For this last part of the parenting guide, I’m exploring some activities to do with the little ones that both are fun, creative and won’t cost you or anyone the earth (pun intended!). I made sure to include tips suitable both for outdoor entertainment and for stay-at-home days when the rain is pouring (might need these a little more right now for my fellow Londoners). Enjoy!
Send them off to Forest school
While technology is great and there is undoubtedly a place for it, I think it’s so very important for children to learn to connect with the natural world. It teaches them resilience, makes them have a deeper understanding and respect for nature, not to mention that spending time in nature is linked with better health and wellbeing (better sleep, better mood, better everything - ask the nation’s favourite medical podcast, Dr Chatterjee). Plus: who would ever fight to preserve something they have no conception of? It’s critical that we all can see first hand what we need to be working very hard to save. And children are very, very key to all of this because it is the world they will inherit. So my first tip is: send them off to your closest forest school, perhaps as an after school or weekend activity! (for those of you lucky parents in West London, checkout Be Wilder Education by the utterly fabulous Emma Woods). It will be worth it when you see them come home muddy but eyes full of wonder after they’ve built a campfire, observed a bug hotel up close or harvested actual vegetables from a patch they’ve helped tend.
Cleanup Scavenger Hunts
This one’s a bit of a weird one, but my kids love it and I love having an objective when we go on a walk: bring a pair of gloves, a pickup stick, some bags (if you can, bring a separate one for recyclables) and head out for some planet-saving litter picking. Might sound a bit strange but you would be surprised how excited kids can become about the pick-up stick, and by the way - it’s not only me. There is an actual hashtag (proof it must be a real thing)! The #trashtag challenge is “getting people to clean up littered public and natural spaces. As evidence of their efforts, participants post before and after pictures on social media, then nominate another person to clean up an area”. In 2019, 563,163 people also joined the Great British Spring Clean for something very similar, and KeepBritainTidy.org organises the next Spring Clean between 20 March - 13 April 2020. This useful page tells you how to organise something this for your kids - and turn it into a fun Scavenger Hunt. If you don’t have a pick-up stick at home, this litter picking set for kids us a good starting point. It’s fun, it’s free, it’s simple and it brings instant results for your community! Not to mention that children learn the consequences of irresponsible littering quite literally on the spot (mine have consequently become little green tyrants who will shout at people who misbehave on the street, which I’m not too sure how I feel about yet…).
Sow and grow your own food
Although the cold has now hit London and will stay with us for a few months, there are some veggies to be sown even at this time of the year - and of course there’s always next Spring to plan for. Plant chillies, mustard greens and broad beans are now ready to be sown for an early next year crop. The Winter Gem Lettuce is even bred to be able to grow on low temperatures. Having a little vegetable patch to tend to, or a few boxes with mint, basil, parsley and chives on your window sill (if like most of us in London you do not have access to a green space), is quite life-changing for little ones. This can be an ongoing project that teaches responsibility, as well as, importantly, where our food comes from. Giving them the full-on experience of growing their own food will make them realise that the food ending up on their plate takes time, energy and lots of care. For those short on space, have a browse at Mini Green Fingers’ planting kits.
Avoid the birthday plastic trap
Other than just balloons and cheerful smiles, birthdays are often synonymous with plastic extravaganza! At some point we all, myself included (it was my eldest 5th and yes - we did it all including the bouncy castle), walked straight into the single-use plastic trap - because let’s face it, the pressure is ON when it comes to birthday parties. To avoid a waste fest, you can:
1. Bake your own cake! Check out Deliciously Ella’s sweet tooth section, or head over to Care for 15 healthy cake recipes for your kids next birthday!
2. Switch the pre-packaged sweets and the 25cl juice (which are discarded maximum ten minutes after being given out, AND include straws, and lead to massive sugar highs anyways) for real bottled-juices, organic raisins and fresh berries or grapes which kids also love to munch on!
3. Choose party favours that last to give away, as opposed to disposable party-bags full to the brim with plastic nonsense (again I so don’t judge, I’ve done it too). Not too long ago, my son went to a birthday party and was given a little cactus - which he was told to care for like he would a person - with lots of water and love. He still waters it (most of the time!), and I thought this was the loveliest of ideas. The kids were all super thrilled to be given the responsibility to care for something. Other ideas might include books (the Book People website has a brilliant section with offers all year long) or DIY craft bags, or puzzles, or origami sets.
4. For any rubbish, set up a little recycling station and encourage everyone to place the rubbish in the right bin with a nice big sign on top. Best not to trust the adults with it - but tell the kids from the beginning though, and they will very likely keep everyone on their toes!
As we reach the end of this blog series, I just wanted to reiterate something that I believe in very much for all parents who are trying their best: it’s the small steps that count. Sustainability is not about being perfect or all in - I truly think that we’d all be much better off if everyone did what they could, rather than a small group of people doing everything ‘perfect’. Sustainability is also very much a journey - I was much worse at it 5 years ago than I am today, and I continue to improve as I meet new people with fresh ideas, or read up on things I didn’t know. For the sake of our planet and our children’s future, I have vowed to never stop challenging myself to become better. But being a parent is hard, and as well as fighting for the planet I think it’s important to fight against generalised guilt - there is enough of that already. So pick what’s right for you and your family at this moment in time.