5 Ways to Save the Planet (and Entertain the Kids) While Staying Home

 

Lance with his son dressed up with tissue paper.

 

We’re all in this together. If it wasn’t clear before this global health pandemic, it is now. Beating COVID-19 requires all of us to adopt new habits and lifestyle changes to keep a bad situation from getting worse. Since beating pollution and climate change requires a similar mix of individual and collective action, why not take steps that help achieve both health and safety goals?

Here are 5 ways to help save the planet (and entertain the kids) while staying home to save lives. 

1. Repurpose Used Materials for Learning Aids 

With schools and daycares closed, it’s tempting to hop online and stock up on flashcards, workbooks, or other pre-packaged learning activities. First, see what you can do with the materials you already have at home.

A quick check of the EPA's Waste Management Hierarchy details how we conserve natural resources, save energy, and reduce pollution (including greenhouse gas emissions) by reusing what we have instead of buying new.

 

Son playing with crafts made from reusable materials around house.

 

My nearly four-year-old son is very active. After his daycare closed, we made a project out of repurposing old envelopes, recipe cards, used greeting cards, cereal boxes, construction paper, and old colored eggs into new games that support letter, number, and shape recognition. 

  • Combats COVID-19: No need to leave home or bring new items inside.
  • Combats Climate Change: Reducing waste and reusing materials results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions associated with waste collection and raw material extraction, processing, and delivery.
  • Combats Child Boredom: Have fun making and using these new learning aids.

More online resources: California Education and the Environment Initiative Downloadable Curriculum, Recycle Rex Activities

2. Turn Old Toys and Materials into New Fun

Even the coolest new toys lose their fun eventually. It happens much quicker when you’re cooped up inside. Even before the stay-at-home order, our family developed the habit of packing certain toys or activities away in the closet for future fun. Our son is always surprised when old favorites come back into the toy rotation. Along those lines, I’m finding you can make a toy or activity out of just about anything if you take a look at your “storage” through the eyes of a child.

 

toys stored in closet, kids playing with new toys

 

As social distancing limits our options for outside fun, we’re getting creative with the toys and materials packed away inside. Rotating toys helps keep the walkie-talkies from Grandma and the wooden train set from Santa feeling like new, no matter how old they are. What else do you have packed away? We spent a good hour playing dress-up with used bows and tissue paper—and we can still use the materials for future gifts.

  • Combats COVID-19: No need to leave home or bring new items inside.
  • Combats Climate Change: Reducing waste and reusing materials results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions associated with waste collection and raw material extraction, processing, and delivery.
  • Combats Child Boredom: Create new fun by getting creative with old toys and materials.

More online resources: Parade, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Crafts

3. Get Cooking

Weekend visits to farmers markets and restaurants were great ways to spend a few hours prior to COVID-19. Since these outings are no longer family-friendly, we’re doing a lot more cooking and baking at home. From assembling ingredients to measuring, stirring, pouring, cooking, and cleanup—it’s a great way to spend time indoors. Limiting the frequency of trips to the store also provides an opportunity to get creative with ingredients. Use what you have. Stretch your supplies. Let no ingredient go to waste.

 

Lance cooking with his son

 

My little one is always game for scooping flour, maneuvering the hand mixer, and licking beaters, but now we’re venturing beyond sweet treats. In the past few weeks, he’s mastered new skills like measuring spices, picking through pinto beans, snapping green beans, and cracking eggs. Don’t worry about the mess. Cleanup is another family activity!

  • Combats COVID-19: Reduce trips to the store by making the most of what you have on hand.
  • Combats Climate Change: Fewer emissions from fewer trips, and more food eaten instead of landfilled—where food and other organic waste emits methane as it decomposes.
  • Combats Child Boredom: Prep, cooking, and cleanup can keep you up busy for an entire morning or afternoon.

More online resources: CalRecycle ‘In the Loop Blog, Taste of Home

4. Bring Back the ‘Rag Bag’

Ditching single-use disposables for reusable items can be easier said than done. The recent scarcity of paper products makes this the time to embrace reducing. Our family said farewell to paper plates nearly two years ago because of the cost. More frequent plate washing was an easy tradeoff for me. I found it harder to use less paper towels.

The recent hoarding behavior cleared paper towels from my local store shelves, so we’ve adjusted. My grandmother never had paper towels. If you wanted to clean something, you’d reach for her “rag bag” filled with old towel squares and clothing scraps. So, we decided to start a rag bag comprised of old t-shirts and burp rags.

 

Lance's son cleaning the windows.

 

We've managed two weeks with no paper towels, and it's getting easier. We wipe faces, spills, and windows with old cotton textiles. It works just fine. My family would have likely used up two or three rolls of paper towels by now. Cheers to not.

  • Combats COVID-19: No need to leave home or bring new items inside.
  • Combats Climate Change: Reducing waste and reusing materials results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions associated with waste collection and raw material extraction, processing, and delivery.
  • Combats Child Boredom: Ripping up old clothes and cleaning the house can be fun activities for kids, if you approach it with enthusiasm and lots of validation.  😉

More online resources: Mother Nature Network, Huffington Post

5. Do it Yourself

Necessity is the mother of invention, or so we’re learning. Since COVID-19 forced all of us to reconsider the true definition of “essential services,” our family has embraced a do-it-yourself mindset whenever possible. In addition to cooking more from scratch, we busted out the needle and thread to make clothing repairs, landscaped using old tree stumps and leftover stones, and even dusted off the old clippers for at-home haircuts.

 

Lance's son raking leaves and getting a haircut.

 

Not every family can manage do-it-yourself haircuts, but DIY opportunities surround you. What else do you have to do?

  • Combats COVID-19: No need to leave home or bring new items inside.
  • Combats Climate Change: Reduce energy use and associated greenhouse emissions by performing your own "essential activities." 
  • Combats Child Boredom: Teach life skills while spending quality time with the kids. It's a win-win. 

More online resources: DIY Network, BuzzFeed

— Lance Klug
Posted on Apr 6, 2020

Summary: We’re all in this together. If it wasn’t clear before this global health pandemic, it is now. Beating COVID-19 requires all of us to adopt new habits and lifestyle changes to keep a bad situation from getting worse. Since beating climate change requires a similar mix of individual and collective action, why not embrace behavioral changes that help achieve both goals?