Category Archives: Toys

Backyard Driftwood Playground Wonderland

At Kaitiaki Farm we believe having in fun – lots and lots of fun. And one of us is obsessed with driftwood.


Hope, All Ye Who Enter

It all started innocently enough with a seesaw when we lived down by the beach. It was easy enough to bring that with us when we shifted two years ago.



I raised the bar for Verti’s third birthday by building this swing set out of native hardwood. Details on construction here:



The next project was easy in comparison.


For Verti’s fourth birthday I made a playhouse out of driftwood and hundred year-old totara fence battens for the deck.


Taking a short break

For Summer Solstice last month I made this slide. Details on the process can be found here:


Beep Beep

In order to protect the kids from the strong midday sun, I have trained plum trees to form a canopy over most of the backyard. As an added bonus, seasonal snacks are readily at hand.


“Let’s play!”

Safety is extremely important when building with non-traditional materials. I use only sound native hardwood timber along with stainless steel or galvanised oversized fasteners. It’s also important to brace all features against racking, and to add extra hardware for redundancy at times.

As with most playground equipment, adult supervision is also recommended. But that’s not a burden with these two!

Peace, Estwing

High Quality – Low Cost

I’m not fond of plastic toys that are bound for landfill after a day or even after a decade. Neither is OK in my mind.

When it came to providing a slide for the kids play fort I was faced with a dilemma. Plastic slides cost up to $200 for a…plastic slide. I think they are ugly and ultimately break down from UV damage. So I came up with an alternative.


I had an off-cut galvanised sheet from the flashing for the flue from our new wood stove. I took it to the local steel formers and had them bend it for me in exchange for a box of beer.


Then I got some salvaged timber from the shed to make a rigid form.


Here’s what it looks like.


Here is the response.


Total cost: $40

Peace, Estwing

Creating Magical Moments for Children without Creating Rubbish

Editor’s Note: This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.

 Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 9.16.50 am

Whether one attends church every week, once a year or not at all, Christmas is to a large extent a children’s holiday. It’s all about Christmas morning and “the look on a child’s face” when unwrapping gifts wrapped in ribbons and bows. Many of us have memories of this from both the sides – as youngsters and parents. It’s wonderful.

But the moment is fleeting, and many of the toys end up discarded or broken within a matter of weeks if not days. Ironically, a small plastic toy that brings a brief moment of joy could subsequently spend the rest of eternity in a landfill. Talk about heaven and hell!

In this season of pausing to reflect, lets pause and reflect on this extraordinary moment in history we occupy. Something that we buy on a whim at the dollar shop can persist within a buried pile of rubbish for hundreds of generations to come. Compare this to the first Maori and European residents of these islands. Few artifacts persist from each group compared to what landfill archeologists will be finding from us for centuries to come.

Of course there is nothing wrong with the desire to make a child happy, but I would argue that Christmas – or any holiday involving gift giving – is less about the ‘things’ and more about the ‘moments.’ The shiny plastic things that go “beep, bop, bang” are just one pathway to the moments we treasure. There are other pathways.

If the end goal is magical moments, then the design challenge is this: How do we create magical moments for our children without also creating a pile of rubbish?

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 9.17.20 am

Like any good design, this one should be holistic, adaptive and cooperative. It should also dare to think outside of the square. For example, when thinking of ‘things’ to give a child, one consideration is not a ‘thing’ at all, but rather the gift of time. Does that sound cliché?

Whether it’s cliché or not, mountains of research show that what most children want is more time with their parents. Along the same lines, there are two mountains of research showing that reading to children under the age of three is about the best thing parents can ever do. On top of that, it’s free. How’s that for eco-thrifty?

Other gifts-of-time we can give children include a special day at the beach, a trip to the movies, a boat ride, a treasure hunt, a mystery adventure, or a Neil Diamond greatest hits dance party.

Fair enough, but at the end of the day most parents still want to give their kids ‘stuff.’ But even from this perspective we can design much more sustainable solutions than the current one-way trip to landfill.

In the field of materials cycling, the global leaders are chemist Michael Braungart and architect William McDonough. The pair has been working on what they call cradle-to-cradle design for two decades. Put simply, cradle-to-cradle sets the stage for infinite materials recycling with no such thing as landfill. In fact, the motto of this design methodology is “waste equals food” – in other words, the remnants or leftovers of one process are used to feed another process. This is accomplished by creating two materials metabolisms: biological and industrial.

The biological metabolism can be explained in three words: let it rot. Nature has been doing it for millions of years. Any materials that come from living organisms can be returned to the soil to promote the growth of more living organisms.

An industrial metabolism involves all materials that do not come directly from plants and animals, which include metals, minerals, plastics and other synthetic materials. The challenge is to make the recovery and remanufacture processes easy and efficient to ensure 100% recycling so that a broken plastic toy would readily be turned into a new plastic toy – over and over. From this perspective, gift giving could be guilt-free forevermore.

But until that day, another strategy for low-impact holiday giving is to choose durable gifts that will last. Our household does lots of wooden toys, and my parents still have 40+ year-old wooden toys that they get out when the grandchildren visit. Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 9.16.59 am

For Verti’s birthday in August I used driftwood to build a fairy village for indoor play and a swing set outside. The totara, matai and rimu timbers are incredibly durable and will last for decades. If I’m still alive when it falls apart, I will remove the treaded rod for reuse or recycling (industrial metabolism) and let the ancient timbers decompose naturally (biological metabolism).

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 9.17.36 am

Spoiler alert: Verti’s holiday gift from me this year is a strawberry patch outside our front door. Although I bought plastic planters, they will be protected from direct sunlight by a wooden surround made from weathered native timbers. The completed project will be attractive, durable, productive, and provide magical – and tasty – moments for years to come.


Peace, Estwing

Eco-Thrifty Birthday Present

What seemed like “a good idea at the time” has turned into a larger-than-expected project making a play kitchen for our two year-old daughter. I am posting a visual step-by-step now, but will write a full post sometime in the future.

Cabinet from a second hand shop.

Screen shot 2014-08-24 at 5.55.48 PM

Cutting it into pieces.

Screen shot 2014-08-24 at 5.56.01 PM

One piece.

Screen shot 2014-08-24 at 5.56.09 PM

 Piece, pieced back together.

Screen shot 2014-08-24 at 5.56.26 PM

And with a lid.

Screen shot 2014-08-24 at 5.56.37 PM

Other piece.

Screen shot 2014-08-24 at 5.56.57 PM

End of day one.

Screen shot 2014-08-24 at 5.57.20 PM

Start of day two.

Screen shot 2014-08-24 at 5.57.48 PM

End of day two.

Screen shot 2014-08-24 at 5.58.10 PM

Day three.

Screen shot 2014-08-24 at 5.58.40 PM

End of day three.        Screen shot 2014-08-24 at 5.58.56 PM


Peace, Estwing

Sorting Bowls – Natural Play at 18 Months

Eco Thrifty Baby hit the big 18 month mark a few days ago. While tidying up her room I realized that the same bunch of toys had been in heavy rotation for a while, thanks to getting prime position on her shelves, rather than tossed into the basket. Time to switch things up, I suppose.
Looking at her toy basket, I was having a hard time finding lesser used toys to promote. I feel like we have enough toys. I would even say we have a lot of toys. But compared to most play rooms our stash probably looks small. But, I don’t really want to run out and buy her any more toys. Quality over quantity, right? So how do we keep her stimulated and engaged using the toys we have?

Well, ETB has long been an afficionado of containers. Tupperware and recylcing being two of her favorite varieties. She also lately really likes matching and puzzles. So, to make use of some of her toys in a new way, I created some sorting bowls.

I gathered a variety of objects, each in multiple colors. Put everything into some wooden bowls we found at an op shop ages ago. And voila! A cornucopia of colorful, sensory, brain working stimuli.

IMG_4613Of course, ETB promptly came in and dumped everything out all over the floor. But then….

We started putting things back into the bowls together.Me picking up objects and handing them to ETB to put in a bowl. I still had color on the brain, but ETB started sorting by type of object. SHE’S A GENIUS!! Well, maybe not. But I was super impressed. We sorted and dumped for about a half hour. Almost a week later she is still really into it, although she gets angry at me if I try to put things into the “wrong” bowl. Sometimes its hard to tell her method, but I am sure that orange necklace and blue clothes peg have some similarity that I wasn’t seeing. (Silent “e” perhaps?).

IMG_4608   I am sure that educational theorists would say that this is teaching her brain how to categorize and conceptualize and blah blah blah. What I know is that it meets a deep need in her to order things and tidy things (a need I don’t have an ounce of). It also seems to be keeping her out of our recycling for the time being.

A Toddler-Centred Room

Two weeks ago I wrote a column in which I featured Castlecliff Beach in a design exercise of eco-thrifty renovation. The exercise was used to demonstrate that ETR principles can be applied across a broad spectrum. Among the core principles are working with nature instead of against it and investing money up front to save money over time.

While the above design principles embody both the ‘eco’ and the ‘thrifty’ of ETR, the column was written to include some more universal design ideas: ‘form follows function’, and designing to scale. Although these design ideas have been around for a long time, they can still be applied through new lenses.

As our cultural perspectives evolve, so do the ways we apply tried and true beliefs. For example, think about a baby’s nursery. Is the space designed for a crawler/toddler or for an adult?

Screen shot 2014-02-08 at 7.39.44 AM

Many of the nurseries I have seen tend toward the traditional, magazine-photo-shoot variety. They are painted either pink or blue, they are tidy, and everything is set to adult height. As a way of thinking outside the square this week, I thought I would share our perspective on a more child-centred nursery design for our daughter, Verti.

Form follows function: For our family, the functions of Verti’s room are: sleeping (wishful thinking); independent play; toy storage; story time; playing with us.

Like many parents, our aim is to keep the ‘mess’ confined to her room. While this has not been accomplished yet, our design thinking was to make Verti’s room the most desirable place in the house for her to play. We did this by using a number of toddler-centred design elements that are lacking in other parts of our home.

For example, Verti’s room is the only carpeted one. A quality off-cut wool carpet and thick underlay purchased on TradeMe make the floor – where she does most of her playing – both warm and soft. The carpet remnant was more than twice as long as Verti’s room but only half as wide. We fit it to the room as needed and then hid the seam with furniture and a colourful area rug.

 Screen shot 2014-02-08 at 7.40.01 AM

Colour is another way we tried to entice Verti to play in her room. The Moroccan palette was inspired by a hanging string of elephants from a fair trade shop.

Screen shot 2014-02-08 at 7.39.53 AM

Dani bought the area rug to match, and we reused paper lanterns from my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary party to take advantage of the 12-foot ceilings in a fun way. While those colourful paper orbs may seem miles above her head, everything else in Verti’s room is designed to her scale.

 Screen shot 2014-02-08 at 7.40.11 AM

Right-sizing: From the perspective of making a nursery child-centred, one must understand a child’s perspective. The best way to do this is to sit your bum on the floor. There you go. Done. That is a child’s perspective.

Two habits we want Verti to develop are choosing her own entertainment and putting things away after using them. To these ends, we have five toy storage areas in her room that she can access. These include a low shelf (secured to the wall for safety), two draws under her cot, a large toy basket, a rack for her play scarves, and a driftwood tree limb for her bags. She can access any of her toys whenever she wants, and has just begun putting them away too.

 Screen shot 2014-02-08 at 7.39.25 AM

Additionally, the low couch – really just three cushions and a cleverly made wooden frame – has been a big success. Verti loves being able to climb onto it easily and act ‘grown-up’, and we love sitting on it with her and reading stories.

The bottom line: Almost the entire world is designed by adults for adults. We wanted Verti’s nursery to truly be a child’s space and we think we have accomplished this. Whenever her little friends come over they immediately head for her room, and recently one of their dad’s lay down on carpet and said, “I really like this room. It invites you to get down to their level.”

She’s Crafty: Driftwood Frame Playgym

This is one of the first projects we made for EcoThrifty Baby. We wanted a play gym for her, but were (and still are) trying to avoid plastic as much as possible. Ironic, since tupperware is her ultimate favorite toy at the moment.

Screen shot 2013-06-22 at 9.39.08 PM

ETB chillaxin on her sheep skin under her handcrafted playgym – lifestyles of the rich and famous.

I made the hanging pieces for this playgym from scrapbook paper glued onto cardboard. I tried to pick natural themes and shapes, but also wanted her to have high contrast and bright colors for her little developing eyes.

playgymThe pieces of ETB’s play gym were scrap book paper glued onto thin cardboard.

ETH scoured the beach near our house for a few days before he found the perfect pieces of driftwood to form the base and hanging frame. He then drilled a hole into the base just slightly smaller than the diameter of the piece that he wanted to use for the frame, and sanded it down to make a perfect fit. The base is heavy enough that ETB can’t pull it over if she tugs on the shapes.

Screen shot 2013-06-22 at 9.38.48 PM

Driftwood frame with no glue, no nails.

When ETB was a tiny infant we hung the shapes over her carseat and bassinet. When she transitioned into her bouncy chair, they were her favorite entertainment. Now that she is a crawler, this still sits in the corner of her play area. Every once in a while she still bats around the shapes, but I think her days of really enjoying the play gym might be over (sniff, sniff).

Screen shot 2013-06-22 at 9.37.49 PM

ETB as a tiny bub with her play gym pieces hanging above her.

Screen shot 2013-06-22 at 9.45.16 PMETB is a big girl now and her play gym still sits in the corner of her play space.