Getting Your Whole Family Outside This Fall

Fall is most definitely in the air. As Carol Bishop Hipps put it, it's “the mellow, messy, leaf-kicking, perfect pause between the opposing miseries of summer and winter.”

I hope you all take the time go out and enjoy this most splendid season. Getting outside and into nature is an important part of keeping everyone in your family happy and healthy. In fact, a University of Illinois study found that children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder were able to raise their attentiveness scores simply by taking a walk outside. Not surprisingly, walks in natural settings had an even more significant impact than walking on city streets.

Being in nature can benefit your whole family's mental, emotional, and physical well-being, so here are some ideas to get you and your whole family outside this fall.

Visit a farm. Check out for farms near you.

Try a hay or corn maze.

Go apple picking or search for the perfect pumpkin. Check out to find a pick-your-own farm near you.

Go on a hay ride.

Jump in the leaves.

Create artwork from the leaves, acorns, and pine cones available in your yard or a nearby park. Click here for fall craft ideas and directions.

Round up the neighborhood for a game of touch or flag football.

Play outdoor games like freeze tag, Red Rover, hopscotch and Kick The Can.

Fly a kite.

Visit a local park.

Plant a tree. Many people don't realize that planting isn't just a springtime activity. The fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs as well as flower bulbs like daffodils, crocus, and tulips.

Visit the zoo. Fall (and even winter) is a great time to visit the zoo. Summer's heat keeps many animals hidden in their cool, shady spots. Cooler temperatures mean more animals roaming about for easy viewing.

Visit state and national parks in your area. Many offer great family-friendly activities.

Go on a nature expedition at a local park, in your yard, or around your neighborhood. Bring along binoculars, a magnifying class, and a journal (young children can draw pictures of what they see) and teach your kids how to observe, enjoy and appreciate nature without disturbing it.

Make a nature journal. Have your kids decorate a notebook they can carry with them to note what they observe when they're outside. Even young kids can keep a nature journal by drawing what they see.

Explore the wonderful world of bugs. Check your local library for books about bugs and then head outside with a magnifying glass to see what you can find and identify.

Learn about birds. Check out some library books or use the online bird guide from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Then get outside with some binoculars and that nature journal and see what you can find.

Set up an outdoor scavenger hunt. The Love The Outdoors website offers a great guide to setting up your own scavenger hunt for kids, along with a few sample lists to get you started.

Have a picnic (even if it's in your own yard).

Start an outdoor hobby together. The options are limitless – biking, fishing, hiking, canoeing/kayaking, horseback riding, etc.

Build a fort. Use these simple directions from wikiHow or get fancy with these instructions from This Old House.

Go letterboxing. Letterboxing is an outdoor activity that dates back to the 1800s. It combines elements of orienteering, hiking, art, and puzzle solving. Participants search for letterboxes hidden in public places, such as parks, by following clues from a catalog or web site. These letterboxes usually contain a notebook and a rubber stamp. Finders stamp their personal journal with that stamp to record their find and then leave their personal stamp in the letterbox's log book. Your own local parks and recreation department may have a program or you can check out one of the many web sites available to help you get started. If you'd prefer a more high tech treasure hunt involving gps tracking, try geocaching.

Learn about the solar system. has several great resources you can check out before heading outside to connect the constellations together.

Making Your Child's School a Green School

What better contribution can you make to your child's school than to help make it a green school? After all, a green school is a healthy school and a healthy school is more conducive to learning.

According to the American Lung Association, schoolchildren miss more than 14 million school days a year because of asthma exacerbated by poor indoor air quality. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), poor indoor air quality can reduce children's ability to perform mental tasks involving memory, calculations, and concentration.

While some environmental factors can be an impediment to learning, others can help bolster learning. Studies show that students in classrooms receiving the most daylight during the school day perform up to 20% better on math tests than children in classrooms with artificial lights.

There's also schools' environmental impact to consider. According to the EPA, 50% of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed when machines are turned off. Imagine what's happening in schools! Now factor in all the faucets left on by small children, the paper carelessly wasted by students of all ages, and the countless recyclables being tossed in the trash and that is one major carbon footprint.

Green schools strive to reduce their ecological footprint, while making the school environment more conducive to learning and all around healthier for students and staff.

Here are some ways you can help green up your child's school.

Pack lunches in reusable containers to avoid plastic and reduce trash.

Have your child walk, bike, or ride the bus to school. Alternatively, you can organize a carpool.

If driving, don’t idle your car at the school's pick-up/drop-off area.

Ask your child's teacher if the school has a formal policy about unplugging computers and turning off lights at the end of the day and during down times like lunch and recess.

Volunteer to make signs for your child's teacher reminding children to turn off the faucet when they're done washing their hands.

Donate an air-cleaning plant to your child's classroom. NASA spent two years testing 19 different house plants for their ability to remove common pollutants from the air. The most effective plants were proven to be philodendron, English ivy, spider plants, dracaena, weeping fig, golden pothos, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, bamboo or reed palm, and snake plant.

Offer to help your child's teacher with green projects and activities, such as nature walks (children can keep a journal of what they observe), making recycled crafts like milk carton birdhouses, growing plants in the classroom, planting a tree outside the school, or starting a recycling program.

Be an example for other families. Check out Raising a Green Kid to learn more.

Ready to go bigger? Organize a group for these green school initiatives.

Start your school's PTA or Wellness Committee (any school receiving federal funding for lunch programs is mandated to have one) on a get green campaign or establish a separate Green Team or Eco-Committee. The Green School Initiative offers a variety of resources to get you started.

Take the individual measures you've taken to a school-wide level. Encourage all parents to pack waste-free lunches and carpool. Install air-cleaning plants throughout the building and develop an energy conservation policy for the entire school.

Implement a no-idling policy for all cars and buses.

Seek out transportation companies with bio-diesel, clean diesel, natural gas or hybrid school buses.

Replace incandescent light bulbs with LED or fluorescent ones. Consider the installation of skylights.

Start a school recycling program.

Opt for eco-friendly, non-toxic cleaning products. Many of the products used to clean school buildings contain toxic chemicals that pollute the air and threaten children's developing respiratory systems. Look for products with the EcoLogo or Green Seal label (a list is available at, use micro-fiber mops and cloths, and convert to high efficiency equipment such as HEPA vacuum cleaners.

Convert to environmentally-friendly school and office supplies. At the very least, try to avoid products made of PVC or #3 plastic.

Go to for a free Tools for Schools Action Kit. The step-by-step guide shows schools how to carry out a practical plan to improve indoor air problems at little, or no, cost using straightforward activities and in-house staff. The kit provides best practices, industry guidelines, sample policies, and a sample IAQ management plan.

Make sure school grounds are maintained using Integrated Pest Management to reduce the use of chemical pesticides.

Consider a garden as a school-wide project. A school garden can be used in a variety of lessons – from art to science.

Remove vending machines and any other sources of processed foods from your lunch room. Promote fresh produce instead. This may involve that school garden or a CSA or Food Co-op program available from local farmers.

Green your school events. Cut back on disposable paper products and opt for reusable decorations.

For fundraisers, try selling energy efficient light bulbs, crafts made from recycled materials, or experiences instead of wrapping paper or candy.

Green up the curriculum. Earth Day Network's national GREEN Schools Campaign, in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and The Clinton Foundation, offers a variety of resources, including free K-12 environmental lesson plans and activities.

The Earth Day Network's goal is to green all U.S. schools within a generation. Help make that goal a reality by helping to make your child's school a green school.

Natural Ways to Prevent and Eliminate Weeds

Gardening can be an incredibly enjoyable and gratifying experience. Yet, even those with the greenest of thumbs have to admit that it can be frustrating at times, especially when it comes to weeds. No one wants to see the fruits of their labor overrun by weeds, but you don’t need to reach for the Roundup just yet. You already have several natural, inexpensive ways to avoid and eliminate weeds at your disposal.

First, focus on getting your lawn and garden as healthy as possible. The healthier your plants and the thicker your grass, the less room there is for weeds. Make sure to plant native species whenever possible. Native plants are better suited for persevering against the weeds of the local area. Then provide your plants with optimal soil conditions. Aerate soil before planting and fertilize with compost. Lay down newspaper to block weeds – it's organic, can be turned into the soil the following spring, and is less expensive than plastic. Strengthen your lawn by mulch-cutting and leaving the clippings (they're a great source of nitrogen) on the grass. And make sure to cut high – weeds get choked out and the lawn’s root system becomes hardier. For an all-natural and safe pre-emergent weed killer try corn gluten meal. It has been shown to inhibit the growth of dandelions, crabgrass, and several other annual weeds.

Even if you take every preventative measure, there's always at least a few weeds bound to show up. Start with the cheapest, most natural weed killer – your own hands. Pull weeds by hand or with a hoe or spade. There are also several different tools available to make removing weeds by their roots easier. Some other all-natural weed killers to consider:

Boiling water. Pour boiling water (you can re-purpose cooking water) on a weed and it will shrivel up within a couple days. This is a great way to clear a grouping of weeds popping out of or around driveways, walkways, and sidewalks. Take care though . . . boiling water will kill any plant it comes in contact with as well as the underground roots of nearby plants.

Salt. Salt (any type will do) is a serious plant killer. You can sprinkle just a small bit at the base of a weed to get rid of, but then the soil will become unsuitable for future plant growth. It's best to use salt on gravel walkways and driveways (just sprinkle it on) to keep anything from growing there for several months. Avoid using salt on concrete because salt erodes concrete surfaces.

Vinegar. Spraying vinegar directly on weeds will kill the leaves and cause them to shrivel up within a few days. Young weedlings will likely die all together, but more established weeds will need to be sprayed a few times before being completely eliminated. Avoid spraying vinegar directly on the soil since it also kills beneficial microorganisms which would ruin the soil for any future plant growth.

Rubbing Alcohol. Rubbing alcohol can be used the same way as vinegar. It too can ruin the soil, so make sure to only spray the leaves of the weed.

Soap. Add a few drops of liquid dish soap to any of the above ingredients to make it more effective. The soap breaks down the surface of the plant boosting the weed killer's absorption and thus its ability to do damage.

A Combination. Your best bet is a combination of ingredients. Mix a gallon of vinegar with one cup of salt and two tablespoons of dish soap. Spray this combination directly onto weeds or pour on entire areas where you want to eliminate plants completely.

Finally, you have two additional options for dealing with weeds. One: If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em. Common weeds such as dandelions, purlsane, chicory, and violet are all safe to eat. Two: If you can't beat ‘em, enjoy ‘em. Accept weeds as part of nature. As A.A. Milne put it, “Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”