Filed under: Kidding Around
3 Family Trips That Connect You With Nature

Eco Outdoor Vacations

Fresh air, beautiful scenery, and maybe even some wild animal sightings — the great outdoors offers the most exciting playground ever. Getting back to nature is rejuvenating for adults and a wonderful learning experience for kids that benefits their overall well-being.

Kids today may not get enough outside time as they should. A three-year study out of the UK showed that only 21% of children ages 8-12 were “connected to nature,” with girls more likely than boys to have outdoor experiences. A study from 2009 even suggested that spending time in nature makes people “more caring.”

Numerous groups including The Conservation Fund, Children & Nature Network, and the World Wildlife Fund actively encourage families to experience nature with their kids and enjoy what it has to offer. And it offers a lot of fun!

Check out these three unforgettable trips that will bring your family together and reconnect you with the world outside.

The Ground and Trails - Hotel Belmar

Hotel Belmar, adjacent to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Costa Rica

Want to experience something you’ll never forget with your family? The eco-friendly Hotel Belmar in Costa Rica sits on nine acres, next to the nearly 26,000 acre Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Spend the day hiking the property, enjoying the spring water pond, waterfall, and private trails. Or take a tour of the nearby forest led by the hotel’s on-staff naturalist. Just in the area, your family can also visit the bat jungle, the butterfly garden, and local coffee and chocolate farms. The outdoor activities in this area are endless—zip lining, horseback riding, biking, and all sorts of guided tours (one at night).

Geyser Viewing at Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park

One quintessential American family vacation is visiting Yellowstone National Park. Spread throughout three states, the park contains the largest collection of geysers, plus stunning views, wildlife, and sulfur pools. Bring your gear and camp, or stay at the one of the lodges in the park.

Out-n-About Treesort

Out’n’About Treesort in Oregon

Sleep among the trees at Out’n’About Treesort in Oregon. Choose from more than a dozen tree-top cabins or closer-to-the-ground wooden structures. The Swiss Family Robinson Complex is the stuff of kid vacation dreams — two on-the-ground treehouses connect by a swinging bridge. You can rent this for $180 for up to four people. Activities at the tree house camp include zip lining in the treetops, horseback riding, river rafting, and arts and crafts.

If a vacation’s not possible right now, hold a family camping night in your own backyard! Sleep under the stars and institute a no-gadgets policy for one evening. Play games, tell stories, roast marshmallows, and enjoy the fresh air!

Even backyard camping can teach your kids about the great outdoors. Incorporate nature in a fun craft project, making things from leaves, sticks, pinecones, and other foliage you find outside (just make sure the plants aren’t poisonous if you have young children).

What is your favorite family vacation? Tell us how you enjoy the great outdoors.

Images via Hotel Belmar, Yellowstone, and Out’n'About Treesort.

Family Play Night Ideas

Young family is playing board-game

I’ve tried really hard to stick to the family goals I created last month and was met with mixed success. One of my goals was to create a family game night to bring my family together and create memories. Surprisingly, game night has been one of the toughest goals to implement in the way I had imagined. Most board games have a clear-cut winner, and my kids are still working on learning how to lose gracefully. And after the school day, it’s difficult for my kids to sit still and wait their turn. I’ve found a mixed play approach, in which we combine physical activity with games, has yielded more family fun and less “are we done?” comments. So we’re renaming Family Game Night in our house to Family Play Night. Here’s what’s worked well for us so far:

 

1. Lights Out

We’ve had tremendous success turning the lights out and letting the kids get creative with glow sticks. They have great deals on glow sticks in the dollar sections of discount stores and my kids have loved making hats, faces, having sword battles, etc. We also bought a game that projects “ghosts” on the wall and they fire at them using a red laser dot. Great for redirecting their energy when they start to fight with each other!

 

2. Twister

Mastering right from left? Check. Making silly poses? Check. Burning off before-bed energy? Check. My kids would play this every night if they could. We try to save this one for weekends as it tends to wind them up instead of calming them down.

 

3. Puzzles

Puzzles are the equivalent of mental yoga for my kids. Something about concentrating on the pieces seems to calm and center them. We usually have two puzzles going at once so each kid has one appropriate for their skill level.

 

4. Building Creations

My boys love to build with imagination. Legos, blocks, Magna-Tiles —if you can stack it they’ll come up with an idea. Currently, my four year old’s favorite evening game with daddy is building a “garage” together out of Lincoln Logs and filling it with vehicles from the train set.

 

5. Sorry!

For some reason, Sorry! has been a big hit with my kids. We make it silly by making funny noises when we land on each other’s spaces or some one gets sent back to the start. Although someone always wins first, the silliness factor seems to lessen the usual “I wanted to win!” whine.

 

6. Dance Party

On nights when the energy level is high but the hour is getting late my husband and I YouTube some videos on our phones and let the dance party begin! Usually after dancing their way through two or three songs they start to peter out and we can move on to bedtime books.

 

What games to do play with your kids? Tell us in the comments.

 

By Robin Saks Frankel 

 

Jessica & Honor’s Kid-Friendly DIY Valentines

DIY Valentines 1

With Valentine’s Day less than a week away, here’s one more fun and ultra kid-friendly way to share the love this year!

Co-founder Jessica Alba and daughter Honor crafted these handmade DIY Valentines for Honor to give to her teachers and classmates. Honor is in her first year of Kindergarten and absolutely adores school! She loves to share her day-to-day stories with anyone that will listen, but especially with Jessica. To celebrate her first Valentine’s Day in big girl school, Jessica wanted to find a fun project that they could do together and that her classmates would also enjoy.

This DIY paper heart is simple for both moms and kids, while also being personal and totally customizable. Honor’s school advises against passing out candy to the children, so Jessica and Honor opted to fill the hearts with some of Honor’s favorite Honest staples as a fun alternative. Check out the adorable results below!

DIY Valentines 5

Materials

  • Construction paper
  • Yarn
  • Kid’s plastic large-eye needle
  • Hole punch
  • Scissors
  • Honest products (Hand Sanitizer Spray & Lip Balm Trio) or other goodies
  • Optional decorations: pom-poms, non-toxic finger paint, heart shaped doilies, photographs, feathers, bows, etc.

Jessica Alba & Honor's DIY Valentines

Instructions

1. Cut out two heart-shaped pieces of construction paper. To make sure they are both the same size, it may be easiest to cut one then use it to trace out the second prior to cutting.

2. Hold the two heart pieces back-to-back and use your hole punch to punch around the perimeter. Leave about half an inch of space between the edge of the paper and the hole so that it won’t rip when you sew the heart shut.

DIY Valentines

3. Cut approximately 30-inches of yarn and thread your plastic needle. Tie a knot at the end of the yarn and start sewing the two pieces together, with a looping overcast stitch.

4. Continue sewing around the perimeter, leaving the last 2-3 inches unsewn.

5. Stuff your heart with the contents of your choice (we went with an Honest Hand Sanitizer Spray and a Lip Balm Trio), then sew the remaining section closed. Depending on the look you are going for, you can seal it up with a small knot or by tying a decorative bow.

6. Decorate, decorate, decorate! Let the kids go wild and add their own creative flair to the Valentines. We finished this one by adding a picture of the little artist and having her sign her name. Too cute!

DIY Valentines 4

Another fun way to personalize this craft idea is by having the little ones finger paint the construction paper prior to cutting. That way you can make the heart with really unique, customized paper.

DIY Valentines 3

What kinds of Valentines are your kids giving this year? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Host A Winning Olympics Party + Game Night

Olympic gold medal

We have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t get excited about the Olympics. The feelings of anticipation, hope, and pride that we share when cheering on the athletes really inspire camaraderie and bonding. So with the games in Sochi beginning, it’s the perfect time to invite the gang over to watch the events and engage in some healthy competition.

But don’t sweat the details! Whether you host an international-themed dinner party or an impromptu game night, there are many easy-to-do ideas for throwing a family friendly Olympics party. We hope you find inspiration below!

Getting In the Spirit

Bring your friends together by sending them a festive e-vite featuring iconic symbols, a gold medal, or a downhill skier — it’s fast, free, and eco-friendly. Encourage them to dress in their favorite country’s colors; wear red, yellow, green, blue, or black like the Olympic rings; or bundle up in cozy sweaters and scarves because it’s the winter games. Then have prizes for the three people wearing the most spirited garb!

Winning Eats

Host an around-the-world potluck. Ask guests to bring a dish inspired by the country of the top competitors expected at Sochi. Here’s a little Olympics trivia: Canada brought home the most medals in the 2010 winter games, followed by Germany, USA, Norway, South Korea, and Switzerland. Pair these dishes with beers and wines from similar regions. And set up a hot chocolate bar to keep the little ones warm and happy.

To give you a head start, try out these recipes guaranteed to get a gold medal from your guests:

BorschtBorscht with Greek Yogurt

This Russian classic is super healthy and delicious—even people who don’t like beets will enjoy this soup! Adapted from The Fig Tree Blog.

Serves 6-10

Ingredients

  • 5-6 organic beets
  • 1 organic yellow onion
  • 1 small container Greek yogurt
  • Organic dill
  • 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 6 cups organic vegetable broth
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Peel and slice beets. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Roast at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes until you can pierce them with a fork. Cool. Once beets are cool enough to touch, finely chop them. Finely chop one yellow onion, too. Heat oil in saucepan, add onions, cook for about 10 minutes until light brown and slightly caramelized. Add beets, washed dill (leaving some for garnish), and stock. Bring to boil. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add vinegar, sea salt, and pepper. Remove dill stems. Serve with Greek yogurt or sour cream and dill for garnish.

Bok Choy RollsBok Choy Rolls

We took some healthy staples of Chinese cuisine, such as soybeans (edamame), sesame seeds, ginger, and green onions and created a delicious and healthy dip. This nutritious snack is something an Olympic athlete could definitely eat to fuel-up before the games!

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 3 heads organic bok choy
  • 2 cups organic edamame, cooked
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 Tbsp. hot sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp., roasted sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp. grated ginger
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ cup organic green onions, chopped

Directions

Once edamame is cooked, add soybeans and all ingredients to a high-powered blender or food processor. Puree the mixture until it is well blended, like a creamy dip.

Wash and trim organic bok choy leaves. Pat dry if needed. Stuff leaves with a generous spoonful of edamame mixture. Arrange on a serving tray. Enjoy!

Blueberry MousseBlueberry Mousse with Maple Syrup

When it comes to food, Canada is known for many things including maple syrup and blueberries. This decadent mousse combines both flavors for a winning appeal! Adapted from A Girl Worth Saving.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2 large organic bananas
  • 1 Tbsp. pure organic maple syrup (honey or agave can be substituted)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. sea salt
  • ½ medium avocado
  • ½ cup organic freeze dried blueberries
  • ½ cup melted organic coconut oil
  • 1 cup organic blueberries

Directions

This one’s simple: Wash blueberries. Melt coconut oil. Add all ingredients to high-powered blender. Immediately pour into dessert cups and top with blueberries to garnish. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Enjoy!

Golden Games

Olympics party 10

When throwing a sporty party, encourage team spirit and collaboration by breaking guests into teams. Make sure to have different activities for varying skill levels to truly capture the Olympic spirit of your amateur games. Here’s how to create your own Olympics:

1. Host a track-and-field event where teams compete in three-legged, potato sack, and wheelbarrow races.

2. Play croquet or up the fun-factor by doing it blindfolded where teammates must guide each other through the course to score points.

3. Don’t forget nostalgic games like tug-o-war and basketball’s H.O.R.S.E. (just play using an Olympic-themed word).

4. Stage an obstacle course that can be completed relay-style by the entire team.

5. Take advantage of your locale. Snowy outside? Have a snowman building contest.

If the weather’s not warm enough for long-term outdoor play, move the games inside. Bust out the board games. Go for the gold in Twister. Or play your hand at:

  • Creating a ring toss game using paper plates.
  • Making your own bean bags for a bean bag toss challenge. Using old fabric scraps and rice or beans from your pantry, you can easily create these. To set-up something to toss them into, you can use hula hoops, athletic field paint (for outdoors), or even empty boxes to create obstacles in which to throw the bean bags into, over, or at.
  • Taking any plastic bottles from your recycling bin and setting them up for a game of hallway bowling.
  • Using eco-friendly disposable plates and popsicle sticks to create paddles for an indoor game of balloon paddle ball. (ApartmentTherapy has some great indoor game ideas that you could turn into an Olympics-like series of challenges).
  • Acting out an Olympic-inspired game of charades.
  • Setting up a crafts station where kids can make their own Olympic torch (using recycled materials, of course) or a chocolate gold medal.

The possibilities are endless!

What do you love most about the Olympics? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Honest Helping Hands: Stevie’s Furry Friends

An Inside Look at Honestly Amazing Non-Profits

Eight-year-old Stevie Nelson has a big heart for animals. The Nebraska native started his non-profit Stevie’s Furry Friends to help shelters with monetary donations and supplies. He was named Kid of the Year in 2011 by the ASPCA and has helped more than 200 shelters across the United States. Here’s how and why he did it:

Furry Friends 1

Q. What was your motive to start Stevie’s Furry Friends?

A. I started Stevie’s Furry Friends, Inc. because there were so many animals that needed love.

My first fundraiser was for my 6th birthday. I dedicated it to helping homeless pets in northeast Nebraska in honor of my missing labrador retrievers, Bo and Luke, who went missing two days before I turned 5. I wanted to raise $6,000 for our local rescue group and by the end of 2011, I had raised nearly $40,000 in monetary donations and $6,000 in product donations. The ASPCA heard about my story and named me their 2011 Kid of the Year. After being named their Kid of The Year, I knew that this was a great opportunity to help more shelters and rescues across the country, so I started Stevie’s Furry Friends, Inc. with the help of some adults. I have helped over 200 shelters and rescues across the USA and have even started Stevie’s Furry Friends Club! where I send product donations that I receive from pet care companies to kids that are hosting fundraisers for their local shelters/rescues. So far, I have helped about 30 kids with their projects.

Furry Friends 3

Q. Why is it important to get kids involved in non-profit work?

A. It’s important for kids to help in charity work because we can do a lot! It makes you feel really good to help people and animals! My mom and dad always support what my sister Ashleigh and I want to do to help out in our community. Because of that, we have done a LOT. My sister Ashleigh donated her $24 4H check to St. Jude’s and asked for people to match it. She ended up raising $1,200 for our local radiothon! She also had a 10th birthday fundraiser and ended up raising $30,000 worth of hay for a local horse rescue that was struggling during our drought. She just hosted her 2nd Annual Holiday Giving Drive for the elderly, where she delivers stuffed animals to nursing home patients.

This year, GenerationOn and the Hasbro Children’s Fund ask me to participate in a kid’s toy drive for the 2013 holiday giving season. I am used to helping animals, not kids, so this was exciting! They asked me to be a “Joy Ambassador” where they would send me 100 toys to donate to kids in need in northeast Nebraska. I couldn’t pick which organization to help because there were so many that needed the toys. So, I asked my mom to help me contact toy companies and child product companies to see if they would be willing to help me by donating some toys also with a match/partial match donation. Because of so much generosity, I ended up being able to help 10 organizations in northeast Nebraska! I received about 2,000 items, including toys, treats, and stocking stuffers for kids in-need in northeast Nebraska! This was so awesome! I have already had companies say that they would like to help me with a toy drive next year, so I am really excited to make this an annual event!

furry friends 2

Q. How can people (and kids specifically) get involved with your organization?

A. Kids can become a part of Stevie’s Furry Friends Club! and when they host a fundraiser for a shelter/rescue, I will send them a package of goodies to donate to their shelter/rescue!

Adults can help by spreading the word about what I do to help animals and kids in need. Shipping is very expensive, so monetary donations are greatly appreciated to keep Stevie’s Furry Friends, Inc. going.

Companies can help by providing sponsorship by donating products or by making a monetary donation to one of my fundraisers for kids or animals. I try really hard to promote the companies that support me! Without their help, I wouldn’t be able to do all of this!

Q. What was your most memorable moment during your work with Stevie’s Furry Friends?

A. My most memorable moment with my work was getting to go to New York City for the ASPCA luncheon and getting to meet so many people. It was also pretty cool getting to be on the TODAY show!  Meeting one of my best FURiends, Surf Dog Ricochet, the 2011 ASPCA Dog of the Year was also a favorite moment. Since we met, we have worked together several times to help animals and kids in need. She is a great FURiend!

I loved making the “Adopt Me, Maybe?” video for 12 Hills Dog Rescue. I also enjoyed going to events, helping raise awareness, and I love meeting the animals I am helping.

I really enjoyed my Joy Ambassador Project too! I loved getting to go meet the kids we were helping! It made me very thankful for everything I have.

Furry Friends 4

Q. Getting a non-profit up and running (and keeping it running) can be hard work. Do you have any advice for someone (of any age) looking to start their own organization?

A. Just do the best you can. It is a lot of work, but helping people and animals is such an awesome feeling. We ask a lot of questions to people that have been doing this a lot longer than we have. Having a good support system is very important!