Toys that run on kid energy

It's kind of funny, if you think about it. Years ago, kids played with wooden blocks and Legos, arguably environmentally-friendly toys. Of course, you could point out that a tree was cut down for the blocks, and the Legos are plastic, which means they'll someday be in a landfill for a long time. But that's why I said "arguably."

So, anyway, suddenly the blocks and Legos are tossed aside for video games and battery-operated toys, and you have not only raw materials going into those playthings, but they expend a lot of energy.

So now toy makers and toy stores like Toys R Us are coming full circle and thinking green by going back to the basics, as I mentioned in a WalletPop story about a week ago. But now we've come across a toy manufacturer who manages to be "green" and have electronic toys -- that don't need batteries. has a story about the Zen Design Group, which is making toys that last for 15 minutes, operating with the same principles a battery-operated toy has -- all you have to do is turn a little crank for 60 seconds, something kids like doing, or a parent could easily enough do. These are their SEE toys, which stand for "Safety, Ecology, Economy." Safety, you say? Sure, the inventor, designer Sun Yu, told the Detroit News that he was inspired to make these toys because of his son. When he was younger, "he used to sit in the [shopping] cart and grab batteries," Yu said. "Children learn at a very young age what batteries are and what they do." He added, "Batteries and toys are not a really good mix, a lot of kids swallow batteries."As for the economy, judging from the photos on their web site, the toys appear to be sort of small -- the size of a Matchbox car -- and are priced from $14.99 to $19.99. Do I think these toys will be the next big thing, as popular as playthings of the past and present like Tickle Me Elmo and Wii?

Probably not, but as for "green" toys that are environmentally friendly and fun, this seems to be an awfully good start.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).

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