27 October 2011

No buy no waste toddler activities

Eva had a birthday in September (TWO! Unbelievable) and received lovingly purchased gifts, most of which were toys. Our family members and friends have taken seriously that we don’t want a house full of plastic and the gifts were sensitively selected with minimal packaging. Still, it got me thinking about how much stuff we buy and/or throw away to entertain little people. I am trying wherever possible to find ways to entertain and educate Eva with minimal or no purchase or disposal of stuff. Here are five ideas that have worked for us:

1.   Found Object Cubby Houses
I’m told by my mum that the purple rug has been with our family for over thirty years. Although it retired from active service as a bed cover many years back, it is a much cherished picnic blanket and cubby roof.
She is writing on the butt-end of a used-up notepad – apparently not to be thrown away until all clear surfaces have something added!
The washing machine box cubby is also good for recurring painting activities. Thus far I have not bought paint or brushes, on account of hoarding from past purchases when I was involved in work with teenagers and uni students, but I concede that paint & brushes are not strictly ‘no buy’ items. (Thanks to my sister for bringing her washing machine box across town for us to use – the box from the compost tumbler got left in the rain and collapsed)

2.   Lids and Buckets

It took about a month of putting aside plastic lids from juice and milk bottles to get this collection. Initially I intended to punch holes in them to make a threading game, and I have two old shoelaces (washed!) ready for this purpose if I get to making holes.

Or they were intended as a sorting game.

But on account of temporarily storing them in a plastic jug, they have become primarily used for making cuppas. The buckets (from honey) are the mugs. If I’m very lucky Eva will make me a cappuccino.

3.   Olive tin drums
These were just too good to pass by when our local continental store had a pile out to take for free. 

These drum sticks are lovely smooth polished cross pieces from a chair that broke, although good strong sticks from our eucalyptus are equally popular. I’m sure our neighbours regret the day we found these – they are strictly an outside toy! They also make quite good side tables for balancing drinks and food when we eat outside.

4.   Water painting on the fence

Water painting is the ultimate no-waste activity, as the pictures dry away and the surface can be reused over and over and over. Honey buckets again – what wonderful useful things!


5.   Stones, dirt, a bucket of water, a rag

Eva can entertain herself independently for sometimes over an hour with this activity. Stones get dug into the (empty) pot-plant, dug out again, washed, dried, made into piles, wrapped in parcels, thrown to the ‘ducklings’ that she assures me populate our courtyard. And they make a thoroughly satisfying ‘sploosh’ when dropped into water from any height. These nice smooth white stones are left over from an activity I ran ages ago, for which I purchased them, but stones found in the garden would be just as good if a handy hoard like this was not stored in my cupboard.
I try to encourage left-over water from both the last two activities to always go into a pot-plant so it gets used twice, and to limit how many times Eva is permitted to refill her container, so that she learns not to just tip it out.

Initial Time: Cubbies usually take abut ten minutes to set up (not counting painting the washing machine box, which has been an activity in itself); Lids took about a month to save a decent collection, but only involved having a container by the sink to drop them in instead of into the recycling bin; everything else was the same time as it would take to get a shop-purchased toy or activity off the shelf.

Initial Cost: Zero

Ongoing time or cost commitment: Zero for these items. My commitment to no buy no waste activities in general may at times require a little extra creative thinking and set-up time but I think no more than might be spent wandering shops looking for things to buy.

Impact: I can’t quantify this in any meaningful way (except for one washing machine box, about ten honey buckets and fifty or so plastic lids not going into the recycling) but I think it has a significant qualitative impact. Firstly, Eva is learning to be resourceful about play, and that things can have many uses after their first one is finished. I’ve also had adults visiting our house say ‘what a good idea!’ about some of the no buy no waste things we have tried, so I am hopeful that we are inspiring others to also have a go at creatively using what they have rather than throwing it away or buying something else.  A teacher friend remarked that it was good to see someone else eying the recycling bin as treasure rather than trash, as she uses all manner of ‘waste’ items in her classroom (and her husband I think is still a bit taken aback at what she collects up as ‘teaching resources’ – anyone have any of those spindles that bulk discs come on? She is a few short...) 

The impact is about shifting how I and Eva and hopefully others see things.