What can a 6 year old buy that 'helps the environment'?
March 27, 2019 9:02 AM   Subscribe

My 6 year old son has been saving his allowance, and he wants to buy something that will help the environment? Any ideas?

We have been reading a lot about the environment and climate change, watching Magic Schoolbus, and talking about things individuals can do to help. Now my son has asked if he can use his allowance to buy something to help the environment. Rather than a donation, I'd like to get something tangible that can allow us to continue the discussion. I've considered a plant, but that might be too abstract. He LOVES science, so anything that can teach him about science at the same time would be a plus.

The ballpark budget is $100 US or less (but preferably $50 or less). Any thoughts? Thanks!
posted by evadery to Science & Nature (34 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have space for a composter?
posted by avocado_of_merriment at 9:06 AM on March 27 [10 favorites]

Could it be a visit to a zoo that does conservation breeding? Or something similar like a botanical garden with rare plants (and give a donation there).

A wormery could be really cool. Do you have any sort of garden or outdoor space? Bird hangers, insect houses and the like are great, or starting a wildgarden.
posted by stillnocturnal at 9:07 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]

A bat house.
posted by bondcliff at 9:09 AM on March 27 [25 favorites]

As a kid, I had similar interests and I think I had some sort of solar panel science kit at some point and thought it was really cool, though I may have been a bit older.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:10 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]

I don't know how much these things would teach him about science, but I've purchased a lot of the reusable lifestyle items on this list and for me they serve as a reminder to be mindful about waste, and also are an easy gateway to doing larger things for the environment. Maybe a water bottle (instead of bottled water), metal straws (instead of plastic), and if he goes to the grocery store and you'd be willing to make the change, cloth produce bags (instead of plastic).

(on preview, my ideas are spoken like a true apartment dweller; I love the suggestions above for bat houses, wild gardens, and compost!)
posted by stellaluna at 9:14 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]

There is a zero waste store near me that I recently discovered and it is GREAT! Maybe you can research a few things that are currently disposable and/or made with plastic that he uses in his daily life (tooth brush, floss, straws, soaps, snack bags, lunch bags, grocery bags, etc) that could be replaced with biodegradable/reusable items. You can talk about how he can create habits now that will eventually lead to a big personal dent in the things he would normally throw away and sit in a landfill. Here's an online store that looks like it might fit the bill.
posted by LKWorking at 9:15 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]

Depending on where you live, a butterfly garden or similar with perennial plants that bees and other beneficial insects would find as an oasis. Also a small bird-bath like thing that could be kept up with fresh water as a watering hole for little critters. This could start small and become a project that grows as the savings/budget allows. In our yard we have milkweed, lantana, and Mexican Firebush -- the butterflies, bumblebees, and hummingbirds love them.
posted by cross_impact at 9:26 AM on March 27 [6 favorites]

Take him to a used book store!
posted by rada at 9:28 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]

I really like the idea of a bat house. I'd add a native bee house as well. You can build them yourself! I think that for a kid, something like this which makes a concrete visible impact on other local creatures' lives would feel more impactful than something like recycling, and would avoid feeding into the "eco-marketing" crap that hijacks concern over the environment by just redirecting consumerism.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:33 AM on March 27 [28 favorites]

I don’t think a plant would be too abstract, but maybe a way to connect it more directly to your kid’s notion of the environment would be to buy and plant a sapling where one is needed in or near your neighborhood—rather than a houseplant or a bush in your own yard. Would require some research (including some science!). Is there a playground near you that needs more shade? Street trees that need replacing? A crumbling riverbank that needs firming up? My example along these lines: after coordinating with the local parks department, my daughter’s school planted some saplings to replace trees knocked down in a hurricane; she’s quite proud of this and points the trees out every time we go by.

Specs will be different where you are, but here’s the NYC Parks Dept. tree planting guide, which has a good roundup of approved species, planting rules/instructions, environmental benefits of trees, etc.
posted by miles per flower at 9:36 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]

Maybe things he can use that help the environment? Metal straws, reusable snack baggies, reusable water bottle etc. You could also consider a worm bin instead of a compost bin, it’s cool and fun!
posted by zibra at 9:45 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]

Seconding beehouse starter kit. One of my kids got one as a birthday present and it has changed the way she thought about the environment and food and trees and pollen and her role on the planet.

Also, you will get honey so double win.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:51 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]

Worm composter. Watch food scraps disappear.
posted by hydra77 at 9:52 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]

A bike basket to use on regular errand trips that are less than 1 mile from home, to bike instead of drive? Or similarly a nice pannier or two for family bike for these errands
If he doesn't have one yet, a bike or skateboard or scooter or skates for getting to places without a car
A family bus/subway/mass transit pass to use instead of driving?
A rain barrel?
A trash picker/grabber thing to use to regularly pick up litter on nightly walks?
Supplies to make a small container vegetable garden or flower garden?
posted by jillithd at 9:53 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]

We set up a mason bee house and a birdhouse when the kid was about that age and had a good time seeing what happened and feeling a lot of personal responsibility towards the critters that lived there. (note: mason bees don't make honey.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:54 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]

Post cards/writing materials to write to relevant politicians/publications.
posted by trig at 9:58 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]

Some plants for a pollinator garden + a guide to / poster of different types of native bees/pollinators in your area? Check with your soil and water conservation district and county extension for resources. Bees very rarely sting unless you're threatening their hive. There's also a link that growing native plants feeds native insects which feeds native birds.

You may or may not get bats/birds in a house, but flowering plants will definitely bring the pollinators to your yard!

(FYI - only honeybees make honey you'd want to eat, and they're an exotic-to-the-US species that outcompetes native bees. Mason bees are beautiful and do not produce honey. Also, check when Mason bees are active in your area - you may need to hustle with getting a house / bees.)
posted by momus_window at 10:14 AM on March 27 [4 favorites]

The correct answer would be to not buy anything at all. However, I somehow doubt that will satisfy a child even if it would be the most helpful to the environment. My other suggestion would be an ant/frog/bee farm. Connects them to life, could spark multiple interests, and living critters are fascinating to take care of. If there are any pop science type stores in your area, might be best to just take him there and see what excites it most. One of my favourite birthdays I got a 50 dollar bill in a card with instructions to spend it at this sciency store in the mall. Still have memory snippets of wandering through that place.
posted by GoblinHoney at 10:22 AM on March 27 [7 favorites]

Maybe seeds and little pots and soil? It's the right time of year to start growing some veggies! He'd get to watch his food grow and plants sequester carbon?
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:24 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]

Seconding a worm composter! Fun to have worms, get rid of all of your food scraps and it is not nearly as messy or gross as one might think! Long term fun, long term benefits!
posted by Sophie1 at 11:01 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]

Buy a bunch of wildflower seeds so he can attract pollinators, with a tub for the yard/patio/balcony/whatever to grow them in.

There are cool laminated pamphlets for identifying the birds, bugs, animals, or "volunteer" plants that may visit his flowers.

And since he's got some cash, you might drop the $20 on a basic Wyze web camera, and set up its motion detection to watch the flower pot and record whatever birds or beasts stop by. (Also spend twelve bucks for an aftermarket outdoor cover at Amazon.)

Add a second flower pot with some cut up potatoes, and let him make French fries from the spuds he grows.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:15 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]

Is he interested in gadgets?

If so, how about a Kill A Watt device to measure electricity usage in your home? Maybe combo with some LED lightbulbs, if you haven't already gotten rid of your incandescent bulbs.
posted by tuesdayschild at 11:23 AM on March 27 [4 favorites]

Do you have a yard? Would he be interested in a pollinator garden, or putting in native grasses rather than having a lawn? How about a small vegetable garden?
posted by bile and syntax at 11:28 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]

Get a mason bee house from your local (independent if possible) gardening center instead of ordering it online. The experience of going to the garden store will be a big part of the gift, I think.
posted by matildaben at 11:34 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]

Stuff is precisely anti-environmental, including most Help The Environment stuff. I have a composter because it was free, but composted well with wire fencing for years. Maybe a trip to the Audubon Society or whoever will have information. Seeds to plant butterfly, lightning bug, bird-friendly plants. Bird feeder, bird bath. Subscription to an appropriate magazine, and gift sub for the library. Is there a ReStore in your area? Build a raised garden bed with recycled wood.

I'm so impressed with your son, and accepting the idea of buying stuff to help the planet is so Nope. Are there areas near you that are littered? or can you find or make a workshop on wild seed bombs or gardening with kids? This is such a great teachable moment. Even learning about the public transport options in your area would be great.
posted by theora55 at 12:02 PM on March 27 [5 favorites]

I was going to go for one of the cheaper Amazon.com: USB Microscopes: Electronics but theora55's magazine reminder made me think of the classic Home - NWF | Ranger Rick as a classic that I had back around 6yr old or so.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:03 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]

The correct answer would be to not buy anything at all.

So much this - the environment is completely messed up, because of consumption capitalism. Buying more gadgets and "stuff" is not going to help, the bigger lesson is to opt out of consumerism and DO things

Or - build something with materials you already have. (lots of good ideas above)

Plant things, encourage ecosystems (homes for bee's and birds), compost (something anyone can do, without buying a giant plastic special "compost" bin, even a wooden box in the sun will accomplish the same thing...).
posted by jkaczor at 1:48 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]

Is there a community garden program near you your child could donate to and volunteer with?
posted by jillithd at 2:07 PM on March 27

A tactile, although potentially messy, suggestion might be buying a paper making where you can pulp old paper and make new paper.
posted by Calzephyr at 4:58 PM on March 27

posted by turbid dahlia at 5:35 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]

Bird or butterfly feeder.
posted by Toddles at 10:09 PM on March 27

Weather station and then he could even report it out as a citizen scientist!
posted by Toddles at 10:09 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]

OMG! I forgot about CoCoRaHS! Buy an inexpensive, but particular, rain gauge and report daily precipitation year round as a volunteer. This data is used by climate scientists across our continent. It takes less than 5 minutes a day (and that's just on snowy days) and is really neat to be able to see how much rain has fallen (or snow).
posted by jillithd at 8:18 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]

While it's true that buying stuff in general does precisely not help the environment, it's also true that stuff that eliminates the need to buy more stuff does help. So replacing disposables by durable items is a win. Not very glamorous, but that's how it is!

If he owns a bike, he already has one of the best planet-saving machines known to humankind. Stuff that would help him ride his bike more safely or more comfortably would be an option.

Your kid is one cool dude, by the way!
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:53 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]

« Older Smart Switch for Water Heater   |   How to evaluate a mobile home (and 55+ community)? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments