Category Archives: Eco Friendly Parenting

9 Ways You Can Volunteer With Your Kids

9 Ways You Can Volunteer With Your Kids

My children’s school has a requirement for them to do volunteer work throughout the school year. Much of it is done at school itself, as they take on projects each Friday. But as the kids hit the higher grades, they’re required to do some volunteering on their own in the community. It’s a nice requirement, if sometimes a headache for us to find time. But the hardest part of all was finding places to volunteer with the kids.

This is one of those things that gets easier as the kids get older. An awful lot of volunteer opportunities are for adults or late teens at the youngest only. Next come the ones that only take volunteers ages 12 and up, or thereabouts. Fortunately, there are also places where you can volunteer even with younger children.

1. Animal Shelters or Rescues

My kids’ favorite place to volunteer is called YAPS. It’s an animal placement society, and they accept volunteers as young as five years old. It’s really popular with kids from their school in general – after all, most kids love working with animals. Kids can help with laundry and certain kinds of cleaning (but not all of it until a certain age), pet the cats or dogs to keep them used to people, or even earn the right to take the dogs for walks and help train them.

Not all shelters or rescues take kids so young. Many require children to be at least 12 or so. Still, if you can find one that allows young volunteers, it’s an easy way to get your children into the idea of volunteering.

Keep in mind that children can get quite attached to the animals, and this can be difficult when the animals are adopted. I’ve talked to my kids about it being okay to miss a particular animal but still be happy that it got a new home. It helps.

2. Participate in Clean Up Days

Many communities have regular clean up days, and so long as parents are along, they aren’t always picky about age. Check on requirements for individual events, however, as some will say 12 and up, or similar.

If you can’t volunteer for an official clean up day, you can always make your own. Go to a park near you and clean it up with your kids.

3. Donate Food

Food banks are always in need of donations. Whether you add a little extra to your cart for charity when you go grocery shopping or set up your own collection event, this is an easy way to show your kids how to help the less fortunate.

4. Visit Nursing Homes or Senior Centers

Nursing homes and senior centers often welcome visits from children. Kids can play games with the seniors or just talk with them. Contact individual locations for their rules on this kind of volunteering.

5. Write Letters to Soldiers

For kids old enough to write, letters to soldiers are often very welcome. It doesn’t have to be a long letter; in fact, some websites give you tips on what to say in your letters to soldiers. My kids’ school had them do this last year and it went really well. There are also websites where you can simply type your letters in.

6. Collect Supplies Or Money For Charity

What’s your favorite cause? Is there a place that will allow you to collect donations for them?

You can donate pet supplies to animal rescues or shelters, for example. You can collect supplies for homeless or women’s shelters. Contact the charity you want to do this for, and find out what kind of rules you should follow when you do this for them.

7. Participate in Charitable Walks/Runs

Are your kids more active? There are walks and runs for all kinds of causes, and some even have events specific to children. It’s fun and healthy.

8. The Library

Libraries sometimes allow children to volunteer, although age restrictions are common. Still, once your kids are old enough it’s a great place for them to go, especially if they really love books.

9. Make Your Own Opportunities

Nothing else appeals to you or your kids? Make up your own volunteer opportunity. Take a look at ways you can help whatever cause interests you. Get creative.

Websites to Help You Find Opportunities to Volunteer With Kids

There are lots of websites available to help you find volunteer opportunities you can do with your children. Here are a few:

Volunteer Match
Keep America Beautiful
Network For Good
Points of Light
America’s Promise
Hands On Network
Your Local Chamber of Commerce

Whatever kinds of volunteer you do with your kids, make sure it’s something that interests them. It’s hard for kids to see the point if they’re bored with what you’re doing. Make volunteering something they enjoy so they’ll want to do it again and again.

If this is something your children’s school requires, as ours does, think about continuing to volunteer even beyond what the school requires. We continued our volunteer time at YAPS even over the summer. It gets more of the point of volunteering across, in my opinion, if it is done beyond simply what the school requires. You show your priorities by keeping volunteering with your kids a part of your life.

Should You Encourage Your Kids to Bike to School?

Should You Encourage Your Kids to Bike to School?

Kids are steadily heading back to school across the country, if not now, soon. That means huge crowds of cars as parents hurry to get their children to class on time. These days relatively few kids get themselves to school, and I think that’s a shame. What if more parents encouraged their kids to walk or bike to school, as used to be normal?

I’m a big fan of kids getting to school on their own. My older two walk to school. It’s easy, as we’re less than a quarter mile from the school. Only risky part is crossing the street to the school with all the parents driving in to drop their kids off.

Close as we are, they don’t need to ride bikes there. I don’t mind if they do. They’d have to be extra careful as they got close to the school, maneuvering around all the people who parked in the neighborhood and are now walking onto school property. It gets very crowded around the parking lot, and bicycles have to be walked at that point.

But how do you decide if it’s the right choice for your kids to ride their bikes to school? It’s healthier for them than riding in the car and better for the environment, but is it safe? Here are some points for you to consider.

School Rules

If your child’s school says they’re too young to ride to school, odds are you aren’t going to let him or her ride a bike to school. Some parents do take on this battle (can the school really say what your child does off campus outside school hours?), but for many it’s simpler to go with the rules set by the school so the bike can stay at the school during the day.

You also need to know where the bike will stay during the day. Our school has a fenced off bike rack where kids can lock their bikes up for the day. I’ve noticed that a lot of kids don’t even bother locking up their bikes beyond putting it in the bike rack. Personally, I’d tell kids to lock up their bikes even so, but I have to admit it doesn’t seem to have been a problem.

Bike Riding Ability

Is your child good enough on his or her bike to ride to school and deal with the crowds upon arrival? Schools often want kids off the bike once they get on campus – things are just too crowded for a bicycle to be ridden safely. You not only want your child riding the bike well enough to deal with any traffic on the way to school, you want your child able to walk their bike without bumping into other people, and the sense to know when it’s time to get off the bike and walk it.

Street Safety

Are you in a situation where you child could ride to school safely? Is the neighborhood generally safe? Are there any streets you don’t want your child riding on that can’t be avoided on the way to school? Does your child watch out for cars as they ride?

Appropriate Safety Gear

Does your child’s bike helmet fit properly or is it time for a new one? Your child should know how to put it on correctly and agree to always keep the straps fastened while riding. I’ve seen lots of kids riding with bike helmet on but unfastened, and that’s not going to help in an accident.

A Well Maintained Bike

Be sure your child’s bike is in good condition for riding. Brakes work, tires well inflated, things like that. While a bike can develop a problem on the way, you want to minimize the chances for that to happen.

It should also be the right size for your child. Not so tall that your child has trouble touching the ground when stopped, not so short that it’s uncomfortable to ride.

A Plan For Problems

Sometimes stuff happens when kids are out on their own. Make sure they know what to do about flat tires, crashes and so forth. You can decide if it’s worth it to have your child carry a cell phone (pay attention to school rules about cell phones) or if there are enough options for your child to get help if it’s needed on the way.

20 Healthy School Lunch Ideas For Kids

20 Healthy School Lunch Ideas for Kids

School is starting today here, and that means I have to think about what my kids will eat for lunch at school again. They aren’t much on cafeteria lunches – unless it’s Friday, which is pizza day. Overall, however, I prefer that they bring lunch so I know they’re getting good food they like. Our school isn’t too bad on that front; they have a small salad bar in the cafeteria, but I like providing healthy options myself.

Not all these suggestions are entire lunches on their own. Think about what it takes to make a balanced lunch that your child will eat. There’s little point to pushing foods your kids won’t eat – it’s all too easy for children to throw out foods that don’t appeal to them or their friends. Also remember that some ingredients are healthier than others, such as whole grain versus white breads.

1. Homemade pizza

Homemade pizza can be about as healthy as you choose to make it. A tortilla makes a quick, thin crust, and from there it’s up to you to make it good.

2. Vegetables with hummus

Fresh vegetables with hummus can be very satisfying in a lunchbox. A little feta cheese is a nice addition if your kids like it.

3. Peanut butter apples or celery

Peanut butter with apples or celery is something of a classic. It makes a nice switch from your standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

4. Copycat Lunchables

Take a look at any Lunchables or similar that your child loves. Can you make something similar but a bit healthier? Do it well and your kids will love it.

5. Homemade soup

Homemade soup is wonderful when the weather cools off. Pick one your kids love and put it in a thermos. One of my kids loves homemade soups, but the other is demands the canned stuff.

6. Hard boiled egg

A hard boiled egg is a simple way to get protein into your child’s lunch.

7. Couscous salad

Combine cooked couscous with some vegetables, maybe some dried fruit or feta, and you have a nice couscous salad. You can use quinoa rather than couscous if you prefer.

8. Wraps

A wrap with a good quality lunch meat, some cheese, spinach or whatever else your child will enjoy makes a good lunch. Look for something better than the standard processed lunch meats.

9. Yogurt

Skip the yogurts aimed at kids, especially the ones in those plastic tubes. They usually have far too much sugar and artificial colorings. Look for Greek yogurt or other live culture yogurts with real fruit for flavoring. Make a parfait with some granola and fruit to make it more interesting.

10. Frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

For those mornings you’re running a little behind, you can always count on the classics. Pick a healthy bread if your kids will eat it. You may want to consider using a fruit spread rather than jelly to cut down on sugar too. But the real beauty of this is that you can make several ahead of time and freeze until you need them in a lunchbox.

11. Quinoa and black beans

An improvement, in my opinion, on rice and beans, but made much the same way.

12. Fresh fruit

Not a lunch in itself, but a wonderful addition to satisfy that urge to have something sweet at lunchtime.

13. Whole grain waffles

Give your kids a surprise with waffles for breakfast. A nut butter spread will help make it more filling, along with some jelly or a fruit topping.

14. Salad

You can have a salad be a side dish or bring it up to a main dish with some chicken or other protein. Watch how much salad dressing you include, as it’s easy to go overboard. Feta and dried cranberries go well in many salads.

15. Pita sandwiches

If your kids are bored with regular sandwiches, switch to pita bread. Many love pita bread, and you can make most of your regular sandwiches in it.

16. Nuts

You may have to check school rules on this one, as nut allergies have led some schools to ban certain nuts.

17. Sliced vegetables

What veggies do your kids like. My youngest has a big thing for bell pepper, and all my kids love carrots. Slice up your kids’ favorite vegetables for a great addition to their lunch.

18. Frittata

Use muffin pans to make these frittatas the right size for school lunches. Line your muffin pan if you want to make things simple, or use a cooking spray so these come out easily after cooking. Lightly saute whatever vegetables you want to add. Beat the eggs and add in the vegetables and maybe some cheese. Scoop into muffin pan and bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes or until done.

19. Burritos

Make burritos with beans and cheese, or add other ingredients to delight your children. A mild salsa can really bring out the flavor.

20. Leftovers

What did you have for dinner last night? Will it make a good lunch as is, or could it be made into sandwiches?

Can School Uniforms Be Eco Friendly?

Can School Uniforms Be Eco Friendly?

Kids in some areas are heading back to school already. Mine have about a week left until school starts, so it’s uniform shopping time. My kids warned me at the end of the last school year that they would need new this year, as both were outgrowing what they have now. They thought I would start shopping right away, but no way. I waited because there’s no point in risking a summer growth spurt.

The problem with school uniforms is that you have to buy particular fabrics. My kids’ school actually specified a particular polyester/cotton mix on the pants at first just to make sure parents really understood that they’re serious about the no denim, corduroy, etc. rule. They did clarify it when parents protested that ruling on the exact mix (60/40) was overkill. Still, it brings up the point – can your child’s school uniform be eco friendly?

School Uniform Advantages

School uniforms do have some advantages, environmentally speaking, even if they aren’t made from ideal fabrics. You don’t have to buy a lot of school uniforms, just enough for your kids to wash between wearings. Yes, I make my kids wash their own uniforms; it’s good laundry practice. Buying a few uniforms plus clothes for weekends and holidays can save a lot of money and reduce your children’s overall wardrobe needs.

Schools can also hold used uniform sales, which allows you to keep things even more eco friendly. You can buy uniforms previously owned by other students for less money, rather than spending on new ones. Our school has parents donate used uniforms and uses the sale as a PTA fundraiser.

And of course if you have more than one child you can have them hand uniforms down. I don’t do this between my son and daughter – the difference between girl and boy clothes would make them too self conscious, even though the differences in the uniforms is pretty small. My daughter’s uniforms sometimes get passed on to a friend, but only if they survive my daughter’s not so gentle use. I like handing them down directly rather than going through the school’s sale because I know a few friends have really tight financial situations.

School Uniform Disadvantages

The only eco disadvantage I can think of for school uniforms is the material. Can’t really get away from polyester when it’s mandated in the dress code.

Think About Where You Shop

If you’re buying new school uniforms, think about where you’re buying them. Look for stores that pay attention to the condition workers have when making clothes for their company. Pay attention to clothing quality so you won’t have to replace clothes that wear out too quickly.

Land’s End, for example, has sustainability programs in place, and has a list of how they comply with their Global Compliance Program to avoid using child labor, slave labor, etc. JC Penney does as well.  Justice/Brothers (Tween Brands) also lists how they maintain supply chain transparency.  These are the ones I’ve peeked at so far. A part of what each of these companies list on their sites is required by the State of California, and what I don’t know yet is how effective these are. After all, even Walmart states they have a focus on global responsibility.

5 Green Craft Supplies for Kids

Kids need something to do over the summer, after school, pretty much all the time. Playing outside is a great idea, but sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate or they just need some cool down time indoors. Crafts are a wonderful activity for kids, something to allow them to be creative. You don’t have to buy books on crafting, just have the supplies ready and let your kids go at it. If you can keep the supplies on the eco friendly side of things, so much the better.

Think about crafts the kids can make more or less on their own. It’s good for them to make things without your help, even if they don’t look just right.

1. Recycled goods.

Start your kids’ craft supplies with recycled goods. Junk mail, newspapers, cans, bottles and so forth. The great part about these supplies is that you don’t have to buy them.

If your kids are interested in sewing, old clothes may be another option. Some clothes just won’t be worth handing down, but might be okay for crafting. Take a look and see what you can find.

2. Eco craft kits.

You can buy eco friendly craft kits with supplies made of recycled and eco friendly materials. These are great when you need some ideas to help get the kids started. Here are a few to consider:

ALEX® Eco Crafts
Flower Press
Paper Making Kit
Trash Robot Kit

3. Eco friendly crayons.

There are some pretty nice eco friendly crayons out there. Some have fun shapes while others look more like regular crayons. There are a number of brands to try.

Crazy Crayon Eco Stars
eco-kids Crayons
International Arrivals Natural Beeswax Crayons
Soy Crayon Rocks

4. Eco friendly paints.

Depending on what you want the paints for, it’s not too hard to make paints for your kids. Pudding spreads quite nicely and is really fun for kids, and there are simple homemade finger paint recipes out there. If that’s not your style, there are some relatively eco friendly paints for kids out there:

Glob All Natural Paint Kits

5. Eco friendly glues.

What’s crafting for kids without glue? They will want glue at some point, so make it the safest you can.

eco-kids Handmade Glue
Clementine Art Natural Glue