Three completely bidegradable activities for kids of all ages

mud pies

This is a guest post by Camille Blyth, author of The Wilderness Years – a parents’ survival guide, and creator of the amusing and stylish blog The Family Beast.

Ever since a small bored cave-child rubbed two rocks together, added water and created the first finger painting on the wall of the cave (much to his mothers ire), children have been creating something from nothing. More recently children’s craft has become a massive industry creating more little bits of coloured plastic than just about any other industry around (the food industry trumps everyone in this – however that is another story).

Glitter, little foam shapes, Plasticine, modeling ‘clay’, play-dough, coloured markers, and countless beading, gluing, mosaic type activities – all made of plastic, and not necessarily the recycleable plastic. While mothers around the globe celebrate the ease, tidiness, and end result of these ‘follow the instructions’ activities, Mother Earth is groaning with indigestion as she tries to process the fall-out.

We are just as burdened by the plague of plastic as the next Family Beast, however it’s good to step away from the Lego sometimes and try something a little more biodegradable.

1. Mud Pies.

mud pies2
Children are tactile, they learn huge amounts just through touch and interaction with the natural world. It’s not the kind of learning that can be tested or measured but it is the sort of foundation information that gives them a sense of their place in the world and their environment. Playing in mud is an essential part of growing up and one that isn’t always flavour of the month.

OK, so it’s messy, and well, messy, but never underestimate the power of a pile of mud, some old pots and pans, and some stirring sticks to keep children happy and occupied for surprisingly long periods of time (three loads of washing, all the folding, a cup of tea and a whole episode of Oprah is not uncommon).

The best mixture is about 50% sand and 50% dirt. Decorating the pies adds more time and interest in this activity. Items such as sticks, petals, leaves and feathers can be used for decoration. Time, mud and imagination – 100% biodegradable!

If you are not good with this kind of mess you need to be prepared to strip them off at the back door and pop them straight into a bath or shower.

2. Nature/Scavenger Hunts
This is a good way to sell a bush walk, or any walk really, provided there is some nature around. Start by decorating a brown paper bag and then write a list of things to fill it with. Leaves, flowers, petals, sticks etc and as you walk they can look for each item. At the end of the walk you can then use the collected items as part of a craft project – a collage for example or to decorate some mud pies!

3. Gardening
You don’t need acres of space to garden. Even an apartment can have a garden. You can dig a plot in the backyard, create a fairy garden,  or build a terrarium (NASA has some great instructions here). But the act of planting a seed and watching it grow is magical. Plants that flower work well. Or plants that look ‘weird’ (think succulents), or a herb pot. Try to use unglazed terracotta pots, although anything not plastic is good. And Mother Nature will enjoy this project as well, because even if you have a brown-thumb and everything dies, it can all just go into the compost, or into a garden and be part of nature – no indigestible plastic!

What’s your favourite activity involving nothing but natural materials? Do share!

Be sure to check out Camille’s new book The Wilderness Years here

“There are times when you will huddle under a blanket on the sofa, furtively eating chocolate and praying for divine intervention. Or a natural disaster.”


  1. Serena says

    Building a cubby! We live in the tropics so during the hoter months we go out into the garden and build cubbies using palm fronds and other sticks its great fun :) I still own the tonka trucks from when my brother and I were kids my kids now play for hours using these old trucks in the sand pit (water adds even more fun) but I love mud puddles and love the idea of a paper bag when going on a bush walk.

    • (dt)em says

      Tonka trucks are amazing aren’t they? We have some from the tip and they get punished by the kids – ALfie was moving some old bricks around the other day. For some reason, despite having the world’s most elaborate cubby, my kids only ever want the old sheet-over two chairs style cubby in the living room!


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