Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Is Your School Environmentally Friendly?

Schools and the Environment - Graphic by Offiikart
As July melts into August, many parents begin back-to-school shopping. The lists are overflowing with the usual items like paper, pencils, crayons, glue sticks, and the sort; however, many school lists now add more and more additional products, such as cleaning supplies, cheap toys, and candy.

Many schools teach students about recycling, protecting the environment, and being prudent with resources. But are those same schools demonstrating environmentally friendly living? I remember a time when food was served on a plate that was washed and used again the next school day. I recall a time when messes were cleaned with a spray solution and cloth that was washed, a time when a smile and sincere kind words or a special activity, rather than toys or candy, were offered to those who gave 100% effort.

Yes, I know that times are different. Some children have food allergies and the risk might be too great for those children to eat on plates that certain foods have touched. Many of those kids already pack food from home. Disposable plates should be available for children with special needs, but does everyone in the school need to eat on a disposable plate? Do kids really see the value in composting when they are instructed to throw their scraps in the garbage at school? I realize purchasing plates and dishwashers would be a big investment, but that investment might contribute to saving precious resources that our kids deserve to enjoy when they grow up. Can we afford to wait for the landfills to reach capacity before we decide to change habits?

Convenience carries a hefty price tag. It is much easier to serve foods that are pre-packaged rather than serving freshly cooked, healthy foods. It is quicker to clean a mess with a pre-moistened product. But is that convenience truly necessary? Do we want children growing up thinking that they should eat pre-packaged foods – many of those convenience foods are less healthy and may contribute to numerous health issues in the future. Do all spills require costly clean-up, or could a rag and spray bottle be just as effective while costing less?

What about rewards? Some reward systems are fraught with issues. Consider, for instance, the ones in which children simply earn opportunities at a raffle. What if an exemplary student goes through all of his or her years at the school without ever winning that raffle? If a child receives junk food for doing a good job and is forced to walk laps for a mistake, will she continue to reward herself with junk food and punish herself with exercise as an adult? How special is that toy that breaks or gets lost before it gets home? Will the growing mound of toys increase stress at home? Will that child who becomes a young adult expect to be rewarded with a piece of candy if he arrives at work on time?

One of our most important jobs as adults is to prepare children for life in the future. Sure, we can suggest that kids reduce, reuse, and recycle; however, our actions typically speak louder than words. Are we teaching our future leaders that being environmentally friendly is a good idea on paper but not applicable to the real world or are we demonstrating true commitment to our planet?

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Fun Ways to Enjoy Birding with the Family – 3 Favorite Tips

How to Make Education Fun and Enlightening - Photo by AcrylicArtist

We are fortunate to have a wide variety of birds where we live. My family enjoys the striking colors of the cardinals, goldfinches, and blue jays; the artful tunes of mockingbirds and sparrows; and the antics of the chickadees and mourning doves. Sometimes we might even be surprised by a hawk, quail, or a peacock! We call our youngest family member the Turkey Whisperer because she always gets an enthusiastic response from our neighbor's turkeys when she says "Gobble gobble!"

I fondly remember when a speech therapist was checking for speech patterns of one of my kids. The therapist showed my daughter pictures and asked her to say what she saw in each picture. I couldn't help but smile when the therapist showed her a picture of a red bird. I know the therapist was trying to assess her ability to say blended sounds in the word "bird," but I found it so sweet that my three-year-old called it a "cardinal!"

Yep, we've been watching birds for quite a while, so here are a few of my favorite tips.

Tips for Birding with the Family - Photo by mrmac04

Tip #1 Provide an Inviting Environment

Fresh water in a birdbath and food in a bird feeder will often attract birds to the yard. If you don't want squirrels terrorizing your bird feeder, use only safflower (NOT sunflower) seeds in the feeders. The squirrels are not at all interested in those white safflower seeds, but many birds love them. We also make food for hummingbirds during warmer months. You might have your kids to make some crafty bird feeders, help pick out a feeder at the store, or ensure that the feeder and birdbath are full.

Research what plants in your area attract birds. Gardening with the kids can provide quality time together, and playing in the dirt to me has a sort of healing quality. Flower gardens might also attract a nice variety of bees, butterflies, and other wildlife in addition to the birds.

Good Bird Guides on the Internet - Photo by ren

Tip #2 Learn How to Identify the Birds

If you don't already know the names of the various birds in your area, don't panic. This can be a fun learning opportunity for you and the kids. Libraries often carry a nice array of bird field guides with added information such as preferred diet and flight patterns. Oftentimes the male is much brighter and easier to identify, and field guides often feature pictures of both the male and female.

The Internet has some great resources about birds as well. This is just a short list, but here are a few of my favorites:
Learn About Birds - Photo by AcrylicArtist

Tip #3 Make bird education fun and personal

Research your area's birding trails, and involve the family in planning to visit some of these places. If your family likes to hike, this is a great opportunity to get outside and enjoy nature and get a little exercise while watching for various birds. Some people like to pack binoculars. Bring a camera and encourage the budding photographers in the family. See if anyone in the family can carry on a conversation with a bird through whistling or other noises.

Learn how to protect our feathered friends in simple ways. For example, keeping roadways clear of trash can lead to fewer injured birds on the roadways. Birds of prey in particular are at risk if they spot a mouse headed for a cigarette butt because they zero in on their prey and often do not notice approaching vehicles. See and learn more about birds and how to protect them while vising a zoological park, raptor center, state or national park, etc.

Make a chart of common birds and plan to watch a particular area for a certain period of time, marking each bird seen with tally marks. Then use the data to compare numbers, create a graph, or make predictions. Math skills learned in the classroom often make more sense if you can develop a learning activity at home that utilizes those skills in a practical way.

Hone artistic skills by providing bird coloring pages or have the children to draw birds they have seen. Make a bird sculpture or write stories about the birds. Study birds of other areas of the country or world. Learn the name for bird in several different languages and practice saying the words together.

Enjoy Birding with the Kids - Photo by juditu

Birding is a great family activity that can be done without any special equipment. A pair of watchful eyes near an outdoor area is the only requirement for watching birds. All of the other stuff is just lattice on the pie! Enjoying nature together is a unique experience in which no two days provide exactly the same experience. We hope your bird watching experiences are full of happy surprises and delightful memories.

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