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School's out, the weather's warm, and kids are ready to get out and get dirty. Take advantage of the summer months and teach your children a lesson in eco-education. Call it "Camp Conservation"!
With this comprehensive syllabus, kids of all ages can learn to be a little bit greener, every single day. The best part? They'll have so much fun getting back to nature that they won't even notice that class is in session. Who said summer school isn't a blast?
Conservation Lesson ONE: REDUCE WASTE
Composting is a great way to reduce household waste. Well, worms are nature's composters -- they break down organic scraps and turn them into fertilizer.
Assembling a worm bin is an easy alternative to the traditional backyard compost pile, plus it takes up less space. Setup is easy with these simple instructions from the University of Illinois' Urban Programs Resource Network.
"Once the bin is set up, kids will have great fun collecting and saving materials to feed their new pets, and they'll love watching the transformation of garbage into worm castings and rich compost," says Crissy Trask, founder of GreenMatters.com and author of It's Easy Being Green: A Handbook for Earth-friendly Living.
Conservation Lesson TWO: CONSERVE ENERGY
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Americans dedicate about 5.8 percent of residential electricity use to the clothes dryer. If we all used a clothesline year-round, the savings would be enough to close several power plants!
Summer is the perfect time to switch to line-drying. "Take a family pledge not to use the clothes dryer," suggests Trask. "Instead, let the kids help you find the perfect spot in your yard for a summer clothesline, and hang one line low enough that they can hang their own clothes."
Americans consume about 140 billion gallons of gas annually, according to the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment at MIT. If you cut down on driving by just 10 miles a week, your family will save about 340 pounds of CO2 emissions annually.
So try leaving the car in the garage and breaking out the 10-speeds. "As a family, discuss some nearby destinations that you're willing to bike to as a group," says Trask. Try riding to an outdoor picnic or to do some errands. Trask suggests using Google Maps to find safe and direct bike routes.
Conservation Lesson THREE: SAVE WATER
Tear out Some Lawn
"Most homes have more water-needy grass than is necessary," says Trask. "It's reasonable to have a small area of grass for pets and small children to enjoy. The idea is to limit grass -- which is a water-needy species compared to most plants -- and also practice water conservation when maintaining the grass you have."
Removing patches of unnecessary grass is easy with a sod cutter. Let the kids roll the sod, which is a simple and fun job. Trask suggests leaving the sod rolls where they sit and placing a "Free sod" ad online, with an estimate of how many square feet you have. "In most cases, the sod will be gone within a day," she says.
Of course, now that you have less grass, you'll want to put something in its place to keep your lawn looking great. Take a family trip to a local nursery that specializes in native plants. Because native plants are well-adapted to the conditions in your region, they'll need less water.
"Using the plant information cards, let kids pick out the plants that are suited for the exposure and rain they will receive," suggests Trask. Bonus: This is an easy lesson in your local environmental conditions, and it will create a lawn that will reinforce the beauty of your natural landscape.
Rachel Bertsche is a Web producer, blogger and journalist who lives in Chicago. She's written for O, The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, Every Day With Rachael Ray, Outside and Fitness.