eco play Feed

‘Tis the season to be creative

Creative countdown to christmas. Owls made from toilet rolls. little eco footprints

The festive season has evolved into a celebration of consumerism.

Christmas day will see many children opening an overwhelming number of gifts. Excessive gift-giving comes at a cost - for our hip-pockets, the environment, and our children. I am sure many children would prefer more of our presence, rather than more presents.

When it comes to gift-giving, less is more.

This Christmas we’ll continue our tradition of giving our daughter only two gifts - one from us and one from Santa. Knowing she only gets two gifts, she slowly and thoughtfully writes her wish list and truly values what she receives. Rather than depriving her, I believe that we are helping her appreciate what she has and teaching her the value of wanting less. I hope that by wanting less, she will always feel like her desires are within reach.

Our household is trying to fight against the commercialisation of Christmas and downplay the tradition of gift-giving - but without being scrooges. 

One solution is to be more generous with our presence, rather than our presents. We've embraced traditions that help us connect instead of consume. 

New traditions fill the gap left when we take away the emphasis on gift-giving.

My favourite festive season tradition is our creative countdown to Christmas.

Counting down the days to Christmas using our home made advent calendar made from rocks 2. Little eco footprints

We make an advent calendar from natural materials. Last year we used stones and in earlier years we’ve used fallen leaves.

Counting down the days to Christmas using our home made advent calendar made from rocks. Little eco footprints

Each stone or leaf is numbered and corresponds to a chosen creative activity. 

Creative countdown to christmas. corn husk owls. little eco footprints

We choose quick nature play or craft activities that we can do as a family. For example, last year together we created nature crowns, corn husk owls, owls from toilet rolls, and a native bee hotel from recycled materials.

Creative countdown to christmas. native bee hotel. little eco footprints

We steer clear from activities that require us to buy anything and instead use natural and recycled materials. We make use of what we already have.

This year Little Eco asked that the activities have a wild craft theme. That’s my girl! So we’ll be learning how to build a shelter, weave a basket, navigate, and bandage a snake bite.

Each year, at the start of our creative countdown, I struggle to set aside the time to create.

But I persist. I make it a priority. I set aside an hour each afternoon for us to create together. We chat, connect and create. We focus more on the process than the outcome and have a lot of fun.

I notice the effect of setting aside time to create together almost immediately. Little Eco stops asking for TV and we all become more confident in our creativity.

We roll into Christmas more connected and creative.

Do you want to give less this Christmas? 

I'm guessing I'm not the only person contemplating giving less this Christmas. Be it for environmental, wellbeing or financial reasons.

Be creative - find or create a new tradition.

Think about what you truly enjoy doing as a family – and do more of that.

It’s easy to buy more presents – making time to give presence is more challenging – but so much more valuable.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 24th November 2014.

I've enjoyed a few other posts on a similar theme in the last few days. Brydie shared her Gift Tree on the Milkwood blog and I especially love the Permaculture Advent-ure the Owlets are embarking on

Wishing you a creative (rather than consuming) festive season. 


Sweet potato heads - How to grow sweet potato slips

How to grow sweet potato slips 1. Little eco footprionts

We are growing sweet potato slips on our windowsill. Little Eco added faces to sweet potato tubers and we’re watching their roots, shoots and character grow. It’s an activity that combines creativity, nature study and growing your own food. Win-win.

How to grow sweet potato slips 2. Little eco footprionts

Sweet potatoes are typically grown from sprouts or "slips".

Slips are shoots from a mature sweet potato tuber. There are a few different ways to grow slips, but my favourite is to grow them on the windowsill where you can watch and learn.

To grow your own slips, you need organically grown sweet potato tubers – either from a store or a previous harvest. Conventionally grown sweet potatoes may have been treated to stop them sprouting.

You can leave your sweet potatoes whole or cut them in half. Place each tuber in a jar or glass and use pins or toothpicks to keep tubers suspended above the bottom. Fill with water, making sure that at least half of the tuber is out of the water.

Now comes the important bit: add faces. Forget this step and you will only grow shoots and roots – not character.

Place your tubers somewhere warm. The windowsill is ideal. Within a few days, you will see roots start to bud. Then after a week or two, shoots and leaves emerge. These are your slips.

How to grow sweet potato slips 3. Little eco footprionts

Once a slip grows to at least 10 centimetres in length, carefully remove it from the tuber by pinching and twisting at its base. You can continuously pick off slips from a tuber for months.

How to grow sweet potato slips 4. Little eco footprionts

Place slips in a jar of water to develop roots.

Once the slips have a good set of roots, they are ready to plant.

Choose a sunny spot in your garden where your sweet potato vine will have plenty of space to spread.

Prepare your soil a few weeks before planting by adding plenty of compost and a little aged manure. Ensure your soil is loose and well-drained. Avoid nitrogen-rich fertilisers and too much manure, as these will promote leaves at the expense of tubers.

Plant slips about 20 centimetres apart. Position the slip in the hole so that at least half the slip is buried. Carefully fill hole with soil and press down. Mulch and water thoroughly.

You’ll be harvesting your first sweet potatoes four to five months after planting.

Sweet potatoes need a long, hot growing season to get a good yield. Here in the Hunter and further south, start your slips as soon as possible to ensure you have a long enough growing season.

Foodie fun for kids (& adults)

For those of you with young children, your windowsill sweet potato garden provides a great nature study opportunity. Discuss the different parts of a plant (roots, stems and leaves) and sketch and label one of the tubers.

Ask your child to list all the other root vegetables they can think of.

For the more adventurous, drag all your vegetables out of the fridge, and then ask your children to name what part of the plant they are eating: root, stem, leaf, flower, seed or fruit. Given our disconnection with the production of our food - I’m guessing a few adults may even benefit from playing this game. 

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 27th October 2014.

Creativity, compromise and conscious consumption

Compromise-education-and-conscious-consumption. Little eco footprints 1

The call to compromise on my environmental ideals comes more often now that Little Eco is older. She asks for packaged food in her lunch box and begs for the latest fad plastic toy.

Marketers are trying to teach her that life is about buying, whereas I am trying to teach her that happiness can’t be bought: How she contributes and what she creates is more important than what she consumes.

I use creativity and conscious compromise to help her navigate the pervasive power of marketing.

My strategy to minimise the influence of consumer culture includes avoiding branded licensed toys. I dislike how advertisers capitalise on a child’s love of a character by leveraging it to sell products.

Little Eco recently asked for a Frozen (as in the Disney movie) themed birthday party. I contemplated trying to persuade her to pick another less branded theme. Instead, I decided to follow her wishes and approach it simply.

She wasn’t asking me to spend money on disposable branded party plates and cups. She wanted to celebrate her love for a movie and its characters.

I helped her make her own invitations, decorated with hand-made paper snowflakes. We had so much fun making the snowflakes that we made more to use as party decorations.

Snowball-meringues. Little eco footprints

There was sugar-laden party food, but I kept it simple. Instead of a party table laden with choices, there were only two options: melting snowman biscuits and snowball meringues. The children later made their own pizzas.

For party games, they built their own snowman and played pin the nose on Olaf the snowman. The party was everything she wanted and in the end, was less of a compromise than I expected.

Occasional compromise paired with a good dose of education about responsible consumption is another of my strategies.

Little Eco has been pestering me for a Rainbow Loom for months. Initially, I resisted buying her one of these plastic jewellery-making kits and instead taught her how to weave bracelets using a cardboard loom.

The pestering continued.

In his book Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne suggests fad toys play on a child’s fear of not having what everyone else has. ‘‘As a child grows into adolescence, not only will peer pressure increase, so will the prices of the latest must-have gadget,’’ Payne writes. He suggests that the longer you play along with the ‘‘keeping up’’ game, the more difficult it can be to stop.

Despite Payne’s advice and my concerns about the environmental impact of all those rubber bands, I eventually gave in to my daughter’s pestering power.

There is a good reason why harnessing ‘‘pester power’’ is one of marketers’ favourite ways to influence the purchasing of parents. It works.

I bought her a Rainbow Loom and used it as an opportunity to teach her about responsible consumption. We spoke of the risk that the rubber bands pose to pets and wildlife. Rainbow Loom bands can cause intestinal blockages if swallowed and they may get wrapped around the beak or neck of wildlife.

We brainstormed solutions and together came up with a plan to make sure she uses her loom bands wisely and disposes of them properly. She now reuses her bands and makes sure she does not leave them lying around.

Like most fad toys, the Rainbow Loom fad seems to have passed, at least in our household. The loom sits neglected and hundreds of small rubber bands have disappeared. With millions of kits sold, that’s a lot of non-degradable bands hanging around somewhere.

I’m hoping the next fad is finger knitting.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 26th May 2014.

10 creative weekend family projects

One of my favourite ways to spend time as a family is to create something useful or learn a new skill.

Our family projects often go unfinished and sometimes fail. For me, the creative process and time together is whats important, regardless of the outcome. 

Here are a few creative weekend family projects ideas: 

Weekend-family-projects-build-a-cubby-house-little eco footprints.

1. Build a cubby house (Look at what you have available or visit your local tip shop/building salvage yard and simply start creating). 

Weekend-family-projects-build-a-bee-hotel-little eco footprints.

2. Build a bee hotel

Weekend-family-projects-make-a-bow-and-arrow-little eco footprints.

3. Make a bow and arrow.

Weekend-family-projects-build-a-wildlife-nest-box-little eco footprints.

4. Build a wildlife nest box.

Weekend-family-projects-learn-how-to-play-a-new-card-game-little eco footprints.

5. Learn how to play a new card game

Weekend-family-projects-learn-how-to-forage-little eco footprints.

6. Learn how to forage (here's a few leafy greens to get you started). 

Weekend-family-projects-build-a-worm-farm-little eco footprints.

7. Build a worm farm

Weekend-family-projects-make-a-campfire-and-cook-damer-twirls-little eco footprints.

8. Make a campfire and cook damper twirls

Weekend-family-projects-sow-seeds-little eco footprints.

9. Grab an egg carton or make newspaper pots and sow some seeds. 

Weekend-family-projects-build-a-five-minute-instant-raised-vegetable-garden-little eco footprints.

10. Build a 5 minute instant raised vegetable garden

What is your most memorable family project?

I especially love the projects that fail for some reason. They often involve problem solving and a good dose of giggles. Our tepee in the first picture repeatedly blew over in the wind. We loved it so much that we stubbornly put it up again and again, each-time trying to reinforce it. In the end we gave up. But I don't remember the failure. I remember the hours we spent working together. 

Wishing you a creative weekend with plenty of family time. 

Questioning the games we play {Games for children that can be played with a standard 52-card deck}

I’ve become a toy grump. On a recent visit to a toy shop, I spent most of my time grumbling about the large number of expensive and unnecessary toys.

High on my list of complaints are toys that can be easily played without spending a cent. An egg and spoon race game, complete with fake eggs and spoons - why not simply use a real egg and spoon? A hopscotch kit - what happened to simply drawing a hopscotch court onto concrete with chalk? A hang man game - all that is really needed is a piece of paper and a pencil. All these games came complete with an expensive price tag and loads of packaging.

At almost seven years of age, Little Eco has outgrown many of her board games. I contemplated buying her a few new board games – but then someone reminded me about playing cards.

Card-games-for-children-played-with-standard-52-card-deck. Little eco footprints

There’s dozens of games for children that can be played with a standard 52-card deck.

We’ve started playing cards as a family after dinner. Our favourite games so far include Go Fish, Old Maid, Memory and Snap. On our list of still to learn are Spoons, Crazy Eights, Slapjack, Solitaire and 21. I remember playing many of these games as a child, but given that my memory is a little hazy, I’m thankful that the rules for these and more card games can be found online.

I like that cards are inexpensive, easily portable and endlessly adaptable.

Card games are also a great way for children to learn a range of skills, including counting, taking turns, patience, basic strategy, following rules and fair play.

We’ll increase the complexity of the games as Little Eco gets older. I remember my parents spending many evenings with friends playing Euchre and 500 – so I’m looking forward to finally learning how to play these games. I might even learn how to play Bridge, Canaster and Poker so that I feel equipped to join in card night at our local community hall.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 18th January 2014.