Summer Means More Free Time for Kids
While your children may jump up and down for joy after school lets out for the summer, you may feel ready to jump out the window. These days it's common for young people -- especially those of a generation raised in front of the tube and not expected to do as many house chores -- to find it difficult to engage themselves in positive activities.
As a result, children are spending an unprecedented amount of time with electronics, and less time with traditional creative discovery, such as crafts, role-playing and exploring the outdoors. Not only does this potentially lead to the development-stifling nature deficit disorder, but idle hands are also more likely to cause mischief or engage in risky behaviors.
Luckily, it isn't that difficult to get kids engaged and excited about activities that teach and enrich, as well as amuse. Parents just may need a little inspiration.
Create a Green Scavenger Hunt
Set up a scavenger or treasure hunt for your kids based on local nature, such as identifying trees and other plants in your backyard, following animal tracks, etc. If you have a GPS system, take them on a geocaching adventure, which is essentially a worldwide treasure hunt.
You could also introduce children to the British import letterboxing, which combines orienteering, arts and puzzle solving into quests.
Get Your Kids Gardening
Most kids like getting dirty and poking around in the soil, and who doesn't like to eat? The combination can be a winning one to introduce children to the benefits of gardening, which is often said to be one of the world's most popular hobbies.
The good news is you certainly needn't be a certified master gardener in order to show the next generation how something wonderful can sprout from the smallest seed. Even if you don't have much room or 'seed capital,' plant a few flowers and beans or tomatoes in pots.
Gardening is a great way to learn patience, as well as explore science, where our food comes from and how interconnected life is.
Make Healthier Snacks Together
Cooking can be fun for kids, as well as educational. Entice them to roll up their sleeves with delicious, but better for you, recipes like The Daily Green's Whole Wheat Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookies and Whole Wheat Brownies.
Cooking is a set of skills and knowledge that will serve your children for life, so it's a good idea to start them young. Plus, if you get them to help out a little with preparing family meals, they will feel like they are contributing to the household -- and you can spend some quality time with them (or at least keep an eye on 'em).
By seeing how meals are prepared, your little ones will be encouraged on a path of healthier eating, hopefully for life.
Not sure where to start? Try The Daily Green's Index of Superfoods.
Make Your Own Nontoxic Art Supplies
Dabbling in arts and crafts is a fantastic way for children to express their creativity, have fun and build up confidence and skills, Unfortunately, many traditional art supplies like glues and paints contain toxic volatile organic compounds, including potential carcinogens.
Choose safer alternatives by avoiding solvent-based markers, rubber cement and the strongest-smelling glues. Learn to make dyes out of plant material and finger paint out of cornstarch at coopamerica.org. Generally, water-based or egg-based (tempera) paints are likely to be less toxic (and easier to clean up) than other types.
Craft time can also be used as an opportunity to teach your kids about recycling and reuse. Show them how to make collages and mobiles out of old magazines and odds and ends. Have them draw on the backs of used paper or decorate old containers.
Explore Nature Together
Remember when you were a kid, and summer evenings meant catching fireflies, watching tadpoles or maybe going on night walks to listen for owls? You don't have to travel to the ends of the Earth to find opportunities to get more in touch with the millions of other living things on the planet.
Children are naturally curious and drawn to nature. But unless they grew up on a farm or truly rural area, they may not have had a lot of exposure to it. They key is to educate and keep them safe, while also letting them discover the wonders of the world for themselves. Hikes, canoe trips, camping and birding and just a few of the many ways to get out there.