Feature

A – Z of eco kids

G Magazine

They’re the cute and cuddly inheritors of our planet, but if we’re to pass on a world that is brilliant rather than broken, we need to ensure our babies are as green, ethical and healthy as they are gorgeous.

kids-alphabet

Credit: iStockphoto

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Asthma & Allergies

As pollution and climate change rise, so too do the number of kids with asthma and allergies. The World Health Organisation is predicting a rise of 20 per cent over the next 10 years in asthma cases, while declaring that climate change is the biggest health issue humans will face in the next century.

Currently, one in 8-9 children are diagnosed as having asthma. To help yourself and your child adapt to environmental conditions and care for health, avoid too much air conditioning, avoid smoking at all (or at least around your children), eat healthy and organic produce, and work to reduce toxins in the home with a few plants and organic, non-toxic products.

BPA

BPA is the acronym for ‘Bisphenol A’, a chemical found in many plastics, and also used as a coating on the inside of most food and drink cans. In high doses it has known negative health effects on both adults and children, especially on early brain development. In the European Union and Canada, BPA is banned from baby bottles but it remains present in most bottles sold in Australia and New Zealand. Avoid BPA by not storing or heating food in BPA-plastics and choosing BPA-free toys, water bottles, baby bottles, food storage containers and plastic crockery. Green to Grow is a great BPA-free baby bottle, available for $19.95 from www.natureschild.com.au.

Clothing

Keep your kids in eco-style by choosing organic or recycled materials where possible. Accept hand-me-downs from friends and family’s kids, shop at op shops, organise a kiddy clothes swap with friends or neighbours, and choose linen, hemp or organic cotton. G loves Gaia Organic Cotton Striped All in One for $34.95 (www.gaiaorganiccotton.com.au), and Nature Baby Organic Merino Stretch and Grow for $69.95, (www.naturebaby.com).

Decorating

5 ways to… Green your child’s bedroom
It’s the haven we spend much time setting up, however many conventional furnishings and paints can be packed with toxins. Ensure few chemicals with these five easy ways.
1. Paint
Chances are you’ve heard of VOCs – Volatile Organic Compounds – the chemical cocktail behind the new paint smell. Many paint brands sell no, or low, VOC content paints which, these days, are very well performing. Try Ecolour (www.ecolour.com.au), or Bio Wall Paint (www.thenaturalpaintplace.com.au).
2. Furniture
In most cases, the newer the furniture, the more toxins it’s still emitting, so do your child – and your wallet – a favour and hunt around for second-hand buys. Cots are fairly temporary items and are easy to find second-hand, while there are great DIY guides online for turning many old pieces of furniture such as a chest of drawers into a change table.
3. Flooring
While we might look to carpet as a softer landing for boisterous babies, most are petroleum-based, and treated with a wide range of chemicals. If organic wool carpet isn’t an option for your home, why not invest in a rug. Choose from a range of options including organic, hemp, fair trade, naturally-dyed and woollen floor coverings.
4. Linen
Make sure the hours your child spends in dreamland are chemical-free with organic sheets and blankets. The typical sheet will see around 500 grams of fertiliser and pesticides even before processing, so take the friendly alternative for both child and environment, and opt for organic cotton or hemp linen. Try Ecolinen, www.ecolinen.com.au.
5. Plants
Nothing sucks toxins and chemicals from a room and replaces it with fresh oxygen quite like a plant. Placing one or two indoor plants in the room, such as a Peace Lily (Sathiphyllum sp.) or fern will go a long way toward fresh air.

Early days

When pregnant, everything you put into your body – both food and chemical – is affecting your bub. Try these tips to ensure your little bundle of joy pops out as healthy and toxin-free as possible.
- Choose glass over plastic, especially when heating food.
- Eat plenty of healthy, organic (to avoid pesticides) fresh fruit and green leafy vegetables to help keep up your intake of folic acid and iron.
- Avoid eating large fish such as tuna – not only because they’re overfished, but also because they’re high in mercury.
- Choose natural, organic, petrochemical-free skincare and hygiene products.
- It goes without saying to not smoke and stay well away from people who are smoking.
- Use cookware that’s in good nick, without scratches on the Teflon, or opt for non-toxic
pans such as Neoflam (www.neoflam.com.au).
- Avoid renovating the house during pregnancy as a lot of old-fashioned building materials are toxic – for example, older paint contained unsafe levels of lead, and many old houses have asbestos in their roofs.

Food

Most food in the supermarket is based on convenience and disposability – but this decreases the nutritional value and increases the environmental impact. Pre-packaged food has been linked to learning difficulties and even attention deficit disorder (ADD) in children. For infants, breast is best as it not only uses less resources, but many milk formulas contain genetically-modified soy. For babies 6 – 12 months, invest in a handheld blender and purée what the family is eating (before salt is added), but keep the flavour combinations simple.

Gardening

3 of the best… Gardening activities for kids
Grubby garden hands mean a stronger immune system, as early exposure to germs has shown lower rates of health problems later in life. Plus, kids with green thumbs will grow into more self-sufficient, nature-loving adults! Try these top ways to involve kids in the design and evolution of your garden.
Seed collecting: Choose the tastiest vegies with the best traits to pass on, then wash, dry and store the seeds in an airtight bag before planting. Don’t save seeds from produce from large supermarket chains though, as they are usually sterile – go for certified organic.
Growing food: Kids are more likely to eat their greens if they’ve grown them. Have them plant them in the beginning to keep them excited about the growth. Beans and snow peas are tasty fast-growing crops.
Animal surveys: Draw a ‘wildlife map’ showing which animals (don’t forget insects!) are found in different parts of the garden, including in the soil – take a torch out at night and surprise the kids with how different their day versus night time maps are!

Hope

Today’s kids are worried about the environment – it’s one of their top worries along with their parents and friends dying or getting sick. With the catastrophic issue of climate change plastered all over the news, there’s a fine line between informing children about environmental issues and them becoming afraid of the future. The Australian Psychological Society says that visual images stay with children much longer than radio or print media, so it’s a good idea to switch off the TV news if young children are nearby, or to talk them through the things they see. Reassure children that there are millions of people working together to solve environmental problems. With more than half the human population now living in urban areas, children are less exposed to nature and are more likely to bond with ‘things’ rather than valuing the natural world that they live in. So a good way to nurture hope in kids is to get them outdoors and get dirty!

Impact

There’s no denying it – having kids will have a dramatic environmental impact no matter how many cans you
recycle in your lifetime. This is because for every child you have you’re responsible for half their impact, a quarter of your grandchildren’s impact and so on. Some call it a ‘carbon legacy’, but actual impact should cover waste, water, resource and infrastructure pressures as well. Those who are worried about overpopulation could consider adoption over bearing children of their own, but the main environmental impact depends on where and how kids are brought up. With Australians claiming the unfortunate title of the highest greenhouse gas emitters per capita, we produce 27 times the amount of greenhouse gases than that of a Namibian. Something to consider when you aim to lessen your family’s impact.

Jam jars

Turn your preserves into little pieces of posterity with these great kids DIY reuse crafts.
1. Make a time capsule by filling a clean jar with items they choose, then bury away in your house or a small section of the garden to dig up a few, or many, years down the track.
2. Create cute cake gifts for your kids to give their friends. Mix (or artfully layer) the dry measured ingredients for a simple recipe in a jar and make a decorated tag with instructions for the rest. Decorate the lid with a circle of fabric held on with an elastic band.
3. Start a terrarium in a jar with some rocks, charcoal and plants like succulents or mosses. They’ll be proud to show off the living display in their room. For some DIY help visit http://blog.craftzine.com.

Kids in the kitchen

Spending time cooking with children teaches them the creative skill of making wholesome delicious food from simple ingredients and produce. Help them whip up this bright and cheery breakfast from free-range eggs or those from your backyard if you have chooks.
Jozefa’s “Daisy” Eggs:
- 3 fresh eggs
- 1 tablespoon of dill, parsley and chives, finely chopped
- butter (or oil) for frying
Hard boil the eggs for five minutes, then run them under cold water for a moment so they are not too hot to handle. Using a sharp knife cut the eggs (still in their shells) lengthwise into two.
Scoop out the yolks and whites, keeping the shells intact. Chop the egg roughly and mix with whatever herbs you have to hand – dill, parsley, chives. Add salt and pepper to season and carefully replace the mixture in the egg shells without breaking them.
Fry face down in a little butter for a few minutes until lightly brown. Arrange like daisy petals on a plate and serve with fresh bread for breakfast, lunch, or a snack.
Recipe from ‘Rose Petal Jam: Recipes & Stories from a Summer in Poland’, by Beata Zatorska & Simon Target, $60, Tabula Books.

Learning

Sustainability has been identified as an important part of the Australian Curriculum since the Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians in 2008. It is one of the three cross-curriculum priorities (the other two priorities being Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, and Australia’s engagement with Asia). According to the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, including sustainability education in the school environment is important because it helps to develop the knowledge, skills and values that children need so their behaviours and actions contribute to more sustainable patterns of living. Also look into whether your child’s school runs additional sustainability programs such as a school vegie garden for the kids to get involved in, as many schools are increasingly doing so.

Meat vs mushrooms

Vegetarians yourselves and want to raise your kids the same way? It can be done. The Department of Health and Ageing and the National Health and Medical Research Council created the most up-to-date dietary guidelines for children and adolescents in 2003, with revised guidelines due later this year. The report recognises that many people choose to take vegetarian or vegan options for their families for various reasons, such as ethics, religion or dietary conditions such as allergies. Vegetarian kids will need to have their diet monitored carefully, because children have small stomachs yet they need a lot of nutrients to grow, so it’s important to make sure that they’re filling up on nutrient-rich foods. Vegan diets can be harder to monitor, with calcium and vitamin B12 being the hardest nutrient intakes to keep up.

Nappies

The disposable versus cloth nappies debate has been raging for a long time. Here’s a quick guide to wrapping your bub’s behind in the most sustainable way possible.
Ninety-five per cent of babies in Australia currently wear disposables. In a household with one baby in disposables, nappies make up 50 per cent of household waste, so it might seem that single-use nappies are a wicked habit to get into, but disposables have come a long way and many are now 100 per cent biodegradable.
However, Australian landfills are dry, dark and air-free, so chances of a nappy breaking down in landfill are low. It’s illegal to compost human poo in your own backyard, but some councils, such as in Tasmania, allow some brands of disposable nappies in their organic waste collection. If you decide to get disposables, remember that 60 per cent of disposables are wood pulp, so look for products sourced from certified sustainable forests. Even though there’s less raw materials needed to make cloth nappies, cloth also has a high environmental impact – mainly due to the water and energy involved in washing them after each use. Growing cotton nappies requires lots of water and sometimes pesticides, so it’s best to choose organic cotton, hemp or bamboo fabric. One factor in choosing the best nappy might be cost, and cloth definitely wins out as the cheaper option. Try to limit how many nappies you use and toilet train sooner rather than later. Use cloth nappies on a cold wash in a front-loader washing machine in phosphate-free detergent and line-dry in the sun to kill any bacteria. Otherwise, 100 per cent biodegradable disposables discarded in approved organic compost collection, or in a biodegradable bag in your general waste are an okay option too.
G Fact: The first disposable nappies made in the 1950s are still in landfill and have not yet decomposed.

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.