Feature

A – Z of eco kids

kids-alphabet

Credit: iStockphoto

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Outdoors

There’s no denying gadgetry has come to fill the gaps in the time squeezed household, keeping our kids inside and largely inactive. A study by the University of Sydney showed that children on average spend 1.9 hours per day watching TV or playing the computer. While exercise is an essential component of a healthy childhood, even the mere site of the outdoors has been shown to positively influence children’s development. US studies showed children who looked out onto more natural settings performed better on tests than their urban view counterparts. Get in some weekend park time, a camping trip, and in summer eat family dinners outside.

Parties

Birthday celebrations for your child can be an enjoyable time for both you and them, though between decorations, food and excess rubbish, a child’s birthday party is not always low-impact for the environment. Try these tips for an eco party.
- Plan early. Leaving things to the last minute usually means grabbing cheap and nasty prizes, decorations and food. Leaving a little time up your sleeve will allow you to source fun items that are local and sustainable.
- Choose a venue that’s in line with your green ethics and is local for most or all of those attending to eliminate transport. Party food on a picnic table in a local park, with decorations in an overhanging tree is a simple, effective venue.
- Plastic plates and cups can be particularly convenient, but are certainly not a green option. Where you can, opt for reusable crockery and cutlery that you can wash up post-party, or if this isn’t possible, look for biodegradable plates such as bamboo fibre plates and cutlery.
- Avoid the waste and energy from traditional paper invites and send out e-vites to guests, such as those
from www.evite.com. If you really can’t pass up the paper option, ensure it’s recycled and printed with sustainable inks. We’re a fan of the recycled kids range from Daisy and Jack, www.daisyandjack.com.
- Traditional decorations such as balloons and streamers, used for only a few hours, then discarded aren’t a great green option to set the party scene. And although latex balloons are biodegradable, environment groups have expressed concerns about the risk of animals choking on fragments. Consider recyclable paper balloons
such as those from www.origami.com.au, or try reusable options such as colourful bunting that can be used
year after year.
- Forget about petroleum-based plastic bags filled with junky plastic toys and lollies. Craft lolly bags out of your child’s many artworks and fill with fair trade chocolates and non-individually wrapped lollies. Or think outside the box as our reader Louise Phillips suggested and give out small individual potted flowering or vegie plants for them to take home and nurture.

Quality (not Quantity)

5 ways to… Swap quantity for quality
1. Clothes: Kids grow so fast that it’s better to buy a few quality items in each size. If they withstand your child’s wear and tear they can become quality hand-me-downs.
2. Food: A study of nearly 20,000 children found that four out of five parents let their kids make their own food choices. Currently, 10 per cent of children worldwide are either overweight or obese. Plan home-cooked meals with good quality fresh produce with a low-GI that is more filling than sugary or fast foods.
3. TV: It can be an excellent educator and entertainer – helping preschoolers learn the alphabet, and older kids through documentaries – but only in moderation. Many paediatricians say more than one to two hours a day puts kids at risk of becoming overweight and anti-social.
4. Toys: Your child doesn’t have to become another mindless consumer, always expecting more – foster a respect for owned items by encouraging kids to look after the few, treasured toys they have. Buy second-hand items that are sturdy and will last the test of time.
5. Travel: Don’t rack up the miles getting to your next holiday, stay local and spend some quality time getting to know a new area in your state.

Reuse, reduce, recycle

5 ways to… Teach kids the three R’s
1. Learn why we recycle: While everyone knows recycling is important, kids need to learn why. Learn
how Dumptown was turned into Recycle City at www.epa.gov/recyclecity
2. Go on a tip tour: Most recycling and landfill facilities also do guided tours – kids love them!
3. Worm farm: Keep some of these wriggly critters and kids will see nature’s recycling at work.
4. Get crafty: Reuse ordinary household items more than once by converting junk-to-funk.
5. Refuse: This is the extra ‘R’ commonly forgotten in today’s increasingly consumerist society. Fostering the
ability for kids to refuse what they don’t need is a great trait.

Sustainable suds

Avoid nasties such as sulphates, parabens and petrochemicals with natural kiddie bath products. Try the organic range from Little Innoscents, with products including Baby Hair and Body Wash and Baby Massage Lotion, prices from $5.99 - $12.99, www.littleinnoscents.com.au.

Toys

Most toys these days are made from plastics, such as PVC, which originate from non-renewable petroleum and petroleum-based products, and furthermore use countless disposable batteries, adding up to plenty of hazardous waste. Wooden toys are a much more environmentally sound option than plastic alternatives in terms of emissions, energy, waste, toxins and landfill. However with some wood toys made from non-renewable resources including unsustainable harvested wood from old growth forests, look for products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) signifying responsibly sourced wood. Alternatively, avoid buying toys and give your craft skills a workout. Whip up a child’s teepee or soft toys from recycled or vintage materials, or put together a puzzle from reused cardboard or wood. For purchases, try www.ecotoys.com.au and www.muddkids.com.au.

UV protection

They don’t say ‘smooth as a baby’ for nothing – kids have gorgeous skin. When it comes to protecting it from the sun there are two types of sunscreen: chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the UV rays with a range of chemicals, while physical products use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (both natural minerals) to physically block the UV rays. Chemical products are not only potentially harmful to us and our children, but to the environment as well. A quarter of the ingredients in sunscreen are released into the water over a 20-minute swim, and coral bleaching from sunscreen threatens up to 10 per cent of reefs. Physical sunscreens are the ideal choice, however watch out for products that use the controversial new nano technology, containing minute particles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which can be absorbed by the skin. Some scientists are concerned about their safety; the jury is still out so it’s best to avoid using them on your kids until more is known about them. Instead, opt for micronised zinc oxide which doesn’t appear white, or go for good old zinc which boasts healing and skin calming benefits and blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Try Wotnot 30+ SPF sunscreen, $25.95, www.wotnot.com.au.

Volunteering

Have your child learn invaluable lessons while making a difference through volunteering. Provide a few options and let your child decide what organisation they want to get involved in. if you have a few kids, get them collaborating together on a project, taking on age-appropriate tasks. Kids often copy their parents, so if you’re already volunteering with a group, encourage them to get involved too. To search for volunteer groups in your area by postcode, visit www.govolunteer.com.au.

Walk the talk

5 ways to… Lead by example
1. Switch off the TV, computer or video game and take a walk to your local park or beach. Encourage your kids to touch, and involve themselves in nature, and ask questions about what they see.
2. Set a family challenge. Encourage responsible energy use by doing a home audit and discovering where you can save energy. Discuss where you can all save energy as a family around the home, get involved yourselves, and then provide rewards if usage is lowered.
3. Follow your rubbish. Show your kids the process of waste management, from acquisition through it’s collection and sorting to its final resting place. Emphasise the energy, water and materials used throughout each step and how they can be cut back.
4. Be proactive. Make Clean Up Australia Day and other similar activities family fun days out.
5. Give them your support. Encourage your kids to be involved with green activities they particularly enjoy, including crafts to reuse rubbish items and vegie gardening.

Xylene (and other nasties)

A common chemical found in paint, varnish, petrol, cigarette smoke and even Blu Tack, xylene affects the liver, kidney and lungs, causes skin, eye, nose and throat irritations such as difficulty in breathing, and has been linked to neurological problems such as memory loss. High amounts of chemicals, some highly toxic, are rampant in many conventional products used around the home today, so it pays to start researching on what’s best to avoid. To start learning other chemicals to avoid and how to avoid them, visit www.chemicalfreeparenting.com and check out their book and workshops.

Yellow Yolks

Get the kids clucking! Chickens are easy pets to care for, so kids can be given full responsibility for feeding, watering and collecting eggs. Buy chicks young, so they get used to gentle pats from the kids. Hens only lay if they’re around other chooks, so you’ll need more than one. Each chicken has it’s own unique personality and character, but specialist breeds such as Pekins, Houdans, or Australorps make great pets. Kids also love cuddling the soft feathers of Silkies though they lay fewer eggs.

Zeppochair

For a crafts project that won’t clutter the fridge or tax the planet look no further than the Zeppochair. Made from recycled paper and plantation timber, the chair comes flatpacked to engage your little one from assemblage to the finer points of decoration. $49.90, www.zeppochair.com.au.

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