As a mom of three girls, 11, 9 and 6, I think a lot about parenting mindfully on a finite planet. I think about what we engage in and what it conveys to my girls about the earth’s resources. And as we seek summertime adventures, I think about what we leave in our wake.
I’m also really, really cheap.
Thankfully, being environmentally conscious and cheap go hand in hand. There’s plenty for families to do that’s inexpensive or free even, and easy on the planet.
From early June well into fall, we visit area U-pick farms for strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, peaches, nectarines and apples. We pack lunches (in reusable containers) and picnic blankets, intent on spending the day at whatever farm we’re visiting.
I love this excursion for many reasons. One, I want my girls to understand food is seasonal and to be inquisitive as to how it appears year round in grocery stores. Two, it’s important to develop gratitude for what we have easy access to. When we see piles of fruit stacked in grocery stores, we can recall how we picked our bucketfulls one berry at a time. Three, we’re outside and active. Four, it’s purposeful activity. We’re taking home pounds of fruit that we will later can, freeze, share and cook with. Five, it’s less expensive than store bought fruit. Six, I’m supporting local farmers which helps the local economy. Seven, we’re reducing our family’s carbon footprint by noshing all year long on fruit we’ve picked in the summer.
We also participate in the public library summer reading program, which offers incentives to get kids into books during the summer. They can even earn Royals’ tickets. Since we’re already readers, this is an easy sell to my girls. It helps structure our day when we have a set reading time, although we often linger on in our respective books.
Nothing beats munching on fruit we’ve picked while reading on a blanket outside under a shady tree.
We also take advantage of the free family friendly activities the Missouri Department of Conservation offers. Ranging from guided hikes and fishing to Hunger Games like pursuits, kids can build birdhouses develop basic camping skills and learn about this amazing planet that sustains us. What’s most enjoyable about these excursions is discovering area parks and conservation sites. It was at one of these events we learned how to make seed bombs. A year later, we made our own seed bombs with friends to give as birthday party favors.
As you may have picked up, we spend a lot of time outside in the summer. Even when we’re home I’m pushing my kids out the door. Outside there are bikes, skateboards and scooters to ride. There are forts and fairy houses to build, dance routines to create, soccer to be played, secret passageways through backyards to find. There’s even a neighbor with ducks to feed or just observe. Outside there are porches and decks to scale, a swing to practice aerial arts skills on. There are fireflies, grasshoppers and rolly pollies to catch. And if all that wasn’t enough, there’s the vegetable garden for weeding and nibbling from.
The cost to your pocketbook and the planet? Minimal. The benefit? Your children develop their creativity, resourcefulness and negotiation skills.
Spending all this time outside requires a little protection from creepy crawlies. After a bit of research and experimenting, I started making our own bug spray:
These essential oils are known to repel mosquitoes, fleas, chiggers, ticks and other biting insects:
Put 7-10 drops of each* in a reusable spray bottle. It’s best to use a glass bottle since plastic leeches and can compromise the oils. Add about 2 cups of witch hazel, rubbing alcohol or vodka. Shake well. I recommend spraying this wonderful smelling solution directly on skin, avoiding contact with clothing because the oils may stain. Reapply every 2-3 hours, shaking first before each use.
* This is an ever-growing list of oils. Don’t feel like you have to include every single one; I just wanted to provide options. A combination of several will do the trick.
Another benefit of having these ingredients around is that they remedy bug bites and sunburns. It’s also useful to stock up on aloe vera, honey, apple cider vinegar and baking soda. Any of those applied topically alleviate skin irritation from burns and bites.
I love experimenting with the above. As I apply honey on my daughter’s sunburn, we can talk about where honey comes from. That leads to exploring what we ought to plant to help bees or what we ought to avoid purchasing to protect bees. It’s also empowering to my daughters because they can apply the bug spray and home remedies themselves since they are nontoxic to people and the planet.
That may be the biggest adventure of all: how to summer with kids while being light on the planet. It’s what we’re leaving in our wake.