Think outside the (gift) box this holiday season!

I am a guilty mother who has been known to bribe my son from time to time with trips to Toys "R" Us in moments of weakness or desperate times like potty training.  And yet, every time I am there I feel trapped in a sea of plastic, cheap looking toys that are predominately made in China and are packaged in an unnecessary amount of waste. This year, I am making a commitment to buy smarter and think outside the box when it comes to holiday gifts and birthday presents. 

There are many gift options out there for all ages that are made of non-toxics plastics and paint without BPA, phthlates and lead, are fair trade (meaning that they are constructed in safe & fair working conditions and not by child laborers), made in the United States, don't require the use of batteries and are all around better for the environment. You can find many of these toys online at websites such as PlanetHappyToys.com and GreenToys.com. Green Toys are made from recycled milk jugs, 100% made in the USA and are packaged using minimal recycled & recyclable materials without the use of additional any plastics.
If you live in the Chicagoland area, there are also stores with a variety of these safe, eco-friendly and fair trade toys like Little Green Baby, Green Genes, Building Blocks and a new boutique with a unique trading concept called SugarCup Trading. At SugarCup Trading kids can trade-in used toys and clothing items that are in demand for SugarCup points towards toys & clothing at the store. Every item at the store has a tag with both the price and SugarCup point value. This a great concept that not only helps eliminate unnecessary waste but also teaches a valuable lesson, allowing parents to educate their kids about donating and saving towards a purchase (while also encouraging patience, something I know a lot of kids can benefit from!). 
Below I have featured a slideshow with recommended toys from both Little Green Baby (located at 4654 N. Rockwell, Chicago) and SugarCup Trading (located at 110 N. Marion St., Oak Park). I encourage you to take some time and look at these wonderful gift options that think outside the box and are better for your children and the planet. By purchasing items at these Chicago stores you are also helping to support local small businesses while promoting the green holiday spirit! 
And after you have purchased your eco-friendly, fair trade and non-toxic toy, be sure to think green when it comes to wrapping options. Choose wrapping papers that are made from recycled materials or use gift bags or boxes that can be reused. And be sure to reuse or recycle any gift wrap you receive. Not only does this help minimize waste, but you will save a good amount of money in the long run. 
I also recently learned about en eco-wrapping company called Ella Wrap. Ella Wraps are stylish reusable gift wraps made in assorted fabric prints and sizes. You can see their entire selection on their website. If every family wrapped just three holiday presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. In addition to being environmentally-friendly, each ellaWrap comes with a gift journal that is designed to be an ongoing history recording the occasions a particular ellaWrap has been presented. When you wrap your present in Ella Wrap, it really is the gift that keeps on giving! 
My last suggestion for thinking outside the box this holiday season is to give a gift of charity in honor of a friend or family member. It is an extremely noble and kind thing to help out others less fortunate or in need during the holidays, and a great way to spread a message of love & giving. Some of my favorite highly-rated charities (meaning that your money will most likely end up going to the right sources & doing the most good) are Save the Children, Water.org, Doctors without Borders, UNICEF, The Red Cross and Feed America. There are also plenty of local charity options from homeless & animal shelters to food depositories. You can also help provide basic necessities, meals and supplies to underserved children at my favorite Chicago public charter school, The Academy for Global Citizenship by donating here

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