Teaching kids to care: Plastic-free children's parties

Hi everyone, I’m Julia Bradbury and I’m a TV presenter, environmentalist and co-founder of The Outdoor Guide.

Julia Bradbury

As someone who cares about the planet making sure we as a family limit our use of single-use plastic isn’t a hard sell (harder to execute admittedly). Kids easily identify with the plight of animals and sea life, they’re so aware of the scourge of plastic pollution filling our oceans. We’ll be stepping up our efforts for the MCS Plastic Challenge, and as a patron of Whale and Dolphin Conservation, it’s an issue close to my heart.

In normal circumstances, we’d be planning outdoor get-togethers with friends and family at this time of year, either at the beach or at one of our favourite shady woodland places. When we go to the beach we always do a quick litter pick before anything else –my little chicks are particularly good at spotting cigarette butts and plastic straws. My kids share my love of the outdoors and we rarely go out for a walk without our #litterhero bags. Even in these times, if it’s safe to pick up stuff we do it.

The great thing about holding a party outdoors is there’s so much for children to do. They can run wild and plastic doesn’t need to feature at all. Whether it’s drawing in the sand, making pebble monsters, trying to fly a home-made paper kite, cloud watching, or playing a madly competitive game of rounders that gets everyone in fits of giggles. Plastic-free parties are so easy – I wrap sandwiches, and birthday cake if there is one, in Beeswax food wrappers from &Keep. And if party bags feature, a brilliant company called plasticfreepartybags.com has some great sustainable Fair Trade ideas. A children’s book with a good plastic pollution message like Katie helps a Turtle with a Tummy Ache (which I recently wrote the forward for) also makes a great take-home gift.

Plastic Free Party Bags

Having a party near a sheltering patch of woodland can be just as much fun. Building dens, playing games kids can invent with twigs and sticks, making a crown of leaves, holding a bug hunt, taking in a game of pooh sticks if there’s a stream with a bridge close to hand. So long as the half-pints are wrapped up in the right gear they really don’t care about a bit of wind or rain.

Playing outdoors is a great way to encourage children’s creativity and helping them grow up caring about nature means they’re much more likely to be kinder to the planet when they’re older. One of my kids’ best days last year was a cold wet October in mid-winter when I wrapped them up from head to toe and we went outside in the pouring rain to have a wet leaf fight and roll down hills in the rain. They loved it!

There’s no need for all the throwaway plastic we’ve come to associate with children’s parties over the last couple of decades. The plastic toys in party bags (and the plastic bags themselves!) that keep a child’s attention for less than an hour will stay on this earth for more than their lifetime. As much as five lifetimes. Those plastic eggs with more plastic toys inside- urgh. Helium balloons dangle in trees for years, looking ugly and harming wildlife. And don’t get me started on Chinese lanterns!

We’ve caused so much damage, often without realising. It’s time now to take stock and change our ways. I’m not being a fun sponge and trying to take away things that kids love, but replacing balloons with paper lanterns, giving them sustainable toys, books, and items with a story, that they can really engage with, are changes we can make that they don’t even notice. We’re not depriving them – we’re teaching them to care.

For more from Julia you can visit her website here.

If you’ve been inspired by Julia to cut back on single-use plastic, why not join the Plastic Challenge?