This is the 2nd post of a 4 part series on creating eco-heros by helping children practice sustainable living while also having summer fun.
Keeping little eco-heros active during the summer and limiting their video game time can be challenging. It can test even the most creative of parents to find activities to occupy their children's time, encourage their imaginations, and help them work off some of their excess energy. What better than to give them opportunities to turn thrift into treasure?
Children eight and under love to use their imaginations through dress up or play. Kids of today often think that they need dream homes for their dolls or super hero costumes, but these items are pricey, and definitely not eco-friendly. Many are made overseas and take a toll on our environment in the energy they require to transport here. Not to mention that some countries have not regulated the materials that their toys are made from very well. One great alternative is to take kids to a thrift store and let them use their imaginations to come up with play things & dress up clothing. Children are instinctively creative when they need to be. With adult help to drill and then sand down a couple holes in an old pizza pan they can create a shield. Thread a long strip of cloth through the holes and knot to make a hand hold. Use the core from a roll of wrapping paper with a small flashlight taped to one end with duct tape so the light shines through the tube and they've got a light saber. Cut an old satiny dress into a cape and you've got a super creative eco-hero.
Along the same vein: Kids love to come up with puppet shows or even a play to perform for parents and other family members for a small fee. Go back to the thrift store or hit the neighborhood garage sales to find props, puppet makings or costumes. Here are some cute puppets made from old wooden spoons that are super easy. Make sure to shoot a video of the performance and save it as a great memory to be enjoyed when they are older.
For kids 7 and older, forget the computer simulated city building--they can make little people from old wine corks, pipe cleaners for limbs and wooden beads for the head--or use some of the ideas here. They can use old wooden or cardboard blocks for buildings and put them together to form a city to play in. Then they can get busy making up their own city happenings.
From our founder: As a child, my sisters and I would spend hours creating dollhouse "rooms" on the furniture and floor in our rooms--an upturned shoebox was a dollbed, we would hand sew little pillows from cloth and use a larger piece for the coverlet. Upright opened books became walls and bottle tops became saucers or plates. Eventually, our youngest sister got a store bought dollhouse and we never played with it--it just wasn't as much fun.
Another green thing for kids to do is to cultivate a container garden. Nothing tastes better to a child than things they have planted and grown with their own hands (this truth may not extend to spinach). They can use an old cooking pot or bowl and fill it with potting soil (not mulch--it should consist mostly of dirt).
- It's best to have them pick from a narrow selection of seeds that tend to grow fast--things like lettuce, herbs, radishes, peas, or squash for smaller children. Tomato seedlings are okay too, but they tend to have a long growing season before they bear fruit--cherry tomatoes do mature earlier and are a good choice for children who are not long on patience.
- Having kids read their seed package or look up information about their plant online is a good idea so that they know how much to water, if they need to stake, etc. Having them mark an X on the calendar for the expected germination and maturity dates can help kids set time expectations and also lets them compare their experience to the usual time as their plants grow.
- For more fun, they can decorate their container with some old paint or bedazzle it with glue, ribbon and sequins.
Older children like to make felted stuffed toys from old wool sweaters or wool cloth. They can make up a pattern or find one online like here or here for their desired creation. 100% wool sweaters or cloth are essential, and generally felt best when washed in hot water and drying in the dryer. NOTE: This seems a good place to mention that it is a good idea to wash all thrift store clothing and other items before they get repurposed into playthings. Once felted, a sweater it can be cut without unraveling. Here is a kid recorded Youtube video on the blanket stitch to learn an easy way to sew them up with a nice edge.
Thrift stores are a great source for playthings--they are usually cheap, and therefore not so painful if scissors, glue, or paint contribute to the creative experience. Better to save egg cartons for the co-worker with chickens--kids often don't really enjoy creating items that are flimsy and easily destroyed, or things that will go into the recycle bin as soon as their heads are turned. Refurbished or upcycled thrift sore finds can be made into tangible and durable to ys for repeat play, over and over.
Let the fun begin!