Making Cents: Help protect the planet and occupy the kids


Last week I wrote about ways parents can limit waste during their child’s early years. Given the increased understanding of how serious the situation facing our planet is, our children are likely to grow up far more aware of sustainability than we were at their age.

Pupils entering schools learn about climate change and related issues from primary school. Judging by the Fridays For Future climate change demonstrations, they are absorbing the lessons. Parents can reinforce the message, by practising sustainability and showing children the difference they can make.

With the long summer holidays on the horizon, there are a number of projects families can undertake that will teach their children more about conservation and ways to help the environment. As a bonus, many of these double as low- or no-cost ways to keep children entertained during the school-free months ahead.

Using the contents of your household recycling bin as the raw materials for arts and crafts projects will keep kids entertained for hours and bring you back to afternoons spent in front of How Do You Do? with Mary Fitzgerald.

Cereal boxes, old plastic bottles, toilet paper rolls and egg boxes can all be reused to make art and games for them to enjoy. There are loads of websites with ideas for recycling crafts. One I like is This has hundreds of ideas for educational activities and games for children — from toddlers through to primary schoolchildren.

It is an American site so the divisions are kindergarten, elementary, etc but its instructions are clear and simple for children to follow. You will need to stock up on some basic art supplies but once you have, the website’s ‘75 Recycled Art Projects For Kids’ has enough ideas to occupy plenty of summer afternoons.

Children will be dreaming of warm summer days (hopefully this year without the accompanying drought) and any plans for the holidays should also include plenty of outdoor activity. Gardening is an ideal way for children to develop a closer relationship with nature and an appreciation for where their food comes from. It doesn’t have to cost the earth to get them started and nor do you need a lot of outdoor space.

The Lidl’s Seed Pots initiative is underway again this year and is due to run until July 1, while stocks last. Shoppers can pick up a free Goodness Gang seed pot with their weekly shop, with 20 seed varieties available.

These include rocket, cress, cherry tomatoes and basil and come with easy-to-follow instructions. Budding gardeners will learn how much light and water each plant type needs, when they need to be repotted for more space and, most importantly, when they are ready to eat.

The supplement produced last week by the Irish Examiner to celebrate World Bee Day included information on how gardens can be managed to best help bees and other pollinators. If you didn’t keep the supplement, you can get the kids to research more about it at pollinators. ie and let them suggest changes to make the garden insect-friendly.

Another free project is to give them the task of collecting rain water to be used for watering plants. Children can learn it is a valuable resource that shouldn’t be squandered. Another exercise is to set them the task of conserving it.

Use a timer to time showers and encourage children to learn to wash quickly and turn off the tap while brushing their teeth. You can build in a reward or treat for successfully reducing their water usage.

Making this type of a game of it can also be used to make kids aware of how much plastic they use. Make a fridge chart to count how many plastic items each member of the household uses in a day and then set the challenge of using less each day.

This is an ideal chance to show children how wasteful the small toys they get with certain fast foods meals are, and discourage their use. If your children can learn to prefer a picnic of food made at home eaten in the garden or local park over a trip to a chain restaurant, you are saving money, helping the environment and setting them on the road to a healthier life in the long term.

Deal of the week

I have written about grants and schemes available from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) for upgrades to houses. Though there is substantial funding available, the houseowners need to provide their own finance and a new initiative involving credit unions aims to help.

The ‘Pro Energy Homes Scheme’ provides easy access to SEAI grants with low-cost finance for the balance of the costs from participating credit unions. Applicants will be supported by a project manager.

The scheme is a collaboration between the credit unions, the SEAI and Retrofit Ireland. It was piloted in Dublin and is being introduced in 20 credit unions from Thursday.

Not every county is included, unfortunately. If your branch doesn’t offer the scheme, why not ask them to consider getting involved, as the more interest is shown the more widely available the initiative is likely to become.

If there are any consumer issues that you’d like Gráinne to address or if you have problems that Gráinne could help with, she can be contacted at

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