With so much holiday gift giving going on, it’s important to think green. I’m delighted to have Christine Kirk, director of the Outdoor Education Center, as my guest to give suggestions for choosing kids’ gifts that are environmentally friendly. This week I’ll post suggestions for gifts that nurture and many of them are green. Being conscious of buying gren is a gift to YOU, your family and your future.

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas
By Christine Kirk

How do you pick eco-friendly toys? If want to buy your kids “green” holiday presents, you have a variety of options:

1. Locally Made: Choose toys made with natural, recycled or easily recyclable materials. Look for leather, wood, organic cotton, metal or fabric. Avoid plastic, which is a non biodegradable petroleum-based product. Buy locally-made if possible. The farther toys must travel to reach stores, the larger their carbon footprints.

2. Long Lasting: Toys that last a long time and are even passed down to younger kids are inherently green. Select toys made with quality materials that are designed to stand the test of time.

3. Recyclable: Unless their components can be recycled, all toys will eventually find their way to the landfill. Those that can be disassembled and then recycled are considered green.
A few of my favorites meet these eco-friendly criteria. They are US-made from natural materials, are sturdy, and they either teach recycling or parts of them can be recycled. They also are educational while providing for fun memories.

Some more specific suggestions are:
Puzzles: SunsOut Puzzles offers a huge variety of puzzles – many with environment themes. Shop online at. They even use recycled packaging!

Balance Boards: I recommend those from Indo Boards or Back to Basics Toys. If you have a handyperson in the family, this is an easy toy to make. It includes a sturdy wooden or plastic cylinder and a wooden skateboard-sized board with non-skid strips affixed. Playing with this toy is great exercise and improves balance and muscle control.

Paper Making: Recycle scrap paper. Any paper without a glossy finish can be torn up and pulped to make new, handmade paper. You can make your own with simple materials or purchase ready-made kits at larger craft supply stores or online. The best-known kits are by Arnold Grummer.

Kids’ Gardening Kit: A pair of kid-sized gloves, a small trowel, a watering wand, and several packets of plant seeds all placed in a 5-gallon bucket make a great kit. The gift keeps on giving when you help your child to prepare and plant a garden with native plants that will make flowers and seeds wildlife needs. You will be amazed at the variety of birds and butterflies that will find your native garden – whether it is large or small. Some native plants can even be cultivated in pots if you are short on space. Ask your local garden supply store for advice on this.

Bat and Bird House Kits: These are fun for both boys and girls. You can find lots of ideas and plan sets for bird and bat houses on the Internet. Bat Conservation International has pre-made houses and kits for sale online, as well as downloadable plan sets for people with woodshops in their garages. Providing shelter for birds and bats helps them to overcome habitat loss, and it allows you to view them from your back porch. Bats are especially good for controlling insect populations – each night that bats are active they can eat their own weight in insects.

Clay: Clay is perhaps the most natural gift you can give. It comes straight from the earth, and has been used for millennia by the most amateur and the most professional artists. Sculpting kits are available from any art supply store, though a ball of clay all by itself can inspire imagination from any young person.

There are many books that can help instill a “green” ethic. Books are nearly endlessly reusable; they can be passed down through generations. Reading is also a great skill to encourage in your kids by giving books that are fun and interesting. Here are a few of my favorites.

Some kids are innately drawn to machines. Encouraging this interest with innovative holiday gifts can bring out the Thomas Edison in them. Innovation in solar and other non-fossil fuel energy is poised to be the next big wave of technological breakthrough, and kids who understand how energy works will have a comparable competitive edge to those who got to play with computers in the 1970s.

Alternative Energy Kits: Solar car models from Silicon Solar, Inc are designed for a range of ages. They add fun to learning about solar energy by creating opportunities for solar powered races. Alternative energy exploration kits from Sundance Solar allow kids to build an alternative energy house model and to discover the physical properties of solar energy with a complete “Physics Solar Workshop Kit.” These kits are for kids who like things with lots of little pieces. Sundance Solar also makes compact solar chargers for iPods, mobile phones, digital camera, and other rechargeable devices as well as other solar kits and solar-powered toys.

Balsa Wood Airplane Kits: Perhaps one of the simplest ways to discover stored, potential, and kinetic energy are with balsa wood airplane kits. These kits range from very simple stocking stuffers to more complicated kits that introduce concepts of aerodynamics. Kits from Turner Toys and Guillow are available at local hobby shops, such as the Toy Train Shop in Anaheim, Hobby Central in Dana Point, and Hobby People/Hobby Shack in Fountain Valley, Lake Forest, and Orange. Note: balsa wood comes from trees that grow quickly and that are sustainably harvestable.

Have a happy green holiday season!
Christine Kirk is director of the Outdoor Education Center. Her passion for nature and helping people understand the value of preserving Southern California’s natural resources and cultural heritage, combined with proven leadership skills, guides her to develop educational and recreational programs that provide local local youths an outdoor adventure close to home. She’s helped create programming for each of the Outdoor Education Center’s three themed camps – Astronomy Camp, Ranch
Camp and Mining Camp.

Stay tuned for my gift suggestions this week!

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