Hyper-consumerism and the Christmas aftermath
You can walk down any given street in America the week following Christmas and observe piles of discarded toys, scooters, bicycles, ect. I’ve seen it in my neighborhood every year since I’ve lived here. I always get a little sad for the discarded items and wonder what they have been replaced with. Maybe little Tommy outgrew his bike and needed a new one. Maybe Katy hadn’t played with her Barbie Dolls in a while and room had to be made for this year’s gifts.
I’m not judging; children grow and change, as do their interests.
Montessori and minimalism
I’m more interested in helping to solve the “stuff” problem that we have, particularly here in America. Thrift shops and children’s consignment stores are filled to the brim with clothing, toys, and accessories. So, why do I have this year’s entire Christmas list of things in my Amazon shopping cart right now? These items will be manufactured somewhere overseas, packaged, shipped to distribution centers all over America, shipped to smaller distribution centers or post offices, then delivered to my doorstep. The items will be played with for a few years, then discarded in some fashion. That’s a heck of a carbon footprint, for a toy! Not to mention, if the toy is plastic, it will sit in a landfill for several centuries, leaching chemicals into the surrounding soil. Now, I consider myself a fairly earth-conscious person. I recycle, compost, cloth diaper, use “no-paper” towels…so, what am I doing? And what am I teaching my children by buying brand-new and shopping on-line?
Montessori gifts/materials and consignment shops: Cheap thrills
In a conscious attempt to shift my habits away from mass consumerism, I checked out the toy section at our local Once Upon a Child. My son’s 1st birthday was in November and I wanted to let my 3 year old pick out a gift for him. My hopes weren’t high as we approached the back of the store where the toys were kept. I saw plastic…lots of plastic. And lots of not-so-educational “educational” toys. But, boy was I surprised when I started moving things around and digging in the bins. Wooden blocks! Puzzles! Complete sets of animal figurines! Threading activities with wooden beads! An over-sized wooden stacking train! I even found a…wait for it…an object permanence box! I found classic Montessori material at a consignment shop! My heart is pounding just reliving that moment. Not only did I find all of these things, but there were tons of items that could be used for sorting, counting, ect. I was impressed. Montessori material and toy shopping can definitely be done at consignment and thrift shops.
Along with environmental benefits and the “bonus” benefit of finding things you might never have thought to search for, there are other great benefits to buying second hand. One plus-side is that it’s (obviously) less expensive. The gift my daughter picked out for her brother retails for $21.99 plus shipping and handling on-line, but it cost just $4.50 gently used. Another important plus side to buying second hand is that if the toy was manufactured using anything containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), they may have already released the VOCs, making the toy safer for your home environment. Is secondhand sounding any better to you? It sure is to me!
When purchasing new toys: Food for thought
Of course, it would be amazing if everything we needed could be found locally and secondhand. However, it doesn’t always work out that way and it’s inevitable that some things will be purchased new and ordered on-line. For these instances, it’s a good idea to put extra thought into the material the item you’re purchasing is made of. There is a bevy of information available on the negative effects of plastic on the environment, as well as the negative effects of mere exposure to plastic on our health. Wood toys are a much better option. If the item you’re purchasing must be plastic, you might consider buying locally instead of having the item packaged, shipped, and delivered.
In summary: Teach your children well
We are in charge of teaching our children to care for their environment. Their immediate surroundings are just a tiny piece of the puzzle. It is every single person’s job to care for this Earth. Just because our trash is taken away from our curbs and we can’t see much of the effects of our consumerism, it doesn’t mean that someone else isn’t feeling the effects, or that we or our children won’t one day experience them. This is a great lesson for our little future world-changers. And as with most other things we teach our children, there are lessons to be learned for us, too!