Our first eco-Mum guest blog has been written by Helen Wilson, of Little Puddle People , a childcare setting with a difference based in Sheffield. Helen is a qualified Forest Schools Practitioner and Skogsmulle (Swedish Nature Teacher) leader. She has kindly shared part of her story with us, and some tips on making eco-friendly choices in a childcare setting.
I’m Helen: Mum of two, wife of one, and outdoor lover. I have worked in the childcare industry all my working life. As I have travelled along my journey, I have experienced and influenced different settings and evolved both professionally and personally. One thing that is apparent throughout my business, “Little Puddle People” is my awareness of being environmentally friendly in my practice; whether through my outdoor playgroup, forest school after-school club, in my consultancy work or in childminding, it is something I am passionate about.
I’ve been careful to avoid participating in the “use once and then throw away” culture that’s prevalent amongst so many people, and even in childcare settings. I’m conscious that resources we use in activities have used energy, fuel, materials and created pollution, and to avoid buying things that will have a very short usage life before ultimately ending up in landfill. I see settings following ‘trends’ quickly dumping resources to buy new, to keep up with what’s suddenly seen as the best set up to have. I face pressure from parents, families, attendees and social media followers to follow suit.
I am far from perfect, but I want to share what I’ve learned on my own journey, in the hopes that it will help others in theirs and inspire someone out there to make a change, no matter how small that may be.
We have hoards of toys and resources that we have collected in our almost 10 years of parenting. I love hunting down a second-hand bargain from local Facebook groups and charity shops. Hand me downs from friends who know I love having things passed onto us. My absolute favourite items are treasures from my Great Auntie Esme who was a legendary primary school teacher she had an Aladdin’s cave of resources, I have a few items she passed onto my boys that I adore, wonderful memories of her come flooding back every time I get them out. When I do buy new I have pledged to buy more consciously from small independent retailers, brands that are eco aware or handmade and yes I have been known to dither over purchases for a ridiculous amount of time weighing up whether I really need it!
Art resources are such a tricky one! Often packaged in plastic, frequently containing harsh chemicals and micro plastics, and more often than not end up in the bin!
Take a look at what you offer and try a different approach…
Have you a local scrap store? I adore ours! It’s a warehouse of dreams jam packed full of crafty treasures, all which are being saved from landfill. Despite the small size of my own local store, I can easily pass over an hour there filling my bucket with fabric, paper, card, envelopes, string, ribbon and I end up only paying around a fiver! Two visits a year like this is usually all I need to do.
A few top tips-
Glitter : no one needs it! If you really miss the Christmas sparkle, try sprinkling a little sugar; you can even add a little drop of food colour or paint to colour it. Dried petals or leaves simply as they are, blended into ‘dust’ in a food processor or punched into pieces using a craft punch are also make an interesting resource for projects where you would have used glitter.
Paint: so often full of chemicals, and it comes in single use plastic bottles. I love Tiny Land paint – it’s eco-friendly, smells incredible, has vibrant colours and is allergy safe.
Alternatively, why not mix your own up? It’s easy - a teaspoon of cornflour, a squirt of food colouring and a little water to get the consistency to what you would like to work with. Sometimes we use herbs, spices, mud, coffee grounds, over ripe squashy berries, onion skins, cabbage water… there are an incredible number of ways to creating a ‘paint’ that provides a wealth of learning opportunities far more valuable than squirting some paint out of a bottle in to a tray.
Paper: do you constantly find yourself feeling frustrated at reems of paper being discarded after just one delicate scribble? I have a mark making caddy that is available to the children all of the time. It contains pencils, pencil crayons and wax crayons (which can be sharpened and last much longer than felt tips constantly left without a lid on!). I put bits of chopped up cereal box, wrappers from my loo roll, tissue paper packaging, envelopes from my post and letters I don’t need in there. We have ‘nice’ paper, but it is saved for special occasions and the children know to ask for it along with the felt tips.
Celebrations don’t need to mean craft kits, templates and themed resources. They can be experiences, places to visit, cuisine to cook and taste, music to listen to. Create collections of resources that can be reused and brought out year upon year, built on and expanded rather than disposed of at the end of the season. Try consulting the kids; ask them what they think their Mum wants for Mother’s Day (the odds are, it won’t be what you thought and it won’t be the same for every child, but isn’t that the beauty of it?). As well as the gift itself, celebrating unique families and supporting children to learn about each other’s similarities and differences is a wonderful gift in itself.
Planning for me, is the key to everything. Planning allows me to be conscious about waste, to ask whether I really need to do an activity a certain way, or whether there is an alternative way to offer the same learning experience. I also make a point of involving the children in planning sessions, to find out what they want; I often find that I already have it! I explain to them why they should use something sparingly, how something is made or why we no longer have glitter.
I believe it is our responsibility to teach children about how we can all be a little kinder to our earth, and that’s something that shows through in every part of my practice.
Tiny Land paint kindly allowed us to use one of their images above - their website is here.