Monthly Archives: August 2012

It’s Time For Back to School! Do You Have Green School Supplies?

It’s that special time of year when families crowd the stores looking for great deals. Not Christmas, but Back to School, one of the big shopping times of the year. So many supplies are needed to get kids and classrooms ready for months of learning. Now how do you keep it a little greener?

Reuse is my favorite way. That’s why I buy stainless steel water bottles for my kids – those things last forever. One thing I’ve learned over time is that the sooner you can switch to a cap that has to be unscrewed for your child to drink, rather than a sport cap or straw model, the better. Sport caps and straws are great, but my kids tend to break them, and not all brands make those easily replaceable. I hate having to buy a whole bottle because one part doesn’t work or is leaking a bit too much.

We also reuse backpacks and lunch bags when possible. Kids are hard on these things, but I can usually get at least two years out of them before they’re in just too poor of shape. Every year I hope to get more than that, but it doesn’t usually work out that way.

Where to Buy Green School Supplies?

The challenge in part is figuring out where to find eco friendly back to school supplies. They aren’t everywhere. If you have a store locally that has them, please, go for it. Support your local economy, it’s a good thing, especially if it’s a smaller store, not a chain. Otherwise, I love shopping online. That stuff that’s just impossible to get locally some places is easily available online much of the time.

The Ultimate Green Store is one possible place. They even have an eco back to school supplies section on their site. Makes it nice and easy to find appropriate supplies, whether you’re looking for backpacks, lunchboxes, drink bottles, crayons, pencils and so forth.

Of course, you do have to balance your back to school budget with the cost of eco friendly items, which can cost more. Still, it’s good to take a look and see which items you can do better on. Some items, such as drink bottles, can save you more in the long run over buying juice boxes throughout the years.

What Do You Need?

In our school district, parents get a list of supplies the teachers want the kids to have on the first day. I really wish it were sooner,  as this limits our flexibility in buying school supplies. We can buy basics such as backpacks and lunchbags early, but some other products are more challenging. Everything is needed so quickly. Still, there are some basic considerations.

1. Only what you need

It’s all too easy to buy much more than you need, especially if you hit a really great school supply sale. Still, be careful about overbuying, and if you do buy more than you need, make sure you keep it on hand for next year. One great thing about school supplies – they don’t spoil. Keep good track of your extras.

2. Look for recycled products

There are a variety of products made from recycled materials these days, from the classic recycled paper products to backpacks made from recycled bottles to pencils made from recycled newspapers and more. And of course Terracycle makes a variety of interesting products.

3. Use refillable products

Lunch bags and backpacks aren’t the only things your child can use throughout the school year. Depending on what the teacher wants kids to have, take a good look at items such as binders and pencils. I’ve heard that some teachers won’t allow younger kids to have mechanical pencils, as younger kids break leads too fast and may play too much with the pencils, but these are good as the kids get older, as you only replace the leads, and you can buy mechanical pencils made from recycled materials.

4. Make packing healthy lunches easier

Plan out your needs for your child’s school lunches. What kinds of containers will you need to send a healthy lunch to school each day? Think about how any plastics used are made and if you’re comfortable with them. Consider stainless steel containers when appropriate. Glass can also work, but there is more risk of breakage.

The Benefits of Taking Children Camping

We came back recently from a family trip to Yosemite. 5 days, 4 nights of camping in Crane Flat with three kids and my husband. It’s not everyone’s ideal vacation, but considering that the trip covered both my birthday and my wedding anniversary, I think you can safely say I enjoy it. So did my husband and our kids. There’s a lot to be said for taking children camping.

It Teaches Them to Appreciate Nature

One of the big things kids get from camping is an added appreciation for nature. Mine already enjoy hiking, but it had been too long since we had gone camping with them. Hadn’t taken the youngest at all yet.

In Yosemite, they were able to see a wider range of what nature has to offer. This was the first time they ever saw a chipmunk, although they’re plenty familiar with squirrels. They saw deer in a meadow and deer up close when the deer wandered by Curry Village’s dining area.

They also got to climb really big rocks. My oldest wanted to climb Lembert Dome, but not on the path, so she only made it up part of the way. Now she wants to be a professional rock climber (as well as at least a half dozen other things).

We also were able to see firsthand how much the current drought is affecting Yosemite. Yosemite Falls, usually still a great waterfall to see this time of year, was barely a trickle. On the other hand, the kids had a grand time climbing around the rocks at the bottom, which are usually too wet to be safe.

Getting comfortable with nature is important to children. I’ve recommended Last Child in the Woods before, and I still do. Getting children out into nature beyond backyards and playgrounds is very healthy for them… and their parents.

Camping is also a great time to talk about respecting nature and taking care of it. Yosemite, for example, is very strict about the use of bear boxes for anything which might attract bears to your campsite. It’s the perfect excuse to talk about how our behavior can hurt animals.

They Get Dirty

I’m a firm believer in dirt. I don’t stress about things getting a little dirty, especially in places where there’s little choice in the matter. It made for quite the laundry pile when we got home, and some challenging stains, but it was certainly worth it.

There’s a theory that getting dirty may be good for the immune system. Basically, it’s the small exposures to germs over time that help your immune system become strong. It makes sense to me, and so I enjoy it when the kids get dirty.

Time Away From Electronics

No one gets to use electronic toys when we go camping. I had my iPad along, but only for music in the car on long drives. It didn’t come on hikes and it didn’t get used in the evenings while we sat around the campfire. Yes, my kids were quite frustrated with that rule, although a little less so when I pointed out the lack of internet access. While camping, my kids declared certain areas to be clubhouses, pretended to be pirates, climbed rocks and generally had fun.

Children need to be limited in how much they use electronics throughout their day. I know mine do far more interesting things when I tell them to turn all screens off and go play. They interact more with each other and really work their imaginations.

Learning to Do With Less

Camping is very much an exercise in making do with less than you usually have. There’s only so much food you can put in an ice chest or otherwise keep at your campsite. No microwave, just the campfire or the camp stove to cook meals. Very few toys aside from what natural objects they could find. Everyone sleeping in one (admittedly large) tent at night.

I’ll admit there was one experience I could have done without. The bathrooms for our section of the campground were closed and replaced with porta potties. Definitely could have done without that. Sometimes we walked extra to get to the regular bathrooms, but when a three year old says she has to go, that’s usually right NOW, not five minute from now. Then again, porta potties are far better than nothing.

Making Random Friends

My oldest was fortunate enough to meet a girl a little younger than her at a nearby campsite. Instant friendship, and we’ll see if it sticks over time or not, as they exchanged phone numbers. They spent mornings and evenings playing whenever they had the chance.

Camping is a great time to meet people you’d never know otherwise. We had camp neighbors from a few other countries, as well as people from more local areas. Yosemite is of course a huge attraction to people all around the world, so you never know where the people you meet have come from until you start talking.

Family Time

Camping was great for ensuring lots of family time. We were pretty much always together, sharing experiences and having fun as a family. No one had to go to work or school, no one was distracted by the television or other electronics. I only got one cell phone call, and that was an auto-dialed call by some company talking about diabetes, so an easy hangup.


Camping means a lot of exercise. Most of what you do takes more physical effort than it would at home, plus you’re likely to go hiking, swimming or do some other physical activity during the day. We didn’t get to hike quite as much as my husband would have liked, but there’s a limit to how much a three year old will hike, especially in the hot weather we had during our trip. Still, it was all great exercise.

Teach Respect for Fire

Kids don’t necessarily get to do much around fires at home very often, but when camping, fire is something they just have to deal with… at least if that’s how you keep warm and prepare your food. My kids had so much fun finding little bits of wood to add to the fire, and were awed by how my husband handled the firewood barehanded. Of course, that made the lesson a little more challenging in some ways.

While fire is dangerous and burns are painful, I believe it’s a good thing for children to learn how to deal with fire, most especially how to respect it. Dealing with it in circumstances less controlled than the burner on a kitchen stove gives them that chance, whether it’s figuring out just how close they can get a marshmallow to the flame without catching it on fire (or having to blow one out), or seeing how quickly different things burns.

Overall, this was a really wonderful camping trip for us. I’ve told my husband we need to plan more camping trips each year. We’re thinking at least two bigger trips each summer, plus weekends when we can manage it. Because we didn’t get to Mariposa Grove in Yosemite, we’re thinking one trip next year will be Sequoia National Park, as the kids really want to see some redwoods.