By Shermakaye Bass

As the holiday count-down begins, and hordes of already wiped out, over-worked parents lurch into their annual late-night curious-george.jpgmall marathons, many are haunted by concerns over toy safety. With more than 23 million recalled this year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the questions are obvious:

What’s safe, what’s not? How does a person really know? And what might consumer watch-dog groups find next year in the toys that we bought this year?

One way to learn more about hazardous toys is to regularly check sites like, W.A.T.C.H., or the CPSC’s recall list; or to sign up for email updates from your pediatrician. (W.A.T.C.H. has published a worst toys of 2007 list. Curious George, right, was recalled in November for excessive levels of lead paint on his face.)

But if there is anything positive to emerge from this year’s toy scare (and there isn’t much) perhaps it’s that Americans are being reminded to pay closer attention to what their children play with. As a result, they’re reminded that less can be more. Much more.

“We’ve been striving to have more family time anyway,” says Kara Stamper, a Centreville, VA, mother, whose daughter Georgia is 8 and son John Henry is 6. It seems that as the recalls have continued (from Aqua Dots to Thomas the Tank Engine to Dora the Explorer to Go Diego Go, recalled for lead paint) a parallel recall is occurring – a recalling of simpler times that, over the long haul, could prove good for the environment, both inside the home and out.diego.gif

“There was (recently) a national ‘Turn-off-your TV week,” ‘ Stamper says, “and we had a week of reading together and playing Yahtzee and Trouble and we danced in front of the Christmas tree and we lit up our fire. Georgia even said, ‘Mommy, we’ve rediscovered all our old board games.’ ”

Denver parents Judy Walgren DeHaas and Peter DeHaas, who have children ages 12 years old and 18 months, have always tended a fairly organic household, buying their kids locally made goods whenever possible, being mindful of materials, supporting artisans in their area. But these days, the DeHaases call the manufacturer or visit online checklists every time their younger son, Theo, is given a new toy.

“I’m not buying any toys unless they’re wooden and made in the U.S.,” she says, clearly concerned and frustrated by the lack of protections and regulations. “We’re also getting Theo a large set of Legos. And for Christmas, I’m asking for clothing and books for him.”