15 Summer Activities to Help Your Kids Appreciate Nature

The following is a guest post.  No compensation was received. 

What are your kids doing this summer? For many of us, summer time with the kids is a time to enjoy the outdoors, the sunshine, and if you’re lucky the ocean!

As much as kids love summertime, keeping them busy can be a real chore! If you don’t have the luxury of sending the kids to camp, then it’s up to you as parent to find things for the youngsters to keep busy with.

Failing that, your kids might spend all their time in front of a computer, tablet, phone or other screen.  Research has shown that spending too much time in front of a screen can have a detrimental effect on the health and well-being of children.

Studies have shown that taking part in nature-based activities helps people who are suffering from mental ill-health and can contribute to a reduction in levels of anxiety, stress, and depression. In fact, a daily walk in nature has showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.

One in four people are estimated to experience bouts of mental ill health and it’s on the rise. Prescription medication of antidepressants are also at a record high level and the demand for more invasive treatments are also on the rise. Health and social care commissioners are examining and commissioning different options for cost effective services for mental health and one of these options is a daily walk of 90 minutes or more. We need to learn from the past when kids got excited to spend their time climbing trees and building dens rather than spending hours inside.

Joe at Nature Rated understands this all too well and has put together an infographic on 15 Summer activities to help your kids appreciate nature.

This is what it looks like:

15 Summer activities to help your kids appreciate nature

From baking a blackberry pie to constructing a pond or insect hotel, there’s plenty for the youngsters to get up to. Head on over to his site for step by step instructions to get your kids out and about enjoying nature.

An outdoor enthusiast, Joe is the lead editor at Nature Rated; a website which rates and reviews the best outdoor gear for people who quickly want to know what to get. He believes in no fluff, to the point reviews, which help you choose the right gear for your next adventure.
Whenever daily life gets him down he heads to the nearest lake or river with his kayak and camera spending time recharging his batteries.

Save Money with Green Home Upgrades

The following is a guest post.  No compensation was received. 

Green home improvement is a hot topic these days. With the cost of water rising throughout much of the country and energy policies facing an uncertain future, more homeowners than ever before are showing an interest in energy-saving remodeling projects and upgrades. The following infographic explains energy saving upgrades that will put money back into your pocket within two years.

Natural Bathroom Cleaning Tips

The following is a guest post.  No compensation was received. 

More than 150 chemicals found in your home are connected to allergies, birth defects, cancer and physiological disorders. The majority of these chemicals are used in routine bathroom cleaning. There are many DIY “recipes” that combine household ingredients to create a natural cleaning solution, and eliminate harsh chemicals. For example, you can combine baking soda and vinegar to create a tile cleaner. The following slideshow displays different recipes and methods for cleaning your bathroom without using harmful chemicals. Try these solutions to help clean your house safely.

How to Clean Your Bathroom…Naturally by Modern Bathroom, a company that offers sinks, faucets, and wall-mounted vanities.

 

How to Find Safer Cleaning Products for Your Home

The following is a guest post from Hannah at Wild Mint.  No compensation was received. 

Hello, The Practically Green Mom readers! My name is Hannah Helsabeck and I reached out to Allie recently after finding her blog and falling in love with her “green(ish)” attitude and advice. I couldn’t agree more with her motto of doing the best you can and trying new things when it comes to green living, which really aligns with the inspiration behind my company Wild Mint. I’m obsessed with researching all the ways to live a more toxin-free life and sharing what I learn with others. On Wildmintshop.com, I provide all the information and products that I use to do just that.

Today, Allie was gracious enough to let me share my knowledge about green and natural cleaning products, a big topic for anyone else who is a clean-freak like me! Harmful, chemical-based cleaning products have been the norm for so long that even the most dedicated toxin-free individual can have trouble finding the best types of solutions to use at home. The unfortunate practice of companies “greenwashing” products only adds to this confusion. If you haven’t heard this term before, greenwashing refers to companies claiming to be environmentally friendly by marketing products with misleading information.  These companies can mislead consumers by falsifying claims, using vague terms, and exaggerating green practices, just to name a few.

My team and I at Wild Mint strongly believe in the importance of transparency, awareness, and education so you can make your own informed decisions.  Alongside awareness, we suggest the following tips when looking for safer cleaning products:

  • Be a Label Checker – A good line of defense is to buy products from brands that list all of their ingredients on their label and are transparent both on their website and in their product offerings. A product should clearly state what is and is not used in its production in a way that is easily understood. You should also look out for and avoid products with the following terms listed on the label or packaging:
    • Fatal if inhaled
    • Fatal if swallowed
    • Watch out for terms like “poison,” “danger,” or “fatal”
    • Vague terms like surfactant or solvent
    • Skip phosphate additives
  • Be a Certification Critic – Some companies go above and beyond to certify their products and make their brand even more reputable, with certifications such as USDA Organic, Fair Trade, Cruelty Free (PETA), Energy Star, Green Seal Certified, and so on. Take a look at the certification on a label, and do a quick search on your phone or at home to see if the certification is valid.
  • Vague Terms – A prevalent greenwashing tactic to look out for is “vagueness”. Some common phrases to look out for include Eco Friendly, Environmentally Friendly, Earth Friendly, Environment Safe, Harnessing Nature, and Eco Chemistry. Remember, transparency is key; a company should be able to prove their products are indeed safe.

So what brands can you trust? Well, some of my favorites include Better Life, Dr. Bronners, and Eco-Me, which you can find here.  I use this all purpose cleaner and this multi-area scrubber cleanser by Better Life regularly.  I love that the Better Life products never leave a toxic smell after cleaning (like some chemical cleaners do!), are plant-based, and made without the use of harmful chemicals, making them safe for people, pets, the surfaces in your home, and the environment.

hannah Wild Mint - guest

You can also try your hand at making natural cleaning solutions yourself! Try Allie’s homemade air freshener made with essential oils or a combination of vinegar-based solutions.

Thank you to Allie for letting me guest post today and feel free to send me any of your questions about toxin-free living at hello@wildmintshop.com!

~ Hannah Helsabeck

President, Wild Mint Shop

Hannah Helsabeck is President and Co-Founder of Wild Mint, an online shop dedicated to helping families find toxin-free and eco-friendly products for healthier lifestyles.  She is passionate about educating others on the benefits of healthy living and the importance of taking small steps towards eliminating exposure to toxins in people’s daily lives.  She also enjoys finding new ways to be eco-conscious and is often found in the kitchen cooking up simple meals with real, whole foods. Hannah is the oldest of six kids, has amazing parents as role models in business as well as life, and currently lives in South Florida with her incredibly supportive husband.

Silicone Chewelry Necklace {Sensory/ASD} Review

** The following is a guest post from my friend and co-worker, Theresa. She is reviewing the Silicone Chewelry Necklace from iPuke on Etsy. She received a complimentary necklace in exchange for her honest review of this product.

Hi, my name is Theresa and I’m a Mommy of 2! My son who’s 6 is Autistic (ASD), and he has a huge oral fixation. He puts anything and everything in his mouth. I have tried silicone bracelets, but those seem to make his whole arm wet. We’ve tried teething rings, but they aren’t really chewy enough for him, and they are too big.

My wonderful co-worker and The Practically Green Mom blogger asked me to try out the Silicone Chewelry Necklace from iPuke, and we absolutely love it! This necklace gives him an appropriate way to handle his oral fixation, rather than chewing on his clothing or other objects.

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The only thing I would have done differently is get the 24 or 26 inch, as opposed to the 22 inch, because my son likes to pull on it. Then, the clasp comes undone and he drops it…and he goes back to chewing on his shirt.

My son has worn it at school, and his teacher has noticed a big change in his behavior, because he’s not always looking for things to chew on! She’s even asked me for the website for other ASD parents. When I asked him if he liked the necklace, his response was “My big boy necklace is green and it’s chewy!” I would totally buy more, and at only $4.50 each, I can afford to get more than one and keep spares in my purse and car.

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{My guest reviewer received a free necklace in exchange for her honest review of this product. The Practically Green Mom received no compensation. Please read my disclosure policy for more information.}

What Gardening Can Teach Kids

The following article is a guest post from a fellow blogger.  No compensation was received.

We live in a fast world, don’t we? Just venturing into a Walmart on a Friday at 5 p.m. is enough to stress
me out. Everything is so immediate anymore: fast food, instant credit, breaking news.

I’m lucky to be raising my son in a town of less than 1,000 people where the pace is a bit slower, but we aren’t immune to twitter feeds and smart phones out here. That alone isn’t enough. I want to teach him that there are things in life worth waiting for. One of those is our recent foray into pen pals.

Another is planting a garden. This is our 2nd year and we’ve had both success and failure. I find, at least for me, gardening has a huge learning curve and I try and involve my son in this process as much as possible.Gardening offers a ton of benefits in many different life areas. It is an awesome educational tool. Here’s a list of its lessons and below that are the ways children can be involved.

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Garden benefits and lessons

Science
How plants grow from seed to fruit or veggie
Pollinators and their place in the world
The relationship between soil, sun, water and plants

Health

Growing food without chemicals
Exercise
Consuming more fruits and vegetables
Getting outdoors
Encouraging picky eaters
Avoiding food allergies
Personal investment in and connection to the food you eat

Environment

Eating local
Alternative pesticides if necessary
Reuse through collection of rain water
Recycling through use of old milk jugs for rain water
Physical connection to the earth
Participating in a long-time human tradition

Life skills

Persistence and determination
Patience
Problem solving and creativity
Hope and faith – it’s an act of faith planting a garden
Setting a goal and following through
Saving money by growing your own
Researching gardening methods & alternatives

Family bonding

Quality time together
Contributing to the household
Generosity by giving your surplus to family and friends
Experimenting with different ways of cooking the produce

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Ways to involve young children

  • Planning – what to grow
  • Tilling soil
  • Digging holes
  • Planting seeds
  • Carry seeds/tools to and from garden
  • Watering
  • Pulling weeds
  • Applying organic pesticides (e.g. dish soap/cayenne solution)
  • Applying mulch
  • Collecting rain water in jugs
  • Putting in stakes or cages
  • Applying fertilizer
  • Harvesting
  • Cooking
  • Eating!

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Stephanie is mom to a spirited 7-year-old boy, self-employed with her husband and runs the blog, From the Burbs to the Boonies at http://www.burbstoboonies.blogspot.com about life in a small Kansas town, healthy habits, supplementing public school education, encouragement parenting, faith and getting families outdoors.

Recycling in Germany

The following article is a guest post from a fellow blogger.  No compensation was received. 

It’s almost become a joke in our house that when we ask our German friends why things are a certain way the answer is usually, “because it’s better for the environment.” Coming from the U.S. and being aware of environmental friendliness, we thought we would be somewhat prepared when we moved to Germany a little over three years ago. We weren’t. Here’s a small sampling of things we do (or have experienced) in Germany, that are better for the environment and almost second nature to us now.

Saving the Environment through Appliances

Washing Machines and Dryers

Washing machines are just smaller in Germany. In the US washing machines wash a lot of clothes in one load. I don’t even remember how much I could wash in the US. The washing machine in our apartment is very low capacity. I think there are options here that are slightly larger, but not by much. To give an example, I’ve had to switch to towels that aren’t so thick and fluffy. When I used thick and fluffy towels, I could only wash two at a time. Not only are they smaller machines, but more energy and water  efficient. Dryers, on the other hand, are not common. Many people hang dry their clothes (though many people have told me that once they started having kids they would by a dryer).  A common question from visiting family: how do people get by when they can’t wash their clothes frequently? Well, by doing things the environmentally friendly way, of course! We wear our clothes more than once or twice unless really dirty.

Refrigerators and Freezers

Most rentals in Germany don’t come with kitchen cabinets, appliances, or even a sink. We were lucky to find one that did have those things but we were surprised to see how small our refrigerator/freezer were. The best example I could give is that it was the size of a dorm room fridge. You know what I’m talking about? The ones with the freezer within the refrigerator, not a separate compartment? We immediately upgraded to a slightly larger option (same sized fridge, but a small separate freezer). Again, our families are shocked by our still very small appliance (comparatively), but it works. Most people live within walking distance to a farmer’s market or grocery store. We make daily trips getting the freshest, usually local and organic, products. Most things don’t need to be refrigerated and if they do, they come in smaller packaging, reducing the chance of waste.

Air Conditioning and Heating

Central air isn’t common. Most people don’t use air conditioning or even fans. Some office buildings, shopping centers, hotels, and public transportation will have limited a/c, but it’s rare. During the winter heating is used, but it is also kept at a minimum. Instead, people just bundle up even indoors. Coming from Florida, people were often shocked to hear that I felt it was hotter here than in Florida. When it gets warm in Germany, there’s no place to escape the heat. However, after three years of living here I’ve realized it’s really not that bad. I’ve learned how to stay cool within the limitations set on me and I can’t complain.

Saving the Environment through Recycling

To limit the amount of waste, trash cans are smaller and pick-up time is less frequent. As an example, when I lived in the US the trash-cans that we kept at the curb on garbage day are two to three times larger than trash cans here. On top of that, in the US our trash was picked up once or twice a week. Here, it’s often once or twice a month! I have to admit, I struggle with this. However, when I think about it I realize that people here just have less trash.

One of the reasons there is less trash is because there is more recycling. Most cans, plastic bottles, and glasses can be returned to the grocery store for a refund. Throughout town there are several places to drop off non-refundable glass. Paper and non-refundable plastic items are picked up when regular trash is picked-up. Most public trash bins have three containers: paper, plastic, and trash. Grocery and drug stores have places at the front of the store for people to discard excess packaging after making their purchases. So if I buy a tube of toothpaste that comes in a box, I get rid of the box before I leave the store. The only waste that makes it to the trash cans are the actual waste.

This symbol is found on most cans or plastic bottles in Germany. At the front of grocery stores you will find machines that will read the symbol, prepare the bottle for recycling, calculate the refund, and give you a receipt for the total. Then just bring the receipt to the cash register to have that amount credited to your purchase or refunded in cash.

This symbol is found on most cans or plastic bottles in Germany. At the front of grocery stores you will find machines that will read the symbol, prepare the bottle for recycling, calculate the refund, and give you a receipt for the total. Then just bring the receipt to the cash register to have that amount credited to your purchase or refunded in cash.

Saving the Environment through Transportation

The most convenient part of living in Germany is the public transportation. It is possible to get almost anywhere with a combination of trains, subways, trams, and buses. Prices are kept low to encourage people to use public transport. Group discounts make long distance trains competitively priced compared to driving. As an example, for the low price if 38 EUR 5 people can use most public transportation options within one German state.

Cars in Germany have stickers indicating their environmental friendliness rating. Green is the best, red the worst. Many cities across Germany limit cars to those with only green or green or yellow stickers.

Saving the environment in Germany is just a part of the culture. The items listed above are just a small sampling of the steps this country has taken to preserve the environment. It takes little effort on mosts people’s part because of the systems in place to encourage it and make it easy to help their environment. What is the recycling like where you live?

Ann Belle is an American expat living in Germany with her husband and two kids. She blogs about traveling with kids and offers tips and tools to help children and families embrace travel at her blog, Travel Turtle. Ann is happy to connect with you via Facebook or twitter.

Eco-Friendly Kids Crafts

This wonderful guest post on recycled kids crafts is brought to you by Tammy M. (aka: ‘the bargain babe’) from Zucchini Summer – which surprisingly, has nothing to do with zucchini.

What do you remember about 2nd grade?

I remember my teacher, Miss R.

She’s phenomenal and in fact is STILL teaching second grade all these years* later.

*haha, did you think I was actually going to tell you how many years ago I was in 2nd grade? LOL. No.

I swear, she glowed. She loved teaching and loved us and her face was always shiny.  Not in a “you need some powder!” way, in that supernatural way that a person’s face shines when they are doing exactly what they were meant to be doing.  That was my 2nd grade teacher.

One day she sent home a “secret” note with all of our parents.  They were to save things that would otherwise be trash for us. Cereal boxes, washed out yogurt cups, and so forth.

kids activity, summer bucket list

When the day came to find out what this was for, our little 2nd grade selves were filled with excitement.  She made the big announcement.

“We’re making WHATCHA-MA-CALL-ITS!”

As it happens I left my stash of trash at home. 🙁  She dug around and found a cheeze it box for me and some other kids gave me bits and pieces of their things. We had a great time working on our individual projects, I remember using a cracker box to make a robot/person.

Last week, I gathered my own two children at home and sat them down to make their very own Whatchamacallits.

The great thing about these is that it encourages creativity and imagination, there is no final “product” to be made. This is not going to be another egg carton caterpillar that every single child makes and they all look the same.

I dumped out our supplies.

kids craft, kids supplies, recycled craft, eco craft, green kids activity
Before heading to a landfill, this stuffis going to get reused!

I told the kids they could make anything they wanted. A robot, a ‘person’, a plane….

Here is my 10 year old hard at work:

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Here is a shot of my 3 year old in action.  Working with the tape and candles made for some good fine motor practice!

toddler craft, preschool eco craft, preschool earth day

I relived childhood and created a “person”….he has post it eyes with pompoms, a post it nose, and a rubber band mouth.  Later he got an ice cream cone sticker in his mouth.

chef boyardee pizza box, eco craft, summer kids fun

Final product from the 10 year old…something about Wizards of Waverly Place…I didn’t quite understand, but he enjoyed it.  The top cup is hinged and opens up.

kids eco craft, earth day activities, fourth grade earth day

 

There is no real “final” product from my 3 year old. He continued to add and remove things from this throughout the rest of the day.

Here is is when it was a drum:

toddler music, toddler montessori, preschool earth day craft, craftivity

I hope you get a chance to try this with your kids soon!  Start saving a few cups, yogurt tubs, leftover craft supplies, etc.  This was a surprisingly great activity for both my 10 and 3 year old children, so if you have a wide age range like we do, this is something you can do together!

 

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