UPDATED: 07/01/11 | Originally Published: 07/01/10
Any kid will tell you that the best part of summer is the chance to kick off his or her shoes and play outside in the sun. Any mom will tell you about the worries of sun exposure, bug bites, and allergies — not to mention environmental pitfalls like wasting water while the kids cool off in the sprinklers, or using potentially harmful chemicals to keep insects under control. Never fear! There are ways to have a fun, carefree time in your own backyard, while staying healthy and treating the environment right. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Protect yourself and your family from the sun by using organic sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. For further protection, wear hats with wide brims or tote a sun umbrella or a folding canopy to the beach or park. Remember, though, that the sun is an important provider of Vitamin D. To balance protecting your skin and getting the right nutrients, consider taking a Vitamin D supplement.
Try natural bug-repellent methods. Make sure that there's no standing water in your yard, as that water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Plant marigolds, burn citronella candles and make your own DEET-free insect repellant with essential oils.
Scrapes and scratches are inevitable when you're hiking or just playing outside. Instead of turning to chemical ointments, explore natural additions to your first aid kit. Plant aloe vera in your garden or in an indoor planter; the gel in the leaves can soothe sunburn or help heal scrapes and cuts. A sprinkling of granulated sugar on a scrape can help to speed healing, and lime juice kills bacteria.
Instead of filling up wading pools with the hose, you could use a rain barrel to harvest rainwater, and then use that rain water to fill your pool (as a bonus, it won't be icy-cold like the water that comes from your hose!). Drain your wading pool every few days so that mosquitoes won't breed in it, and use that pool water to water your gardens or lawn.
For another earth-friendly outdoor activity, get the family involved in a summer-long gardening project. Planting fruits and vegetables might be more rewarding to young gardeners than flowers. Pick hardy, easy-to-grow varieties like herbs, tomatoes, and carrots.
Stock up on lawn games like croquet, bocce, or quoits, which won't overheat the players and won't damage the lawn the same way more active games might.
When you're picnicking or camping, cut down on waste by toting reusable water bottles, packing food in reusable containers, and using cloth napkins and non-disposable utensils. Be sure to leave your picnic spot as clean as it was when you arrive.