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Gift giving to grandkids: Go beyond plastic toys

Giving gifts to grandkids can bring a lot of joy. It’s fun to shop for children and watching their reaction to the gift is exciting. Plus, if you’re the type to get down on the ground and play, your gift could lead to hours of enjoyment, bonding and hopefully memories together.

But gift giving can have another lasting impact, depending on the items you choose to give. Most toys are made from plastic. According to The World Counts, the toy industry is the most plastic-intensive industry in the world, using 40 tons of plastic for every $1 million in revenues.

Children may not yet recognize the moments of pleasure they’ll get from a new plastic toy are not worth the long-term impact of purchasing that item—as grownups, we can. Here are some tips to help you make gift-giving to kids mean something more.

Tips for more environmentally sustainable gift giving

  • Consider shopping second-hand. Thrift shops and resale sites like Facebook Marketplace make it easy to find like-new gifts, even if they are plastic. By purchasing a pre-loved item, you’ll divert it from the landfill.
  • Give handmade gifts. Often these items become cherished keepsakes.
  • Be cautious of craft materials. Craft kits tend to come with a lot of packaging. And kids will quickly churn through small plastic tubs of paint and tubes of glitter glue. Speaking of glitter—it’s a microplastic—yikes—although biodegradable options are available, for a price. If shopping for craft products, try to buy refillable items – like a big jugs of glue or paint to refill small containers. If children are young and unlikely to put caps on markers consistently, stick to crayons or pencils. Markers dry out quickly.
  • Try giving the gift of time and attention rather than material things. Children move on from toys very quickly, and so while there may be that moment of excitement and few days of play, pretty soon items get shelved or stuffed under a bed. But, when you spend time playing with children or doing an activity together, you’re letting the child know they matter, they’re worthy of your time, and you’re helping to make memories that will stick around.
  • Pay for an activity they want to try this year. The cost of extra-curricular activities like theatre class, sports and more can be a barrier for many families, especially if they have a number of children. You could give the gift of a program registration – if the cost is high for your gift, consider going in with other family members who would buy a gift for that child. You can then take a keen interest in their activity, following up to see how it’s going as a way to build your relationship.
  • Give books (but not just any book). When looking for children’s books, be conscious of the content. Most children’s books feature white lead characters or animals. Books are an excellent way for children to learn that our communities are very diverse and that everyone has value. Read more about the power of books to support equity.

It can be tricky to change habits, yes, but by now it’s pretty clear we can’t continue consuming at the rate we do. Spend some time reflecting on the impact you want to have on both the planet and the kids in your life. If we get this right, adult children and grandchildren will look back grateful that they were taught not to contribute to the environmental problem they are now having to solve, rather than resentful that the earlier generation—today’s grownups—kicked the climate crisis can down the road.