Commentary: Turning trash into treasure - teaching kids to create, not consume, through upcycling
Children's book author Sophia Huang found that upcycling has taught her children and her to have a certain mindfulness about the environment.
SINGAPORE: My family and I found ourselves among the toy aisles of a shopping centre on Orchard Road over the Black Friday weekend. Bad idea.
The five-year-old started whining to buy a toy.
“Let’s get her out quickly,” said the hubs. “Before she gets sucked in to all the consumerism.”
It is a constant daily battle that I fight as a parent to two young children in a land of plenty. My children are so blessed, it would not be an exaggeration to say they receive gifts from friends, families or teachers once or twice every week.
Against this backdrop, I started to question how I could inculcate a sense of gratitude and appreciation in my children for the gifts they receive so easily and the hard work that earned the money to purchase them.
TURNING TRASH INTO TREASURE
Since day one as a parent, I’ve tried to pinch pennies whenever I can to save costs. At the same time, I’m always on the lookout for activities that I can do to spark their interest and develop their creativity.
I found a happy way to merge both these goals when I started upcycling.
The first major project that I attempted was a cardboard kitchen, inspired by the many parenting posts on social media.
I worked late into the night, gathering different sized boxes and old CDs, cutting, glueing and pasting. It cost me about S$8 – for kitchen paper, metal racks and magnets – but brought my kid the same amount of joy as a similar one that costs around S$200 and up.
After that, upcycling became fun and additive even, and I would often be brimming with ideas on how to turn trash into treasure.
We turned toilet rolls into gift packaging and even a nativity scene, while plastic bottles became maracas or balloon cars. Cardboard boxes were the holy grail of upcycling – their versatility allowed them to be transformed into food stall stands, dog houses or whatever we could imagine.
One day, I was in for a surprise. On her own accord, my daughter used takeaway chopsticks, bubble wrap and rough paper and turned them into a family of puppet rabbits and ducks!
My older child has learnt that we don’t just consume but we can also create things. Through this process, we have learnt to appreciate that it takes time, effort and energy to create products.
Making things by hand has also made us less likely to discard something without any thought. The best part about doing these activities with my kids was that it bonded us as a family.
INVEST IN TIME, AND LESS IN MONEY
I’m far from an eco warrior – I still shop online but try to buy only what I need. However, collecting and transforming trash has created in me and my kids a certain mindfulness about the environment and the waste that we generate.
We accept hand-me-down clothes, toys and books with open arms, try to buy used instead of new, and regularly collect recyclables that we can use for crafting projects.
I’m hoping my children will catch this philosophy – that we don’t just spend money accumulating stuff, but spend time building relationships.
After all, the love that we give them will never go to waste.
Sophia Huang is a children’s author, copy editor and mother of two. She runs a Facebook page called Craftcycle for Kids.