10 Steps to Play, the Plastic-Free Way

Mother and daughter piggy back ridingAs the world grows more concerned with the effects of climate change and the impact our industries have made on this beautiful planet, we should all think about our children and their place in the universal changes that need to be made. One obvious excess that clutters our playrooms and our planet is the manufacture of plastic playthings. Although toys are an integral part of entertainment and useful tools for teaching, plastic toys are as toxic to the environment and they are unnecessary for the fulfillment of childhood play.

Until the mid-20th Century, inexpensive plastic toys were virtually non-existent, yet brilliant children developed into fine citizens and our world flourished. What seems to have been lost by Western society over in the past 50 years is the wonderful experience of kids playing with each other and inventing their own games and toys.

Self-directed and creative play platforms have been pushed aside for market-driven products. What was once the province of childhood, the simplicity and innocence of play, has become a multi-level branding opportunity for manufacturers and entertainment giants. Huge effort is devoted to gaining the support of consumers-in-training, a.k.a. kids. These advertisements run the gamut from food and clothing to hygiene and education. It seems like every possible material that touches childhood has become a selling and profit-building mechanism.

What can be done in a world where plastic toys are not going away? How can we, as individual parents and families, contribute less to the manufacture of plastic toys, and in turn decrease the burden on our air and water quality, energy and waste management systems and climate? And moreover, what we should ask ourselves is not only what the costs are to our planet, but what the costs are to our children. How do we quantify their crippled, innate creativity from exploration that ultimately contributes to their problem-solving capabilities, or capture the loss of innovation that our kids will deliver as adults when it is their turn to run the planet?

The solution to these problems is a simple one: Take it one step at a time (or in our case, one family at a time).

Each of these 10 plastic-busting suggestions from Funplaydates.com is one simple step to bolstering your child’s creativity, appreciation for all things natural, and ability to interact positively with others.

1. Give kids time to play. Take the initiative to bring kids together, because once that happens, playmates become more important than playthings. As an added benefit, this usually involves lots of physical activity, giving a one-two punch to childhood obesity.

2. Give kids tools to play. Make toys and games from paper scraps and old boxes, tubes, containers and all kinds of around-the-house parts. It takes almost no purchased materials, requires only the most basic supplies (scissors, glue, tape, string, paper, crayons). Teaching kids that their imaginations are more fun than most toys is a sweet exploration, and teaching kids to recycle is a valuable lessons for their futures.

3. Unplug your life. Teach kids to budget computer, game system and TV time, and show them that time without the influence of sales pitches is really the best time of the day. Even if that means playing a simple game of hide-and-seek, give children time instead of toys.

4. Go for walks. Visit our local, state and national parks. Discover the adventures that are available in every type of environment, from city street to deepest forest. Nature is everywhere and is surprisingly easy and exciting for kids to enjoy. Very often our parks offer engaging programs for kids and families.

5. Repurpose your stuff. Look for ways to use what you have or to repurpose materials that we have become routinely accustomed to throwing away. Paint an old chair and then donate it to a charity, make tote bags out of old pants, make a dress-up box from out-of-style clothes or even bed sheets.

6. Share your own childhood. Spend time sharing stories about your own childhood and re-examine the most exciting aspects of your life as a child. Chances are you didn’t rely on plastic toys and games, so give your children the benefits of that fun and creative kid you once were.

7. Throw a ball. Spend an hour with your children playing actively with simple toys like balls and ropes. It will be good for you, too.

8. Pass it on. Sort through old toys and pass them on by sharing them or donating toys to charitable organizations. Another benefit of donating toys is teaching your kids about those less fortunate and their own ability to make a difference in other children’s lives.

9. Read a story. Is there any child who doesn’t love to curl up on a parent’s lap and hear a story? Look for ways to share simple pleasures with them. It seems that our short-lived childhoods have a deep impact on our adult perspectives, so you can be guaranteed that whatever time you give now will have enormous benefits later.

10. Grow a garden together. Plant a container or a whole garden with your kids. Not only will you and your children begin to discover the greater wonder of how food and flowers grow, but you will deepen your shared history and there is no finer feeling of connection than that. Two added benefits of gardening: you’ll also grow your kid’s interest in healthy foods and the ways of nature.

Contributor Michell Muldoon is the President of Funplaydates.com