By John DeFore
Gifts for kids come from everywhere along the Earth-friendly spectrum, from things that will be landfill fodder in months (be they easily broken or tie-ins to passing fads) to those that are actually toxic.
Among the sturdy, built-to-last variety, though, some consider the environment more than others. Board games, for instance, will often be kept around and enjoyed for years — if they’re fun — and my guess is some readers will share my childhood memories of playing the decades-old games my parents enjoyed in their school days.
The company Mindware, maker of such award-winning diversions as Chaos and Qwirkle, isn’t content just to make games that won’t be thrown away; they’re also selling some, branded “Green Board Games,” that are actually made from and packaged with recycled materials. One of these, Square Up!, is the kind of abstract puzzle that parents won’t mind playing themselves, while others, like a line of BrainBox Q&A games, will help kids sharpen knowledge of subjects that aren’t trivial.
The other category of hand-me-down toys that I enjoyed a generation after my parents was the construction set. We had Erector gear, Lincoln Logs, and assorted building blocks whose fun factor was undiminished by the patina of age. A fascinating new brand of construction toy, Überstix, seems designed with both yesterday’s construction sets and tomorrow’s ecological concerns in mind.
The sticks and sprockets of Überstix, you see, aren’t only usable on their own. They’re cleverly designed to fit together with many of the kits a household may already own: The aforementioned Erector products, Legos, the mathematician-beloved Zome toys and many others can all be combined with these multipurpose connectors, encouraging kids to dig old favorites from the back of the closet to be enjoyed once more.
Even better, the recycled-plastic Überstix are designed to work with garbage. Popsicle sticks, soda straws, coffee cups and the like fit into these things with a little ingenuity, and some of the kits — like a sailboat that requires used water bottles for floatation devices — aren’t even complete until kids do some scrounging for raw materials.
Now if only the company would provide users with instructions for how to incorporate that mountain of Christmas wrapping paper and ribbon into an Überstix creation…
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