Plastic toys that come with a lot of packaging, lights + sounds lose their appeal quickly. They are often the ones that little ones find most interesting right away, but they don't hold that interest for long. Once the button that plays the song or makes the light flash is discovered...the toy is mastered. Open ended toys made of quality materials will be chosen again and again. I think what makes a toy zero-waste is less about finding toys that arrive with no packaging at all...and more about toys that hold their value and the attention of their little owners. Unplayed with toys are waste (especially broken plastic ones).
gifts for toddlers:
-Board books. Familiarity is so important at this age. Invest in your own (instead of sticky library ones). :) Books have been the favorites of all the little ones I've taken care of, both my own and my little babysitting friends.
-Play food. Our favorites are wood + can be "cut". Present them in a little (maybe thrifted) shopping basket + choose healthy foods.
-Wooden blocks. You'll be tripping over these for years. :) It's OK to just put out ten when they are tiny.
-A car. Boys + girls love to zoom them back + forth for as long as you're willing to do it. :)
-A ball. See "a car" above. :)
-The special little guy that we used to babysit every day loved this set of eggs. They work in a number of simple ways that grow with the child...and can be added to the play food later.
-Playmobil 123. We are devoted. These work just as well along with the sets for older children.
-A small table + chairs. A nice sturdy one will get used for years and years...for eating snacks, coloring, having tea parties, playing games, pretending, building, etc. We bought a little side table at a garage sale, repainted it, and added some small handmade chairs.
-Matching game. You can set out a few and ask them to pick the dog...or start with 3 pairs of tiles facing up to pair. Putting the tiles in the box is fun too. :)
-A basket just their size...for gathering and carrying and tidying.
-Books. Reading the same ones over and over is still fun + cuddle time. :)
-Add food to the play kitchen...wood plates + cups, a toaster, a teapot, or make a table cloth + cloth napkins. It makes all those other foods new again. (My girls loved to be allowed to fill their teapot with rice...it's fun to pour.)
-Playmobil. There is a set for every interest + it's great for boys + girls. One new set makes all the others capable of new adventures. Blocks combine well too.
-A special stuffed animal. Each of the girls had a favorite or two that came everywhere with them. Too many decreases the devotion...keep the numbers small-ish. :)
-A flashlight for using in forts and to read books in the car on these dark evenings.
-Art supplies. Colored pencils. Watercolors. Stickers. Activity book. Sketch book.
-Books. It's nice to own a few classics/favorites.
-Playmobil. This was something that my girls loved + played with almost every day for their entire childhoods. A new little set makes the whole collection new again.
-Schleich. Same as above. Plus they look just as cute on a teenager's shelf. :)
-Lego. They can be something new every time encouraging creativity. A new set offers new possibilities. My girls didn't get into these, but they are popular.
-Stuffed animal. When asked what she liked playing with, Jo responded first with this. It's true. They attended all the tea parties + had countless adventures. Clothes were sewn for them too (by Jo).
-A magazine subscription. Something to look forward to all year long.
-Klutz Kit or other craft kit books.
experience gifts for children:
-A day at the zoo or Natural History Museum.
-Favorite treat coupons (icecream, cookie from the bakery, etc.).
-A movie date + popcorn.
-Tickets to the ballet or a ball game.
And...early December is a great time to do a toy purge. From the time they were toddlers, each daughter + I would go through their toys and pull out the ones that weren't seeing much play. I would ask my daughter if we could let someone else play with it. It's important for them to learn about letting go + being generous. Less is more with young ones... + more is coming. :)
Chances are that most of our children already have some favorite toys, and that's why I try to think of ways to revive interest in them by adding on to them just a little rather than replacing them. Many families have come up with ways to minimize gift giving a bit...like having mantras like...one thing to wear, one thing to read, one thing to play with. Three gifts will probably stand out more and hold their value better than twelve. (It's possible to return some of the things already bought.) :)
Children make the holidays magical. Shop local + have fun!