DIY Lego Kits

Recently, I posted about ways to utilise the ‘5Rs’ over the festive period.  If you haven’t already, I would absolutely encourage you to go and check out the full post – there are loads of really lovely ideas for a more sustainable Christmas – but today, I wanted to focus on one of the suggestions in particular.

DIY Lego* kits.

My kids are so incredibly lucky – they’ve inherited a Lego stash which dates back to 1956 and which has been added to over the years by various generations of enthusiasts. Needless to say, we have enough Lego in this house.

That said, both children get an awful lot out of building to the instructions – my youngest, for example, learns how to build in sequence which is a vital skill for pre-reading. And for my eldest, it’s an enormous 3D jigsaw puzzle.

Which begs the question – how do I provide the experience of a kit, without actually buying a kit?

Well, the bricks have infinite possible uses, so all I really need in this situation are the instructions. And it just so happens that the Lego website comes with free instructions for their ‘Classic’ kits, and for ‘Minibuilds’.

I opted for the May Minibuild because:
– I’m relatively sure we have all the parts
– The necessary pieces are presented as a list for easy finding
– The instructions are printed on fewer sheets of paper.

After I’d printed the instructions, I went to gather the parts… There was so much Lego in the box, I literally needed to use a head torch…

And completely failed!

Unfortunately, it became apparent after around 45 minutes of searching through our giant Lego box – with a head torch on! – that we didn’t have some of the more recent pieces required. So, back to the drawing board… or rather, the Lego website…

With a better knowledge of what I could/couldn’t easily locate within the stash, I selected… none of the patterns from the website!

Instead, I did an image search on Ecosia (which – if you’re not using yet – you totally should be 😉 ) and came up with…

This!

It’s clearly not going to satisfy the older of my two children, but for my youngest, it’s perfect.

Or would be, if I could find the parts! I did manage to get an alternative for the windscreen though, and as I’ll likely have to hear about every single block my child places, I can be there to talk about how the windscreen needs to be a different piece.

To package it, I made a large envelope out of an old calendar sheet (I posted an image of a tutorial here) and drew a shoddy Lego block on the front. I’ll write my child’s name on the top too, but I don’t really want that all over the internet so will leave it off for now.

So, was it worth the trouble of the research, the searching, half building a model and failing, then frantically trying to find the parts to a second model before Husband arrived home with the children?

Probably. I mean, we have a lot of Lego. I think if I do any more of these prior to Christmas I will:
– refill my printer ink, because the print qualiity doesn’t look amazing,
– invent my own model and photograph each stage
– hoover out our Lego box more often because I found items I’d lost over 20 years ago in that box and even though I’m not hyper vigilant when it comes to dirt, even I am grossed out by this…

In the end, the whole thing took about an hour and a half, and cost me the printer paper and ink. I potentially saved a Lego box, an instruction booklet, an inner plastic bag and the blocks themselves from being dragged into being. I probably saved myself around £5.

Will you be trying to reuse your existing toys in this way? It doesn’t just work for Lego – K’nex, Duplo and other construction kits can be repurposed like this. I’d love to see pictures of any you decide to do – why not get in touch here, or on Twitter?

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* Fun fact – the plural of ‘Lego’ is not ‘Legos’. The term is actually an abreviation of ‘Lego Mursten‘, meaning ‘Lego Bricks’. As this is a compound noun, the pluralisation is added to the second word – i.e. Mursten/Bricks, meaning that ‘Lego’ remains the same, even in the plural.

The term ‘Lego’ is actually a contraction of two Danish words; Lege, which means ‘to play’ and Godt which means ‘good’, or in this case ‘well’.

Look, dad! I used my Danish language degree in real life!

Low waste advent calendar alternatives

It’s nearly time for the countdown to Christmas to begin, so I thought I would take a moment today to speak about advent calendars.

There are loads of really great ways to reduce the waste created by advent calendars. You could opt for a traditional paper-only offering, or buy a toy-themed calendar and reuse this every year – then there’s the refillable option, and books!

Initially, we tried a Lego calendar with the intention of reusing it indefinitely, but it soon became clear that this wasn’t going to work in our house. Lego seems to inspire such creativity in my kids that they would build that day’s model, then grab blocks from our existing stash and then set about incorporating the calendar bricks into some vast structure that only they could fathom the purpose of… By the time day 2 was over, we realised we weren’t ever going to manage to keep the Christmas blocks seperate.

In the end, I opted for a reusable cloth calendar. It’s beautiful – handmade by the lady who runs House of Wonderland (which you should absolutely take a look at – she has the most beautiful things).

In the pockets, I put a combination of plastic-free sweets and little slips of papers with activities on. Initially, I found it really hard to come up with things to do which didn’t focus on getting, but I think we had a good list last year:

  1. Welcome to DECEMBER! Let’s have some fun! (Chocolate lollies)
  2. Let’s have a walk if the weather is nice and collect some pine cones to decorate the table with.
  3. Write Christmas cards to people we love. You can even draw pictures to put in too!
  4. Take the cards to the post box and send them on their way!
  5. Make some bird feeders from lard and birdseed.
  6. Bake something to give to all the houses on the track.
  7. Here’s £20 – lets see how many yummy things we can get for the food bank.
  8. Write a list of all the things you’re grateful for which happened this year.
  9. Watch the Muppet Christmas Carol.
  10. Sort through our books and give any we don’t want to the library at school.
  11. Make a special card/present for the postie – she’s so busy just now!
  12. Have fun with some sparklers.
  13. Sort through our toys and see if the library wants any for the toy boxes there.
  14. Find out about ‘Sal’s shoes’, ‘Child’s Play’ and ‘The Little Princess Trust’. Choose which one gets £5.
  15. Let’s have a morning dance party before school!
  16. Let’s put up and decorate the Christmas tree!
  17. Watch the Christmas Curious George film.
  18. Let’s read a book by candlelight.
  19. Let’s take your Christmas gifts to your teachers at school & nursery.
  20. Let’s dip some marshmallows in white chocolate to make snowmen!
  21. Write down some of the fun things we did this year – it’s good to remember.
  22. Go to Nannan’s and bake some mince pies!
  23. Not everyone is celebrating Christmas – let’s learn about some other religions.
  24. Watch some Christmas carols on YouTube.

In total, this calendar costs just over £25 – this money covers the food bank donation, the charity donation, and any sundries (like marshmallows) which we don’t already have in the house. Obviously, you could change this amount to suit your own budget, or replace these activities with free things, such as litter picks, or carol services – whatever your wallet and schedule allows for.

All of this was pretty perfect when there was only one child – but then there were two… We did start by taking it in turns to check the calendar, which was fine, but then I read about book calendars so we made one of those too and the kids go turn-about for each.

The book calendar was super easy and very cheap – we just went through our collection and plucked out any stories which were wintery. I stashed them in my room and brought one out a day for the run up to Christmas. Rather than wrapping each one, I made a cloth bag out of some festive fabric from my stash and ploped a new book in each day. At the end of the season, I packed the books away with the decorations so that when the next year rolled around, the stories were both novel and nostalgic – perfect!

What are your advent traditions? I’d love to hear about them! 

 

Super affordable, eco-friendly gift ideas

I’m still in the depths of #NothingNewNovember, but that hasn’t slowed the relentless crawl towards Christmas.

This time of year is full of contradictions – it’s a time of enormous waste, but simultaneously one in which families stretch themselves to their financial limit. And often beyond.

So, what can we do to redress this balance?

There are lots of ways in which you can reduce the amount of waste you create this winter.

To help me do so, I’m going to begin by looking at the ‘5 Rs’ of Zero Waste:

So, how do we REFUSE this Christmas?

My large group of university friends and I have agreed not to buy one another gifts this year, and another friend and I have agreed not to buy for one another’s children. None of the people involved need anything new, so an electronic greeting will be more than enough.

And what if – for whatever reason – you can’t come to this sort of agreement with friends and family? REDUCE.

This could be as simple as starting a Secret Santa, rather than buying individual gifts for everyone in your friendship group/office. With children, we’ve had great success with the following formula for Christmas lists –

Something they WANT
Something they NEED
Something to WEAR
& Something to READ

want need wear read printable tags | Cool for Christmas ...

Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of buying additional ‘bits’ for stockings, on top of the above however having a specific set of perameters to aim for has helped to focus my mind considerably when shopping for gifts for my children.

Using existing toys in new ways is another way to reduce the amount of things entering the house. If you have siblings with an appropriate age gap, having the eldest gift one of thier outgrown toys to the youngest can be a great way of fostering generosity between family members.

I’ve not tried it myself, but I have heard great things about Whirli – a toy-box subscription. This sharing of resources is a great way to reduce unwanted toys in the house – when something is no longer played with, it can be returned for another child to enjoy. This looks a little costly for us, to be honest, but

And while we’re on the idea of libraries, I really love the idea of letting someone else choose my books for a set amount of time.

For adults, it might also be possible to gift a charity donation, or offer to pay a month’s fee for a subscription service they already use. Even something as simple as offering to do someone’s ironing, or bring their lunch to work for a week at a time of their choice, or gifting someone a home-cooked meal could serve as a Christmas present. Not all gifts need to be physical – our time is valuable too.

Finally, consumables are an excellent idea – especially if you know it’s something the recipient loves. These transient items take up no space in the home long-term and prove useful in day-to-day life.

And if this isn’t an option? REUSE.

Most of the gifts I’ve actually purchased this year are used items and certainly for the rest of this month, I only plan to buy used things.

There are loads of ways to get pre-loved objects – car-boot sales, charity shops and online are tried and tested methods, but organising a swap amongst friends is surprisingly easy. When I hosted a swap of children’s items, we agreed to only bring things we’d be happy to recieve as a gift and that anything left at the end would be donated to a specific place (in our case, the donations were split between the local women’s shelter and the local council’s social work department).

This is all well and good, but where does RECYCLE fit into all of this?

Well, it’s possibly to recycle items already in your house. Over the course of the year, you might have been given things that aren’t to your taste, or made purchases you now regret. These can either be traded – as above – or gifted directly.

You can also ‘recycle’ toys already in use. Lego has a variety of free building instructions on their site which you can print off. Then it’s just a matter of raking through your stash to find the relevant blocks. From the looks of things, this would work better for younger builders, but there’s nothing to stop you from building your own huge fortress, photographing it as you go, and then smashing it to form a DIY kit. As we’re swimming in Lego, inherited from my brother, this is something I plan to do for my youngest, so I’ll update you on my progress there…

Possibly the best point to make regarding recycling is that any gift wraps should be carefully considered.

Yes, most paper is recyclable, but wrapping with metalic patterns and any covered in plastic tape isn’t. Perhaps it’s possible to reuse some gift-bags from previous years, or to use cloth to wrap with – wouldn’t a lovely bar of homemade soap, wrapped in a face cloth be a great gift? Or using second-hand silk scarves instead of paper? There are loads of great tutorials online for how to do this – just search ‘Furoshiki’.

Alternatively, reusing old maps, old calendars (pictured below), old books, old magazines and newspaper, with plastic-free tape or plain string can look fantastic. Failing that, buying a new roll of brown packing paper is probably the most eco-friendly gift wrap you can get. All of these can be dressed with ribbon, drawings or evergreen trimmings.

Hopefully, you’ll have no need to ROT anything over this festive season, so instead, if you’re still considering new gifts, try to make things yourself from salvaged materials, or buy ethically and intentionally. Avoiding palm oil, choosing FSC wood products and simply not purchasing more than you need to, all make a positive impact at this time of year. This is also a great opportunity to gift items like tote bags and reusable water bottles as the recipient of these gifts might begin to make small changes in their own life.

I would love to hear your top low-waste, low-cost gifts. Why not come and share them on Twitter?

Reducing waste with very young children…

This post has the very real potential to be huge, so let me just cover the basics today and if anyone has any specific questions, feel free to let me know here, or on Twitter.

Anyway.

Happily, my children are past the baby stage.

I found those very early days so difficult – especially with my first. Trying to do anything through the haze of sleep-deprevation was an uphill struggle – even something as basic as feeding myself. Whilst I did use cloth nappies and breastfeed both children, my experience of being too tired to cook and relying solely on ready-meals made me determined to reduce the waste I produced for my second child.

Before I offer up the list of things I learned, I want to add, above all else, how important it is to be kind to yourself in those early days. The information below is based on my own experience – if you don’t feel up to doing any of these things then that’s OK. Your mental health after welcoming a child into your family – via adoption as well as birth – can be stretched to its very limits so I will say it again – BE KIND TO YOURSELF.

That said…

There are numerous ways to reduce waste with very young children.

Reusable nappies
Let’s start with the obvious. Reusable nappies are probably the first thing which spring to mind when you begin to consider reducing child-related rubbish. Full-time cloth can seem daunting, but swapping just one disposable nappy a day for cloth can save 365 nappies a year from landfill – and with a pack of 35 Pampers costing around £8.50 from Tesco, it’d also save you approximately £85.

Whether you opt for terry squares, or a modern all-in-one cloth nappy, there are all sorts of solutions out there. There are cloth nappy libraries all over the UK and most can be found via facebook so you don’t need to heavily invest in one style straight away. Even if you’re not up for cloth nappies, using cloth wipes, old flannels or cut up towels can help cut waste.

Breastfeeding
I’m not here to discuss bottle vs. breastfeeding. There is absolutely a place for both – either in isolation or in combination. For a whole host of reasons, however, breastfeeding is considerably kinder on the environment. That said, it can be tricky to establish a good breastfeeding relationship – both mum and baby are learning to respond to one anothers’ cues and this takes time. It can help to find a breastfeeding group prior to giving birth so that you already have a support network to help when the time comes. Libraries should have copies of the book ‘The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding‘ by La Leche Leauge, whilst websites such as Kellymom and ABM are a wealth of information. Failing that, there is always another breastfeeding mother on facebook, and plenty of groups dedicated to the art so support is available day and night.

If you do choose to go down the route of bottles – for formula or expressed milk – borrowing a selection from friends can be a good way to figure out which your baby prefers, before investing in a certain set. The same goes for formula, if you want to use this – buying a selection of ready-mixed cartons before settling on a huge tub of powder will help to reduce waste if your baby won’t take to a specific brand.

Utilising existing kitchen equiptment to sterilise is another good way to reduce waste – for example, a microwave steriliser.

Baby food & Eating in the early days
It’s really easy – as I said above – to forget yourself in those early, sleep-deprived days. I relied heavily on ready meals with my first and still feel guilty about it. With my second child, I made sure to batch cook and fill my freezer with homemade meals, but not everyone has that option.  If you feel able, it might be worth asking friends and family to gift you some proper food, rather than baby items you might not need. Jars of dried fruit, foil wrapped chocolates and other easy-to-grab snacks can help stave off the ravenous hunger that comes with breastfeeding – the same ravenous hunger that is rarely assuaged because to do so would involve moving a tiny, sleeping human. Leaving snacks around the house is one way to help meet your/your partner’s own needs during this time.

When baby is ready for solids, jars, pouches and mini snack-packs of baby food usually account for a large proportion of child-based waste. Something as simple as packing a (reusable) bottle of water and a banana or some carrot sticks when you go out can help stave off meltdowns caused by hunger, and prevent you from needing to buy anything that’s individually packaged while you’re out. Feeding Baby the foods you eat is the easiest way to avoid waste at mealtimes, but if you’re really not the most confident cook, then there are loads of crafts on Pinterest which utilise baby food jars. It’s also good to remember that of the pre-packaged foods available, jars are probably the least wasteful – glass can be recycled an infinite number of times, but plastic has only a few cycles before it’s destined for landfill.

Clothes
Second hand is definitely the way to go here – babies seldom wear clothes out before they’re outgrown so there’s a good chance you can pick up some high quality items. You can even extend the life of poppered tops in one of two ways – either by snipping the crotch off and hemming the bottom to make a t-shirt (or not, if it’s a jersey fabric), or by purchasing vest extenders. Available online, these essentially lengthen the crotch section by adding another slip of fabric. You can also snip feet out of sleepsuits to extend their life by a few months, and skirts can be made to last longer with a little lace sewn around the bottom hem.

The easiest thing you can do though, is to remember that children need fewer clothes than you think. Conventional wisdom says that you need a lot in case of accidents – and in the early days, this is very true – however it’s easy to carry this forward as our babies become toddlers, pre-schoolers and ‘proper’ children. In reality, you only need around four or five tops, three or four sweaters and five or six pairs of trousers, shorts or skirts.

Toys and books
Again, second hand is a wonderful way to buy toys. Aside from the fact that you might be able to pick up some vintage gems from your own childhood – My Little Pony and Optimus Prime, anyone? – it’s easy to find good quality toys, either online or at car-boot sales. Again, conventional wisdom would have you avoid plastic, given that it’s non-biodegradable, but used, good quality plastic playthings are ideal if you plan to have further children or if the toys themselves will span a large age range. Lego is the perfect example of this. Daughter is the third generation to enjoy our enormous box of Danish blocks and I remember playing with the same bricks from the age of four until I was well into my teens.

If you have the budget available, a toy subscription such as Whirli is a great option as this means you don’t have to store any toys which aren’t getting played with. Like a book library, this is a wonderful way to share resources.

As with clothes, it’s easy to think that we need more toys than we do, but creative toys can fill almost any hole. Again, Lego is a perfect example – it can be a castle, a dolls house, a race car… the options are literally limitless. Toy kitchens can be made outdoors from scrap timber and used as mud-laboratories, the birthplace of culinary masterpieces and as a paint palette. Dressing up clothes can be found in charity shops, or from parents’ wardrobes. Craft supplies can be as simple as some beads cut from old costume jewellery or the contents of the recycling box.

Loose parts play is a fantastic and affordable way to fire the imagination. Keeping a collection of things like corks, pine-cones, shells, twigs and feathers is a great start. My absolute favourite things in our loose parts collection are a set of wooden Ikea bowls that I found in a charity shop, some absolutely beautiful chopsticks (similarly sourced) which feature carved animals, and some sea glass that we found on our camping trip to Oban. The children absolutely adore the dried marrowfat peas and dried butter beans we’ve got out at the moment, but the biggest hit in terms of ‘grains’ has been the coffee beans my husband bought and didn’t enjoy – they were played with for months and served as pepples in a dinosaur diorama, food on our toy farm, filling for tin-can instruments, and just about everything else in between. Loose parts make up the bulk of our toys and I doubt I’ve spent more than £40 on all of them over the decade I’ve been a parent.

Our favourite ‘toy’ at the moment is our ‘Story Stones’ – we painted characters, settings and props on some rocks we found in the garden and spend hours making up stories about the combination we pull at random from the bag.

And speaking of stories, books can be found second hand, or at your local library. Doing this can make a huge difference in terms of waste as books cannot be recycled with regular paper due to the glue which binds them.

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Like I said at the start, these tips are generally for very young children, though there are a handful which transfer to school-age.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I’d be really keen to hear what your suggestions are – for all stages of childhood.

But, once again – BE KIND TO YOURSELF.  Above all else, remember that those travelling with children need to attend to their own oxygen masks first – we can only do our best.

Mending Son’s Trousers – a Do Nation pledge

Some of you might remember my earlier posts about repairing Daughter’s water bottle and my old sunglasses.

At the beginning of the pledge,  I promised to mend four items – which,  if you think about the amount of things in the average house,  really isn’t a lot.

As with the water bottle,  I nearly didn’t report this one.  I fix clothes fairly constantly, but then I thought the method might be of use to someone.

So,  two holes in a pair of hand-me-down 100% cotton joggers – one on each knee. For the first,  I sewed up the hole and stitched a patch over the top.  Interestingly,  the patch came from a pair of Daughter’s shoes – there is a loop on the back for the laces. We took them off to make them more suitable for school but put them aside for just this sort of thing.

For the next hole, I didn’t want to use a patch as the tear was tiny.

To start with, I secured the hole…

This is technically a fix in itself and if your child/you is happy with the hole like this,  you should definitely leave it – less work! Unfortunately,  my child wasn’t happy with this so to create a patch, I began weaving over the top with some cotton yarn I had left over from a project.  I chose cotton so that the added fibres could be washed at the same temperature without the risk of uneven shrinkage – something I can’t sew my way out of.

I’m really pleased with the finished trousers – the structural integrity is restored and Son is happy with how they look. I would call that a win.

 

 

Mending Daughter’s Waterbottle – a Do Nation Pledge

I wrote recently about fixing my sunglasses as part of Do Nation’s Fix It Pledge.

Specifically, I said I planned to mend a minimum of four things. Whilst I haven’t managed to get round to mending my quilt or oven yet, I’m already halfway there after tackling my shades and now, Daughter’s water-bottle.

We bought this SIGG flask for my now-eight-year-old when she hit the six-month mark. As a life-long chewer, the sports cap of the bottle had seen better days. I was all ready to shell out on a Klean Kanteen for her when she pointed out that if you could get replacement parts for other branded bottles, you might be able to get one for hers.

So, we did a quick search and I was really impressed by SIGG’s website and the available spares. Whilst the cap itself was far beyond the point of unhygeinic, the lid was totally fine and it was so heartening to see that you could purchase both parts seperately, allowing me to reuse the lid we already had.

The ‘repair’ was so easy that I nearly didn’t write about it. I simply screwed the old cap off, clicked the lid away, clicked it onto the new cap and then screwed that on… job done!

The bottle is now good for another seven years! Inevitably, she’s going to grow out of the beautiful animal pattern by then, but I’m not above a flask with zebras on so when that time comes, we can do a swap.

My singular complaint here is the cost of the postage. The cap was an affordable £3.49, but I didn’t get the option to select second class delivery when I ordered – something which would have made the total cost lower.

Still, two repairs down and only two to go – I wonder how many I can overshoot by, before the end of my pledge!

Have you taken part in a Do Nation pledge?