I popped back home to Norwich for the weekend and met up with a friend from work. When paying in Topshop I was aksed if I would like to partake in their bag recycling scheme whereby customers are given a used bag and expected to bring it back and thus the process continues.

The girl next to me questioned what was in it for her–a freebie, points or some recognition. As such, there was not. But why should there be? There doesn’t need to be.

Tesco currently operate a green clubcard points scheme whereby customers get a point for every time they reuse a bag.

The question that begs is why should we be rewarded by points for such a simple saving way that is so easy to include in everyday living. Surely we should do this for the benefit of everyone and the environment rather than ourselves?

New research shows that about half of the UK population feel they have lost the practical skills of their grandparents’ generation with 45% admitting they have fewer cooking skills and 47% say they are less able to grow their own food.

Eco kids composting
Eco kids composting

The Food for Life Partnership works with more than 1,300 schools across England to ensure the next generation will be better equipped for the future than their parents by getting them growing and cooking in school.

Through the extensive Food for Life Partnership award scheme, schools get the guidance to transform their food culture and engage pupils, parents and the local community along the way. From Bronze, through Silver to Gold, schools set up organic gardens, cooking clubs and pupils visit farms and eat healthy, climate-friendly school dinners.

Late last month, the Food for Life Partnership launched the Food Growing Manual, which is a comprehensive growing resource, produced by one of the Partners, Garden Organic, for all schools enrolling on the Food for Life Partnership. The Food Growing Manual will enable schools to successfully develop their own gardens and produce edible crops for children, parents, teachers and communities to enjoy.

Food for Life Partnership manager at Garden Organic, Colette Bond, says:

“Teaching children to grow food puts them in touch with the land, familiarises them with the seasons and encourages healthier eating. On a wider level it also engages them with the food supply and helps them understand that food isn’t instant or ‘fast’ but that it takes time, energy and nurture to produce something edible.”

“Using the expert content of the manual, as well as the suggested activities and planting advice, we hope to develop a successful school garden, which will help the children to learn about growing their own food and eating seasonally. We also hope to use the garden to teach the curriculum and to reach out and involve everyone from staff and pupils right through to parents and the community.

The Food for Life Partnership aims to reconnect young people with growing, cooking, eating and appreciating climate-friendly, healthy and real food. Many schools in the Partnership are now using produce they have grown in their canteens, helping to make fresh, seasonal, organic produce a regular appearance on school dinner menus.

From now on, all schools signed up to the Food for Life Partnership will receive their own Food Growing Manual resource pack for free. To find out more or to enrol visit

Set to be open for play on October 5, Toronto’s first natural playground won’t look like any other city play space; it’s got a different edge.

Artistic design in natural playground

Instead of solely focusing on gross motor skill based play areas, Bienenstock Natural Playground’s CEO and principal designer, Adam Bienenstock, is focusing on other areas of play.

“What happens to social skills? What happens to creative and dramatic play? What happens to sense of ownership and connection to the land?” Bienenstock said from his office in Dundas, Ontario. “How can we expect to create environmental stewards of the future if they don’t come into contact with nature and the environment?”

The new city park includes slides built into natural hills, recycled aluminum poles that create bursts of cloud mist, a giant sandbox, and furniture and forts made from a giant elm tree that had died onsite.

“The idea behind the business is to connect kids to nature when and where they play,” Bienenstock said. “Rather than put them on a bus and ship them out to the woods, let’s actually give them a place to do that.”

The playground opens six months after Active Healthy Kids Canada released it’s report card in March saying that only 34 per cent of Canadian families actually use parks and public spaces, and that 87 per cent of kids are not meeting the physical activity guidelines, giving Canadians a D grade in this category.

The report card went on to give an F to the screen time category, saying that many kids get close to six hours of screen time a day.

Bienenstock is trying to turn this statistic around.

“When I was a kid, I spent more than six hours a day in nature, that was normal for me.  I spent maybe 20 minutes a day in front of a TV.”

Sally Kotsopoulos, early childhood centre manager at Ryerson University, says if we are going to put environmental responsibility on our kids we better dust off their running shoes.

“I know for certain if children don’t spend time outside why would they care about it?” Kotsopoulos said. “Why would they care if it doesn’t mean anything to them?”

Ryerson’s early childhood centre installed a natural playground five years ago and Kotsopoulos says the children are always busy, and more cooperative than they were before.

“There is so much opportunity for creativity that nothing is prescribed,” she said. “If you have a large play structure it pretty much prescribes what the children are supposed to do. They go up the steps and down the slide. They put their head through this, and they swing on that pole. They rotate through that unit in a particular fashion.”

“Here it’s just like being out in a lovely backyard. With natural space playgrounds there are spaces where children can go to be together, they can play cooperatively, they can invent and be creative.”

Cooperative play is no coincidence; it’s a design feature. Bienenstock claims his playgrounds are not only less prone to injuries due to zero fall height potential, they are also less prone to bullying.

“If you only have one thing you are all focused on, that’s where bullying occurs,” he explains. “If you take that one thing and spread it out throughout the play space, you start to see reduction of that. It’s just a natural thing that happens. If you put music and art, and nature throughout the space, the focus of the concentration on one area starts to shift and it allows for kids with all kinds of different abilities to experience the playground in a different way.”

But could parks like these get more than the 34 per cent of families out to use public spaces?

Joy Olding, a kindergarten teacher and mother of three says her children spend about an hour a day outside, not enough by her standards.

But there are a few challenges that stand in a parent’s way.

“There is supervision,” Olding said. “I have lots of work to do inside and it’s hard to do both at the same time.”

She also said it’s sometimes hard to make the swing set look lucrative. When you have TV, computers, and a ton of toys inside the great outdoors can seem like a lot of work.

“Most of the time it’s getting them to want to play outside,” she said. “There are so many things that they want to play with inside that the challenge is getting outside to be attractive for them. It forces them to use their imaginations and sometimes they don’t want to do that.”

Bienenstock looks out his office window onto the community playground he built and stands by the theory, ‘If you build it they will come.’

“We cannot ask them to care about their environment if we do not give them the tools to do that,” he said. “It’s about time we made that shift.”