Simple toys better for children

colored blocksIn light of articles like this one, stating that as recently as Nov. 20, hazardous toys (containing high lead levels and other dangers) were still being found on the shelves in stores like Target, it’s validating (but really no surprise to me) to read that Simple Retro Toys May Be Better For Children Than Fancy Electronic Toys.

“Old-fashioned retro toys, such as red rubber balls, simple building blocks, clay and crayons, that don’t cost so much and are usually hidden in the back shelves are usually much healthier for children than the electronic educational toys that have fancier boxes and cost $89.99,” says Temple University developmental psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek.

As Roberta Golinkoff, head of the Infant Language Project at the University of Delaware says, “Electronic educational toys boast brain development and that they are going to give your child a head start. But developmental psychologists know that it doesn’t really work this way. The toy manufacturers are playing on parents’ fears that our children will be left behind in this global marketplace.”

Golinkoff adds that “kids are not like empty vessels to be filled. If they play with toys that allow them to be explorers, they are more likely to learn important lessons about how to master their world.”

Suggested advice for parents is to “Look for a toy that is 10 percent toy and 90 percent child — ‘A lot of these toys direct the play activity of our children by talking to them, singing to them, asking them to press buttons and levers,’ Hirsh-Pasek says. ‘But our children like to figure out what is going on by themselves. I look for a toy that doesn’t command the child, but lets the child command it.’”

“Golinkoff adds, ‘The irony is that the real educational toys are not the flashy gadgets and gismos with big promises, but the staples that have built creative thinkers for decades.'”

Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek are the authors of “Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn– And Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less.”

For more advice and guidelines for selecting gifts for children, read the full article. Less really is more. 🙂

Kids’ toys, pajamas contain industrial chemicals

rubber duckyIf the toxic lead paint scare wasn’t enough of a reason for you to consider getting rid of all of your children’s plastic toys, you might change your tune after you read about a new study that revealed high levels of industrial chemicals in children’s bodies. Children as young as 18 months and 5 years old showed “chemical exposure levels up to seven times those of their parents.” How did these kids end up with industrial chemicals in their bodies? How about from their toys, their furniture, their bottles, their pajamas.

When I first read the title of the article, Tests reveal high chemical levels in kids’ bodies, I had a feeling I knew where it was going, but the results were pretty alarming nonetheless.

“In 2004, the Hollands became the first intact nuclear family in the United States to undergo body burden testing. Rowan, at just 1½ years old, became the youngest child in the U.S. to be tested for chemical exposure with this method.

“He had two to three times the level of flame retardants in his body that’s been known to cause thyroid dysfunction in lab rats.”

…children up to six years old are most at risk because their vital organs and immune system are still developing and because they depend more heavily on their environments than adults do.”

Some of the chemicals the Holland children were tested for include:

Phthalates are the chemicals that make plastics soft and pliable. Phthalates disrupt hormone levels, cause neurological dysfunction and reproductive defects in lab rats. In preliminary human testing, phthalate exposure may be linked to genital birth defects in males and infertility problems in men.

Think about all of the soft plastic toys your baby may have (or have had in the past) – teething rings, toys on exersaucers, stackable rings, Fisher Price “Little People,” rubber ducks. Now think about how many of those toys go/went into your baby’s mouth. What about plastic eating utensils?

Flame retardants such as PBDEs are found in foam products like mattresses, couches, and carpets and electronic plastic casings. Liver, thyroid and neurological damage in lab rats. Studies on human toxicity have just begun.

Flame retardants are also on children’s pajamas.

Bisphenol A is a chemical used to make plastics hard. Found in baby bottles, hard water bottles, food containers. Study shows a link between bisphenol A and female reproductive disorders such as cystic ovaries and cancer. More research on children and adults recommended.

PFOAs are chemicals used to make non-stick and stain-resistant products such as non-stick frying pans. Developmental problems and liver toxicity in lab rats. Some studies suggest PFOAs may be human carcinogens.

How many of us have stain-resistant sprays on our furniture or carpeting? Where do babies and kids spend most of their time? On the floor. On the stain-resistant carpet.

Fellow blogger and Coloradan Katja at Skimbaco wrote an excellent post about this very subject called Protect your child from the harmful chemicals in your home. She includes a list of things you can do to help keep your children safe. Rather than repeat all of her information over here, I highly suggest you pop over there and take a look. I was quite shocked to read that sex toys, of all things, have to have warning labels on them when they have high phthalate levels, yet children’s toys do not. How messed up is that?

So, what am I going to do about this in our home?

  • For starters I’m going to try to avoid putting my children in flame retardant pajamas. Think about how much time your children spends in their PJs – at least half of their life, right? That’s a huge amount of exposure to PBDEs. (Read this article – “Inherently” Flame-Resistant Pajamas? – from The Green Guide for more information about pajama safety standards and what options you have other than pjs treated with flame retardants.)
  • I’m also going to check into getting organic sheets for our beds. I’ve thought about it in the past, but haven’t pursued it yet.
  • And I’m going to continue to purge the plastic toys from our house. We got a good start after the lead paint/made in China scare, but we need to keep at it. There are too many times that I look over at Julian to see him gnawing on a soft plastic something or other, and I remember it being that same way with Ava as well. I do know soft plastic toys can be made without phthalates, because Jody bought Ava one such squishy, squeaky toy when she was just a baby. On the bottom of “Vinnie the skinny hippo” (our name, not the actual name of the toy), it says “No Phthalates.” We used to joke about that odd word – phthalates – until we found out what it meant. Then we were glad to know that Vinnie was phthalate-free. I imagine that unless your soft plastic toy is marked with “no phthalates,” then it’s probably safe to assume it has them. (Just quickly, here’s one store that sells toys with safe (no phthalates) plastic – The Bunny Nest. I’m sure you can find more by doing a Google search. Updated to add: I came across the Cool Mom Picks Safer Toy Guide with tons of discount codes listed at the bottom. Also I just got the latest issue (Nov./Dec.) of Mothering magazine in the mail today. There’s an article called “Out of the Mouths of Babes” – a guide to non-toxic plastics, as well their annual toy review containing the Best Natural Toys of 2007 – I can’t wait to read them!)

I know I can’t protect my children from all of the toxins in the world. It’s simply impossible. But I believe I can protect them from dangerous chemicals by the products we choose to have or not have in our home. Even if the government isn’t going to ban them for their toxicity (like many other countries already have), this mama still can.

Knowledge is power.

Chew on this

Did you know that chewing gum is made from petroleum? It is. Why do I know this? You see, Ava (age 3) has recently taken quite the interest in chewing gum. Jody and I let her have a piece and she did well with it – didn’t swallow it I mean. However, now that she’s had a taste, she wants more, more, more. You could say she’s a chain chewer. She’ll chew one piece for a minute or two, spit it out and pop another in her mouth.

This new habit made me question what all goes into chewing gum. Jody did a search on Wikipedia and found this: Chewing gum is a type of confectionery which is designed to be chewed rather than swallowed. Traditionally, it was made of chicle, a natural latex product, although for reasons of economy and quality many modern chewing gums use petroleum-based polymers instead of chicle.

Mmmm, petroleum. /gag If I don’t want my kid to ingest pesticides and growth hormones in her food, I sure as hell don’t want her gnawing on petroleum in her gum. Oy.

Of course his next search was to find a natural chewing gum alternative to crude oil, which lead him to Glee Gum. Glee Gum is all natural chewing gum made with sustainably-harvested rainforest chicle.

Glee Gum

Jody picked up three packs of Glee Gum at Vitamin Cottage and Ava has been happily chewing on chicle ever since. The only problem with chicle is that it gets stuck in your teeth much more easily than slippery old petroleum. So there have been a few occasions where I’ve had to retrieve gum from Ava’s mouth – it likes to get stuck between her teeth and gums. But I’d rather fish around in her mouth than worry about her ingesting petroleum. 😉

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Which brings me to my next story. Guess what artificial colors are made from. C’mon, guess! That’s right – petroleum as well (in addition to coal tar and insects)! Thanks to Greenstylemom for sharing this bit of information and putting a damper on my recent M&M gluttony consumption.

Here’s a bit more about some of the artificial colors…

Blue No. 1 uses coal tar as one of its components. Because of the use of coal tar, many organizations and circles are speaking out and boycotting products using colors with coal tar because it is a carcinogenic in large quantities, known to cause tumors in lab rats.Blue candy

Red No. 40 can be found in sweets, drinks and condiments, medications, and cosmetics. It has caused allergic reactions in people as well as hyperactivity in children.

Yellow No. 5 or Tartazine can be found in soft drinks, instant puddings, flavored chips (Doritos, etc), cake mixes, custard powder, soups, sauces, kool-aid, ice cream, ice lollies, candy, chewing gum, marzipan, jam, jelly, marmalade, mustard, horseradish, yogurt, noodles, pickles and other pickled products, certain brands of fruit squash, fruit cordial, chips, tim tams, and many convenience foods together with glycerin, lemon and honey products.

Tartrazine, however, does produce the most common allergic react, especially among those with an aspirin intolerance and ashtma. Some research has linked Yellow No. 5 to early childhood Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and hyperactivity. It is banned in Austria and Norway.

Yellow No. 6, also known as Sunset Yellow FCF, is an orange coal tar-based food dye found in orange squash, orange jelly, marzipan, Swiss roll, apricot jam, citrus marmalade, lemon curd, fortune cookies, sweets, hot chocolate mix and packet soups, trifle mix, breadcrumbs and cheese sauce mix and soft drinks. It is the color most prominently seen in DayQuil. It is capable of causing allergic reactions such as abdominal pain, hyperactivity, hives, nasal congestion, and bronchoconstriction, as well as kidney tumours, chromosomal damage, and distaste for food.

Here’s the kicker, a number of these dyes have been banned in countries around the world because of their link to cancer, tumors, allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children, yet they are still used in foods in the good ol’ U.S.A.

Note to self for future sweet binges: Chocolate = good. Chocolate with cancer-coating artificial dye coating on it = bad.

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brain-body connection Thirdly, on another related note, thanks to my friend Melissa for sharing the article: Scientists make gut-brain connection to autism. (The bolding below is mine.)

Compounds produced in the digestive system have been linked to autistic-type behaviour in laboratory settings, potentially demonstrating that what autistic children eat can alter their brain function, say scientists from the University of Western Ontario.

It’s wonderful to see a scientific study finally acknowledge what many parents have already come to realize on their own. (Jenny McCarthy was recently talking with Oprah about this with regard to her autistic son.)

Dr. Martha Herbert, assistant professor in neurology at Harvard Medical School, told CBC News that the study opens up a new way of thinking about the disorder.
Now we’re learning that the brain and body can influence each other,” she said.

Excuse my cynicism here, but NO KIDDING! This hardly seems like news to me, but I guess I should be happy that science is catching on that there IS a mind-body connection. Perhaps they will realize that this can apply to many other things as well. I’m crossing my fingers, but not holding my breath yet.

First day of preschool

Yesterday was my big girl’s first day of preschool. Despite my mommy nerves the day before about sending my baby to preschool, everything went really well – for all of us. 🙂 It took her all of about 30 seconds from walking in to acclimating and starting to play. She didn’t even want to stop to kiss me goodbye so she blew me a kiss instead. My little bird is spreading her wings.

Of course, I had to take a few pictures to document the morning.

Ava has all of her stuff (lunch, extra clothes, sun hat, inside shoes, paperwork that mommy and daddy filled out) and is ready to go to her first day at preschool, while Julian wonders why in the world he’s awake and in the car so early.
1st day of preschool 9/6/07Ready for preschool - 9/6/07

Arriving at preschool …
Preschool 9/6/07Arriving at preschool 9/6/07

Ava’s symbol at the school is cherries – on her basket, her cup, her hook and her towel.
Ava’s basket 9/6/07

All of the inside shoes (the teacher’s and the kids’) lined up in a row. (Ava’s new moccasins are on the right.)
All the “inside” shoes 9/6/07

Let the fun begin!
Playing at her first day of school 9/6/07

Dig in.
Sand play 9/6/07

And lastly, here’s her “I’m done with pictures and it’s time for you to leave now, Mom” face. Whomever said attachment parenting doesn’t promote independent children never met Ava. 😉
Enough pictures, Mom. 9/6/07

When I went to pick her up at 1 p.m., she was playing on a bouncy ball with two other children (a boy and a girl), and looked so happy. Then she looked up, saw me, scowled and said, “Go back home.” Aww, I love you too, honey. :oP

The little girl said to me about Ava, “She’s my friend.” 🙂 She and the boy stay until 3 p.m. and have nap time there. Because they weren’t leaving, Ava wasn’t thrilled with the fact that she had to go home. My girl, who never naps anymore, even said, “I want to stay and nap too.” Anyway, we are going to look into how much it will cost for her to stay the extra two hours and see if we can somehow swing that too. (gulp) I think it would be good for her to try it. She obviously loves the place and her friends. 🙂 And maybe it was just wishful thinking, but it sure seemed like Ava was in a really good mood the rest of the day yesterday. AND we didn’t turn on the TV the whole day! I think this Waldorf preschool is going to be a wonderful thing.

After learning my lesson when my kiss request was denied yesterday, today when I dropped her off I made sure to get my hug and kiss in before we went into the preschool. She is much more accommodating when the prospect of playing doesn’t get in the way.

When we walked in I heard the other girl’s dad say sweetly to her, “OK honey, Ava is here. Is it OK if daddy leaves now?” She then said goodbye to her dad. It’s not a surprise, but it’s always nice to hear that my little girl is loved by others as well. 🙂

“Business of Being Born” – update

The Business of Being Born

Many of you know of my excitement about the movie The Business of Being Born produced by Ricki Lake. I’ve been following developments with the movie since I first heard about it.

Of course I had to sign up for the mailing list and I received an email earlier this week with some good news about the release of the movie…

THE BUSINESS OF BEING BORN has been acquired by Red Envelope Entertainment and New Line Cinema. The film will have a limited theatrical release this autumn in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and 11 other cities. After that, it will be available for rentals and internet viewing on Netflix and the DVD will be released in March 2008. Stay tuned for theater locations and dates!

Also worth noting, private screenings are available:

We have arranged a way to rent advance copies of THE BUSINESS OF BEING BORN to individuals and organizations for grassroots screenings. You can use the film as a fundraising event or just an opportunity to raise awareness in your community or University. The screening could take place in a professional theater or in your home – the idea is to get a movement going and to get people talking! If this is something that interests you, please visit the website for the guidelines or contact us at info@thebusinessofbeingborn.com

I think I will email them to find out if anyone in this area is organizing a screening. If not, I might try to organize something myself. I am so excited to see this movie! I have a feeling I could get more than a handful of interested people together here. 🙂

By the way, I just noticed on the official website that there are now some excerpts from the movie available for viewing. Click on Excerpts at the bottom to check them out. 🙂

If you are wondering what exactly this film is about, here is a synopsis:

While the United States has perhaps the most advanced health care system in the world, it also has the second-highest infant mortality rate of any industrialized nation, and many have begun to question conventional wisdom regarding the way obstetricians deal with childbirth. While midwives preside over the majority of births in Europe and Japan, fewer than ten percent of American mothers employ them, despite their proven record of care and success. How do American doctors make their choices regarding the way their patients give birth, and who is intended to benefit? Director Abby Epstein and producer Ricki Lake offer a probing look at childbirth in America in the documentary The Business of Being Born, which explores the history of obstetrics, the history and function of Midwives, and how many common medical practices may be doing new mothers more harm than good.

Also, all you baby wearers, be sure to check back here tomorrow. I’m having a giveaway I think you will all be interested in. 🙂

Waldorf preschool, here we come!

A little over a week ago, I wrote about our (then) upcoming two-hour preschool interview to find out if a home-based Waldorf-inspired preschool was a good fit for Ava and if Ava was a good fit for the preschool. It turns out the interview wasn’t nearly as daunting as I thought it would be. It mostly amounted to Jody and me talking about what a great kid Ava is (because she really is a great kid on most days – Saturday was not one of those days, but that’s neither here nor there).

We talked about my pregnancy with Ava, her birth, her early years (wait, she’s 3 – isn’t she still in her early years?), what life is like at our house, our discipline philosophy, how much TV she watches, what she likes to play with, etc. And we heard from the preschool teacher about the Waldorf philosophy*, her discipline practices (in a word – gentle), what forms we need to have filled out, teacher home visits, parent meeting nights and work days, festivals, the checklist for the first day of school, what their days consist of, safety and health info in the preschool handbook, what foods are off limits for lunches (no peanut butter since a boy who attends on the days opposite of Ava has a severe allergy and no sweets because it’s unWaldorfian – hehe, I just made that word up), her thoughts on TV/DVD watching (if it makes it’s way into the preschool repeatedly – like if Ava was always saying “let’s play ‘Annie'” – which she actually does with me sometimes oops! – and trying to coerce the kids into playing ‘Annie’ or some such thing – then we will have to cut back) and several other things.

We easily could have filled up more than two hours talking (I think we went slightly over two hours as it was), but I felt the need to get back home to my kids to make sure they weren’t running amok while Aunt Carrie watched the both of them together for the very first time. (All was well. They all did great! Julian was even sleeping when we got home.)

Jody and I feel this preschool is a great match for Ava and are sure she’s going to enjoy it and thrive being a part of this program. The teacher is so calm and nurturing and does very well with the children. I wish it didn’t cost an arm and a leg, but I guess, in this case, you get what you pay for. I started having a bit of anxiety right after we signed the contract signing Ava up for two mornings per week because I really am unsure how we are going to pay for it, but we will work something out. We have to. We’re in it for the school year now! 😉

Just this past Saturday we went back to the school for an open house/welcome to preschool tea. Unfortunately, we’d had a rough morning at our house so Ava wasn’t her usual self and got into a few squabbles with some of the kids over various toys, but overall it went well. We got to meet one of the other girls who will be attending on the same days as Ava, and we already know one of the boys who will be going with her as well from our AP group. We drank tea, ate scones, played in the yard (which has a great playhouse/castle thing, a big sandbox, jump ropes, watering cans, bubbles, balls and all of the chalk a 3-year-old could possibly need, as well as a burbling water fountain, flowers, and gnomes and fairies in the garden) and played in the house/preschool (which has some wonderful wooden toys, a little kitchen, little tables, play silks, dishes, soft dolls, cars, puzzles and all sorts of other neat stuff designed to spark the imagination).

Preschool for Ava begins on Thursday. 🙂 We still need to go shopping for a few things for her to keep at the school – indoor shoes (different from the ones she will wear outside) and a sun hat (so we will have one for at home). We also have to put together a change of clothes and a sweater to leave at school, and of course her nutritious lunch (without sweets) which will go with her each day. 🙂

Speaking of lunch, I’m hungry I think I’m going to get her a new lunch box. (We had one for her summer camp at the farm, but I have grown tired of all of the waste involved.) I’ve been eyeing this one. It’s a bit pricey, but it looks awesome and I love that there is zero waste (plastic bags, etc.) from it. I really love the idea behind these laptop lunch kits (AKA bento boxes) and am sure I will write more about it another time.

Stay tuned as there is sure to be an update from Ava’s first day, as well as pics, later this week! 🙂

* The Waldorf method was founded by a man named Dr. Rudolph Steiner in the early part of the twentieth century. He believed very strongly that education should not only engage the minds of children, but the bodies and spirits as well. These elements are not treated as separate; the Waldorf method is designed to educate all of them in concert.

The two-hour preschool interview

Apparently you gotta interview to get into preschool these days. When I say you, I don’t mean the preschooler, I mean you – the parents. Yes, tomorrow afternoon Jody and I are scheduled for a two-hour interview with Ava’s preschool teacher – without Ava. Two hours! That’s longer than any job interview I’ve ever had.

We decided to enroll Ava in a two morning/week Waldorf-inspired in-home preschool for the fall. She craves the socialization and I think she is more than ready for it. We have a few friends who have children in this program and they just love it. We’ve visited with the teacher twice now and went to see a class in session and feel it’s a good match for us and Ava. It’s a mix of ages (2-5) and there are a maximum of six children in the “class.” I love the Waldorf emphasis on natural toys and imaginative play. I also like that it’s spiritual, but not based on any particular religion. Another plus is that it’s literally about 4 blocks from our house so easily within walking distance. 🙂

I’m not exactly sure what is in store for us with during the two hours tomorrow, but I do know it’s a chance for the teacher to learn more about Ava. I’m sure it will be a good thing, it just seems awfully long.

I must admit I’m a little nervous about the Waldorf stance on TV watching (Waldorf kindergartens and lower grades discourage exposure to media influences such as television, computers and recorded music, as they believe these to be harmful to cognitive development) since Ava does watch TV (PBS shows) pretty much every weekday. It’s the only way I’ve figured out to make sure she stays occupied while I put Julian down for his naps. I understand why they discourage it and, in a perfect world, I would too, but I think the phrase “everything in moderation” could apply here too. (shrug)

I guess we’ll see if mommy gets into trouble before Ava even has her first day. 😉 Wish me luck.