With summer vacation right around the corner, long, sun-filled days are fast-approaching. What better way to spend them than at the beach? Whether you live near the coast, or are planning a seaside family getaway, a trip to the beach with kids is a lot more fun when you’re prepared. Yes, sand toys and sunscreen are a must. And be sure to tote plenty of snacks and drinks too. But as a seasoned beach mama, take my word for it that having a couple of planned activities—beyond the basic wave-riding and sand sculpting—is a good idea. When your little ones get too sandy, too hot, or generally disagreeable for whatever reason, pull out one of these creative ideas to reset the mood!
Beach Fun: Sea Life Touch Tanks
For many summers now, my girls have enjoyed weekly visits to a small strip of shore we call Shell Beach. We gather with friends and the kids spread out, spending the day shaping the powder fine sand, riding the Gulf waves, scaling snail-covered rocks, and climbing low-hanging sea grape trees. The one activity they all adore, however, is creating “touch tanks”—portable containers filled with sea water and found sea creatures. Armed with nets, shovels, buckets, and curiosity, the kids seek and discover all variety of sea life: crabs, non-stinging jellyfish, small fish, sea urchins, sea snails, coquinas, sand fleas, whelks, and more! Once captured, the critters are corralled into buckets and bowls where they can be touched, examined, and observed. The touch tanks are added to all-day long, and then the creatures are gently returned to their habitats, unharmed.
• Bring along a few buckets and portable containers, and some nets and beach shovels, when you visit the shore.
• Help your kids to search the different natural habitats of your beach to discover the varying sea life they house. Look in the water, around rocks, along the shoreline, and in the sand. Take a walk and see what you can discover in different areas. (Consider visiting the beach at different times of the day to see what different critters can be found.)
• Gently place found critters into buckets or containers filled with water or sand, depending on the creature. Now is your chance to examine them up-close. If it’s safe, encourage kids to carefully touch and explore!
• If you like, bring along field guides to help you identify the species you collect.
• Keep adding, or cycling, finds to the touch tanks all day long. Remember to always return your critters to where they came from.
Beach Fun: Art, En Plein Air
Sometimes an entire day (or weekend, or week) of sun, sea, and sand can be overwhelming for kids. I’ve found we can extend the length of our beach trips if I plan a quiet activity that can be done on a blanket, in the shade of a tree or beach umbrella. In comes beach art en plein air—a French expression which means “in the open air.” Typically used to describe painting outdoors, plein air art for us includes various types of mixed media, including crayons, markers, colored pencils, and tape/glue, as well as paint. No worries if the kids get messy—they can wash up in the ocean!
• Pack a tote bag of art supplies. Include simple, portable materials such as sketchpads, watercolor paint trays, a few paintbrushes, markers, crayons, tape and glue, colored pencils, and a cup for water.
• Try landscape pictures: Suggest kids paint, or draw, the landscape as they see it. Have them first divide their paper into thirds with one-part sky, one-part water, and one-part shore (they don’t need to be equal parts). Next, encourage them to add details they observe, such as clouds, birds, boats, people, palm trees, rocks, and so on.
• Get creative: There are many creative ideas you can do for on-location art at the beach. Try making a leaf rubbing of a seaside plant or tree (place the leaf vein-side up under a sheet of paper, then rub over the paper with the side of a crayon and watch the image appear). Or try taping or gluing found objects (feathers, shells, seaweed, sand) onto paper to create a mixed media collage.
• Create sea-watercolor paintings: Bring along a squirt bottle and a couple of plastic straws (never leave these behind as they could harm wildlife). Fill your squirt bottle and a small container with sea water. Use the collected water when painting to create sea-watercolor paintings. Use the spray bottle to spritz paintings—watch how the colors bleed together and create new designs. Use the straws to pick up drops of sea water and drip them onto paper saturated with color. What happens if you sprinkle the pictures with sand? What happens when the paintings dry—does the salty water create any special effects?
Photos by Elizabeth Sniegocki
For more creative ideas to keep kids active and engaged in the natural world this summer, check out the 8-week, At-Home Summer Nature Camp eGuide at A Natural Nester. It’s packed with a summer-full of kid-friendly lessons, outdoor activities, indoor projects, arts & crafts, recipes, field trip ideas, book & media suggestions, and more.
Elizabeth Sniegocki is a writer, naturalist, suburban homesteader and mother in Sarasota, Florida. She writes on seasonal and sustainable living, wholesome cooking, community building, conscious parenting and more for various print and online publications. Elizabeth also offers self-paced eCourses and family eGuides to help others create a natural and mindful environment around them, and within. Learn more about her work at Natural Nester.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photo by Kristy Severin
Encouraging children to help prepare meals in the kitchen is a wonderful way to introduce the simple pleasures of life. By taking the time to prepare meals with children, they are learning to work with their hands, about food preparation and planning, working with others, as well as developing an appreciation for the food we eat every day. To help encourage your child or a child you know, start by having children help out with the meal planning—from deciding what to eat, making a grocery list, helping out at the grocery store and unpacking the groceries at home. Children may gain a sense of pride and independence if asked to help with these practical tasks that could help guide their future in a positive manner.
Kids in the Kitchen: Kitchen Tools
Most kitchen tools are kid friendly, such as mixing spoons, measuring cups, and bowls. For the not-so-kid-friendly kitchen tools, try these suggestions.
Kid-friendly cutting knives such as a Joie wavy slicer
A safe kitchen stool such as the Guidecraft kitchen helper stool
Kid-Friendly peeler such as the one from “How We Montessori”
To encourage even more independence, you may want to have an area in the kitchen designated solely for the child that contains items within reach such as plates, cups, silverware, snacks, napkins, and other practical, safe kitchenware.
Photo courtesy Three Oaks Blog
The idea of allowing children to serve themselves and/or help out with practical every day activities may seem overwhelming at first but children are generally intrigued by practical life skills and activities, and you may find them not only interested in helping, but that they will love helping and the chance to be independent. You may also enjoy having the extra helper and the time to bond with your child.
Kristy Severin is a mother of two, a certified art instructor, photographer, painter, writer and cook. She earned her BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda, East Africa. Inspired daily by her children and love of the earth, Kristy’s fine art and writings are at The Art of Green Living.
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.
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 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?”
If you’ve ever tried gardening with a young child, you understand why it may not always be described as “enjoyable.” I can’t imagine what must go through their little heads when they see all that dirt to play with! We see hard work and beauty to behold; they see their next trail of destruction!
Gardening with your kid(s) doesn’t have to be stressful though. Following these five steps may just put you both in the right frame of mind to garden peacefully together.
Make gardening a personal experience for your child by providing them with their own space. Photo By Jamie Lamb.
1. Start with a Book. Part of the process of having your child garden with you is getting them excited about it and understanding why we do it. You can easily explain all this through reading to them. When your child begins to see the connection between their books and the green things sprouting outside, it makes more sense to them. “Up, Down and Around” by Katherine Ayers and “Jo MacDonald Had a Garden” by Mary Quatellbaum were two books that my child enjoyed and helped her connect the dots between gardening and her food supply. If you need more examples, head over to my blog for a listing on gardening books for kids.
Start by reading a book about gardening. Photo By Jamie Lamb.
2. Parents Prepare. I can’t emphasize this one enough. If you’re trying to figure out a task and then try gathering tools, pots, soil and seeds all while wrangling your tot and trying to keep his/her hands out of everything before starting, you’re bound to get frustrated quickly. Plan out specific projects or tasks you’ll be doing ahead of time. Have a lot to do? Consider mapping out a plot of land just for your child. Having his/her own large pot or plot of earth will give them the independence to explore, create and maybe even destroy. But it’s theirs so it won’t matter what happens to it!
3. Purchase Kid-Friendly Tools. Your plants will not survive with a kid wielding an adult-sized hoe. That giant “sword” is just waiting to puncture the heart of your zucchini plant! Invest in equipment that your kids can easily use and you’ll save your plants from an early death. Kid gardening gloves, miniature shovels and spades, as well as a squirt bottle for watering are all good ideas to get you started.
Provide your child with child-sized garden tools. Photo By Jamie Lamb.
4. Lay Out the Expectations First. Explaining the process of your tasks up front and setting clear expectations of what is allowed—and not allowed—is a sure-fire way to set things off on the right foot. If you just tell a child you’ll be planting seeds today, you’re bound to suddenly see shovels full of dirt and seeds being strewn all over the yard and in the air. If you can simply instruct step by step and explain that ripping out carrot tops is not acceptable, you’ve set the boundaries that kids ultimately want and need.
5. Chill Out. No not your kid—I’m talking to you. This is a hard one for me personally to remember sometimes. We put so much effort into our gardens that sometimes we forget how much fun it can really be. Take the time to see it through your kid’s eyes and don’t forget a garden isn’t complete without a few mud pies. Remember that not every cherry tomato would have survived anyways. So if they become victims to a child gardening, leave it be. Each year will get easier and your child will learn to love what you love.
Jamie Lamb resides in beautiful Central Pennsylvania. An avid gardener for the past five years, she’s passionate about our food supply and believes anyone can garden. To follow her quirky take on expanding her families gardening footprint all with a toddler in tow, visit her blog, They Call Me A Hippie.
Every year you’ll find it on your child’s school supply list: hand sanitizer. You’ll find the words “antibacterial” plastered on every home-care and personal-care product across the board. Our culture is obsessed with this idea of killing bacteria yet most of us have no idea what we are really doing.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are nothing new to some of us. With the onslaught of MRSA, mainstream news outlets have covered the story from time to time, but we continue to use products like hand sanitizers, unknowingly turning our children’s hands into little Petri dishes. Doctors are taking steps to curb the problem, such as testing for bacterial infections before simply handing out prescriptions for antibiotics to every child with a runny nose, but the school system seems to have ignored the warnings and, in fact, studies claim the use of hand sanitizers has had a positive effect in the classroom, resulting in less absenteeism. On the other hand, numerous studies show, “these antibacterial hand washes and disinfectants are also contributing to the rapid growth of antibiotic-resistant superbugs that pose a serious risk to human health.” Let’s not forget that using these products also kills off the beneficial bacteria in the environment, just as antibiotics kill off healthy gut bacteria.
Photo By SonnyandSandy/Flickr
So what could be worse?
Triclosan: the most popular ingredient in antibacterial products and a heavy endocrine-disrupting substance. Triclosan can be found in everything from clothing to kitchenware, furniture, toys and, of course, in antibacterial soaps, toothpastes and cosmetics. If you don’t know much about endocrine disruptors, go check out Mrs. Green’s explanation or at least throw “endocrine disruptors” into your search bar. Basically, triclosan has the ability to alter your body’s hormones in a negative way. Recent studies have also found triclosan to weaken muscles and hinder the heart’s ability to circulate blood. In layman’s terms, this chemical can stop your heart. Bacteria don’t sound so scary now, do they?
“But these products are regulated by the FDA,” you say.
Well, let me remind you that Michael R. Taylor, the deputy commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration, worked for Monsanto and wrote the rBGH labeling guidelines. Turns out, rBGH is so bad even Wal-Mart banned it from its milk. I don’t think two million people marching in opposition to GMOs can all be wrong either, and I’m a firm believer in independent studies so research it for yourself to make your own decision. The FDA is looking into triclosan and you can wait for their determination—or you can simply stop using hand sanitizers and the like and turn to a natural alternative. In my opinion, it’s better to be on the safe side.
Naturally antibacterial essential oils:
• Also spicier oils like thyme, oregano, and clove.
Any of the above essential oils can be added to your cleaning products and will make them antibacterial without the harmful chemicals. As for hand sanitizer? Try making your own with this easy recipe.
Kate Hunter enjoys organic gardening, whole food cooking, crafting, making natural products, and following up on politics and the latest health food news. After changing her major from art to biology to English, she finally obtained a B.A. in English with an emphasis on writing from Southern Oregon University and has been writing about nutrition, healthy living, cooking, and gardening for over nine years. Kate is a published author both online and in print and has owned, operated, and published a literary journal. She is a mother of three, speaks sarcasm, some Spanish, but mostly English and spends her time baking, taking pictures, canning, growing and drying herbs, reading, selling natural products and homemade crafts in her Etsy store HomemadeByKate, and checking food labels of course.
I brought my kids to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, on Sunday. There was music, dancing and mounds and mounds of candy. We left with our pockets and stroller pouch overflowing with candy! Although I don’t want to deprive my children of the fun experience of collecting candy, I don’t want them to eat a large quantity of artificial colors, dyes and sweeteners.
Photos By Sarah Lozanova
At Halloween, a fairy came along and traded dates and raisins for the candy stash. Thankfully my kids were asleep before the trick-or-treating ended, so we were able to pass the candy along to other children. For St. Patrick’s Day, we decided to make artwork from the candy collection.
We started out by making homemade glue, which contains water, cornstarch, corn syrup and vinegar. My children, ages 2 and 4, then glued the candy on thick pieces of paper. They really enjoyed the project and didn’t once ask for a taste. The candy is still edible if anyone wants it, as the glue is food grade.
I enjoy celebrating holidays with my children, but I keep the emphasis on spending quality time together and enjoying ourselves, and away from heaps of candy. My daughter’s Easter basket last year was filled with carrots and blueberries, and we used polished rocks for our dreidel games (instead of chocolate coins). It keeps me on my toes too, finding creative and fun ways to celebrate the holidays.
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.