Home schooling, working from home, lack of child care, no helpful relatives nearby…it’s been a tough time for parents. Now, you want to add green parenting to the list?! My ears are ringing… However, could you take a moment to connect with another parent who has made things a little bit easier for you? Anya lives locally, is a parent of a 6- and 3-year-old and has set up Big Dreams Little Footprints – a free online resource which supports parents/caregivers to teach children how to live within ‘planetary boundaries’. I caught up with Anya for a socially distanced walk and talk and asked her a few questions about her passion for the environment.
Could you tell us a little about your own climate awareness journey, and how becoming a parent, influenced or changed any of your motivations?
Ha! Having children changed everything for me. I had been working in sustainability for about 3 years before my eldest was born and by the time she was about 2 I started to realise that this was really important for her sake. The stakes were suddenly so much higher and the penny dropped that the survival of our species meant in practise the health and happiness of not just my children, but my grandchildren, great grandchildren…. So, I wanted to give my kids a head-start; to teach them good habits and equip them with the tools to effect change while they’re young and still listening to their Mum. Not just role model the behaviour but talk them through the whys of it all in a way that is effective. This has been the challenge of my career!
I love your activity suggestions for children. I thought the one where you buried lots of different materials, made flags and then dug them up later to observe which ones had decomposed – or hadn’t, was a simple and fun idea. Could you share with us a couple more suggestions from your e-book?
My rule of thumb is to pick something that you don’t ‘normally’ do, because it’s ‘gross’, goes against convention, or just doesn’t fit with your day-to-day because in all likelihood it will hit the spot for kids. So, we’ve collected and dried horse manure to use a natural waste product as fuel in a fire, used (heavily-diluted) wee as a fertilizer on cress to see if it made it grow faster (it did). We have made a soil ‘potion’ to learn about what’s in soil (and why it’s so fabulous), role-played food chains, and done plenty of educational scavenger hunts and other ‘adventures’. What has surprised me in all of this is how much fun I’ve often had doing it. It’s been a long time since I ‘played’ to this extent and I feel so much happier for it.
Your blog is for ‘busy, weary’ parents. What message would you like to send them today?
Parents’ to-do lists are pretty long but I find that when I frame in my head these extra activities, conversations and actions as teaching a very valuable ‘life skill’ to my kids, I (usually) find the extra energy required. In terms of the fun activities on my website, I need ideas for the weekends anyway, so some of them will be used in that way. I also do the extra ‘admin’ of sewing, or cleaning and sorting toys and clothes for charity, during the day and try to involve the kids. I think making these things visible is important. My 6-year-old helps out with sorting and cleaning items to be passed on, and when she mentions a new toy that her best friend has and that she would like it too, we borrow it for a couple of weeks and then the urge to own it passes.
And if you think you’re not getting anywhere don’t despair. I don’t get that much feedback on what I say to my eldest about our wide and varied environmental impacts. But then occasionally you see that she understands. She got really cross with her 3-year-old brother recently when he was playing quite roughly with a lovely card game she’d been given. “Be careful!” she shouted. “Don’t damage it! We need to keep it nice so we can pass it on when we stop playing with it!”
COP 26 is happening in November in Glasgow. What’s your opinion of events like this? Do they have much impact on people’s behaviour? Are movements like yours more effective?
COP26 will feel pretty remote and opaque to most people I would have thought. It does for me. I think it’s helpful to link what’s going at a global, remote level like climate change with the everyday, tangible choices that we make. It’s a communication balancing act between empowering people to make changes – switching energy supplier and banks, buying less and buying better – that collectively can have an impact, which engage people in the climate debate, and communicating what it is that governments need to do. Engaging people on what they can do hopefully will galvanise them into putting pressure on their government to do their bit because it can’t all be on us.
How much we can influence others is such an interesting one. I think it’s a lot like an iceberg. The #PollutionisPants campaign, for example, has got a conversation going about having a clothes swap in our village. I’m also a bit sneaky sometimes. I specifically give outgrown toys to a Mum friend whom I’m fairly sure has never bought second-hand toys. So, my impact in this case is stopping her buying brand new toys unnecessarily.
I think the key to influencing people is to make it fun and positive. The focus must remain on why it’s the right thing to do if people are to go on to adopt other pro-environmental behaviours or at least to stick to the one you are asking them to do!
Tell us a little about your PollutionisPants campaign which is running in April?
#PollutionisPants is a fun social media campaign that celebrates the joy and environmental significance of second-hand clothing. The idea is you get dressed up in some of your favourite second-hand/upcycled clothes and, wait for it, pop a pair of pants on your head! (We all agree that pants are fine to buy new!). Then, make a sign to say where the clothes came from, and post your photo. (See ideas on Anya’s website here). The promotion is to show support for Fashion Revolution Week, 19th – 25th April, and commemorates the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse which killed 1,134 people in Bangladesh. The push is for a clean, safe, fair, transparent and accountable fashion industry.
I want to end this blog with a powerful quote from Anya:
The short-term thinking of governments really jars with the long-term thinking of parents. It’s a source of much frustration, reflected in the growing number of parent-climate movements out there.
You may want to have a browse of Anya’s first book with lots of ideas for green parenting: