Monday, August 2, 2010

Playing Greener

In a possibly-reoccurring series, I will attempt to share some of my green tips without coming across like a sanctimonious prig.

Knowing myself as I do, this could be a challenge. After all, I'm the kid that announced to her kindergarten class that Mr. Bubbles, the class puppet, was not magic.  

"The teacher was just using food coloring," I spat contemptuously during recess.

As you can imagine, I was invited to all the parties.

Anyway, most of my green efforts stem from my general laziness and my natural tendency to nurture the cobwebs growing in my wallet. I'm sharing these because they have worked for me, and I hope that they might work for you as well.

I'll start today with green toys. I'm not talking about hand-crafted toys made by ancient Baviarian wood-sculptors, although those are very nice indeed. Rather, I'm talking about how to make toys out of common objects.

Before you liken me to Miss Hannigan from Annie or compare my sons to characters from Oliver Twist, let me assure you that the boys have toys. Lots of 'em. In fact, I'm not sure where my living room went, because it looks like Hoarders: Toddler Edition on most days.

But yet, their absolute favorite toys aren't really toys at all.  These three objects are cheap, fun, and easy. As a bonus, they aren't packaged with twenty bazillion pounds of cardboard, nor are they (hopefully!) made in a third-world sweatshop.

Green Toy #1: PVC Pipes

For about six dollars, we bought some PVC pipe, stoppers, and connectors at our local hardware store. Owen's world has never been the same.

He makes sculptures out of them.

He runs sand through the pipes. He uses them as tunnels for his toy cars. On hot days, he runs water through them using a kiddie pool full of water. They have worked as makeshift baseball bats, swords, batons, and trumpets.

And yes, they work as showers as well.

(This wastes a lot of water, thus, isn't all that green. In my defense, this happened while I was inside making lunch. Since I wasn't watching them, I'm totally off the hook, right?)

Green Toy #2: Spray Bottles

I have bought many a cheap, one-dollar squirt gun at the grocery store. I am happy to bribe my children for a dollar's worth of peace. Unfortunately, most of them break before they are even buckled into their car seats for the ride home. 

For the same dollar, I purchased a bunch of squirt bottles at the Dollar Store. I fill 'em up with water, and let the kids squirt away. They work in the tub, provide a nice mist to dry sandbox sand, and cool off the kids in the pinch. I've seen Joel pretend to wash my sliding glass door with his bottle, and Owen has used it as a "spray painter" on our deck.

This makes me very happy. Since I envision a long future of sitting on my ass, watching them work, they best start developing their skills now. 

Green Toy #3: Water Spicket

We bought this two-gallon water-spicket so that Owen could serve water to guests at Joel's birthday party, thus forgetting he wasn't center of the universe for an hour or two.

We have since discovered that, in this age of water restriction, this bucket is a nice way to do water play with less guilt. I fill the thing up once, and tell the boys, "Once the water is gone, it's gone."

It becomes a game to see how long they can be water savers by reusing the water several times over the course of the day.

They play kitchen, car-wash, restaurant, and lemonade stand, while I sit back and try to stay out of the way.

Now, I recognize that all of these green toys involve water. That's my kids. They're obsessed. I'm hoping for future careers in hydro-engineering.

It works for us. It may, or may not work for you.

I would encourage you, though, to think creatively. Playing greener may be easier than you think.

What are your kids' favorite "non-toy toys"? What green toys have worked for you? Recommendations? Insights?


MiMi said...

My kids love playing with things that aren't actually toys.
Fire, pointy sticks, etc.
It's all good.

Ms. Moon said...

Excellent ideas. My oldest child loved to play with an old timey coffee pot- the sort with the percolator parts inside. He had more fun with that thing.

Salt said...

I LOVE the PVC pipe idea! As in...I kind of wish I had the room to make PVC sculptures myself. Attached to the spigot outside? Brilliance. You might not be too far off with that hydroelectric engineer thing. Or at the very least, water park manager.

The Empress said...

heehee... kids and water=good times.

my boys love BIG BOXES. like the ones tv's come in....

ModernMom said...

We planted a garden this year. Not really a garden, just apatch. I thas proven to be HOURS of fun for the kids. Who knew!

FabuLeslie said...

My kid has four legs and fur, so her toys might be different than your kids' but it's the same idea. Her faves are empty milk jugs, yogurt and cream cheese containers. Any stuffed animal I receive as a gift from my first graders also makes a great toy for my little girl. She plays with them until they are destroyed, and around that time, I have another one for her. It's perfect. Although when she tries to give a toy an eye-ectomy or a nose-ectomy, then I kinda have to throw them out as well.

P.S. Toddler Editions are my favorite Hoarders episodes ever!

Aging Mommy said...

I sense a common theme here, water! My daughter loves to play with water too. She is not really interested in conventional toys at all, she is a collector and plays all day long with her ever growing collections of precious stones, pebbles, "tickets" (old Halloween Candy she does not eat just plays with) and more. My floors are covered in little "things" like feathers and beads all day long but she is happy :-) Lovely post.

June said...

I love the water shower idea!
Very creative and water is the key to most fun play in the summer. Even Pinkus who will be 16 at the end of the month will play with the garden hose as if he is 5 years old still!

clearness said...

My kids are happy when I fill the sink with lots of soapy bubbles...(I use baby shampoo) and then I flop the bubbles down on the kitchen floor and let them 'skate' on the bubbles....once the bubbles dry a bit and evaporate, I plop down another's fun!

Mel said...

Your boys are so creative and cute!!! The only green toys I can remember right now are short lived, because they are cardboard. The tubes inside wrapping paper are great pretend swords or light sabers, and a large cardboard box has provided many happy hours of play. I gave them markers and they turned them into race cars, space ships, tractors, and when that got old we opened up both ends and let them play tank inside by crawling in the box, or better yet, roll down a hill.
Oh, I just remembered one of their favorites. I filled an old cookie tin with assorted dried beans and lentils and added measuring cups and spoons. Hours of fun for the sandbox set, and biodegradable too. We called it playing beans.
Thanks for another witty, interesting and wonderful post.

*LLUVIA* said...

These are awesome green toys!!! I loved the water squirts!!!!!

Teachinfourth said...

One of the greatest uses the PVC piping is to make marshmallow guns; they are totally awesome. Of course, other inventions can be pretty cool, too.

Coby said...

Love love love the PVC pipe! Shayne says we have some in our garage, and oh my, how the wheels are turning!

Awhile back I filled a plastic tub with birdseed and buried plastic bugs in it and gave my kids little shovels to dig out the bugs. They loved it. Then they dumped the birdseed in the dirt, it rained, and who knew? Birdseed sprouts! I also filled that same tub with ice cubes and gave them each a pair of tongs so they could grab the ice and practice motor skills. Another favorite is to give each boy a bowl full of cotton balls and some chop sticks and let them use the chop sticks to transfer the cotton balls to a different bowl. One time that kept them occupied for an hour!

shortmama said...

We use bottles for squirt toys too..boxes are always a favorite in our house, they become mail boxes, dog houses etc

Jenny said...

Fantastic, funny and adorable post!

You're cool.

Melani said...

So cute! Let's see, Brandon will play with used straws as cars, I know gross! They also like to play with water...

He will play with sticks, rocks, the broom in the backyard and use them as cars...he uses the remote control as a car...or train, whatever he can on the couch...

Tracie said...

The PVC pipe idea is brilliant. My kids love to play with those in the water area at children's museums.

only a movie said...

One year for Christmas my son got a bag of craft sticks and a bunch of different colored electrical tape and duct tape. Way cheaper than lego and stepping on them didn't hurt so much.