If you are looking for fun activities for the summer, with environmentally conscious choices in mind, the good news is you have a number of great activities to choose from. If you want to involve your children, all these activities are family friendly, so find something that appeals to you and let the fun happen!

One of my favourite activities for summer, especially with children, is camping out in the back yard. This activity is environmentally friendly because you can turn off the television, lights, video games, cell phones, and all those appliances that go around sucking up electricity. You can even turn off the air conditioning! Simply set up your tent in your back yard, provide everyone with a flashlight, a notebook, and a pen, and start an activity. Whether you choose to document wild life in your back yard, wild birds, or simply tell scary stories until no one can keep their eyes open any longer, a back yard campout is a great way to unplug and recharge, and children always think it is a special activity!

Making Paper

Another great activity to do with children in the summer is to recycle your own paper to make new paper. Whether you use this new paper as artwork, as gift wrapping paper, note paper, or for making decorative accessories or jewelry, making paper is a fun family activity, and you will be keeping paper out of the landfill. You can even combine this with shredding all those old bank statements to protect yourself from identity theft! To make your paper even more attractive and fun, add materials found in the wild such as fallen leaves, flower petals, found feathers, horse hair, or tiny pieces of wood. You might just be delighted with the results! (Note: this involves using a blender, so this is also a good time to teach your children about appliance safety into the bargain!) If you live in an area with abundant roses, consider making rose beads, too!

Growing your own food has many benefits

If you want your children to learn about food, where it comes from, and how to use it, you simply cannot choose a better activity than starting a garden. Although it may be too hot to work outside, allowing your children to start seeds indoors to be transplanted outdoors in the fall is an excellent way to engage their curiosity about biology, taxonomy (how different plants are related to each other), pollination, life cycles, where food comes from, and other subjects. You can even get the children involved in such projects as space planning, canning, freezing, drying, and other preparations for storing food. Even if you live in a tiny apartment, a few herbs grown on the window sill will give children a huge sense of accomplishment each time you sprinkle a few of "their" plant leaves on your family dinner! If you really do not have the space or time to keep up with even a few herbs that will survive neglect, seek out a community garden near you and volunteer!

More curious and technically minded children may want to use their spare time in the summer to learn something that is not taught in their school. Fortunately, many colleges have published online courses in every subject from anatomy to zymurgy, with stops for computer programming, history, Russian, and everything else in between. No tuition is required and children are free to work at their own pace, without the pressure of grades and tests. Who knows what your child might be inspired to do? This is an environmentally friendly choice because it saves transportation to activities, and prevents using electricity on activities like video games, which may be fun, but are not productive.

Many community centers and libraries offer free classes and free family activities. Because you will be away from home, you can adjust the thermostat, unplug the televisions and appliances (which still draw power even when they are off), and take advantage of the savings that these free activities will afford. From story time with toddlers to math activities for teenagers, and even a few free courses for the adults to brush up on their computer skills, everyone in your family can benefit from these activities. You will be saving the planet and having fun at the same time; even more so if you can begin to teach your children about public transportation and sharing community resources (i.e., the library buys one book, and everyone reads that copy, rather than 100 families each buying their own copy of the book).

Haitian woman tests a solar oven

One more fun and environmentally conscious activity that is a great choice for summer is to play with green energy. Whether you choose to see how much wind blows in your back yard, and whether you can generate power from a home-made windmill, or you pick up a used solar panel from craigslist or freecycle to power a cell phone or video game, exploring green technology is fascinating for most children. And you can use this as an object lesson in reusing materials rather than buying new.

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You can build a solar oven out of mostly used materials, and save a lot of money on cooking. Here are some great meal ideas as well as instructions on how to build your own solar oven out of stuff you already have lying around the house.
Solar Panel
Credit: Public Domain

A solar panel installation in a wild area, with a mountain in the background.

Another activity that is family friendly is to host a clothing swap at your house. All children outgrow their clothing very quickly, and by trading up, they can have new clothing, learn about reusing items, and get the fun of trying on dozens of new outfits (the adults can play, too!). Simply invite everyone to bring clothing they are tired of, or doesn't fit any more, and sort by size and gender. Then let the fun begin! (To avoid one person grabbing all the good stuff, you can limit each person to a certain number of items; once everyone has their limit, they are each allowed to pick one new thing at a time until everyone has another item, and continue until all the clothing is claimed.)

In short, there is no limit to what kinds of green summer activities your family can participate in. Try some of these activities, and find out for yourself just how much fun they can be! You will be amazed at how much impact even just a few of these green choices will make in your neighbourhood, and you very well might inspire others to follow your example!