While not every family is destined for pet ownership, every family can harness the power of creature-love to inspire compassion and encourage a bond with the animal kingdom. We've gathered our favorite resources to get you started.
Send children's art to Color-a-Smile instead of the recycle bin! This wonderful, nonprofit organization accepts all standard-sized kids drawings and sends them on to nursing homes, meals-on-wheels recipients, hospitals, and other individuals in need of a smile.
The fall schedule is bursting into full swing, and the best tool I've found to make our family time meaningful is kindness. I'm not trying to be overly precious, or trite. Or predictably the Big-Hearted Families ambassador you all know I am.
I'm being honest. We (regrettably) still haven't taken on any of the larger volunteer projects on my to-do list: a Meals on Wheels route, a monthly shift at the food shelf, or visiting the local nursing home. Maybe as things settle down, we'll carve out time for that. But here are three simple things we've have done in the last two weeks that have brought our whole family closer together:
1) September Book Club fun:Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun has been a around in our home for a long time. It was fun to dig it out as part of the September book club. This book lends itself to rich discussion, especially at the start of the school year. Plus, the activity for this month, creating a kindness chain, has made each evening special.
The kids are sharing many small moments of their school day that they might not otherwise bring up, and even us grown ups are sharing more with the kids than usual. It's been a great way to connect.
2) Take and Bake: A few of our new neighbors have had some major life events recently. Baking bread or muffins and gathering a few garden goodies to share has been a great way to get to know our community a little better, share a little homemade, homegrown love, and spend some messy time in the kitchen as a family.
3. Upcycling. Check out our new Pinterest board, Kids Can Up-cycle. In preparation for next month's book club activity, we've been exploring way to reuse t-shirts, and talking about the importance of keeping everything we can out of the landfill. This has sparked a lot of creativity, and a few notable improvements in our home recycling system.
Even when it seems there is no time for a BHF project, keep in mind that small kindness activities like these can be part of the regular schedule and make family time both joyful and meaningful.
This summer, we're a family of guinea pigs. Like you (I suspect), we are fans of curiosity, of science, and of teaching the art of independent thinking to our children. Thanks to the wonderful university at our finger tips, each of the kids has participated in at least one study at the Institute of Child Development. I've talked to more than a few friends who have signed their kids up as well.
Our trip to campus was an outstanding field trip for the kids. Our participation in the studies gave the girls, especially Miss Second Grader, an opportunity to think about the research process. She even asked a few questions of the researchers we met.
Plus it gave us a great opportunity to talk about a unique new way to volunteer our time. As Little Miss Four said, "if they can study us and a lot of other kids, maybe they can help us all learn and grow really well."
Well put little one!
Here is a great link to get your kids started with sociological research.
If you participate in or conduct studies of your own, be sure to help your kids think through the potential impact of this sort of science on other children and families.
Even the busiest family has to eat now and then. Dining together is not only a wonderful way to connect amid the torrid pace of modern life, it is a great opportunity to put some of your family's green-living goals into action.
Here are three exceedingly simple steps that you could start this week.
- Buy Better Beef: Check out this New York Times article about grass-fed beef. Long story short, grass fed beef is nutritious, humane, and environmentally-friendly. My family has been committed to buying grass-fed, locally-raised beef for a few years. It's a simple way to feel good about your dinner choices. If you live in the Twin Cities, consider the Grass Fed Cattle Company. They make buying better beef easy. If you aren't in the area, check out Eat Wild to find a vendor near you. Once you've found a place that works for you, making a responsible meat selection becomes automatic. It's one less thing to think about.
- Help your kids take notice: Reflecting on the food chain can be tough with kids. At 4, Little Miss still differentiates between our "real chickens" (the five that live in our backyard coop) and the "other chicken that we eat." Big Sis, though, struggled with our Thanksgiving conversation about the free-range turkey we picked up at the farmer's market. Here is a great video from Brain Pop about the food chain that helps put it all into perspective. At almost seven, she frequently declares herself a vegetarian only to demand hamburgers the next day. Knowing that her beef comes from local, humanely raised cattle seems to make her feel somewhat better about her burger cravings.
- Vegetarian Variety: Because buying better meat products is, in fact, substantially more expensive than basic grocery store prices, we commit a few days each week to a vegetarian menu. Folding more brown rice and beans into our diet not only offsets the cost of grass-fed beef, it increases our dining variety. If you are looking for kid-friendly vegetarian recipes, here are three weekday staples that I love and my kids actually enjoy eating (I usually make both soup recipes in the crock pot, so they're perfect for a busy schedule).