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Sunny days are here again. Temperatures are rising, daylight is longer, and the time has come for the entire clan -- parents and children alike -- to spend some quality time outdoors.
"Getting the kids outside and active is something we should all aspire to," says Mary Seehafer Sears, author of Celebrating Family Traditions and a former editor of Child and House & Garden magazines. "I know people don't like to unplug their televisions, but it's so important. Kids may be mad at first, but it's vital that they try out other entertainment options."
Try these activities for some low-cost and eco-friendly fun that's sure to please the whole family.
Go Camping in the Backyard
You don't have to trek into the woods to spend a night in nature. "If you're near home, you needn't worry about animals invading your campsite," says Sears. "Kids love venturing out in the off-hours when they'd usually be sent to bed. Being outside in their pajamas, looking at the stars, it's exciting!"
Parents should always chaperone an overnight outdoor stay. But if your kids are older, Sears suggests staying in a separate tent to give them the full, independent experience. "You could even cook some of that dehydrated space food," she says. "It doesn't taste great, but it makes the evening feel more authentic."
Make a Lemonade Stand
Encourage your child's entrepreneurial spirit with a roadside refreshment booth. Help kids whip up some batches of lemonade -- the regular and pink varieties, of course -- and sell it to the neighbors and any cars driving by. Of course, make sure an adult is chaperoning at all times.
"Everyone should always stop at a lemonade stand -- that's my rule," says Sears. "If a kid is selling anything, make it a practice to stop. How else will they see the value of hard work?"
Organize a Nature Scavenger Hunt
The easiest way to teach kids about different plants and trees is to turn it into a game. Scope out the closest nature trail to identify the in-season offerings -- everything from pinecones to dandelions -- then take pictures and create a list of what each child should find during the hunt. "Even if you don't live near the woods, you can take your kids to a public park and try to identify flowers or birds," says Sears.
Play With Snakes in the Grass
The papier-mache kind, that is! "Twist old newspaper into whatever snake-like shape you want and tape them together," says Sears. "Then put some papier-mache on and paint it in the likeness of whatever snake you choose."
This is a great way to reuse old newspapers and give your kids an outdoor art project at the same time. The bonus? A colorful, reptile-filled backyard -- minus the actual reptiles.
Grow Food and Flowers
There's nothing like cooking veggies from your garden, or smelling the homegrown roses. "Gardening is the ultimate way to give back to the earth," says Sears. "Kids love watching morning glories grow over a frame because they bloom so quickly. And growing something like lettuce is great too because it's important for kids to see how well they can eat from their own backyard."
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.