This year, as testified by crowds in downtown New York and other areas, the Christmas shopping season has started even before the Thanksgiving turkey is out of the oven. And with the hype for new video game consoles like Nintendo's Wii and the Sony PlayStation 3, not to mention the T.M.X. Elmo, parents may feel it would be child abuse not to buy the most advertised items. While these games and toys have their appeal, there are plenty of long-lasting, imagination-provoking toys that will be new to children, even if, like finger puppets, they've been available for centuries.
The non-profit Parents Choice Foundation (www.parents-choice.org), devoted to recommending toys that help children grow "imaginatively, physically, morally and mentally," suggests that you think first about the child's interests, be they arts, sports, science or fashion, and buy them age-appropriate gifts that meet those interests. Although many of the Foundation's selections do not meet The Green Guide's environmental criteria, this year it offered a gold medal to the PVC-free Lego Mindstorms NXT robot, which can be programmed from a Mac or PC and interacts with the environment via touch, sight, sound and ultrasonic sensors ($250; www.amazon.com). Also pleasing to note is that Lego pays its workers a living wage.
Kenana Knitted Critters hand-puppets are made in Kenya with natural dyes and wool, knitted by women from rural areas. Sets include elephants, zebras, parrots, leopards and other animals (set of 5/$18; www.kenanausa.com)
Senger's kuscheltiere (or "cuddly animals") lambs, goats, zebras and cows are made from organic cotton ($55; ABC Home, 212-473-3000).
The rideable airplane playset from Pasteltoys is made by mentally and physically handicapped workers with milk-based paint and formaldehyde-free wood ($225; ABC Home, 212-473-3000).
Tree Blocks wooden toys are made from discarded wood derived from paper forests and orchards at the end of their productive cycles with a flax oil finish. Their 66 piece math set teaches addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions and decimals ($49.95). Their elaborate, hand-crafted TreeHouse is made from recycled cherry and apple and can transform into a forest fort ($139.95; www.treeblocks.com).