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Eco Summer Ideas With The Kids

We can feel the change all around us.  The days are getting a bit longer and a bit warmer.  We start reaching for shorts and tees and the sun feels glorious on our skin.  Things like sunscreen and pool floaties are starting to catch our eyes in the stores.  We begin to brood over crucial matters like backyard bbqs and possible weekend getaway destinations.  And if there are kids about?  Well, as the school year gasps its last few breaths you can tell just by looking at those happy faces—summer is almost here.

So…what are we going to do with our kiddos this summer?  We don’t want them to grow permanent roots into the sofa whilst watching hour upon hour of television or playing the latest video game.  Neither do we want to be pelted with an endless chorus of “Mo-OM I’m bored!” from now until the end of August.  What to do? Get them outside and involved with the environment and the caretaking of their planet!  And hey, you can create a little quality family time to boot. Here are a few fun eco activities to help fill the summer days with our kids.

Plant a garden.  This is perhaps the most obvious way to help kids make a real and concrete connection to their environment and to the earth—since they’ll literally be up to their elbows in it!  And it also an easy way to help them learn about organic gardening practices.  Herbs in containers are incredibly easy to grow in even a small space and tomatoes and other veggies can be purchased from many retail outlets in starter pots and transferred to either the ground or a larger container.  Even picky eaters are likely to at least try something that they’ve grown with their own hands.  Try this fun idea!  Buy a couple of basil plants in 6” or greater sized pots (many markets and even some drug stores have these out right now) and then transfer them to a larger container of your choosing.  Be sure to use organic potting soil and talk about why we want to keep pesticides & chemicals out of our food and our bodies.  Kiddos can then harvest the leaves and learn to make their own delicious pesto for pasta or to smear on their picnic sandwiches. Yum!  Cherry tomatoes or teeny pear shaped varieties are naturally enticing to kids because of their delish looking colors and shapes.  How satisfying to plant the little sprouts, nurturing & caring for them as the summer days go by, watching them grow and mature and then finally picking & eating them up. 

Day Trip to a Working Farm.  If the kids really get into the gardening, why not plan a day trip to a working farm?  The fertile Bay Area offers us many nearby farms to visit and can help kids and adults learn the importance of buying locally grown produce and all within only an hour or so distance from our homes!  At Smith Family Farm, just ten minutes out side Brentwood (http://www.smithfamilyfarm.com), you can pick your own fruits and veggies and take a hay ride.  Another fun place is Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont (http://www.ebparks.org/parks/ardenwood).  Ardenwood has animals to meet and weekly “historic days” where kids can learn about how different life was long ago.  They also have wonderful special events throughout the year. Beautiful Slide Ranch in Marin (http://www.slideranch.org) is another terrific place to visit.  This biodynamic farm has an organic garden, hiking trails, and lots of animals to interact with. Kids can gather eggs in the henhouse or milk one of the goats while they explore the ranch.  Or you might try just striking up a conversation with some of the farmers at any of our local farmer’s markets.  Visiting farms helps kids connect with the natural world while they learn about growing healthy food.  And it is a super fun way to spend a day!

Arts & Crafts.  Summertime offers us a wealth of art ideas that can involve recycled, reusable or found items.  Planning a trip to the beach?  Bring along a couple of lidded

containers and haul some sand back home with you.  Collect some shells while you’re walking along the shore and even some seaweed.  You and the kiddos can make a diorama or other fun art project with the items you bring home.  Pinecones found in the park can be smeared with peanut butter and rolled in seeds to become birdfeeders and oddly shaped rocks lugged home from the beach can be painted and adorned with glitter or other neato glue-ables to become paperweights or doorstops. You can reclaim items from your recycling bin as well.  An empty milk jug can be transformed into a bird feeder in about fifteen minutes.  Kiddos will love watching the birds it draws to their yard! 

Take a Hike—Literally!  One of the great things about going on a hike with younger kids is that even a very short distance can yield amazing finds.  A path in the woods quickly becomes a trail to a secret hideout up in the trees; a creek can be the place where the wood fairies come to wash their hair.  A fun hike through Tilden or Joaquin Miller Park with the kids gets them—and us—outside into the warm sunshine and almost instantly lifts our spirits.  Take along plenty of water and a picnic lunch and you’ve got the makings of a terrific summer afternoon. Bring along a bag to cart out your own trash and kindly pick up a few pieces if you should come across them in the park.  A short car trek over to Muir Beach is fun too.  There are dunes to hike in and you can make your way down to the tide pools where the kiddos can splash around while they examine the mussels, sea urchins, sea stars and crabs that make their homes there. 

Here’s to a great summer, have fun!

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