Babies, Children, Families, Whole Family

Green Parenting Tips To Help the Environment

green parenting tips

green parenting tips

This week is Climate Week and in recognition of this I thought I’d share some green parenting tips.  The great thing about these tips is that as well as helping the planet, you’ll save yourself some money too.

The following green parenting tips are by no means prescriptive.  The thing I’ve learned most about being a parent is that you have to do whatever works for you.  These things work for us – maybe some of them might work for you too, but if they don’t then that’s ok!  It is hard being a parent, and sometimes it feels that others are judging you on your parenting decisions (breast vs. bottle; dummy vs. non-dummy; the list is never ending) so the last thing I’d want is for anyone to feel like they’re being judged just because your kid wears disposable nappies or has a thing for plastic dolls!

1.  Accept Help

The first of my green parenting tips is to get a head start and start being a green parent before you’ve given birth!  Put pride to the side and accept any offers of help.  When I was pregnant a friend gave me a load of her old maternity clothes, which was a total life saver, because who wants to buy new clothes that you can only wear for a few months?  Other friends gave us their old car-seat, moses basket, steriliser, sheets and toys.  My sister gave us a massive bag of clothes from zero months to age three that my niece had long since grown out of.

We were amazed and so grateful for all of the help and items given to us.  Babies grow so fast, and for the first year especially, babies grow out of their clothes in months, so most of the things were in mint condition.  We’ve also saved all of our daughter’s things that she’s grown out of – either for another baby or to give to friends, depending on what the future brings us.

If you don’t have any friends or family with older babies/toddlers/kids then mine Freecycle and the freebies section of Gumtree for people giving away baby things they no longer need.  You’ll be surprised at what you can find on there!

bumgenius review

Some of our washable nappies

2.  Reuse As Much As You Can

We used washable nappies, and now we’re in the middle of potty training I’m currently using washable training pants.  It’s good for the environment, and even though the initial investment is high (we spent £200 on washable nappies) you do end up saving a heap of money as buying disposable nappies and disposable training pants for at least two and a half years soon adds up to somewhere in the thousands, especially if you have more than one child.

I loved using washable nappies, it wasn’t a hassle in the slightest – it was just a case of putting everything in the washing machine and then hanging it up to dry.  No late night dashes in the rain to the shops to buy nappies because we’d ran out, or carrying home bulky packs of nappies, or stinky bins full of discarded nappies – we just put a wash on every time we started to run low.  So convenient!

3.  Resist Cheap Tat

Now that we’re at the toddler stage, we’ve got to the point that whenever we go to the shop my daughter asks for a little plastic pocket money toy.  The thing is 9 times out of 10 the toy lasts two minutes before a) she gets bored of them and b) they break or get lost down the back of the sofa.  This means you end up with a mountain of plastic rubbish.  Instead, I say no – this saves plastic and saves you money.  At the moment I find promising a trip to the park instead works miracles at diffusing a fraught temper, or perhaps a snack!

4.  Buy Secondhand Where Possible

I recently bought my daughter’s bed secondhand, and try and buy secondhand clothes as much as possible, either in charity shops or through eBay (some eBay top tips here!).  Children grow so quickly and things like clothes may only be worn a few times before being given to the charity shop or sold online.  It helps stop perfectly fine items going to landfill and saves money.

car free living

Getting about with my daughter  on the bus, in the Ergo baby carrier ( 7 weeks).

5.  Do You Need a Car?

Cars are expensive.  You buy a car, you have to insure it, you have to pay vehicle excise duty, you have to pay for fuel and oil, you have to pay for replacement tyres, you have to pay for repairs, you have to pay it’s yearly MOT, you have to pay for parking, you may have to pay to park your car outside your house.  And then it depreciates in value.  On top of that they’re bad for the environment.

Even though we live fairly rurally, with access to very limited local amenities, we don’t have a car.  Kids are fairly portable – up until the age of 18 months I predominantly used our Ergobaby carrier* to get about (absolutely invaluable if you travel mainly on buses).   With baby carriers or slings you can go anywhere and don’t have to worry about there not being a space on the bus for your pram.  Now my daughter’s older and mostly walking, though still in need of a nap, I use a small umbrella buggy that folds up at the flick of a lever for quick and easy bus access.

This works for us as I do most of my food shopping online (although I’m looking for ways to change this) so I don’t have to worry about carrying bags of shopping home and having to deal with toddler and folding a buggy.  Using reusable nappies means I don’t have to carry bags of big bulky bags of nappies home either.

Season tickets are often cheaper than paying for each trip individually.  In Edinburgh you can get unlimited bus travel for £51 a month.  Kids under five travel free.  £51 is less than one whole tank of petrol, and you don’t have all the other car costs to worry about.

I’m not going to lie, sometimes there have been inconsolable crying fits on the bus, much to the dismay of some passengers, which has been difficult.  However, mostly it’s been fine, and I strongly believe that taking the bus has been good for us.  I have made some really good friends on the bus that I wouldn’t have met whilst travelling alone in a car.  My daughter is learning from a young age about acceptable behaviour on the bus.  She’s also learning about how to interact with a wide range of different people, and about manners – without being prompted she always says “thank you” to the driver as we get off the bus!

It also means we take advantage of all the great things happening locally – meaning we support our community and get to know our neighbours.  Rather than driving to a softplay centre, I instead go to the toddler group in our village – my daughter gets to run around for two hours playing with other kids, and I get to meet local mums and dads.  I shop in our local shop to supplement our fortnightly supermarket delivery.  We spend a lot of time playing in the garden, so I know all of our neighbours now.

If you’re not particularly into the idea of the bus, or aren’t quite ready to give up a car completely then there is another option.  If you live in a large town or city you might have a car club near you.  The City Car Club* is an amazing pay-per-hour UK wide car club, that I’ve used a lot for work.  It costs from £4.95 an hour (that’s including fuel and everything!), and is super convenient.  You can even hire a car just by going up to a free one on the street, as long as it’s not booked out, for when you really need a car right that second! They even hire vans by the hour, for you know, if you have to pick up a Gumtree or eBay purchase, or are moving house!    If you’re not a frequent car user, maybe just at the weekend say, then you’d probably save a heap of money ditching your car and joining a car club.

6.  Don’t Eat Processed Food

We’re trying to eat as little processed food as possible – batch cooking instead.  Chilis, soups, curries, dahls, pasta sauces, etc, you name it and it’s probably in our freezer, or the requisite parts are in our fridge ready to be cooked up!  It’s not always that easy, especially after a long day at work, or a day of keeping a toddler entertained and keeping the house vaguely tidy, so we do slip up occasionally, especially when we’ve exhausted our supply of frozen meals.  But batch cooking your own meals from scratch cuts down on food packaging, cuts costs and is healthier for you too.

7.  Eat Less Meat

My partner and I are both long term vegetarians (no meat or fish for us).  We don’t want to force our views on our daughter, and we’d rather she made her own mind up when she’s older, so a couple of times a week we’ll cook some meat or fish for her, which she eats alongside whatever we’re eating.  It’s only once or twice a week: certainly not every day.  Eating meat isn’t the best for the environment, and it’s expensive to buy, so even if you don’t want to go vegetarian completely, then cutting down on the number of days that you eat meat is a good approach.  The Meat Free Monday twitter stream always has some good recipe suggestions if you’re struggling for ideas.

baby led weaning

Early attempts at boiled egg (6 months)

8.  Eat All Together

As soon as we started introducing solid food to our daughter at six months old, we made a point of all eating the same things.  Up until the age of one babies shouldn’t have salt in their food (so no gravy, soy sauce or stock cubes), and honey should never be given to a baby under one in any form – cooked or uncooked.  To get round this we either cooked one meal then seasoned our food separately, or cooked the same thing in separate pots, omitting salty items such as stock from our daughter’s pot.  After the age of one it’s less of a problem, and as we cook a lot of our meals from scratch we know that there is not much salt in our food.

As she has been introduced to most types of food from an early age, my daughter pretty much eats what we eat, with only a very few exceptions.  Mexican bean chilli?  Spicy lentil dahl?  Vegetable curry and rice?  All devoured in minutes.  Pasta and garlic bread?  Her favourite.

This approach helps reduce food waste; leftovers easily become lunch; batch cooking saves time and money; and I don’t have to cook separate meals every night, also cutting costs.

9.  Drink Water

My daughter gets juice only as a special treat when we’re out.  It’s sugary and bad for your teeth; it costs money; comes in plastic bottles or cartons; and has to be transported across the country.  Water is free and comes from the tap.  We don’t bother with expensive water filters or coolers, or any of that plastic stuff – just straight out of the tap for us.  When compared to water in other countries, such as parts of Africa, the water is squeaky clean in the UK.

10.  Do You Need A Big House?

We currently live in a 1.5 bedroomed maisonette.  We are currently looking to move to something a little bigger, but by bigger we mean maybe 2 bedrooms and a box room for my partner and I to work in, and pursue our hobbies in.

We don’t need a four bedroomed house.  Bigger houses need more furniture, and require more energy and money to heat.  I always think it’s a bit daft to heat a big house that you don’t need.  Living in a small space means you tend to acquire less junk!    I hate it when you watch property programmes and the house hunters say they need a spare bedroom for guests.  Unless you have overnight guests over every weekend othen you probably don’t need a guest bedroom.  When we have guests over they sleep on our sofa bed in the living room, and when we say at someone’s house I don’t expect anything more than a sofa or an airbed on the living room floor.

I love the Small & Cool posts on Apartment Therapy – such good inspiration for living small!

green parenting tips

Outdoor play is the best kind of play (18 months)!

11.  Make All That You Can

The last of my green parenting tips is to make all that you can.  I’m not particularly crafty (I have my moments but I wouldn’t call myself a crafting wizard) so I don’t make my own clothes or anything like that, but something I am good at is making our own fun without having to resort to buying plastic toys.  A walk in the park, jumping in puddles (a particular favourite), a walk along the beach, animal spotting, feeding the ducks, making things from junk, etc, are all fun things to do with your kids that don’t require making any purchases.  Your child also benefits from spending quality time with you and having fun experiences.  Hattie at Free Your Kids has a ton of good ideas in her archive of how to make your own fun with kids.

I’ve probably missed a load of ideas on how to be a green parent – share your green parenting tips in the comments below!

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Children, Families, Good Reads

Environmental Books for Kids Review

environmental books for kids

The kind people at Floris Books recently sent me two environmental books for kids to review: How Does My Garden Grow, by Gerda Muller, and The Tomtes of Hilltop Stream by Brenda Tyler.

My daughter is only two so is a bit below the recommended age for these books (3+) but we’ve had some good fun reading them nonetheless.

environmental books for pre-schoolers

How Does My Garden Grow is her favourite of the two environmental books for kids, and mine too actually.  It’s all about a little girl from the city called Sophie, who goes to stay in the countryside with her grandparents for the summer.  At her grandparents she prepares a plot and plants some seeds, helping them to grow, and learning all about gardening as she goes.  There’s a lot to this book, covering all the different aspects of preparing soil, planting, growing and harvesting, and I think three to seven year olds would get a lot out of this book.  It’s a great way to introduce the idea of gardening and where our vegetables come from, and even features an introduction to composting.

The message isn’t entirely lost on my daughter – she has fun pointing out all of the different vegetables, and I’m sure it’s going to be a favourite as she grows older.  I also love the retro style illustrations:

gardening books for kids

gardening books for preschoolers

The Tomtes of Hilltop Stream introduces children to the idea of environmentalism.  It tells the story of Emily and Jamie: two children who visit their favourite otter-filled stream to find it polluted, full of rubbish and devoid of wildlife, including their beloved otters.  The Tomtes (little gnomes/elves) appear, helping Emily and Jamie to clean up the river and restore the habitat, and even touches very briefly on the concept of activism!

tomtes of hilltop stream review

The message is great (although my bug bear is there’s no real message of how the rubbish got there) and it would probably be a handy book for teachers to introduce ideas of environmentalism as part of wider readings and activities.  As a fun book for kids to read at home though then I’m not so sure.  It might be hard to involve children in the story as it is very linear – all that happens is that they quickly and easily clean up the river; and there is little in terms of the characters or the plot to hold their attention.  It does provide plenty of talking points to expand on the environmental ideas discussed in the book though, so you can go into as much or as little detail as you like, making it good for kids up to around age 6.

eco-friendly books for kids

tomtes book brenda tyler

What are your favourite environmental books for kids?

Floris Books kindly sent me two books to review – all views, words and images are my own.  See my disclosure policy for more information.