In spring, and especially on Earth Day, families and communities come together to celebrate the planet and find ways to protect it.  In that spirit we present this year's list of green gifts: 18 toys, games, and books that are fun, safe, educational and environmentally on point. Our reviews are grade-specific, ranging from preschool through second grade. So if you're looking for something to help further your child's understanding of the natural world, expand her global awareness, or if you just want ideas for great toys that will keep your environmental conscience in the clear, we've got you covered.


Excavator Kids love trucks and parents love getting kids outside. But if you've been feeling guilty about all the plastic your family sends to the landfill once an outdoor toy's novelty wears off, this excavator is for you. Molded out of sprigwood, a durable material made of reclaimed pine sawdust from the cabinet industry, infused with recycled plastic from milk jugs, bottles, and containers, colored with a non-toxic dye, and packaged in recycled cardboard, this little digger gives garbage a second chance. Not only is the excavator eco-friendly and battery-free, it's a ton of sandbox fun. Get down and dirty with the scoop-and-lift action of the excavator's shovel, then use the rotating chassis of the truck body to get that dirt out of the way! A flip open cab and easy-grab handles make play easy for little hands. Kids are sure to dig it! (Sprig Toys, $15)


Softies Simply Natural Puppets When it comes to comfort, stuffed animals are at the top of most kids' wish lists. But with tons of teddies to choose from, it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Luckily, this line of softies stands above the rest. Eco-friendly animals on the outside, playful puppets on the inside, they're made from 100 percent natural cotton and colored using vegetable dyes. Even the tag is made from 100 percent recycled paper. Although parents will care that these softies are safe and eco-friendly, kids will love them for their cute looks and cuddly ultra-soft fabric. Choose from lion, elephant, pig, cow, hippo, and monkey. (Russ Berrie, $17.99)


School Bus and Children What's better than knowing your child's toys are made of renewable, nontoxic materials? Knowing that your purchase helps to improve the lives of struggling artists in third world countries. This big yellow school bus is a Fair Trade product--handmade in Sri Lanka from albizia wood, one of the fastest-growing trees on earth, and colored with nontoxic paints. It comes from the Gospel House Handicrafts Artisan Group, which provides training and work to young adults with little prospect of employment. A great way to pay-it forward, the toy provides hours of creative play. While they "pick up" the 16 brightly painted children that come with the set, preschoolers get comfortable with the idea of the school bus, and the importance of public transportation in an increasingly carbon-conscious society.   (Ten Thousand Villages, $64) 

10 Things I Can Do to Help My World by Melanie Walsh Young children are more conscious of the environment than you might think, and many have a pretty clear-eyed view of the rights and wrongs of taking care of planet Earth. But the specifics of just how to do it are a little less apparent. This charming and colorful book can lend a hand in giving your preschooler concrete suggestions for small steps he can take himself, every day. From turning off the faucet while brushing teeth to coloring on both sides of the paper, this book is full of kid-friendly ideas and whimsical illustrations to show your child that everyone, no matter how small, can help protect the Earth. Plus, it's made from 100% recycled material! (Candlewick, $10.87)

Eco Town Calling all future city planners! This toy gets kids ready to live in what will hopefully be a much greener world. With all the building blocks for pretend play-- a doll house, train station, road signs, and a place to fuel up-- this is the town we all wish we lived in, rather than the one we do. The street lights run on solar energy. The garbage cans sort recycling. Instead of gassing up, cars pull in for a charge. The doll house has solar panels and a wind turbine on the roof. And the train runs on electricity rather than dirty diesel. Even better, the manufacturer walks the walk, by using E-Zero glue, water-based dyes, and rubberwood which otherwise would be burned for CO2 producing charcoal. From the train conductor who bikes to work, to the neighbor scooting by on a Segway, this set lets kids go to town! (Eco Town, Plan Toys, $150.00) 


Tree Blocks Many wooden toys are so processed, they may as well be plastic. Tree blocks are the exception. Made from reclaimed cherry, apple, and elder trees-- the discards of forests planted by the paper industry--no trees are harmed in the building of these toys! The blocks take a bit of getting used to, since every set is hand cut from a different set of branches, each one is a mix of sometimes odd shapes, from three-inch long twigs to ten-inch burled discs. But working with something that's not mass-produced and uniform is half the fun. Building with these blocks feels sort of like creating something out of sticks-- but sticks that stack. Set your kid loose and watch her imagination soar. Whether she builds a bridge, a spaceship, a tower, or a tree house, she'll hold nature in her hands as she works on each new masterpiece. (Tree Blocks, $25)

Anamalz CD and Wood Figures Part of raising an environmentally conscious child is giving him an appreciation of the animals that share our planet, from forests to farms. This line of uber-eco animal figures does the trick. Hand made from organic, sustainable maple wood and colored with a water-based paint, the animals boast bendable legs and tails, as well as "coats" made of recycled textile products that are formaldehyde free and colored with azo dye. Accompany playtime with the Animalz CD, performed with kid and parent-pleasing prowess by Australian musician Beau Young, and featuring such hits as "Crocodile Fishing" and "Going on a Horsey Ride," and you've got a recipe for fun the whole family can enjoy. Choose from cow, horse, pig, sheep, donkey, goat, reindeer, llama, camel, emu, giraffe, kangaroo, crocodile, elephant, black bear, gorilla, lion, and more! (Russ Berrie, $7.00 each, CD $12.99) 

Pick-Up Words Can't get your kid to buckle down and learn her sight words? Make it a game! In this green version of the childhood classic, kids hold a bundle of 30 bamboo sticks in hand and release them onto a tabletop. Then players attempt to extract sticks without disturbing the others in the pile, by lifting carefully, pressing down on an end in lever-fashion, or flicking sticks aside with the help of a helper stick. But before they lift a stick, they need to read the sight word on its tip. The result? A fun way for kinders to practice and memorize the high-frequency words that are often a stumbling block for beginning readers, and work their fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination in the process. With all pieces made of super green bamboo, the directions printed with vegetable ink, and the packaging completely made of recycled papers and plastic-- this is a game you can feel doubly good about. (Beyond Learning, $15.95)

Stone Soup Sharing Garden Kit If your child isn't already familiar with the famous Grimm fairytale, Stone Soup, kindergarten is a great time to read it together. The story, about a traveler who arrives in town with an empty pot and convinces each of the starving villagers to add just a little something to his "soup", is an instant hit with this age group, who love to be in on the trick. Just as the fairytale teaches children how friends working together can make something out of almost nothing, this kit teaches them how next to nothing-- just a few tiny seeds-- can reap big rewards. The small tin contains six types of certified organic seeds in a variety of colors and sizes, a few garden stakes, and a smooth stone in a jute sack. Cutesy perhaps, but the gimmick just might get them out in the yard, trowel in hand. And when the harvest arrives, there's a recipe so they can cook up their own soup, stone and all. (Potting Shed Creations, $26.75)

What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? by Anna Alter Turn an old flip-flop into a rubber stamp. Make a pillow out of a worn out t-shirt. Craft an apron from a ripped shower curtain. It's fun to reuse and recycle when kids have a colorful picture book full of cute critters to help them come up with ideas! Whether it's making art supply bins from empty berry baskets or a glowing lantern from an old tin can, this book makes it a joy for small children to keep things out of the landfill. And with a little encouragment, kinders may even agree to take the toys they're not using to a local charity or pass this book on to a friend. (Henry Holt and Company, $16.95) 


First Grade: Kombino In the toy-making business, it's hard to get greener than bamboo. This attractive strategy game is chock full of the stuff. The set includes a bamboo mat of four columns and four rows, plus four different kinds of bamboo shape tiles painted in vivid water colors. Game play is similar to sudoku, with players laying their tiles in horizontal and vertical rows, without doubling up on any one shape or color. The game provides practice in core math skills, including patterning and shape recognition, and it can be played in groups, pairs, or alone. Best of all, you can play with a clear-conscience, knowing that this product is made of a safe and natural material that grows back in just three years. (Hape, $28)

Let's Paint the Pond Musical Instruments Here's a toy that hits all the right notes: it combines art, music, ecology and global awareness. This kit includes a bevy of percussion instruments--a castanet-like butterfly, two wood blocks that look and sound like a cricket and a frog, and a wooden drum in the shape of a fish. All the pieces are hand-carved out of native Jackfruit wood by Fair Trade artisans in Vietnam, who design and fashion the instruments based on their own musical heritage. Fruit trees provide a renewable source of wood, as old trees on fruit farms are replaced by more productive young ones. And the play value is as sustainable as the materials: your child doesn't just get to play the sounds of the pond, she can also stretch her artistic side by painting her instruments using the the non-toxic, water-based paints included in the pack. This one is sure to be a hit! (Jamtown, $29.95) 



Grow Your Own Tree Teach your child to fight climate change... one seed at a time. Trees are the ultimate green gift: they prevent soil erosion and water pollution, they produce oxygen, and each mature tree absorbs enough carbon dioxide to support two people! Your child can create a shady picnic spot or build the base for that future tree fort, by starting with one of these baby varieties now. Whether you go for a city-tolerant pine, a fruit bearing apple, a simply gorgeous maple, a tropical palm, an elm or a ginkgo, there are plenty of choices here. Kits come with seeds, germination mix, a plant stake, and a biodegradable coconut coir pot that can be planted directly into the ground. Every tree is guaranteed to grow and a portion of all proceeds goes towards replenishing forests. So you'll be grooming a green thumb and a greener world, too. (DuneCraft, $5.90)


Spinning Top Set Want to take your child on a spin around the globe? This vibrant spinning top set comes with directions for bambaram--a game popular with children in India and Pakistan. To play, take turns spinning your tops and try to bump your opponent's top out of the playing circle. Sound easy? Give it a whirl and you'll find it harder then you think. The game promotes the hand-eye coordination and fine-motor skills needed for good pencil grip in first grade. Plus, the tops are made of plantation rubberwood, a highly renewable hardwood from trees no longer able to produce latex, and the box is made of forest-managed pine. Lead-free, water-based paint is used for the brightly-colored polka-dots and flower designs that make spinning the tops so much fun, and the manufacturer also strives for ethical labor practices. (ImagiPlay, $19.99) 

Yesterday's News Colored Pencils Pencil and paper have always gone together, but not quite like this! These colored pencils take innovative journalism to the next level. Made from pages of reclaimed Chinese newspapers, tightly wrapped in layers around the colored lead, these pencils are lighter and stronger than their number 2 predecessors. The set of twelve easy-to-sharpen colors comes in a handy pencil case, also wrapped in recycled newspaper. (Worldwide Co., $5.95)


Second Grade: Schoolhouse Is it arts and crafts or creative play? This paintable schoolhouse is both! Wholesome fun with an environmental mission, the easily assembled cardboard toy features a lively classroom, a recycling center, and a roof stacked with solar panels. Because it's made from partially recycled corrugated board, when your child has finally grown out of it, you can recycle the entire thing. The only part that isn't recyclable is the non-toxic water-color set, which conforms to all testing standards. Every part of the product is made in the United States, and the company focuses on e-commerce and dropship programs to lesson their carbon footprint. For an extra boost of social consciousness, the toys are made by Panhandle Special Needs, Inc. in Sandpoint, Idaho, which provides employment to people with special needs. (Imagination Box, $35)


Alpha Animals Animal lovers of all ages will enjoy this tricky trivia game, which features a spiral gameboard made of 100% recycled materials and six fair trade wooden animal pieces, hand-carved in Kenya. Start on the letter A, roll the die, then name an animal, fish, bird, reptile, or insect that starts with the letter. If you're right, you move on to the letter B, and get one step closer to the series of animal kingdom questions in the stack of trivia cards. But beware: these aren't your typical animal quick facts, and parents as well as kids may find themselves stumped by questions such as "What is a marmot most closely related to: antelope, fox, squirrel or weasel?". The game can also be modified into a "Tiger Cub" game for younger children. A roaring good time! (Green Board Games, $28.99)

Recycled Crafts Box Book by Laura C. Martin If one person's trash is another's treasure, then this book is overflowing with gold! Filled with fantastic ideas for transforming your family's heap of garbage into an endless stream of craft supplies, it teaches kids to look at "useless" things in a whole new light. From stilts made from empty paint cans to dolls created from plastic yogurt cups, laundry soap jug guitars to cardboard castles, there are ideas galore here. In between all the crafting, kids get a history of trash and some non-preachy insight on how the invention of disposable items like razors and paper towels got us into this mess in the first place. Craft-tastic! (Storey Publishing, $10.95)

 Check out last year's Top Ten Green Toys for Earth Day.