ashley english by 43

small measures with ashley: green toys

[images above, clockwise from left: street accessories, portable lapboardwooden tea party set, pounding tower, stuffed veggie crate, dollhouse]

I grew up surrounded by toys. If it was shiny and made of plastic and featured a character popular on the late ’70s/early 80s kid circuit, chances are, I owned it. I had a blast with my toys. I lovingly tended to my foster home of Cabbage Patch Kids and played many a war game of Barbie versus G.I. Joe with my older brother. I had Rainbow Bright duke it out in an all-out fashion assault with Jem. I had not just My Little Pony, but the entire ranch. I adored my toys and I want my children to enjoy their play things with as much passion and zest as I did.

Since getting the news about “Nugget”, I’ve been thinking about toys. Since learning this past Tuesday that Nugget is a boy, I’ve begun to hone my toy focus even further. For me, the largest consideration with sourcing play things for our forthcoming tyke lies in finding objects that dovetail with my overarching ecological concerns. At the same time, I don’t want to sacrifice aesthetics or, well, fun.

Bearing that in mind, I’ve been sleuthing around for toys that are both sturdily and sustainably crafted. I want toys that don’t have lead or other heavy metals. I’m looking for objects free of potentially toxic residues. I’d also love to, as much as possible, steer clear of plastic objects, as most are petroleum-based and I’ve been working to curb my petroleum consumption in all of its many guises for years now (there are, of course, plastic toys made from recycled goods, as well as those that are BPA-free-these goodies totally appeal to me). Topping the list, however, is toys that are fun.

CLICK HERE for a list of Ashley’s favorite green toy sources after the jump!

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with what I’ve come across. Gorgeous, durable, colorful and ready for good times, the green toys I’ve discovered meet all of my criteria and then some. Here’s a list of some of my most favorite green toy sources:

-Hazelnut Kids
-Eden Home
-Eco Toy Town
-Kid Bean
-Rosie Hippo
-Down To Earth Toys
-Bella Luna Toys
-Koukla Online
-Toy Spectrum

I’ve also turned up a wealth of handcrafted items on the ever reliable Etsy. Additionally, here in Asheville, we’re fortunate enough to have the ecological housewares and children’s store Nest . It’s been our go-to source of gifts for new homeowners and parents for years and I’m so excited that we’ll now be able to use the store as a supplier for our family.

As a fledgling parent, I’d also like to turn to all of you seasoned D*S readers out there who’ve been doing this sort of research for years. If you have a favorite, much loved source of eco toys for tots, I’d love to hear about it. I thank you, and, in advance, Nugget thanks you! -ashley

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ashley english / small measures



I’d never dispute the value of green toys, however would you consider that toys that get used over and over and don’t just sit on a shelf looking cute are also just as valuable. Sadly many of the beautifully crafted toys appeal to the parents and not the kids. My son plays constantly with Legos and Playmobil which foster limitless imagination and creativity, but are, of course, plastic. We have, however, gotten our “money’s worth” on having bought these toys and they are so well made that they can easily be “recycled” by passing them on to more kids via craigslist or yard sales. I think that encouraging certain types of play should be your foremost concern.


Great post! It’s become so difficult to find safe, reasonably priced toys these days. I’ve found a lot of great lead free toys on Oompa as well, they carry products made by several different manufacturers, and have a lot of products that are made in Europe and the US :


there’s a fabulous boutique in Chicago with a really smart selection of green toys, clothes and accessories, including these awesome stuffed veggies (even the filler is organic cotton). The ecommerce site is being built as we speak!

Karen E

I really appreciate Sue’s comment above – very good point! My child is only 7 weeks old so I don’t yet know what toys will appeal to him. However, from this parent’s perspective, the German line Haba wins hands down. I’ve bought a few Haba toys (for infants and toddlers) so far and have high hopes that they will cross the bridge from the parent’s delight to the child’s!


My favorite toys for little boys, after legos and crayons come from Fisher-Price’s Imaginext line. (Playmobil is similar and a little more gender neutral.)

I very much agree with Sue, you have to think about the life-time play value of the toys. My 7 year old has a pirate ship, a castle and several dinosaurs from Imaginext. They’re already 3-4 years old and are still as good as new.

Too many toys can only be played with in one way. My vote for worst toys ever: anything by LeapFrog. The best toys are those that are flexible, and allow room for the child’s imagination.

ashley english

sue-thanks for your feedback! like i said, i’m totally new to this game ;^)

i completely agree that “upcycling” plastic toys is a great idea. used legos or other used plastic toys that engender creativity and play are completely welcome in my home, so long as they’re non-toxic.

fortunately, i’ve had the opportunity to witness a great deal of children enjoying wooden and other sustainably made toys, via my friend’s kids. everyone seems to equally enjoy both the look of the items, as well as their playfulness!


I love wooden toys. But I also agree with Sue about Lego. My little ones now play with pieces that my husband played with as a child.


I’m expecting a little boy too! I can’t wait to look through this list of sources for toys. I know my brother and I played endlessly with legos and playmobils (typically combining them with the wooden dollhouse and toys to make bigger, more diverse villages:) Does anyone know how to find out about how these favorite plastics are made, i.e. petroleum vs. recycled, BPA free, etc.?

ashley english

Emily-I would consult the manufacturers directly. Most have customer service phone numbers or websites where you could pose such questions.


I concur with sue as well.

I would also strongly recommend avoiding toys that involve wooden balls: they’re usually for pounding or putting down a chute etc, but children throw them.

also, if you have a dog who enjoys chewing sticks, know that the nice wooden hammer and set of xylophone sticks may never look quite the same again…


The other thing to consider is that as soon as “toys” or “babies” or “children” is slapped on a label, the price goes up. We live in a tiny apartment, so doling out measuring cups and spoons, whisks, spatulas, and basically anything that can’t be broken by throwing, stomping, chewing, or spit is how we survive! (Unfortunately, my husband’s ipod touch didn’t survive…)

I also highly recommend a can opener that doesn’t leave sharp edges on cans, then open up a recycling box (full of baby-safe things) to them. It’s a great time.


I’m so happy Sue spoke up. We are lucky to have almost everything handed down from my nephew, including both green and non-green toys. Of course, our 9-month-old most enjoys playing with an empty Kleenex box!


I’m with Sue. As much as I love supporting small bussiness and buying green toys, the most important thing is to offer the child opportunities to use their immagination and express their feelings. Our kids love their playmobil toys as much as they love their organic toys, plastic and books. Freecycle is a great solution for when its time to say good bye to a toy–specially if its made of plastic. Ashley, I loved your post and your sincerity. I have friends that now deny that they had barbies and played with them. I think that’s silly. I also had them and had a blast playing with dolls. I certainly didn’t became one. My daughter has lots of them and although I didn’t give them to her, grandma did (other toys are a priority for me), I find very interesting watching her play with them–it’s her way of dealing with her frustrations, school ad friends issues and the world around her.


We are huge fans of Plan Toys (especially Plan City) and Haba, but we also have plenty of beautiful toys from Nova Natural and etsy as well. The natural toy market has really opened up in the last few years. So many great choices now!


Karen E–I second your approval of Haba. We loved Haba teethers and blocks when the kids were small and I always get some Haba toy for baby shower gifts. Selecta is also nice. Haba also makes great kitchenette food and pretty wooden jewelry for older kids.


great list.

i was in need of a weekend house gift. and this will make things simpler. now to find them in the real world.


My favorite source for toys is Magic Cabin.
But honestly, my kids’ (one boy and one girl) favorite toys as babies were a large basket of handmade felt balls, some old scarves, the laundry hamper, my old breyer horses from childhood, and cardboard boxes of various sizes. I could have saved lots of money and storage space had I known that in advance!


these are beautiful toys! i would love them as a kid or a parent :o)


Thanks for this! I’m having a baby around the same time as you, and spent hours yesterday wading through natural baby stuff. I love wooden and cloth toys, but don’t have much of a problem with plastic as long as they are imagination-friendly and open ended, like Legos or Playmobile as people have mentioned. But I do believe in the value of children being around/handling natural materials regularly, too. A nice online natural toy store for Canadians is Natural Pod (since some stores won’t ship to Canada or charge a lot). I also found a lot of great toy and baby care stuff at a U.S. based store online called Peapods.


the simplest way to keep it “green” is to look for kid consignment shops and be open to hand me downs. our daughter has many new items from oompa but truthfully, plastic toys are easily washed and reused. her wooden blocks once belonged to an older friend, and her beloved “rody” horse was found at a thrift store, washed, and is as good as new (but was a lot less expensive). if buying new, melissa and doug have great things for little peeps that are earth friendly, well designed, and long lasting.

on a related note, we’ve found that used books, while great for adults, are not so great for little ones. they get chewed on like mad and are not easy to clean up.

best wishes to you!


Congratulations Ashley on the nugget! I agree with Sue 100% – my son (now almost 2 and a half) loves Duplo and Lego and Playmobil stuff, all of which we got second hand from friends and family. As you know, hand-me-downs are the greenest option from a manufacturing perspective…and I can totally understand your concern about non-toxic toys. However: go easy on buying too many toys specifically targeted at infants…even when they’re eco/green, they often have a really short period of use, and are often exorbitantly priced. And babies love anything colourful, jingly, rattly, and shiny….our son loved our stainless steel measuring spoons, silicone funnels, and wooden spoons – and now he uses them to pretend-cook!


Sorry, to add onto my previous post: Plan Toys are GREAT, as are Green Toys ( Good luck!


I also recommend Oompa toys, I loved all of my purchases from them.

The best wooden toy I’ve ever had for a boy? The IKEA train tracks. They have provided hours, years of fun. They’re inexpensive and imaginative. I can’t recommend them more highly.


I have found, since my son joined us a year ago, that it’s much harder to convince relatives that it’s worth the trouble to source out the cute wooden toys. I even had my grandma tell me she,”Didn’t think they made wooden blocks anymore.” Of course she bought him a plastic guitar that runs on batteries.. *sigh*

Good luck though!


I found creating a list on a site like for my kiddos to be a great way to direct family to toys I know they’d really appreciate (and that I like too). And since it links directly to the site, they don’t have to hunt around for it. Of course I don’t expect them to only buy off my list, but it is a nice way to suggest things. My parents and in-laws have loved it and its worked out really well for us.
I’ve found that the less a toy “does” the more it gets played with in the long run, and most green toys fit into that category (though we have more than our fair share of plastic!) :)

Congrats on your bean, Ashley!

Amy Jo

My son is 2+ years old and we’ve found the toys he loves the most are:

(1) Little vehicles of any type, but we especially like the ones made by Plan City. We aren’t buying the larger, Plan systems, because our little guy makes shelves, baskets, chairs and the like into garages, boats, barges, etc. for his vehicles. Cardboard boxes make excellent parking garages too.
(2) Play kitchen + food: We lucked out and found a very reasonably priced wooden play kitchen. We purchased it when the little guy was about 15 months old, nearly a year ago, and he plays with it every day. The grandparents showered him with wooden play foods for Christmas so he now makes endless “dishes” for us. He makes coffee for us in an old Moka pot, etc.
(3) Duplos/legos: hours upon hours of play. They become just about everything–boats to mountains–which is awesome.
(4) “Friends”: a rag-tag collection of stuffed animals and dolls that live in a big basket in his bedroom.
(5) Books: We were given a lot of board books when he was little, and they were invaluable. Now that he is older and appreciates longer, more complicated books, the library is a our good friend.

Santa Barbara Wedding Photographers

These are awesome!!!! My girls love Melissa and Doug toys and so do I!!! I grew up playing with all wooden toys and so appreciate the value of ‘natural’ toys. Admittedly, we do have some plastic in the house, but for the most part wood is our favorites!!! Thanks for the post!

Angel Funk

I have to agree with the others that mention Lego and Playmobil. Lots and lots of creative time!

Kelly Jones

In a previous to developing websites I spent 9 years as a playgroup leader at a local Steiner School (Waldof School) Quite often I would teach mothers how to knit horses, sheep, pigs, make flower children out of felt and once a year do a doll making workshop. I have to say the children would watch there mothers make these toys and somehow the love they were made with made them there most precious treasures. Also grandmothers would sometimes make a doll for there grandys and it would become as well as a much loved part of the family also an heirloom for years to come. Not sure what site to lead you to but if you have a Steiner school close by Im sure the parents would be helpful in letting you know when the next dollmaking workshop would be. And yes in case your wondering they did have eyes lol.


Sue said it all, especially the part about looks cute sitting on a shelf! Often the toys that they love playing with are from a gift that you will think my I wouldn’t buy that and then you will end up adding on to the collection!


Oh and my son’s plan city parking garage works well with all of his hot-wheels! After writing that I have to laugh – come on it’s funny! That he has “oh here’s a wooden parking garage for you to learn about big cities!”


check out nova naturals. they are a waldorf toy/lifestyle supplier – and have amazingly wonderful toys that will take nugget from infancy through childhood!

mama to marley skye


At my local toy shop they have amazing plushie food made by Haba Biofino. Cake, icecream, donuts, hamburger, vegetables, a banana that can be peeled, a fish with a plastic fish bone you can unhinge, even a Weisswurst with a blob of mustard! I just love this stuff :D


I choose simple and natural toys for my kids for a few reasons – For one, toys are all over the house, and since I stick mostly to toys that I find beautiful I don’t mind seeing them all over the family room. Check out this post on ‘creating a playful house’

I think it is healthy for kids to play with live natural materials like silk, wool, and wood.

I have found that the simple natural toys are the ones that last the test of time at our house. Like a beautiful basket of pinecones that get used as pretend food, pretend babies, pretend mountains, etc etc

You are not neglecting your kids by going natural! Check out this post on my failed attempt to entertain my kids with some novelty plastic toys…


Thank you, Sue and Isabella! I was going to comment on the same things. I have two boys (4 and 1) and they ignore the gorgeous wood toys I bought when I was pregnant with the first one! But, they also ignore those annoying plastic monstrosities that talk and sing (so-called “learning toys”). Their favorites are matchbox cars and anything that “goes” on its own. They love movement! Something new-ish on the market: bigger plastic cars that you shake to get them to move…the more you shake the further they go. Good luck, Ashley. Boys are so awesome!


i love discovering new toys as much as my son does. as everyone has said, legos do get a lot of milage. puzzles are great too.
if you want to do a little toy diying, check out
he’s one awesome, crafty dad!


i don’t have children yet, but i hope that the toys that are bought new for my future children will be beautiful green/eco friendly pieces that are fairly made. hand-me-down toys of other sorts are great as well (as mentioned in plenty above), but i must say that purchasing many toys new that are on the market now is not something i’m at all interested in, simply because so many of them are made by children in other countries, or are made by people who aren’t treated or paid fairly. just something to think about…
thanks soooo much for this lovely post! i passed it along to a couple of my close friends who are expecting soon.

Amy Wike

I love the idea of green toys. They’re safe for our kids and it’s great to get them thinking of the environment at an early age.

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