Q: Summer is around the corner and I’m trying to put together some fun family activities. I’d like to build on some of the Earth-friendly projects my kids have been doing at school. Do you have any resources that will help me keep the kids engaged during the summer?
A: In honor of your efforts to keep the kids mentally and physically active during the summer months, I compiled a Top 20 list of family projects. Each will help your family reduce its carbon footprint. Some will even help spread that message beyond your household.
20. Perform an audit: If you use an online banking system, which is one way to save paper, it should be easy to find your utility bills from last summer. Set a goal to reduce energy and water consumption by a certain percentage and list areas for improvement as a family. The savings can be used for a night out or a pizza party. To kick-start the effort, take the MNN energy efficiency quiz together.
19. Tackle energy hogs: Unplug unused items such as the toaster, stereo, phone charger and other items when not in use. Make sure air conditioning vents are not obstructed, clean all air filters, turn off lights when not in use and open the windows to let fresh air inside!
18. Do a school supply audit: We all love new gear for a new school year, but it’s best to consume less if possible. Check out notebooks, pens, backpacks and other gear to see what can be used next year and what should be replaced.
17. Create a living room — outside: The best way to reduce your energy bill is to avoid consuming energy. Have fun outside by dusting off those lawn chairs and board games. Once the sun drops a bit, an afternoon in the backyard can be a fun and relaxing way to enjoy family time. Just make sure to wear sunscreen.
16. Declutter your home: Get rid of old toys that are no longer used by kids or adults. That includes electronic devices, which may even net a bit of a profit. In a previous column, I listed ways to turn old clothes into new gear for the kids. You also can simply give unwanted items away through sites like Freecycle.org, donate them to charity or …
15. Have a garage sale: This is a fun way to encourage the whole household to purge with a purpose. Perhaps the person who sells the most items gets a prize. Actually, everyone wins when there is less stuff cluttering your home.
14. Have a potluck with friends or family: Family style meals help the wallet and the planet. Rather than throwing meat on the grill this summer, create a theme such as tapas night and ask guests to bring a dish. Make sure everyone brings containers to carry home extras.
13. Grow something: There are probably a few veggies on your family’s go-to list. Try your hand at growing produce at home. Local botanical gardens or garden supply stores frequently offer classes for kids and adults. Cultivate your green thumbs together, and throw in a few flowers to enhance your yard’s drainage and curb appeal. Kidsgardening.org, sponsored by the National Gardening Association, also features a family resource center filled with kid-friendly ideas such as “lasagna gardens” and potato towers.
12. Plan family dinners: I know that everyone has a busy schedule, but eating together strengthens family ties and reduces waste. Plan to have dinner together at least once a week and turn meal preparation into a family project. Each person can create a menu or perhaps the family can have fun creating dinner around a “mystery ingredient” a la “Iron Chef.” I personally like awarding family members for most creative use of leftovers. Once summer reaches an end, you should have a good list of family favorites and perhaps even a virtual cookbook for use during the school year. The goal is to create a routine that is easy to maintain once school resumes.
11. Eat outside: This is a fun and easy way to bring the family together for a meal. Because most of the heavy, cream-based stuff doesn’t travel well, you may end up with a healthier meal at the end.
10. Give meatless Mondays a try: The extra meal planning should make it easier to add a few meat-free options to your schedule.
9. Visit a farmers market: Summertime is high season for farmers markets. Plan a family trip and get to know local farmers in your area. They are a treasure trove of great recipe ideas. It also helps the kids understand the origin of the food they eat.
8. Get moving! Throw the football, walk the dog together, toss some horseshoes or ride a bike. Make sure everyone burns calories outside as a family.
7. Help others: Once your yard and home garden are in pristine condition, share the love by offering to help elderly neighbors. The goal is to pay it forward.
6. Volunteer: Whether it’s a day stuffing boxes at a local food bank or making sandwiches at a soup kitchen, the entire family will benefit from volunteering in your community.
5. Get serious about home recycling: Make sure that everyone has easy access to paper and plastic bins throughout the house. It’s easy to simply toss things in the trash, but most household goods can be recycled. Get busy. The EPA Environmental Kids Club has plenty of Earth-friendly tips, games and activities to kick-start the brainstorming process. Spanish versions of puzzles also are available on the site.
4. Get green around the house: Replace incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. They use one-third the energy and last as much as 10 times longer. That’s a savings you will see each month. Make sure the wattage is appropriate for the space. Swap traditional air filters with reusable versions that require a simple hosing down when dirty. Also, bring some plants inside to help clean the air and perk up the house.
3. Create waste watchers: Everyone in the family should monitor a particular area. Whether it’s making sure lights are turned off when not in use, or unplugging electronic devices, make sure everyone has an assignment to help keep those utility bills low. It’s a team effort.
2. Monitor progress: Check the utility bill regularly and make sure that everyone is contributing.
1. Expand your circle: Get the community involved. A neighborhood potluck, garden, recycling project is much more fun. Remember, it’s all about small changes that make a big difference.
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