The Best Eco-Friendly Presents for Kids

by - Monday, November 30, 2020


The Best Eco-Friendly Presents for Kids

Giving kids gifts is so much fun- they have huge reactions and you get to feel like you really nailed it! We as adults can totally share in the child's excitement, so it is tempting to give a whole mountain of gifts! That said, the number of toys the average child has is way too high, and it causes problems. 

Just another toy and another and another leads to too many toys. 

Too many toys-

- Actually slows down their play. Studies show kids can only process so many objects, so when they have too much, they actually play less. 

-Sets up consumerist expectations. It is so easy to let family culture slide into the expectation that holidays mean getting stuff, big events mean getting stuff, etc. 

- Adds stress to their home. We know that clutter and chaos in the home correlates with stress. Even if the kids aren't feeling that, their caretakers are. 

- Destroys the planet they will be inheriting from you. This may seem overdramatic, but we know there is a proven link between overconsumerism and climte change. Toys tend to be wrapped in polluting plastic, to be used a short time before becoming trash themselves, and are often made unethically to keep those very low prices. So if your kid has 100 toys, multiply that effect by 100. If every American kid has 100 toys, multiply it by millions. These are all problems our kids will have to solve to survive; please do not add to their troubles. 

So what does environmentally responsible gifting look like? It can be so many things! 

Want some basic guidelines for gifting the kids you love? We've got them! 

1. Buy Less- Kids toys, epecially that little plastic nonsense is CHEAP. It can be really easy to get carried away and buy a bunch of things. Buy one. Even better, buy an experience. Have confidence that your choice of gift is GREAT, and you don't have to give each kid an exactly monetarily equal gift either. 

2. Buy Used - My oldest child was recently surprised to learn that all of his birthday presents over the year, minus one, have been secondhand. Kids don't know, and they definitely don't mind. Let go of any hang ups you have about secondhand stuff- it's great for the planet, so you are protecting that kid for buying it. 

3. Buy Local - Wherever you are, shop there. Start keeping an eye on where things are manufactured - do you really think children's toys should travel further than you? All that shipping has a huge footprint, the packaging pollutes, and the people making those toys are not treated fairly. Finding things that are manufactured near you matters. Finding local toy shop matters. Want to learn more about our favorite made in America toys? Check out this post. 

This post may have a few links to Amazon, where I am an affiliate, but the best thing you can do for the environment and your community is to buy secondhand or local. If you need ideas of where to shop instead, check out this post. 

Ok, time to get to presents! Let's do this. 

1. Time With You

It may feel very strange to not go buy a pile of toys from the store, but you cannot do better for the kid or the environment than an experience with you. Kids get tired of gifts pretty fast, but they will always remember that trip to the museum or the baseball game. They will remember their weekly lunch picnics with you. Let go of the idea that what they need is more stuff- they really just want time with you! I have never felt that more than this year; our house is overflowing with stuff, and what they really want is connection. 

Think about the best times you have spent with that child. What were you doing? What about their favorite things to talk about? Kids are so full-hearted with passions- how could you make an amazing memory out of that interest? 

Need ideas for experience gifts they will love? Check out this list of 99 Experience Gift Ideas

Worried that an experience gift won't have the same big excited reaction? Check out this post for lots of fun and memorable ideas for how to "wrap" that gift. You could be giving the gift they will remember forever. 

2. Memberships, Lessons, or Camps- Help them learn!

If you don't live nearby or don't feel comfortable taking the kid out, you can give them (and their parents) a great gift with an opportunity to learn. These types of things can add up for parents, so helping the kids get into other spaces for learning is a huge gift for everyone. 

 A membership to the zoo, a children's museum, piano lessons, a baseball camp- the opportunities are almost endless! If you don't see much near where they live (or their grown-ups can't take them a lot of places), you could also sign up for a subscription box. These are trickier, and some are better for the planet than others. We have loved doing RadDish boxes- the kids really like learning about cooking, and I think it gives them a better appreciation for food. 

So if the kid you love is an animal lover, try a zoo membership or tickets! If they love music, sign them up for a class! Do they love videogames? Try some cool streaming subscription! It doesn't have to be a physical thing for it to be the best gift ever. 

3. The Characters They Love... But from eBay

My son is absolutely obsessed with Octonauts right now. When his birthday came up, he wanted a gup! Not only are these toys expensive, but they are also incredibly wasteful, made of fresh plastic, wrapped in throwaway plastic- just not the kind of thing I want to buy. 

Lucky for me, eBay has new pre-owned Octonauts stuff go up on their website everyday. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right thing, but I usually can get my kids the gift they will go crazy for without having to buy anything new. I also write the seller and ask they don't use plastic to package the stuff unless it's secondhand. 

It's not a perfect solution, but if you have a paw patrol or frozen or ninjago crazy kid, you still don't have to rush to Amazon. You can find the same things on eBay, but secondhand, and save things from going in the landfill. 

eBay not working? You can also try Thred Up- type in the characters your kid loves and see if you can find them some cute clothes! There are so many ways to gift them what they are excited about without buying something new. 

You can also try Facebook Marketplace, your local Thrift shops, and Buy Nothing. There are so many secondhand toys out there, it makes NO SENSE to buy new! 

4. Art Supplies

Kids are wells of creativity, so art supplies can be a great place to start. If they are younger, I highly recommend looking around Facebook Marketplace or your Buy Nothing Group- there is always an easel, which is very important developmental step and chalk is lower waste than other mediums. 

Other art supplies I love?

Oil Pastels- they look amazing on cardboard, so they are great for creative reuse. Plus, all you need is cardboard boxes.

Play dough- You can make your own! It's pretty simple and fun to do. Green Toys makes fun play dough supplies. 

Recycled Paper- You can find lots of great recycled cardstock or large rolls of recycled paper for art projects. I think paper is a great gift, because we fire right through it. 

Crayons - Honeysticks or recycled crayons like eco-stars are both great options. 

There are creative reuse stores all over the country, and you can often find art supplies at secondhand stores. One of the best options is secondhand beads, which you can find almost everywhere, and they are so good for their fine motor skills. 

Not sure what to do? I have another post about low waste art-making with kids with tons of ideas.

5. Books

I want to be a minimalist parent, but books. I love books. You cannot go wrong with books, as kids learn so much from reading. You can find tons of good research about the books out there. We have a list of our favorite books to read before kindergarten AND a list about our favorite books about the planet and climate

The nice thing is that you can probably get a good sense from their parents about what they are interested in. 

When in doubt, get books. When trying to help the environment, get them used. Even Amazon offers most children's books secondhand (in small print just under the regular price), but you can also try Goodwill Books or Thriftbooks

6. A Backpack, Special Shelf, or Toy Chest

My kids tend to love spaces that are theirs, and I am so excited when we get gifts that help us stay organized. Organizational things that are just theirs can be a hugely popular gift, that honestly people don't even think of. 

For a backpack, we have a post with Etsy stores that make adorable backpacks. Another option is to check eBay. I see there are so many on there from pretty high end brands. Some of them have a monogram on it (why do people do this?) but you could easily cover them with a fun patch. 

For a shelf or toy chest, you could try making one yourself! There are also tons of shelves out there in secondhand shops. Even if it isn't exactly right, maybe a little paint could totally transform it! Etsy also has so many adorable options from book shelf tree  to toy chests you can decorate yourself. 

Other options? Their own special chairs or corners. If you don't live with them, check with their grown ups to see what might be helpful for them! It seems too practical to be fun, but kids really do appreciate their own space. 

7. Green Toys

We have loved Green Toys for years (our oldest's first bath toy was their tug boat) and they just keep getting better. Green Toys make their vehicles, play dough toys, and other plastic toys in the US with recycled plastic jugs. The toys come wrapped in recycled cardboard too, so you avoid any fresh plastic when you buy from this awesome company. Now they have collaborations with Mr Potato Head, Sesame Street, and even Disney

Check out their website to see all of the great toys they have. I especially recommend their clay toys- we have been using them for a long time, and they work perfectly. 

8. Adopt an Endangered Species 

If you have an animal lover on your hand, check out the World Wildlife Fund offers these extremely cool species adoptions. You can donate for a specific species (and they have ton of great ones from musk ox to the harpy eagle), and the fund will send you a stuffy that matches and information about the species. 

This is such a cool idea, not only because it is so unique, but also because it is a great way to establish with a kid that they have a responsibility to the world they live in. That species is THEIR species, so you can send them more information about them and keep them up to date on how their species is doing. If you are ready to be involved, it can set them up for an early empowering and positive experience with environmental stewardship. 

Now, that doesn't make this perfect- I can't find any information on how the stuffies themselves were made (and there is some definite irony in supporting animals by getting a kid another synthetic stuffy. That said, you could also donate to World Wildlife Fund, The National Wildlife Federation, or World Animal Foundation and make a gift pack for the kid yourself, looking for secondhand or fair trade/American made stuffies that fit your criteria.

It really depends on what your priorities are, but I think this is the kind of gift that really leaves an impact. I was talking to my six year old about this list, and he was so excited about this idea (this, and hot wheels. He feels strongly hot wheels are a very important gift). He wanted to look through all the animals and think about which one he wants to help. If you think your kid would want to choose themselves, you can also get a gift card, or make your gift the special date to pick an animal. It's all good stuff here. 

9. Open Ended Toys

The most successful toys for kids are ones with lots of possibilities. Of all the toys in our house, the ones that get the most use are Magna Tiles. These are not eco-friendly toys (though if you are lucky and work ahead, you can find them used on eBay or Facebook Marketplace), but if we were only going to have one toy in our house, these would be it. 

Some people have similar experiences with other kinds of blocks and wooden toys, so if you are set on buying toys, I would start there. Etsy has a large collection of wooden blocks. Uncle Goose is my favorite brand of made in America blocks. Researching wooden toys is it's own passtime, but if you are interested in Grimm's or other brands, be sure to check eBay and other secondhand spaces before you buy new! 

The moral here? We are tempted to get things that are branded or charactered, because we now they will get that immediate wow factor. It's true, but it's not necessarily lasting. If you want to get them the toy that never runs out of possibilities, keep it as simple and open-ended as possible. 

10. Outdoors Toys

We protect what we love. If we want to raise a generation of kids who care about the environment, the most important thing we can do now is help them fall in love with nature. Working toward this goal could take a lot of different forms- 

- Give the gift of a hike once a month. 

- Make them a Mud Kitchen! All you need is an old coffee table (or palettes, or scrap wood), and lots of beat up pots and kitchen tools. If you have never heard of this and want inspiration, this post is a good place to start. 

-Nature Journals. A regular sketch book can become a special place to document discoveries and ideas. We love Field Notes and Decomposition books

-Gardening Tools. A shovel and a bucket can go a long, long way. If you want, you can ask your local bakery for one of their frosting buckets for free. 

The Best Eco-Friendly Presents for Kids

Alright, we made it! Want more ideas? Check out our Green Stocking Stuffer List and our page with all of our gift guides (we have tons!). Ok, what is your favorite kids' gifts to give?

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