Safer Sand and Water Toys Guide

The Guide to Safer Sand and Water Toys

sources: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / 11 /12 / 13 / 14 / 15 /16 / 17 / 18 /19 /20 / 21 / 22 / 23 / 24

Modeled after our popular post on Safer Bath Toys, we’ve put together a list of BPA free, PVC free and phthalate free sand and water toys.  These are the toys we would (and do!) buy our own kids.

American Plastic Toys – They tell me that all of their toys are BPA free, PVC free and phthalate free.  Both the 10 Piece Spring Value Set  and the Sand and Water Wheel  are perfect beach toys. For toddlers, the Water Wheel Play Table is great for summer in your backyard.

Green ToysAlways a winner in the safe toys department.  This Sand Play Set and Watering Can are perfect for the beach.  I like the Scooper Vehicle for digging in the dirt and sand.

Haba – These are some of my favorite beach toys and all of the Haba plastic toys are BPA free, PVC free and phthalate free.  The Sand Bucket Scooter, Sand-Water Measuring Jug, Sand-Water Rake and Sand Trowel are just the basics for sand and water play.The Caterpillar Digger, Sand Drill and Sieve Roller are unique and inexpensive.

Hape – Committed to safety for kids and environmentally friendly, Hape toys are constructed with formaldehyde-free wood and glue and use no chemicals in their wood drying process. They use non-toxic water based paint from Germany and are packaged in recycled paper using soy ink. My top pick for inexpensive and safe beach toys is the Hape 4 piece Beach Basics Kit which includes a bucket, sifter, rake and shovel for less than $8. The Sand & Sun Driller and Sand & Sun Grabber are great for digging in the sand, and working on fine motor skills. To perfect a sand castle, I like these sand molds: Great Castle Walls, Bricklayer Set and Brick Sand Roller.

Moluk –  I think the Mini Bilibos is the perfect water and sand toy.  Super versatile, it’s great for scooping, digging and carrying.

Quut Beach ToysOne of my favorite brands,  all of their toys are BPA free, PVC, latex and phthalate free and to make it that much better, they are recyclable.  The Scoppi is an award-winning shovel and sifter in one. I also like the Ballo Beach Bucket because it makes carrying water so much easier on a kiddo, really smart design.

Spielstabil – Made in Germany, all toys are free of PVC, BPA and phthalates.  LOTS of options from this company. The Watering Can or Sand Pail is a classic but I also love the unique Water PumpCastle Set in a Bag and the Water Fun Set.

Zoe b Organic – This biodegradable and made in the USA bath and beach toy set is also one of my favorites. Also free of BPA, PVC and phthalates.

 

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Turning Cardboard Boxes Into Your Child’s Dream Playhouse

Turning Cardboard into a Playhouse - plans and photos

When I was a kid, my mom threw me a 50’s themed birthday party complete with a jukebox made out of an old refrigerator box.  Once the party was over, it stuck around the house for a month or two while we continued to play with it.  Quite a bit of use for an old refrigerator box that was otherwise bound for the recycling bin.

Now that I have my own kids, I can see how busy a simple cardboard box can keep them. Here’s a few products that help turn a cardboard box into anything your child can imagine.

Mr. McGroovy’s Rivets :I love these tools to make building something out of a cardboard box a little easier and more sturdy. You can download plans with step-by-step instructions to build projects like a firetruck, castle, space ship or lemonade stand.    All you need is a few free cardboard boxes, Mr. McGroovy’s Rivets and markers or paint. For more inspiration, check out the photo gallery where people have shared their project photos.

space-podshark

Makedo : I picked up a Makedo spacepod kit at a garage sale and my 5 year old loved it! It came with instructions, stickers for decorating and over 60 connectors to make the space pod. All I had to do was provide the cardboard. Each construction kit comes with similar items to build projects such as a shark, rally car or elephant.

playhouse

My Very Own House : If building from scratch isn’t your thing, My Very Own House has about a dozen different preprinted designs. This cottage is over 4 feet tall and well loved by toddlers and preschoolers. The outside and inside are white so they can both be decorated. Made from biodegradable, formaldehyde-free cardboard. Include 8 markers.

space-shuttlecastle

 

Box Creations : Another preprinted design but they are more adventurous with pirate ships, space shuttles, carriages and castles. Made in the USA with recycled materials and includes 4 markers.

 

cardboard-boook

The Cardboard Box Book : This book would make a fun gift coupled with a few cardboard boxes and some paints or markers.

 

Chlorine in Swimming Pools and the Link to Asthma

My husband has asthma and while he hasn’t struggled seriously with it, I am hoping our children will not get it.  So far, I think our daughter is in the clear but time will tell whether or not our son has it.  I’ve done many things to reduce their risk including keeping harmful cleaning products out of our house, using organic dairy products, keeping pets out of our house and using allergen free products on our beds

I’ve also kept them out of chlorinated swimming pools.  Don’t worry, our kids aren’t deprived of summer fun in the water.  There have been plenty of pools and sprinklers, but we’ve limited their swimming in chlorinated pools to the occasional pool party or vacation pool. 

Several studies have found a link between chlorine in swimming pools and asthma in children.:

  •  Science Daily reported that a study in Norway found that children with mothers who had asthma or allergies have an increased risk of wheezing if the child takes swimming lessons before 6 months.
  • A study in Belgium found that teenagers who spent more than 100 hours swimming in chlorinated pools were up to six times more at risk of having asthma than other teens.
  • The European Respiratory Journal reportedthat children who start swimming ( in indoor OR outdoor pools ) before the age of 2 may be at increased risk of bronchiolitis, and those who developed the infection were also at increased risk of developing asthma or respiratory allergies by kindergarten.

 All that being said, 20% of the U.S. Olympic swim team have asthma and they are obviously talented athletes, despite having asthma.

Alternatives to Chlorinated Pools

In the U.S., chlorine treated pools has been the norm for a long time but that is slowing changing.  Ozone and UV treated pools, common in Europe, are slowly making their way across the pond.  There are a couple salt water pools in our city, as well.  While many of these alternatives do use chlorine, the chlorine used is a lot lower.  The best way to find out how pools are treating their water is to call and ask!  The best way to avoid chlorine is to visit the great outdoors where you can find fresh water swimming opportunities at the beach, in the river or at the lake.

If you have your own pool, there are several purification systems that market themselves as chlorine-free including the Ecosmarte Pool, Carefree Clearwater, and EClear.

Now that my daughter is 3, she’s in swimming lessons, in a chlorinated pool.  With her age and interest in water, I think it’s important for her to have swimming skills for safety, exercise and lifelong enjoyment.  From current research findings, it sounds like she is also past the point of highest risk.  We will likely keep our son out of chlorinated pools until he is 2 or 3 and then enroll him in swimming lessons, too.  Hopefully by that time, we will have the opportunity to put him in a lessons in a pool treated with chlorine alternatives.  

Do you have chlorine-free pools in your area?  Are you concerned about chlorine in your pool’s water and the link to asthma?

This is part of the Healthy Child Blog Carnival about Clean Water and Air Solutions  – an effort by Healthy Child Healthy World to help inspire a movement to protect children from harmful chemicals.

 

Organic Baby Formula and DHA

When we did a review of organic baby formula, we briefly talked about an ingredient that is generally included called hexane processed DHA/ARA.  Since then, hexane processed DHA/ARA has been banned from organic baby formula (although it doesn’t appear to have been removed from organic formula yet).  The reason?  These DHA and ARA additives are produced using a potential neurotoxin known as hexane.

So once hexane processed DHA/ARA is removed from organic baby formula, should you switch to non-organic formula or is DHA even important?

What is DHA?

DHA is very important for brain development, it’s food for the brain and because 60% of our brain is made up of fats, we need to be feeding it good fats.  According to Dr. Sears, “The body needs two kinds of fat to manufacture healthy brain cells (the message senders) and prostaglandins (the messengers). These are omega 6 fatty acids (found in many oils, such as safflower, sunflower, corn, and sesame oils) and omega 3 fatty acids (found in flax, pumpkin seeds and walnuts, and cold water fish, such as salmon and tuna).  A diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids (such as the LNA from flax oil or the EPA and DHA from fish oils) not only provides the body with healthy fats, but it also lowers the blood level of potentially harmful ones, such as cholesterol and, possibly, even reversing the effects of excess trans fatty acids.”

Dr. Sear’s continues, “In fact, there are two windows of time in which the brain is especially sensitive to nutrition: the first two years of life for a growing baby and the last couple decades of life for a senior citizen.  The most rapid brain growth occurs during the first year of life, with the infant’s brain tripling in size by the first birthday. During this stage of rapid central nervous system growth, the brain uses sixty percent of the total energy consumed by the infant. Fats are a major component of the brain cell membrane and the myelin sheath around each nerve. So, it makes sense that getting enough fat, and the right kinds of fat, can greatly affect brain development and performance. In fact, during the first year, around fifty percent of an infant’s daily calories come from fat. Mother Nature knows how important fat is for babies; fifty percent of the calories in mother’s milk is fat.”

Research has found that:

  • Infants who have low amounts of DHA in their diet have reduced brain development and diminished visual acuity.
  • The increased intelligence and academic performance of breastfed compared with formula- fed infants has been attributed in part to the increased DHA content of human milk.
  • Cultures whose diet is high in omega 3 fatty acids (such as the Eskimos who eat a lot of fish) have a lower incidence of degenerative diseases of the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis.
  • Experimental animals whose diets are low in DHA have been found to have smaller brains and delayed central nervous system development.
  • Some children with poor school performance because of ADD, have been shown to have insufficient essential fatty acids in their diet. (This is a very interesting theory, read more about it here.)

So how can I get DHA in my children’s body?

1.  Breastfeed The level of DHA in your breast milk is affected by the level you ingest via food or supplements.

2.  Infant formula – Most infant formula on the market today DOES contain DHA and is labeled as such.  Currently, the only organic formula that does NOT have added DHA in it is Nature’s One Baby’s Only.

3. DHA supplements –You can find DHA supplements for your infant, children, teens and adults.  In our home, we use Nordic Naturals, a brand my naturopath recommends – DHA for infants and DHA for children.

4.  DHA food sources – The healthiest source of DHA is seafood. Two 4-ounce servings of omega-3-rich fish per week should yield a sufficient amount of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA. Besides fish oils, vegetable oils (primarily flax seed, soy, and canola) are also rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids, with flax seed oil being the best. The two F’s, fish and flax, are the top brain-building foods for growing children, and adults.

I want to plainly state that I’m not encouraging anyone to give up baby formula because it contains hexane processed DHA.  I am a huge believer in DHA and have seen it affect change, particularly in our daughter (I’ll write more on that later).  I just wanted to point out the importance of DHA and that there are multiple ways to get DHA into our bodies.

 

Early Puberty and the Environment

Have you noticed girls are “blooming” earlier and earlier?  According to a new study, almost one in four black girls and one in 10 white girls in the U.S. had developed breasts by the age of seven.  SEVEN.  My daughter will be in first grade when she’s seven.  First graders should not have breasts already!

By age 8, the numbers are worse, almost 1 in 2 black girls and 1 in 5 white girls.   These numbers are getting worse.  In 1997, the proportion of white girls that had developed breasts by age seven was 5% – so in just 13 years, the number has doubled.

Early puberty is linked to early sexual experiences, low self-esteem, higher risk of eating problems,  depression, suicide, and a greater risk of breast cancer.

So what is causing this alarming trend?

There are several possible causes: the environment and childhood obesity.

One of the top environmental concerns are endocrine disruptors – chemicals that act on hormones to change bodily functions.  Bisphenol-A (BPA) sound familiar?  If not, you can read more about this chemical in plastics here, here and here.  If you drink soda – you’re ingesting a little BPA.  If you have old baby bottles (older than 2008 or so) – you’re feeding your child a little BPA.

The other endocrine disruptor commonly found in plastics are phthalates.  Phthalates are everywhere. Personal care products like perfume and nail polish,  vinyl floors, vinyl upholstery, toys, paints, packaging, detergents and even medication.   Just researching this post, I found that the medication I take to control my Crohn’s Disease is covered in a coating containing phthalates and since I’m taking large quantities per day, let’s just say my internal alarms are flying off the hook.

One other interesting finding in the study was that the prevalence of early puberty was different amongst regions.  Girls in San Francisco were found to have a lower rate (11.6%) than girls in New York (15.3%) and girls in Cincinnati (18.9%).  This could be due to San Francisco’s reputation as an area for healthy eating, exercise, low plastics and chemical use.

Let’s keep our little girls, just that. Little girls.  Not concerned about bras, sexual experiences or obsessed with their image.    Free to have tea parties with their friends, ride bikes through the neighborhood and run unabashedly through the sprinkler.