According to The Globalist in 2017, the average person consumes 100kg of plastic each year. That’s a wake-up call for all of us, especially to parents and carers of young children who amass endless plastic toys and odds and ends for our children… seemingly without even trying.
While not so obvious in the earlier years, as your child grows, suddenly you realise that a great many of their toys are made from plastic. Supermarkets push promotions where your child can take home a plastic toy with your grocery shopping. Certain fast food restaurants (that shan’t be named) include a plastic toy with children’s meals… all blatantly advertised to children, so really difficult to avoid. And that, voila, is how plastic is innocently amassed. The more children you have the deeper into the plastics hole you fall. Even when you deliberately try to avoid the supermarket and restaurant add-ons they keep miraculously appearing. And then add a few children’s birthday parties into the mix and you’ll amass more! So while some Australian states progress forward on the road towards a single-use, plastic-free life, many of us are drowning in the stuff.
What if there was an alternative to plastic toys?
An alternative that most early childhood services have valued for many years?
What if that alternative was often free or very cheap… could be sourced everywhere - including your own backyard or local park, beach or lake… and it offered an unlimited variety of options, styles, sizes, colours and textures?
Well, this is exactly what nature provides!
You can find incredible resources - otherwise known as “toys” - for your child everywhere in nature. Resources that can be re-usable, sustainable, educational, breakdown into nothing leaving virtually no footprint, and could be used for a multitude of purposes… purposes like: sorting and stacking games; sensory activities; art and craft; imaginative play; fine motor; even gross motor!
It’s all in the mindset. If you begin to see that everything could have another use, you’ll start to see options everywhere! All you really need is a little imagination… or access to Pinterest to get some great ideas! All the inspiration you need is available in nature.
Let’s break it down into bite-sized chunks to get started.
Natural resource kit
Once your mind is tuned into hunting for natural resources, you’ll be surprised at how many you can accrue! You’ll likely find that once you start, you’ll find more wherever you go! The possibilities are endless. Here’s a list of suggestions - there are many many others you can choose to include - for you to begin creating your own kit of natural resources.
Stones / rocks
Flowers / petals
Berries (*don’t take any risks with berries you’re unsure of - unless you know for certain they aren’t poisonous. Tip - use frozen berries if you can’t pick ripe ones)
Seeds (chia, sunflower) or lentils
Tree slices (tree branch or trunk slices. Great in small coin-sized or large dinner-plate sized)
Leaves (extra large, like Monstera leaves, make great umbrellas!)
Leaves (small for sorting, craft, etc)
It’s worth noting that council clean-ups, recycling centres and buy-sell-swap sites can provide a wealth of options for extending or expanding your resources kit too. Often you can find items that compliment natural resources - like timber tables, storage jars, utensils, or containers to set-up activities in. Keep your eye out!
Nature activity ideas
So now you have an idea of the different resources you can collect to create a nature resources kit, below we’ve divided activities into categories to highlight the many different ways you can incorporate nature into your child’s play. Often most resources will cross into more than one category - sometimes even numerous categories!
Sorting and stacking games
Supply a tray of mixed items and a bowl for each type of item. Put an example or two into the bowl to demonstrate, then have your child sort the rest of the items on the tray into the correct bowl. Things like pebbles, shells and gumnuts are great for this.