As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc., we are constantly buying gifts for the kids in our lives: birthdays, holidays, baby showers, learning supplies… This can contribute to a lot of waste! From the manufacturing, packaging, wrapping, transporting, to toys themselves, a lot of waste can go into just one toy. Instead of contributing to this amount of waste, here are some classic, sustainable* gifts for kids! These are also mostly open-ended toys, meaning that they have multiple uses and will keep kids occupied with their imaginations. 🙂
*I judge “sustainable” by a standard of non-plastic (or least plastic), non-toxic, and something that will last a long time and nourish instead of harm our earth once the kids are done playing with it.
Getting children gifts made from sustainable materials is not only better for our planet, but shows them first-hand what it looks like to care for our earth, and can open up the door to conversation about why sustainability is important. Here are our top classic sustainable kids toys:
1. Wooden blocks (magnetic and non-magnetic)
2. Musical marble tree
3. Play house
5. Music set
1. Wooden blocks
Wooden blocks are a classic toy that are made from sustainable materials, are non-toxic, and give children a world of avenues to create, build, and use their imagination. Our wooden block set is from a family member who made it for us, but there are many wooden block sets you can purchase easily. We love wooden blocks because they are safe and sustainable toys, but are also extremely durable and last for a long time. However, if you have a toddler or baby who loves to throw things, be careful of where you keep these blocks so that they don’t make their way into tiny hands that will throw them…! Wooden blocks are generally great for kids 3 and up.
There are also magnetic wooden blocks, which are the coolest thing! Our preschooler loves the magnetic wooden blocks because they are easier to stick together than Duplos (or large Legos), and they actually stick together unlike the regular wooden blocks. The wood also is easier to grip in his little hands than Duplos.
– Melissa and Doug wooden blocks
– Magnetic wooden blocks, 24-piece set
– Tegu magnetic wooden blocks 42-piece set
– Our favorite (but out of stock as of this posting) magnetic wooden blocks: Earthtiles
2. Musical marble tree
We love love LOVE our musical marble tree! Marble trees might not be considered “classic”, but marbles are. Marble trees are made from wood and typically dyed with natural plant dyes to make it non-toxic and more sustainable. However, not all of them are, so be careful from where you purchase. We got ours from The Small Folk for our first son’s second birthday, and he liked it well enough, but now that he’s older he really enjoys it. It’s such a simple toy, but makes such a pretty sound as the wooden marbles plink down each wooden leaf; it’s mesmerizing! We keep it in the box up high most of the time, and bring it down when the kids are getting bored indoors or want to play with it. Our preschooler loves it, and our 1-year-old is enthralled — although of course we make sure to supervise them when using it, since the wooden marbles could be a choking hazard. This toy is definitely best suited for those 3 and up, but can be great for practicing fine motor skills with young ones (as long as an adult is watching very closely!).
– Our favorite musical marble tree from The Small Folk (this is the “mini” size at 12″, which is plenty for us, but there is a bigger size on the same website. Keep in mind the price is $74 AUD, which is closer to $52 USD. Also, no assembly required!)
– From Amazon (this one stands at 20″ for $72 USD. It may seem easier to order since it’s on Amazon, but it’s unclear whether the paint/dye they use is non-toxic. Also, assembly is required — you must fit each leaf into its spot.)
3. Play house
A wooden play house (I decided not to call it a “doll house” because really it has many uses; my oldest uses it with the wooden dolls, but also for his dinosaurs) can keep kids’ imaginations rolling. It is so versatile; they can use a variety of toys in there and they can rearrange it for each scenario. This is a classic toy for a reason! I think traditionally these have been marketed to girls, but my brother and I played with ours together growing up, and now my two boys both love theirs. This is a great open-ended toy with so many uses, and getting a wooden one instead of cheap plastic will last longer, and have a much healthier impact on our environment.
– Hape decorated wooden dollhouse (with solar panels, how cute is that!)
– Melissa and Doug decorated wooden dollhouse (don’t have this one, but it’s slightly cheaper than Hape and just as cute)
– Small World Toys unpainted wooden dollhouse (listing this because it’s an unpainted house, but the reviews aren’t as good as the two above)
Easels are so multi-functional! Letting our kids’ creativity out is so important, and easels can be used for painting, drawing, teaching, and learning. They can also be used by kids of all ages; my baby loves to use the chalkboard part (since I don’t let him get into the paint or markers 😉 ), while my preschooler loves finger painting and drawing on the huge roll of paper. Easels can be made from plastic, but in order to make them more sustainable, wooden easels with a non-toxic finish is the way to go. Getting an easel with a magnetic dry-erase board on one side, chalk board on the other, bar to hold a roll of paper, and a paint cup holder underneath is definitely the best bang for your buck.
– Wooden easel (made with non-toxic paint and no formaldehyde)
– Melissa and Doug tabletop double-sided easel
– Recyclable, sustainably-sourced easel paper
– Paint brush set
– Natural, non-toxic paint
– Non-toxic unicorn chalk
– Safe, washable markers
– Refillable dry-erase markers
5. Music set
While sometimes noise can be a little much for us as parents, allowing our children to be exposed to and play music can be therapeutic for our children! It also helps get some energy out indoors while stimulating their beautiful brains. There are many different music sets out there, but a lot of them have flashing lights and make sounds of their own, which can overstimulate a child’s brain and disrupt their own creativity (not to mention most of them are made from cheap plastics — not great for our children’s health or the environment). Buying an open-ended, well-made music set and letting children play and experiment gives children the freedom to learn and be creative, which will better set them up for success as adults.
Our favorite musical instruments include a variety of things, from a little drum to bells to tin whistles to xylophones and harmonicas, they each have their place in the environment of learning for children.
– Hape music set (good for toddlers, ages 1-4. Hape is always my first choice for sustainability, with their bamboo and non-toxic paints. However, they don’t have as much variety as Melissa and Doug.)
– Melissa and Doug’s band in a box (great for a variety of ages!)
– Tin whistle (great for all ages — sadly, I have yet to find one with a mouthpiece made of something other than plastic)
– Xylophone (for younger kids)
– Learn xylophone (for older kids)
Wooden blocks, marble trees, play houses (or, dollhouses), easels, and a good music set comprise my top five classic, sustainable gifts for kids. They are open-ended and are especially great for times like now when we are staying at home and homeschooling. They all have amazing reviews, both from our family and from the listing websites, can be used by a variety of ages, and aren’t made from toxic materials. I love it when my kids can play together, and these toys provide an avenue of ways for different ages and interests to come together to create and imagine. And when we are done with them, we know they won’t take 100’s of years to biodegrade in a landfill!
What have been your favorite classic, sustainable gifts? I’d love to hear in the comments below!