You can find hiking trails pretty much everywhere. Check your town's and state's parks for good places to go or head to one of the more than 365 National Park Service areas. Whether you travel or just stay around the house, encourage your kids — and yourself, mom and dad — to take a break every day and head outdoors, says Sandra Lebron, education coordinator at San Diego Coastkeeper.
"Even just walk outside around your house," she says. "At least once a week, find a new tidepool, beach, mountain or any nature place that they can explore."
Each state has cool and interesting Earth-friendly destinations. Just look at Michigan's The Headlands, a certified international dark sky park, as the perfect example. Located near Mackinaw City, the park is great for family vacations. Visitors are welcome to stay through the night and early morning and may see wild animals, the Northern Lights or meteor showers.
If you're a typical American family, you probably have tons of electronic clutter. But getting rid of it can be anything but eco-friendly if you dispose of it the wrong way. Drawers full of old phones and other gadgets don't do your sanity any favors either. So gather the kids and all your old devices and head to a recycle station like an ecoATM, where you can teach your kids how to responsibly recycle.
And don't forget that closet full of clothes you haven't worn in years. The average person throws away almost 70 pounds of clothing every year, but through donating to thrift stores like Savers or Goodwill, families can keep those reusable goods out of landfills.
Have lots of toys the kids have outgrown? Gather the kids up and have them choose which ones they would like to give away to those who are less fortunate. Second Chance Toys collects, cleans and donates gently used plastic toys to children in need.
Get out those binoculars and help connect kids with nature through activities such as a bird scavenger hunt. Jim Carpenter, founder and CEO of Wild Birds Unlimited, suggests pretending to be a bird detective by looking for evidence of birds having been nearby. "Search out foods a bird might eat," he said. "Discover places a bird might live."
Want to try something kids will think is cool? Extend bedtime one night and take them for a nature walk at dusk or after dark with a flashlight. "Place the back end of a flashlight on your chin or nose and slowly shine it around on the ground, bushes and trees," Carpenter says. "Some insects', animals' and birds' eyes are reflective and you can find them in the dark by the eyes' reflection shining back at you."
As a father of three, Steve Sullivan enjoys taking his kids out in nature, going to a local forest preserve and pulling invasive weeds (look next to the wildflowers), or doing simple things like sitting in the park with their face near the grass — looking for different kinds of grasses, plants and species.
"If you know where to look, you could potentially see 100 organisms in approximately 20 minutes," the senior curator of urban ecology for the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum says.
Or, try cutting the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket and inserting a piece of plastic. Go to a local stream, push the barrel and observe the fish and insects clearly without the rippling water, Sullivan says.
What are your favorite earth-friendly activities you do with your family? Sound off in the comments below!
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