Summer is finally here. We made it through two graduations, class parties and birthdays. As a mom I say phew! I made it with big deep breaths, but my kids are saying, "Now what?" I have one son thrilled to be off to baseball camp, but another who would rather hang at home with me.
So over the years I have tried to come up with some really fun, inexpensive, eco-friendly activities that we can do in our own backyard.
Eco-Summer Fun Top Ten:
1) Grow a garden
Sunflower Playhouses & Mazes
Sunflowers are inexpensive and easy to grow. Certain varieties like "Sunzilla," "Mammoth," and "California Greystripe" can grow between 12-20 feet tall which makes them a great plant to use to make an outdoor playhouse or maze. All it takes is a couple packages of seeds and a little watering and in 8 weeks you will have a bright and cheerful "nature made" play area.
If space is an issue or you have older children, a pizza garden is a lot fun and keeps them really engaged. In a small bed or pots, plant a few tomato plants, basil and oregano -- all of the garden ingredients that you need for a pizza. After you harvest at the end of the summer, make pizza sauce with the ingredients from your garden.
2) Use Nature's Art Box
Go on a stroll in your yard, neighborhood or nearest park and collect leaves, small twigs, and flowers to use as materials in a translucent garden window or mobile. All you need are the materials that you have collected, translucent contact paper and string.
For older kids, it is fun to collect rocks and pebbles from your yard or neighborhood and paint them. It is great to show your child pictures of ancient cave art for inspirations. You can even try making your own natural pigment paints using egg white and ochre (blush) for reds and charcoal for black.
3) Recycled Box Crafts
Boxes are by far the best item to let the imagination nation run wild. Refrigerator and wardrobe boxes make a great playhouse or puppet theaters. You can take them outside and let your child color or paint them. You can help them cut windows and doors into them. One way to make the decorating easy and fun is to use a paper cup to hold the paint and tape it to the outside of the box right at your child's arm level.
Medium-size boxes that may be gathering dust in the attic or garage are great for toy train tunnels and matchbox car tracks/highways. Help your child cut the tunnel hole in the box and then help them put tape highways across the tops and sides, then take a marker and add the line for the road.
You can also combine several medium size boxes with multi-colored masking tape to make a fun play tunnel for your child to crawl though. Another option would be to have your child color or paint the tunnel to look like a caterpillar.
Let the kids have fun. There is always the old standby of making plastic bottle boats or toilet paper tube binoculars. Just make sure that all of your boxes are clean and sturdy and that they do not have any large staples in them. Many stores will let you have large boxes like TV or refrigerator boxes that they usually dispose of -- you just have to ask them.
4) Make Your Own "Around The World" Play Dough
It is really easy to make your own play dough from basic to bouncy. It is also eco-friendly and safe for your child.
A really fun way to spice up your play dough and add some fun learning is by using natural spices and scents that come from around the world to create different themes. You can add chili powder, cumin and turmeric for an India theme or lemongrass and ginger for an Asian theme. It gives you a way to introduce another culture through the sense of smell.
5) Water Toy Fun
Instead of the classic water balloon fight (which is a pain to clean up and whose remnants are bad for the environment), opt for easy to make water toy balls that are easy to toss and leave nothing behind when they land but a wet spot. All you need are some inexpensive kitchen sponges and a little imagination. They are easy to make, inexpensive and better for the environment than balloons.
6) Make Your Own Non-Toxic Finger Paint
All small children love to finger paint and they love getting dirty even more. While it is hot outside, why not let them paint themselves (as well as the paper) with your own non-toxic paint that you make at home?
7) Make Nontoxic-colored Rice & Pasta
Rice is an inexpensive, natural item to use to help your child learn and engage with spatial relations. After coloring the rice, all you need to do is put it in a large container with all different sized cups and measuring spoons and let your child pour and fill to their delight. Pasta is also an inexpensive natural item that is easy to color and is great for spatial relationship play like the rice, but is also great for stringing to make necklaces and to glue on to pictures for homemade frames.
8) Sandbox Treasure Hunt
Turn your sandbox into a place where your child can become a pirate finding his treasure. All you have to do is buy some inexpensive pyrite ("fools good") and bury it in the sand box. It is really fun to have your child dress up and then, with shovel in hand, dig up the gold. They will love their treasure.
9) Make A Bird Feeder Out of Recycled Materials
There are so many different types of bird feeders that you can make using recycled materials and items you have in the pantry. One of my favorite types to make is using a toilet paper tube. All you need to do is cover it in peanut butter and roll in birdseed then loop a string through and tie it to a large bush or tree. This bird feeder is perfect for little hands -- very easy for small children.
10) Bring the beach to your Back Yard
Even if you live near the beach, it can take a lot of time and energy to load everything up and get to the beach. So why not bring the beach to your backyard? All you need to do is buy several bags of clean sand from your local garden or hardware store, then pick a place in your yard to put your beach. If you want to contain your beach, you might want to put the sand in a kiddy pool, otherwise just poor in one area and spread it out. Put up a beach umbrella and get out the sand toys. Next it is great to bury and place shells, sand dollars and driftwood in the sand. You could use things that you have collected from beach trips or buy them from a local craft store.
Whether you decide to help your child grow their own sunflower play house, open up nature's art box, or hunt for pirate treasure, there is plenty of eco-friendly fun to keep your child entertained and engaged with nature.
Have fun! Be Mindful!