecertfaq.pdf. Note that specific citations would be 16 CFR 1303 or 16 CFR 1503, etc.

5. Various tests for toys will need to be performed by CPSC accredited third party labs. Some labs are used because they are close to the foreign or domestic manufacturer. The first of these tests is required in December 2008 for Total Lead in Paint. The next test is in February for small parts. It is recommended to test for all the requirements referenced in ASTM F963 and CPSIA. Browse the CPSC list of accredited labs: http://cpsc.gov/about/cpsia/accredited.html and select a lab that you can work with.

6. Learn about the Toy industry Safety Standard, ASTM F963-07e1 that will become law. It describes a variety of hazards and test methods: http://www.astm.org/Standards/F963. Small hazardous magnets are defined in ASTM F963-07e1 for certain shapes. I suggest eliminating small powerful magnets and components that contain them if they can fit in the small parts cylinder.

7. The design of safe toys goes beyond the regulations and standards. Toy concepts and designs need to be evaluated to understand if they pose any potential hazards during use and foreseeable abuse, and what is the risk of such hazards occurring.

8. Keep up to date on the toy industry at the Toy Industry Association (TIA) website. http://www.toy-tia.org/

9. To certify your toys are safe, consider The Toy Safety Certification Program http://toycertification.org/ they also have a good summary of the new CPSIA requirements at their link: http://toycertification.org/res-summary.html

10. Make sure that the quality and safety requirements are clear and agreed to by the manufacturer. Document the requirements and consider if legal counsel is needed.

11. Check out the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website. Learn about items that are being recalled. Explore the site and see the rules and regulations. http://www.cpsc.gov

12. Play with your toys!

Rachel Murray Meyer is principal of Toy Safety and Quality, Inc. and consults to manufacturers and test labs in the US, China and Europe. She is also the Senior Technical Director of CMA Testing and Certification Laboratories, a Hong Kong laboratory.

Her professional affiliations include a seat on the TSCP Technical committee, membership in the Toy Industry Association, and a voting membership of ASTM F963.