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Zero Waste Outdoor Activities with Kids

Updated: Feb 1, 2022

Did you suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself with several small people this Spring and Summer? Did you immediately panic and think – what will I do with these small humans and all this time? Did you, in your panic, look up all sorts of new toys, gadgets, pools, bikes, books, and games and hit, BUY BUY BUY? Then you are not alone! Kids entertainment purchases have been way up as parents try to outfit their homes to be schools, playgrounds, libraries, swim centers, and day camps all rolled into one. All these purchases eventually add up to a whole bunch of waste (I’m looking at you water gun that only lasted one day).

But what we are forgetting is that kids don’t need all that stuff. They are perfectly content with trees, ponds, fields, and streams – all things we have in abundance here in New Hampshire. It may take some convincing, but once you re-introduce your kids to the wonders of the outdoors, I guarantee they will quit begging you for that new whatever it is. Here are some ideas:

Kids love to get outdoors and really thrive given the right mix of freedom and inspiration.

  1. WATER. WATER. WATER. From an early age, kids are drawn to everything from the smallest puddle to the ocean. Let them at it! Babies can sit by a puddle with a stick or some rocks for a surprisingly long time and bigger kids will go in and out of a stream or pond all day. They can build rafts, racing boats, and bridges using natural materials or dig using common kitchen and garden tools. Can’t get to the water, fill up a couple of buckets or old tubs and let them splash around (make sure to use the water in your garden afterward).

  2. FAIRY HOUSES! My kids – seven-year-old boy and five-year-old girl – love to build fairy houses. They use rocks, sticks, leaves, bark, grasses, and basically anything they can lay their hands on to make little houses in stone walls, tree roots, and up in the branches. The “rules” of fairy house making is that you are only supposed to use natural materials and you’re not supposed to pick anything living, but we use thread for construction and I have a one-leaf-per plant policy… no one’s perfect. 🙂

  3. OLD-FASHIONED GAMES There is a reason why people used to entertain themselves with egg and spoon races, potato sack races, and three-legged races… all those materials are easy to find around the house. No need to buy plastic gadgets, just use what you already have!

  4. MUD KITCHEN There is really nothing like mud. Park your kids near a puddle or larger body of water with some old pots, pans, and silverware and see where their culinary spirit takes them. My kids made “lollipops” using sticks and mud that that looked downright tasty.

  5. HIKE IT Get everyone out on the trails. There may be a lot of moaning and groaning from older kids at the get-go, but pretty soon they will get interested in something – the summit, the blueberries along the trail, the weird mushrooms no one has ever seen before – and they might even suggest a hike next time. You can even challenge yourselves to hike the 4,000 Footers or the 42 With a View ( or even your local trail system. Here is a link to Concord’s trail system:

  6. BIKE IT Okay, technically a bike is a gadget, but since you can buy them used and since they are a mode of transportation and since you can pass them on when you’re down with them, and since you probably already have one, let me just say that biking is an awesome way to give kids independence and get out their excess energy.

  7. GROW SOMETHING Give them old pots, shoes, toilet paper rolls, etc to plant seeds in this year. Or start a garden with your kids. It doesn’t have to be awesome. It just needs to inspire a lifelong love of gardening, the Earth, and life itself… kidding! It just needs to keep them busy for an afternoon. 🙂

  8. BUILD SOMETHING Use scrap wood, logs, rocks, old tarps and blankets, anything you have lying around to make a tree house, fort, boat, etc. Don’t worry about whether it will stand the test of time (spoiler alert: it won’t) just get out the materials for them and get them started. Their imaginations will take over.

  9. PICK BERRIES We are so lucky to have a variety of delicious berries available to us in the summer and kids love to pick (and eat) them. If you’re lucky enough to find wild berries, those are the best, but plenty of organic berry farms are there to make things easier for you (one of our favorites: The more berries your kids pick (and don’t eat), the less you need to buy over the winter. Just throw them onto a cookie tray and freeze for an hour, then transfer into a freezer-safe container.

Remember, every toy, game, gadget, and electronic you buy uses resources, takes energy to produce, and needs to be disposed of eventually. Skip the footprint and play naturally this summer!

– Hannah

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