Friday, August 31, 2012

Green Up Your Back-to-School Shopping

Could your child’s class save a tree even before school starts? Yes, according to the EPA, which says that for every 42 notebooks purchased that are made of 100 percent recycled paper instead of virgin paper, one less tree is cut down.

Here are some more tips for how to outfit your kids for school while avoiding items that might be harmful to their health or the environment.

When it comes to packing school lunches, we’ve come a long way from disposable brown paper bags. Consider sturdy reusable containers that are free of the chemicals BPA (bisphenol A) and PVC (polyvinyl chloride, or vinyl). (For more on these chemicals, see below.) Try Pyrex glass bowls with BPA-free lids, wide-mouthed thermoses, bento boxes, BPA-free water bottles, and canvas lunch bags. Read “School Lunches 101” for more detailed suggestions.

School Supplies
In addition to choosing recycled paper, try looking for items in bulk to reduce packaging waste. See if you have old notebooks, binders, and pens that can still be used, rather than automatically reaching for new. If you are buying binders or backpacks, consider those without PVC (backpacks with shiny plastic designs often contain this chemical, according to the Center for Health, Environment & Justice). Stick to plain metal paperclips rather than the colorful ones, which are usually coated with PVC. To check for PVC content in other items, look for the three-arrow recycling symbol; if it has the number 3 and/or the initials PVC, the item is made with PVC.

Commuting Options
Perhaps a bike helmet should also be on your shopping list, if your child can ride to school by bicycle, rather than riding in a bus or car. Safe Routes to School encourages healthy ways to get to class, like walking or biking, which connect children to the outdoors and make physical activity a regular part of their days. Read the post “Safe Routes, Cool Routes to School” to learn more.

More on PVC and BPA

Illustration by Marina Zlochin/Fotolia.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Heather Stephenson.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Are Cute Animals on YouTube the Answer?

Do YouTube videos of baby pandas help kids care more about the environment, or keep them feeling disconnected? What’s the happy mix between watching Jacques Cousteau and exploring nature firsthand? And can digital tools help inspire kids to get outside and learn more about their world?

Since I write this blog, I certainly hope that digital tools can help parents and teachers get kids outside. But how does digital technology in the hands of the kids themselves help, or hurt, the effort?

Here are a few points in the ongoing debate. Let me know what you think.
  • Today’s post was inspired by Andrew Revkin, who recently wrote in The New York Times blog Dot Earth about his preference for “a hybrid of digital and direct experience,” in which young people explore nature first-hand and use digital tools to share what they’ve seen. The post includes a lovely short video clip by his son, who discovers a baby heron while paddling with his father in a mangrove-lined creek.
  • Revkin was responding to an essay in The New York Times, “[Nature Follows a Path of Pixels into Children's Hearts.” In that essay, the author wryly explains that despite her own nostalgia for a childhood spent playing in the woods, she’s seen the silly video clips her teenagers watch and concluded, “YouTube and its ilk … [are] more than likely, the inspiration for the next generation of natural historians, conservation leaders and biologists.”
  • Citizen science efforts give kids and families the chance to help scientists with their research, often while harnessing digital technology. Some, like Project Noah, focus on wildlife and the natural world. Previously, I've written about AMC’s Flower Watch program, which offers another great project to do while out on a hike with kids.
  • Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder and The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Digital Age, argues in a recent opinion piece that “Kids need nature, not Facebook” and that electronic immersion must be balanced with experiences in nature that reduce stress, improve health, and strengthen the ability to learn and create.
  • Poet and essayist Diane Ackerman, in “Nature: Now Showing on TV,” describes birding by webcam, and ponders how such virtual experiences of nature—while appealing—will radically change us.

Photo by iStock.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Heather Stephenson.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

5 Squishy Trips to Swamps and Bogs

Little Shop of Horrors meets the trail—or should I say the boardwalk?—when you visit a bog and its carnivorous inhabitants. Are you ready to watch a beautiful but deadly sundew trap its prey? Learn about the Northeast’s wacky wetlands and plan your next visit with these tips from AMC.
  • Discover five swamps and bogs you can visit, five reasons to go, and a quick refresher course on the difference between bogs, swamps, and wetlands, all in one article.
  • Find more great bogs to visit in the Northeast, from Ponemah Bog in Amherst, N.H., to Cedar Swamp (yes, it’s really a bog) in New Jersey’s High Point State Park.
  • Read about the carnivorous sundews, pitcher plants, and other enchanting flora that thrive in bogs.
  • Follow AMC Senior Interpretive Naturalist Nancy Ritger as she leads a nature walk through a boggy area near AMC’s Lonesome Lake Hut in New Hampshire.
Photo of kids learning about tadpoles and frogs by Allison W. Bell.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Heather Stephenson.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

3 Mistakes that Lead to Playground Injuries

I thought I was helping my toddler when I rode down a playground slide with her, but a recent study suggests I may have increased the chances that she’d break a bone. Ditto when I let her join her older cousins on a backyard trampoline (albeit one that was enclosed so no one would fall out). And as for monkey bars? Well, suffice it to say I’m glad the ones in our neighborhood have soft modern materials beneath them to cushion any fall.

It turns out many well-intentioned parents are exposing their kids to extra risks on the playground and in the backyard. Check out this advice from the Boston Globe to make sure you aren’t increasing the chances that your family will end up at the ER: “3 parental mistakes that lead to playground injuries.”

Do you have other recommendations? Let me know in the comments.

Photo by Hunta/Fotolia.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Heather Stephenson.

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