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Summertime… And The Living Is Green

Summer is upon us and the school vacation is just around the corner. All that lovely spare time for you and your kids to have fun and relax together in some hopefully sunny weather. However, although the formal studying has finished for a while, there’s no reason why the learning has to stop. Spending time at home and as a family is a great chance to get the kids involved in sustainable living at the same time as having some great fun.

Here are some suggestions for a sustainable summer vacation.

Get crafting
Kids generally love to be creative – so get them away from their touch screens and games consoles with some crafting. No matter how old they are, there are projects out there to suit any age or level of crafting skill. Crafting kits can be bought relatively cheaply in stores or online, but an even better option is to use the resources you have around you.
For younger children, keep hold of the (clean) boxes and packets that food and other items are packaged in. A few bits and pieces from recent grocery shops, plus some tape, crayons and imagination will keep children occupied for hours. It will also cut down your trash and household waste no end as cans turn into spaceships, cake boxes into houses and shiny sweet wrappers into dolls’ fashion.

Result? You will have less to recycle or trash, lower electricity bills, happily occupied children and a unique homemade keepsake to treasure (or recycle later...).

Get outdoors and back to nature
Earlier this year The National Trust – a large British conservation organisation – conducted a survey to find out the top 50 things every child should do before they turn 12 years old. Some of the suggestions included building a den, tracking wild animals, cooking on a camp fire, climbing a tree and eating an apple straight from the tree. So long as families remember to respect nature at all times, these are excellent – and free – green activities to do during summer break. Children could keep a list or a diary and mark off as many of the 50 things as they can.

Summer is a great time to learn about nature. Why not spend the day in the woods, listening to birdsong and identifying the trees and plants around you? Or head to the beach to explore rock pools to see what lives inside. Even if you just spend some time at your local green area, there will be plenty of wildlife to watch out for. Especially if you are really quiet, so as not to scare anything away.

Learn about sustainability
Has your child been set any homework over the vacation? No? Why not set your own? Challenge older children to learn about one aspect of green living, whether it is to find out where the boxes and jars sent to the recycling plant end up, or how to plant and maintain a working vegetable garden. Go for trips to the library to help your children do their research – another free, eco-friendly pastime for the whole family to enjoy.

Or you could help younger children make a mini nature display, using sticks, shells and pretty stones laid out in a shallow dish or dustbin lid. Or do some cooking with them to show them where their food comes from, and how far away it has travelled to reach their plate. This could be a great way to introduce the idea to smaller children them of choosing local foods wherever possible to support local farmers and cut down on the fuel used to transport the produce from another country or continent.

Think before you buy new stuff
Sure, it feels great to go out to buy a new toy or video game. Who doesn’t like to get new stuff? Even the grown ups take real pleasure from a day at the shopping mall, or time browsing a top end car showroom or luxury sofa store for a shiny new replacement to our existing vehicle or sofa. Yet we already own masses and masses of things – it has become so easy to replace our belongings when they start to get slightly old that regarding shopping trips like this as a family activity has become the norm, replacing thrifty repairs and mending sessions.

While you sometime do have to go out to make these purchases, think carefully how to dispose of the old item. Is it really no longer fit for purpose or can it be repaired? Can you donate it to charity or sell it to a friend rather than just throwing it away? Or break it down to use for spare parts? If you do have to throw it away, make sure you do so in as environmentally-friendly a way as possible – look online for local organisations that can advise on this. Encourage the kids to do this with their old toys too – it will hopefully kick start a lifelong habit of responsible recycling and canny money management.

Enjoy a stay-cation: holiday at home
Think of all those air miles undertaken by people across the planet every single day. Then imagine the fuel being burnt to take travellers all over the world. So many of our planet’s resources are used up many simply for the chance to enjoy an exotic vacation. Of course vacations are important to help families relax and revitalise for the work ahead, but take a look around you. It’s a pretty safe bet that there are some beautiful places to explore right on your own doorstep, so consider staying at home this summer and exploring your own neighbourhood.

Not only will you save precious global fuel resources by staying put, you will also get to discover some great places that you can return to very easily. Plus you might make new friends and learn new activities. Being on holiday at home will enable you to see familiar places in a whole new light. For instance, you might be getting bored of doing the same old things at your local park, but have you ever considered setting up an assault course in the neighbouring woods or taking photos and collecting bits and pieces to make a nature diary? Or, how about packing up some lunch and going for a bike ride to your local forest or beach rather than jumping the car?

Whatever you do this summer, have a great time, and keep it green!

Jenny Redding is a freelance writer from England who writes primarily about sustainability and green living. As a mother of two she knows what how the pressure to have the latest toys and gadgets weighs on parents but wants to bring her kids up to respect the natural world.