How to Avoid Potential Montessori Classroom and Home Health Hazards

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You are probably familiar with saying  “A worried mother does better research than the FBI”. The truth is that we worry a lot. Sometimes excessively, but more often for a good reason. Every mother knows to trust her instincts better than any other source of information. However, it is also essential to be informed and take precaution when it comes to health and safety of our children.

Montessori parents are usually very conscious of adverse effects oversupply of toys brings a child. We know that when it comes to toys less is more. Many choose to minimise the number of toys and declutter their homes and lives from the abundance of stuff. However, some health hazards still can be present even in homes and classrooms where a majority of toys and materials are made out of natural elements, like fabric and wood.

First, just in case, I would like to remind why it is recommended to stay away from cheap plastic toys.

Often these are made out of toxic materials that can be quite harmful to children who may take them in their mouth.

In saying that, also many wooden toys are covered in paint containing lead, and there is only no safe level of exposure to lead for children.

The most dangerous toys you can have are the ones that have small magnets and “button” batteries – lithium-cell batteries. These terrify me. When my daughter was 2yo, she was given a toy by some very well-intentioned mother – as a gift –  little plastic dolphin with a light in it. Thank God we quickly realised what it was and got rid of it. She could have easily opened it and got hold of the tiny battery. When swallowed by a child it can result in deadly tissue damage. This goes to show that parents have to be always diligent. There are many ways children can get access to magnets and “button” batteries.

Often older children may have toys that contain small magnets. This may not be a present danger to older children. However, younger siblings can be at risk of swallowing them, which can cause horrific damage to child’s stomach and internal organs.

Child’s jewellery and cosmetics often contain toxic chemicals and lead which naturally comes in contact with child’s skin – definitely not recommended.

Now, I would like to address issues that are a familiar acquaintance in Montessori classrooms and homes.

It is not uncommon to discover great finds for Montessori Practical Life activities in Dollar type stores. These have a fantastic choice of manipulatives, vases, bowls, plates, cups, craft items, etc.  It is not a secret that these items come from China and are covered and made of toxic chemicals, such as phthalates, PVC, lead, BPA, and many other. The danger is that we often work with young children who are prone to placing objects in the mouth. According to 2015 Dollar Store report

81% of the products (133 out of 164) contained at least one hazardous chemical above levels of concern, and 49% of products contained two or more. Source

Dollar store products like toys and dishes are part of the national problem of childhood lead exposure. Lead is proven to harm brain development, lead to behavioral problems, and has other serious health risks. While children are most vulnerable to lead poisoning, it’s also associated with high blood pressure and kidney damage in adults. Source

The best solution to this is to buy better quality items from second hand, thrift and opp stores. When it comes to Practical Life equipment – there are stores you can trust when it comes to quality and safety – such as Curious Chef – praised by many Montessorians, and Montessori Services. Montessori Services has been a provider of high-quality Montessori equipment for many years.

Here some food for thought. Another important issue not to overlook is to be aware that often wooden items go through fumigation process. I came to this realisation when I was not able to purchase Montessori materials from the store in Australia because it took longer than usual for the container with materials to undergo the treatment at the customs. Here is what I found to be correct about the procedure in the US:

 APHIS requires wood and wood products to undergo certain phytosanitary procedures prior to importation in order to eliminate the risk of introducing non-native pests and diseases into the United States.

There are two treatment options for wood and wood products. Heat treatment involves the use of a kiln dryer or dry heat, such as a microwave energy dryer. Chemical treatment involves the use of a surface pesticide, preservative, or methyl bromide fumigation.

Source

My concern is that whenever wooden items are imported from overseas, there is a chance they have to undergo a fumigation process. Even though the particular wooden toy may be made in align with highest quality standards – out of hardwood, natural, unpainted, in some cases, it has to be treated at customs. When children come in contact with the toys they come in contact with those toxic chemicals used in the process of treatment. Personally, I find it necessary to wipe materials and each piece with a wet cloth before allowing children to work and play with it. Another safe option – is to purchase toys and materials that are handmade locally from people who source their materials responsibly. Etsy is a great place to start. For those who are not familiar with Etsy, it’s an online store that contains handmade and vintage products. There is an excellent choice of fantastic Montessori handmade products. Here is a list of toy companies that manufacture wooden and educational toys in the US: Maple LandmarkLittle Colorado, BerlinHolgate ToysUncle Goose.

Here is what you can do to avoid potential health hazards in Montessori home and classroom:

  • Buy less.
  • Buy second hand and used tools, materials and toys.
  • Avoid purchasing materials and toys from Dollar stores and such.
  • Purchase locally made and handmade materials.
  • Purchase from trusted sources that follow high standards and that have Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations in place.
  • Clean all toys and materials thoroughly before offering to the child (even toys that are made out of natural materials).
  • Stay away from cheap products, especially cheap kids jewellery and cosmetics.
  •  Be aware of toys containing small parts, loose parts, small magnets and batteries.
  • Go outdoors, spend more time out in nature where materials and activities are as natural and toxic free as it comes.

This information is for educational purposes only. It does not provide medical advice. Information shared here is meant to encourage you to make your own decisions based on your own research.

Here is a list of websites for your reference:

HealthyStuff.org

Health Tip: Toys to Avoid for Young Children

Taiwan Update of Formaldehyde Emissions in Wooden Toys

Center for Health and Environmental Justice

U.S. Public Interest Research Group

Consumer Product Safety Commission

Product Safety Australia 

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