In Praise of Play Cloths

Playing with silk clothsSince writing about crafts and DIY projects last week, and reading the posts from two Blog to Inspire entrants—Jill Amery’s ideas for at home activities and Gwen Floyd’s dress-up box—I decided to write about the longest and most used toys in my family.

I write in praise of play cloths.

You know, play silks, squares of cloth, multi-colored canvases that become anything from a cape to a blanket to a wig to wings to the broadest reaches of a child’s imagination.

By far, the most used toys in my family have been the play cloths I made 10 years ago and the play cloths we have acquired since. If I had to recommend one and only one toy to parents of toddlers, it would be play cloths.

Make Your Own Play Cloths

Looking at the price tag of $10-15 each for play silks, I decided to make my own. I bought one yard each of 36″ wide cotton fabric in a dozen colors. I paid about $3/yard for the fabric. I also bought 48 2″ rings.

Because I bought fabric already 36″ wide, I didn’t have cut the fabric or hem the sides. I just hemmed each end, then sewed a ring at each corner.

The idea behind the rings came from watching my children play butterfly. They would wrap the corners around their fingers to be able to flap their hands open and shut. With the rings, they slip them over fingers and don’t have to hang on. The rings also made clean up a lot easier. Just hang them on hooks. We had 12 hooks hidden on the underside of our fireplace mantle, and the play cloths were often put away in rainbow order there, hanging by their rings.

NOTE: To be safe, use rings at least 2″ wide. Don’t use rings at all with children under 3 years old.

A Play Cloth Is Anything You Want It to Be

Costume. For young children, a play cloth is often a costume—a cape, wings, a hat, a skirt.

Blanket. When my daughter is not feeling well, she often covers herself with a play cloth. I think it’s a kind of comfort blanket for her.

Landscaping. In doll world, playcloths are grass, rivers, sky, and anything else.

Holiday Wrapping. We use play cloths to wrap gifts. We’ve become very creative in using multiple colors and knots as bows.

Dog Exercise. My daughter does a lot of research on dogs. Our dog, she tells me, can see red. So, my daughter covers herself with a sparkly, bright red play cloth and run through the house to get the dog to chase her. The dog loves this. When my daughter wears an 8-foot long midnight blue, star-covered play cloth as a cape for more dog exercise, they both romp through the house happily.

As my children enter teen years, I suspect the play cloths will still come in handy. I can’t imagine what they will become, but my children can.

Image © Tatyana Chernyak |

Blog to Inspire: Old Toy Trains, Little Toy Tracks

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This following post was an entry in our Blog to Inspire contest. The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and not necessarily those of Eco Baby Steps or Parenting By Nature.

Blog to Inspire entrant Left Coast Mama is Gwen Floyd of Vancouver—mother, blogger, and lover of sarcasm.

I am the first to admit that we have a lot of plastic toys in our house, and some of them require batteries. Most of those that require batteries have not been purchased by us. What I like about most of the toys we have, whether they be plastic or wooden is that they encourage creative, imaginative play. There is so much room for storytelling and role playing with toys like the little people sets, but my favourite toys are the wooden trains and the dress-up clothes.

We got Aidan his first wooden train set with a small table when he was 19 months old. It was just a no-name set with some wooden track, houses, trees, some street signs and of course a few trains. While I knew he would like the trains, and he already liked the train set at our local Chapters, for the first year it was mainly for me to play with him. When he was a little older his father and I made tracks for him but the play was all him. He had different scenarios, and often there were terrific “derailments” and emergency vehicles coming to the rescue.

Now at 4 and a half, Aidan is a track making king. Almost everyday our small living room is taken over by intricate tracks, with bridges, tunnels, switches, curves, stations and whatever else he decides is needed for the day’s mission. I am in awe of how much fine motor skills he is honing with each track he makes. The spatial reasoning he displays is amazing. He is using his hands on approach to figure out how things work, and if it doesn’t he goes on to the next idea. These tracks are ever expanding and ever changing. He will take a track in one direction and when he is finished find a way to make another really complicated piece fit in somewhere else and take it in another direction. With the amount of attention that our 1 year old Quinlan shows the trains he will be a track king even sooner than Aidan was.

We are also big fans of the “Tickle Trunk” here in the Floyd household. We have a few hats like a fire helmet, a police helmet and a wizard’s hat, as well as some home made items like the heart shaped magic wand. My favourite item in amongst the costumes is a beautiful wizard’s cape that my brother’s fiancée made for Aidan for Christmas last year. It is a beautiful deep blue velvet with stars all over it. It is even more special because she made it especially for him. Sometimes this cape turns Aidan into a wizard like the sorcerer’s apprentice, and sometimes he is a superhero. Whatever he needs it to be, it is.

Aidan and some intricate track.

Aidan and some intricate track.

I think letting Aidan play dress up has sharpened his imagination and helped him to think outside the box. He wasn’t concerned about being Spiderman or another specific character for Halloween this year. He was happy to be an elephant like he was last year, except he decided this elephant was going to have fairy wings. I thought it was brilliant and I hope that I continue to help him to be his own person through play. I don’t want to ever squash his creativity, in fact I want him to revel in his uniqueness.

I know that it is hard in this day and age to stop ourselves from giving our children everything they want. It is even harder if the children you have are the only grandchildren on both sides of the family. In some ways I know the only reason we are not totally overrun is because we live so far away from our extended family. Both Anthony and I are trying to make the effort to really make sure that the toys we get for our sons are educational, sturdy and engage them in imaginative play. We don’t want to have our sons’ toys be things that don’t last much longer than a few days out of the box. It is an ongoing battle with ourselves and with our 4 year old. Luckily he takes the word “no” a lot better than a lot of kids I know. I also know that we are not the only ones who have these battles, we are just more adept saying “no” at times because we have no room.

What are your favourite toys for creative and imaginative play?

Read about the Blog to Inspire contest and read posts by the finalists and by the rest of the entrants. Forty-four bloggers reached out to inspire on the topics of cloth diapers, babywearing, breastfeeding, and natural parenting.

Coal-power Air Pollution: You Can Help

Coal power air pollutionAir pollution where I live is bad to the point that I often have difficulty speaking during the most polluted times. Eyes water, breathing hurts. Children are kept inside rather than going outside for recess. I was part of a group of local citizens who founded a nonprofit organization to find solutions to the problem of dirty air. When my group met with the governor of our state to ask him what could be done, he summed it up: “It comes down to cars and coal.”

Today, my concern is coal. If we are alarmed and scared for our children, what are we to do?

First, understand the problems.

Problems caused by coal power emissions fall into two broad areas: global warming and health effects. Everyone shares the consequences of coal power as the pollutants spread far beyond the sources.

This doesn’t even address the problems on the other end of the cycle, with coal mining and coal ash, where coal destroys people to create power.

A lot of organizations and campaigns focus on carbon emissions with coal already—the global warming issue.

I don’t discount mining or global warming issues in the least, but I am looking at the reality slap of my own family’s health consequences from air pollution, and that results from the emissions of coal power plants and specific pollutants: ground-level ozone, sulfur dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), and Particulate Matter (PM).

Then, connect the problem to the health consequences.

One of the most common health effects of pollution is asthma, but this is only one of the most visible and acute effects. Long-term health issues from air pollution, not just respiratory but pulmonary and neurological, can claim not only the lives of sensitive populations but the IQs of our children.

We have standards to regulate these emissions, but those standards change. American Lung Association watches clean air standards closely because of the respiratory effects of air pollution. On their Clean Air Standards website, you can find the latest news on National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), an important tool for limiting air pollution. These standards are in the news this week in the U.S.

Finally, join others and get to work.

The details and the difficulties of cutting off the sources of pollution can feel overwhelming. The problem is not new, though, which means that others are already working hard to make change. Join them in their efforts.

There are clean air alliances and other clean air organizations across North America. Search for “clean air” and your city/state/province to find local organizations. Their missions will vary based on local needs and volunteers skills and experience, but their overall goal is the same: clean the air.

As one example:

“The Ontario Clean Air Alliance is a coalition of health and environmental organizations, faith communities, unions, utilities, municipalities, corporations and individuals working for cleaner air through a coal phase-out and the shift to a renewable electricity future.”

Clean air organizations work with governments, nonprofits, health professionals, citizen groups, and others to find answers to the all-too prevalent problems of air pollution. The real answers, of course, are to use less power from coal sources and reduce power use overall.

Another thing the governor told me and my clean air colleagues when we met with him was that we need to start by picking the low-hanging fruit. It may not be hanging all that low, but coal is one of the biggest and most obvious polluters, which makes it a clear place to start.

Find out who is working on clean air issues near you and help them.

This post is for the Green Moms Carnival on Coal hosted in February by Retro Housewife Goes Green.

Image © Vicki France |

Blog to Inspire: I Parent by Nature

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This following post was an entry in our Blog to Inspire contest. The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and not necessarily those of Eco Baby Steps or Parenting By Nature.

Blog to Inspire entrant Tiny Offerings is Julia Bain.

Recently our family and friends celebrated my eldest daughters fifth birthday. Born on Halloween, she shares her day with a growing commercial holiday. We do our best to set her celebration apart, choosing a theme that reflects who she is, what she likes and the season in which she was born. This year we talked about what to do, who to invite and what she might like to put on her wish list.

Since Mommy, Daddy and her close family members would buy her gifts; I suggested that we ask her friends not to bring presents. After all, we had so many toys already. What, I asked, could we do instead?

She thought about it for a moment, and then made a suggestion…..

“Well, how about we ask my friends to make me a craft?”

With a big smile and a sigh of relief, I praised her for coming up with such an amazing idea! I could not have thought of anything more appropriate myself, especially given Paige’s love for all things crafty. The evites were sent, with a request for her friends to make and share a special handmade craft instead of a traditional present.

Keeping to the theme, I sewed an owl print nightie, a colourful blouse and a wool felt birthday crown. I avoided filling loot bags with junk food and other novel items. Instead, we baked owl shaped cookies, added wooden covered notebooks and puzzles, daffodil bulbs to be planted, and story books about fall themes such as harvest, owls, and nests for winter.

I gently suggested that family follow suit, either making something, or in choosing a gift from her humble wish list which included a unicorn stuffie, a doll bed, a toy iron and ironing board and a pretend toaster. My Mother and Father, for example, brought a toy wooden bunk bed set that had been my mother’s as a girl.

The birthday party was a ‘hoot’. It was an owl theme at Mountsburg Conservation area. The children (20 including younger siblings!) delighted in a craft, puppet show and nature walk to view various birds of prey. As the party came to an end, we sang happy birthday, ate home made cupcakes and opened the lovingly made gifts (complete with proud faces)!

I could not have been more proud of Paige, who without any direction from us, took time carefully opening and studying each gift. I believe she truly felt the love and careful attention put into each creation, made especially for her by her friends!

As parents, we oftentimes follow a set of unwritten rules and customs at birthdays and during holidays, even when they are not the best choices for our families. It is not easy to go against the grain, to do something different than what is being done. If we don’t break the mold, how do we begin to teach our children to want less, conserve more, and to appreciate the true spirit of giving, outside of the trap of commercialism and materialism?

Christmas is coming and I urge you to try. Try giving handmade gifts (they don’t have to be made by you! You can support WAHM’s and grass root businesses), gifts of conscience for the environment and for our world’s children. World vision, UNICEF, Red Cross and World Wildlife fund provide many excellent ideas, just to name a few.

For a teacher, for example, donate a backpack with school supplies for a child in need, for a pet lover; adopt an endangered species, for a beloved child, buy a repurposed or sustainably made eco toy. There are many eco friendly options available to us at like minded businesses.

It is a fine balance, to add meaning to what we buy, what we give and why we give it but it is possible. To prove this point, I have a very happy and loved five year old, who understands the value of a toy from the past and the care that goes into a handmade present. She takes pleasure in a toy found in nature or those made with natural materials. Simply put, she is learning, along with her mama, that there is a more natural and purposeful way to live.

Read about the Blog to Inspire contest and read posts by the finalists and by the rest of the entrants. Forty-four bloggers reached out to inspire on the topics of cloth diapers, babywearing, breastfeeding, and natural parenting.

Save Green: Is It a Habit?

Green ChecklistToday is day #21 of my new Save Green Habit: run the stairs every day.

For me, is running up and down stairs a habit? Well, yes, but I’m going to put this one into the second round again. I thought I would be running 30 minutes a day by now. HA! Habit and strength are not the same thing. The habit is well in place but I want to push harder. Maybe I will keep this one as my focus until I reach my 30-minute goal.

For my husband, is turning off the computer a habit? Not yet. He thinks about it and talks about it, but he’s not doing it every day yet. He has said that he would like to put this one in for the second round again. He wants to make it work.

For my daughter, is knitting a habit? Definitely. She isn’t obsessing about amount of time spent, but she’s spending well over 30 minutes a day knitting. She has been knitting squares that she will sew into a pillow. I asked if she wants to add another habit for the second round. No, she’s happy and just wants to keep knitting.

For my son, is studying Chinese a habit?
No. He hasn’t been as interested in the language lessons as he has in practicing Kung Fu forms. THAT seems to be a habit now. He does it every weekday, and he always remembers to mark our calendar. For the second round, he has said he would like to focus on just Mandarin Chinese language lessons. I think that if I help him a bit in the beginning, that will help him to get in the groove.

Does 21 Days Make a Habit?

Habits ChecklistWhether 21 days makes a habit seems to depend on whether the person is really ready to make the habit. Having cheerleaders to check in on us and help us stay accountable only creates an external habit. We have to flip an internal switch to make a lasting change.

Isn’t that true of all change?

My family has enjoyed checking in with one another about our progress, so we are going to make checking in about habits, goals, and changes our new family habit.