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Practical advice about raising children

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Now that spring has sprung you may find yourself spending more and more time outdoors—and why not? If the weather feels wonderful and the fresh air feels amazing, stop feeling cooped up and go play outside with your kids. You can keep them busy outdoors with these fun and innovative crafts found on Pinterest. Be sure to follow us on Pinterest for even more inspiration.

5 Outdoor Crafts for Kids

Pasta Butterflies

Pasta Crafts: Butterfly Decorations

Pull out your garden containers and leftover bow tie pasta to create these adorable spring-themed decorations. Although this isn’t necessarily an activity that will take your kids outdoors, it certainly evokes spring and can be stored outside. Via How Does She.

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Rainbow Bubble Snakes

Fun Messy Games: Rainbow Bubble Snakes

Be prepared to get messy with this fun outdoor activity. These Rainbow Bubble Snakes are easy to make and transform waste around the house into a toy for the kids. To keep things eco-friendly, use dish soap recommended by the Environmental Working Group and natural dyes such as turmeric powder (yellow), chopped beets (pink) or frozen blueberries (purple). Via Housing a Forest.

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1 Ingredient Slime

Sensory Play: 1-Ingredient Slime

As gross as you may think it is, making slime for kids has its rewards. They can’t enough of this flubbery substance, which is—for some reason—irresistible. What’s great about this homemade batch is that it’s nontoxic, edible and borax-free, and only takes five minutes to make. Mix it up then go outdoors with your kid to throw it around and play with it. Via Blog Me Mom.

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Citrus Cup Bird Feeder 

Bird Crafts for Kids: Citrus Cup Bird Feeder

Fill empty citrus rinds with bird seed and a little bit of peanut butter. Your kids will enjoy putting together this nifty little project, but even more they will love watching their feathered friends visit time and time again to feast from their creation. Via Mama.Papa.Bubba.

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Backyard Teepee

Outdoor Oasis: Backyard Teepee

Whatever the reason may be, everything is more fun when done inside a hand-built teepee or fort. Make your kids’ dreams come true by building them an outdoor oasis—a backyard teepee. A basic teepee is not difficult to make, but it does require time and effort. What’s best about this project is that your kids can color the inside or outside of the teepee, truly making it their own creation. Via Ziggity Zoom.

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The weather here is unseasonably warm, so we’ve got seeds and planting on our minds. We didn’t grow very much last year, so this feels like the year to really go big. It helps that I’ve been reading Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail, again. It’s one of those books that makes the idea of planting a lot of food seem possible, even though we don’t have a huge garden space.  Here are some of the steps we’re taking right now, to get on track to grow more of our own food this year:

gardening in purple boots
Making a garden plan while wearing purple boots. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

• Mapping our entire yard space, so we can make better use of the light and shade. I really like this simple mapping tool from Gardener’s Supply Company. We’ll need to make a more detailed map of the small areas that we plan to use in our side and front yards.

• Deciding what we can realistically fit in our space.

• Gathering seeds! Seed Savers Exchange is a great resource.

• Finding and preparing alternative planters, inside and outside.

• Making a space to start some seeds inside; Gayla Trail has devoted a entire section of her You Grow Girl website to seed starting.

Isabel, growing in the sunshine. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

In addition to working with the garden spaces in and around our home, I’m also hoping to buy a plot in our school’s community garden. When school began in August, Sam was very interested in the plum trees in the garden, so he’ll be motivated to help care for the trees and help with the fall harvest. We’re also figuring out our CSA (or NSA) budget, and which farm we’ll support this year. We’ve been very happy with Monroe Farms during past years, but we’ve recently heard about some options that are even closer to our home.

Beyond the details and logistics of learning to grow more of our food, we’re simply enjoying our time outside, absorbing the fresh air, the light, and of course the dirt.

What are you thinking of growing this year?

Elise Roth EdwardsElise Roth Edwards writes, paints, makes stuff, and asks a lot of questions in Denver, with the help of her two kids, her husband, and a growing crowd of friends and neighbors. You can read more about their experiments and adventures at her ever-evolving parenting blog, The Family Lab for Inquiry and Play


I loved being outdoors when I was a kid and was fortunate to have parents who encouraged me to be outside. We moved around a lot, and it was always fun to explore new places. Sometime in high school however, I lost touch with that part of myself and became much more of an indoors person throughout my young adulthood. Now, I have a two-year-old son who loves to be outside and am learning once again the value of getting kids (and myself) to play outside.

Playing Outside
Photo By Fotolia/Alliance

Our family faces a challenge I’m sure some of you can relate to living in a small apartment with only a balcony to call entirely ours. It’s easy in that situation to give in and blame accessibility, the weather, and a number of other factors for staying inside.  Thing is, getting your kids outside doesn’t have to mean letting them loose in some 1/2-acre fenced backyard or waiting for perfect weather at the park. It might take a bit more effort on your part as a parent, but it’s well worth it.

Are there any other ‘outdoors’ areas nearby? We are fortunate enough to have some semi-wooded public areas in our apartments where I can take my son. Is there a park nearby? Even if it’s just a small neighborhood park, it can offer more excitement than you might think. Do you have time to go somewhere like a nature preserve, county park, or greenway even if only on the weekends? Take advantage of those precious opportunities. What if the weather isn’t cooperating? You might be able to work with the weather for an outdoor activity (as long as you’re not dealing with severe weather). 

Playgrounds are great and sports are certainly a great reason to get outside, but for some kids neither of those will be much of an enticement. In fact, my son has little interest in playground equipment. If your child is ‘outdoor activity averse,’ try coming at it from a different angle. One of the most valuable effects of getting kids outside in my opinion is exposing them to the way nature works. I also love to start explaining to my son how human activity impacts nature and how we can protect nature. For the kid who is more bookish or interested in science than traditional play, recommend they take their interests outside. Could they pick up a book at the library about birds and then put that knowledge to use by bird watching at the park? Or perhaps your young scientist could count birds and then compare their totals to migrating bird counts to see how your local population compares? Or maybe they could observe and diagram the parts of a habitat?  Not all kids want to run, jump, or climb when they’re outside and suggesting alternative activities can inspire a child to get outside when they might not otherwise. 

Of course, one of the most important parts of getting kids outside is you. Kids obviously need supervision but also encouragement and sometimes someone to learn with them. Make what time you can to be part of getting your kids outside and you might even find yourself rediscovering your own inner child with dirt on your hands and fresh air in your lungs.

Elyse BlackElyse Black is a wife and mother to one (soon to be two), educator, avid home cook/baker, and pragmatic environmentalist. You can find her kid-tested, kosher-friendly recipes on her blog, “What’s Cookin,’ Mamele?”


When the temperatures drop, getting kids outside and connected to the natural world can be a hard sell. But making up fun activities and getting creative helps keep kids in touch with the natural world all year.

Outdoor Winter Activities

1. Make Ice Sculptures

Many children are more excited to wander around in the cold if there is a specific project to complete. Encourage children to gather natural materials to put inside of an ice sculpture. Collect leaves, pine cones, acorns, twigs, pine needles and other materials and then place them inside a plastic container or ice cube tray with a string hanging out. Fill the container with water and put it outside or in the freezer. Once frozen, use the string to hang up the sculpture. On warmer days, children enjoy watching their projects melt.

2. Read Books About the Natural World

Many children enjoy books about nature that are incorporated into stories or poetically presented. Some of our favorites are The Snowflake by Neil Waldman, Wild Fox by Cherie Mason and Dory Story by Jerry Pallotta.

3. Look Around for Signs of Animals

The animal world changes dramatically once winter hits. Walk around outside looking for signs from animals, such as footprints, opened nuts or animal homes. Reading a book beforehand to teach children what to look for may be helpful. Good children's titles include Animals in Winter by Henrietta Bancroft and What do Animals do in Winter by Melvin and Gilda Berger, or even Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich for adults.

4. Feed the Birds

Winter can be a difficult time for birds, as days get shorter and food sources are covered in snow. There are lots of fun kids' projects for feeding our feathered friends, including orange feeders and suet balls with seeds (or a vegetarian version).

5. Invent Winter Games

My children enjoy playing "ice hockey" with sticks, stones,and found objects on a patch of ice. Constructing winter fairy homes with icicles, mini snow forts, rocks and bright berries can engross children for a long time. When it is really cold, bring found natural objects inside to create a fairy craft.

Sarah Lozanova is a mother of two, a holistic parenting coach, and a freelance environmental writer. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and has an MBA in sustainable development.


It’s amazing how a 2-year old can be handed a gadget and just know how to use it, similar to how a kid knows how to use a feeding bottle. Action figures, puzzles and blocks are no longer the standard toys among today’s children. Research by child-education specialists at the Michael Cohen Group revealed that touch screens have taken over all other forms of playful delight for kids. Sixty percent of parents with kids under the age of 12 reported that their child plays on a portable screen often, while 38 percent apparently play very often. It’s interesting to note that 36 percent of these kids have their own device.

On the average, research by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that children are spending seven and a half hours staring at a screen. Compare these results to a global survey of preschool-aged kids by the Nature Conservancy, which showed that preschoolers around the world spend an hour and a half a day (12 hours a week) on a playground or outdoors. It should be no surprise, then, that when a kid turns seven, traditional play is over.

The advantages of traditional play range from physical to mental and emotional. In addition, the disadvantages are equally enormous, and the effects stay with the child as he or she reaches adulthood. So before handing your kid a gadget just to shut him up, learn about the long-term effects modern gadgets can have on a kid’s brain as well as their overall development.

Kids And Gadgets 

Not Good For the Brain

Even before kids can utter their first words, kids’ brains are tripling in size—a lot of learning happens before the age of five. Researchers at the University of Washington reveal that modern gadgets are not necessary in child development—children can thrive on being talked to and read to. In fact, kids need one-on-one time with their parents, not gadgets. Additionally, overexposure to gadgets has been linked to attention deficit, cognitive delays and impaired learning.

Language Delay for Toddlers

There is no such thing as educational TV for kids under 2 years old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). There are presumptions that screen time can be educational, but the AAP says that toddlers under the age of two do not have the cognitive ability to comprehend such programs. What it actually does is interfere with “talk time” between the parent and the child, which results in delayed language skills. Parents should be reminded of this because, aside from TV, a survey commissioned by Common Sense Media revealed that 38 percent of kids under 2 years old have used gadgets such as a smartphone or tablet even before they could talk or walk.

Less Active Play Equals Delayed Development

Kids under the age of 12 spend more time in front of a screen rather than playing outdoors. This restriction in movement results in delayed development. John Ratey, a doctor at Harvard, explained in his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, that the advantages of playing are not limited to being physically fit and socially comfortable. Even 10 minutes of physical activity changes the way the brain functions. In addition, exercise normally makes people feel better because it “builds and conditions the brain.”

Not Good for Bedtime

The late-night glow of laptops and mobile phones are depriving children a good night sleep. Research at the Kaiser Foundation found that 60 percent of parents don’t supervise their children’s gadget usage, and 75 percent of kids are allowed to use technology in their bedrooms. This results in 75 percent of sleep-deprived children, between the ages of 9 and 10, according to researchers from Boston College.

Not Good for School

Being sleep-deprived doesn’t only affect child development but also their performance in school. Researchers from Boston College found that students from developing countries in Asia scored better in math, science and reading than students from the U.S. and other big world economies whose children are overexposed to technology.

Terrible Child Aggression

A study by the National Institutes of Health found that the increase in use of modern technology can break the old boundaries of family, values, behavior and children’s well-being. Some games available in the internet portray sex, murder, torture and mutilation, which can make kids violent and aggressive. On the other hand, playing outdoors (for example, in a traditional playground) has proven to help children be more sociable and generally calmer.

Kids Suffer Mental Illness

The PEACH project, a study of more than 1,000 children between the ages of 10 and 11, found that children who spend longer than two hours in front of a screen or another entertainment medium are more likely to suffer psychological difficulties. These can include child depression, anxiety, attention deficit and problematic child behavior. On the other hand, children who experience more moderate physical activity fared better in emotional categories and were better able to solve peer problems. This shows that active play makes kids healthier not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.

Gadgets Cause Tantrums

Do you know what an “iPaddy” means? It’s a term coined for kids throwing a tantrum when their electronic devices are taken away from them. A study commissioned by online retailer Pixmania revealed that eight out of 10 parents who have children ages 14 and under said they confiscate gadgets as a form of punishment. Because kids have grown attached to them, kids throw tantrums. If you don’t want to be like these parents, re-assess the extent you allow your kids to regularly use technology before they get too attached to them.

There is no stopping the wave of technology. Parents cannot tell their kids to live without them because they will surely need it as they grow older. However, a parent must be aware of the advantages and disadvantages behind them. When supervised and regulated, gadgets can aid in development at the right age, but too much use of technology (and too early) will only delay a child’s learning abilities and put a strain on his psychological health.

Aby League HeadshotAby League is a medical practitioner and an Elite Daily writer. She also writes about business and other topics of great interest. She also writes a blog, About Possibilities. Follow her @abyleague and circle her on Google+.  


Faith MoserFaith Moser is the creator of eco ike {organic baby t’s + cookbooks full of yummy, healthy and quick recipes for kids and grown-ups}! If you want your kids to grow, live, eat & play green, visit 

It is estimated that each American child produces 67 pounds of lunch packaging waste each school year. That’s a big ‘F’ in my report card! This year, when school starts, make sure that your kids are lunch box smart!

There is no longer a need for plastic sandwich bags, paper bags and juice boxes. There are tons of green lunch box options out there and a lot of them are super cute too! Here’s my eco lunch box lowdown:

 lunchskins reusable bags 

1. Forgo the brown paper bag and invest in a durable lunch box or bento-style lunch container.   

2. Go reuseable! Reusable sandwich bags and containers are super sturdy and easy to use, clean and store. If you have to pack a plastic bag, try to reuse it or recycle it!

3. Store beverages in stainless steel water bottles! Have your kids sip out of a reusable bottle rather than a juice box or plastic water bottle.

4. If your child needs cutlery or a napkin, pack the real thing. Encourage your child to bring home all leftovers to prevent accidentally disposing of the napkin and utensils (they may even be able to compost any leftovers).

5. If possible, steer clear of purchasing prepackaged foods for your child’s lunch. They are typically wrapped in excessive packaging and are more expensive than buying in bulk.

Image Courtesy of Lunchskins


Who doesn’t like getting something for free? I would much rather get something without spending money, especially something that costs a lot. Rain water is free, delivered to your home at no charge, ready to use. Watering a lawn and garden and hanging flower baskets each week during the hot summer months can be expensive and wasteful. If your water bill increases during the summer, consider doing a water bill audit. Take your water bills from the last two or three years, add up the increases in June, July and August, and compare them to the one-time cost of purchasing and installing a rain barrel with simple irrigation. Now reflect on that savings over the past ten or fifteen years, or however long you’ve been in your home, to see how much you could have in the bank today if you had been using a rain water collection and irrigation system from the beginning.  

This is what I did after I made an impulse purchase of an attractively designed rain barrel at a local home and garden center last year. The $69 was more than I felt comfortable spending, even getting a sale price, but I’d wanted a rain barrel for a long time, and this one matched our home’s exterior nicely, so I bought it. The purchase price was a bargain compared to the cost of watering lawns, flowers, vegetable gardens and shrubs for three months. And we don’t have to worry about summer water restrictions or try to remember what days of the week we’re allowed to water the lawn.  

We had a few problems with the rain barrel that my husband likes to bring up whenever anyone asks us about it. The adapter kit to connect the rain barrel hose to the gutter is narrower than the gutter interior and trapped some tree debris, clogging it. It had to be removed and cleaned out so the rain water in the gutters would run freely again when it rained. I highly recommend the investment of a properly fitting gutter screen system when you buy a rain barrel if you don’t already have one, especially if you have any trees near your gutters.  

Another minor problem we ran into with the rain barrel is that the spigot is very low for filling, requiring bending down to fill any watering cans. Since we already cut into our gutter’s downspout to attach the rain barrel, we’d have to buy a whole new section of downspout and cut into it to reposition our rain barrel on cement blocks or some other objects to elevate it to a more comfortable position for use. It would be well worth the expense and effort, we just haven’t done it because we would rather have at least a couple more barrels connected for a larger rain water collection system to use all of the rain water that comes our way and are considering how to position a larger system. Our barrel’s overflow ejects at least two barrels for every full barrel of water collected, sometimes much more, and I feel like that is wasted water.  

That leads to a third problem. If we want to install and connect more barrels for a bigger collection system without junking up our backyard, we would have to buy the same kind of barrel we already have for aesthetics. Other options are building our own system with large plastic lidded cans or barrels, and then disposing of the rain barrel we now have. These aren’t small considerations, either financially or in terms of time and effort, for a busy family of four. We want our rain barrel system to look nice, match the house, and be as easy to use and efficient as possible. That takes some planning, some investment and some dedication to using something other than the hose and city water.  

When I talk to people about why we have a rain barrel and how we use it, I always recommend a real examination of dedication to sustainable home practices and good planning. It doesn’t do any good to get a rain barrel and then find out it is too difficult to use or it’s not big enough or it doesn’t look right next to your house. I also recommend starting bigger than you think you’ll need at first, because it’s not that easy to add on after you’ve installed and made adjustments for one barrel.  My dream system for our single family home with a front and back yard lawn, five gardens and a gazebo fully loaded with summering houseplants and flowering hanging baskets, would be four or five rain barrels that are plugged into a really efficient in-ground irrigation system. That would totally eliminate all use of water that we have to pay for and would allow us to water more often and more consistently than we do now.  





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