Got a green dilemma? Ask me! I'll be answering a new question each week.
Q: Do you have any ideas for ways to green my kid’s birthday party? I was thinking maybe they could plant seeds or have fun with recycling somehow. —Alicia Sheffield
Fun is the main word here, and you’ve got great ideas, Mom! Planting seeds and sorting recyclables are terrific, light green party activities.
I’d begin with asking your child what he or she would like to do for a party this time, and definitely suggest planting your own party favors and playing a game of who can sort the most recyclables by the numbers the quickest. For the latter, you can ask in the invitation that guests bring clean plastic bottles, cans, and other recyclable items as well as a laundry basket to serve as collecting bin. (See our Recycling Handbook for more guidance on sorting.)
Even just being outside can celebrate green living. Take it from a mom who went to the Intrepid aircraft carrier in the Hudson River, three years in a row, with her husband and a gang of seven-, eight- and nine-year-olds. I look back on these party expeditions most fondly of all.
But here are lots more ideas for you...
*Emphasize walking and public transportation rather than driving. Congregate at your home or a pizza parlor and then go and play or find another destination you can walk to.
*In a park or playground, you can hold a treasure hunt, play hide-and-seek, have foot races, or play musical pillows (or beach towels).
*You could also arrange a group visit to the aquarium or the zoo and let others do the environmental teaching while you sit back. Plus you’re benefiting an environmental non-profit.
*Hold a screening of an e-DVD such as The Lorax.
*Have a cooking party. This is a healthy green habit that will bring pleasure and togetherness for life. One of my son’s favorite parties was a simple affair at a friend’s home where the father made pizza and taught the children to make their own, from dough to toppings to oven to mouth.
*Why not have a cupcake making party? Unbleached organic pastry flour (gluten-free for the sensitive), organic fair trade chocolate, raw sugar. For natural food colors, you’ll have to boil some onions and red cabbage ahead, and let it cool. Just adapt Martha Stewart’s recipes for natural Easter egg dyes.
*As you suggest, a lovely activity for young children is a seed-planting party that lets them pick the type of organic seed from packets and fill clay (not plastic) pots with dirt. Check with your local nursery or go to Seeds of Change or Burpee. For older children, why not a tree-planting party or a park or beach cleanups with prizes for those who bag the most litter. (You can choose an event thrown by the local chapter of an environmental group and make the party a volunteer experience for parents and children.)
*Arts and crafts parties also rock. Buy a big roll of recycled brown paper, have children lie on it, trace their bodies, and let them fill in the self-portraits. Wash a dozen of Dad’s old socks, color them with natural dyes, and decorate them with buttons and colorful fabric remnants to make puppets. Check out my website for nontoxic art supply information.
*Send evites, or snail-mail invitations on postconsumer-recycled paper. Or you could make invitations made of paper studded with seeds. (Instruct recipients to bring the card to the party to plant.)
*Forget the balloons, which get caught in trees and drift off to choke aquatic life.
*Use a cloth tablecloth and fabric napkins as well as reusable recycled plastic cups, plates and cutlery by Recycline. If you must have disposables, choose biobased compostable wares, which can be found at your local green supermarket or at Reusablebags.com, You could also try Seventh Generation's recycled paper plates.
*Avoid single-use containers such as juice boxes or snack packs.
*Favors? Tops on my list are reusables, such as cute child-size stainless drink bottles. Another nice favor is a flowering plant.
*Ask your guests to skip the gift wrap or use reusable gift bags.
Here are some nice green parenting sites to check out for green gift and daily living ideas:
Mindy Pennybacker is Whole Living’s eco expert. She regularly answers readers' green-living questions. She is also editor of GreenerPenny.com and author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.