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14 June 2014

Eco-Friendly Summer Activities For School Age Children

When the kids are out of school, it's the perfect time for Mums and Dads to spend quality time teaching kids to honour and respect nature. Below, you'll find some fun ideas for eco-friendly summer activities that are sure to bond the family together and provide rich and rewarding experiences the kids will never forget.

Nature Hikes & Nature Scrapbook
Tell the kids you are taking them on 4 nature hikes over the summer. Build up their excitement by letting them anticipate the adventures. Tell them they are going to be putting together a nature scrapbook to compare the 4 beautiful places they visit. Make the location of the hikes as diverse possible and talk with them about the differences they see in habitat and wildlife. For example, you could choose a forest, a fresh water riverbank, a salt water marsh, and a sunny meadow -- 4 very distinctive habitats. Take along some natural history guides like a bird identification guide, a plant guide, and an insect guide. Challenge the kids to identify some of the animals and plants they see and show a special interest in.

On your nature hikes, let the kids collect a few items for their scrapbook but impress upon them the importance of leaving as small a footprint as possible. For example, you might let them collect a few leaves for pressing because one leaf isn't going to hurt a plant or remove too much detritus from the forest floor. However, if they want to take a snail shell from the beach, you may explain to them how that shell could become a new home for a hermit crab and then ask them if they really want to take it. Let the decision be theirs once you explain the consequences. You might offer an alternative of taking a digital picture of the snail shell for their scrapbook.

If you find a spider web well by the sun, encourage the kids to admire the intricacies of it but don't let them disturb it in any way. Explain that this is how a spider makes its living and how much energy it takes for the spider to spin their web. Explain that spiders are basically fishermen and fisherwomen who fish in the air instead of the water. If you come across a patch of mushrooms, you might let them take one to make a spore print but leave the rest for animals to graze on and for the mushroom to proliferate by spreading its spores on the forest floor or in the meadow.

To make a spore print at home, simply lay the mushroom cap gill side down on a sheet of paper undisturbed overnight and very gently lift the cap off the paper in the morning. Mushroom spore prints can yield intricate designs and they can be preserved in the nature scrap book by lightly spraying the print with non-toxic hair spray.

Star Gazing
You don't need a telescope or any special equipment to let the kids become astronomers for a night! Take a trip to the bookshop or check out a book from the library on astronomy. Make sure to pick a book that shows good diagrams and photos of star constellations and how to find them. Go through the book with the kids the day before and then challenge them to find some of the common constellations like Ursa Major (the Great Bear), Ursa Minor (the Little Bear), Draco the Dragon, Orion the Hunter, and Cassiopeia. Encourage them to find Polaris, the North Star that guided ancient Phoenician sailors.

You could even turn it into a game by offering small rewards for finding each one of the constellations. If you're lucky, you may also be able to spot planets like Venus or Mars. These planets often look like extra bright stars.

Watch a Meteor Shower
Nothing excites a child's imagination more than a shooting star with a long bright tail streaking across a darkened sky. Witnessing a good meteor shower is something that will stay with them their whole life -- they'll still be talking about it when they bounce their grandchildren on their knee!

Every July through August, Mother Nature puts on a spectacular show in the Perseid Meteor Shower. It is one the most reliable meteor showers all year and it happens when the nights are not quite so cold and the kids can stay up late because their out of school. In 2014, the peak will occur on the night of August 12-13. During the peak, you can expect 50 or more shooting stars per hour! The waning gibbon’s moon may obscure the fainter shooting stars this year but on most years the Perseids produce some shooting stars so bright, this shouldn't matter. The Perseid Meteor Shower originates in the orbital path of the comet Swift-Tuttle so you can tell the kids they're looking at comet dust.

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