The primary goal of doing any activities with your grandkids is to connect with them, have fun and make great memories. The secondary goal can be to help them discover the world, and make sense of it in a way that is fun, sustainable and healthy.
Try some of these sustainable activities together:
Make an All-Natural Bird Feeder
This simple, sustainable activity creates no waste, is great for all ages and will inspire your little ones to notice the many feathered friends they have in the trees.
Tie a long piece of yarn around a pine cone. This will help you to hang it outside.
Now take one open pine cone, and spread all-natural peanut or almond butter over and inside it. Avoid nut butters with added sugar; salt-free might also be preferred.
Once your pine cone is good and sticky, roll it in a bowl of birdseed.
Hang your pine cone bird feeder in a nearby tree at your grandchild’s eye level. Avoid putting it in front of a window, which could cause the bird to collide with the glass.
Another option is to help them slice and hang orange slices, pomegranate slices or even whole, unsalted peanuts from the trees!
Make a Bird-Watching Box
If your grandkids are interested in watching the birds eat off their new feeder, suggest this fun activity.
Decorate a large box (large enough for them to fit inside) to “blend in” to the outdoor surroundings. The kids can use non-toxic paints, crayons or even branches, leaves and rocks. Cut out a small opening, just big enough to see out of but not big enough for the bird to catch a glimpse inside.
Place the box nearby the pine cone bird feeder (you may want to hang it low).
Birds can only count to one! So if two of you walk out to the box, your little one climbs in and you walk back, the birds will think the coast in clear! Your grandchild will be able to watch the birds that come to eat or even take pictures with your camera.
Plant a Kid-Friendly Garden
Many kids love to play in the dirt! Why not start a small garden just for them? Designate a small area of your yard or use containers to help them plant (and hopefully eat!) all kinds of edible plants.
Allow them to choose their own seeds while encouraging fast-growing seeds like giant sunflowers, which are fun to measure next to your grandchild’s height, carrots, which are always fun and surprising to pull out of the soil the first time, and bush beans, which are quickly harvested for impatient little gardeners or big gardeners!
Also, help them experiment by germinating seeds and even pits indoors in jars or clear containers. Google “seed germination process” ahead of time so you can answer their questions.
Do Biodegrading Experiments
We can talk to our kids and grandkids about waste, recycling and composting to help them to understand the impact of landfills.
One fun way to do this is with an experiment on degradation.
Collect miscellaneous objects from around the house or from the trash. Make a list of everything, so you don’t forget what to look for! Some good items would be banana peels, apple cores, a lettuce leaf (high in water content), a piece of wood, paper, a Styrofoam cup, something metal, wool yarn, acrylic yarn, a plastic bag, compostable corn- or potato-based plastic and so on.
Try to find as many different types of materials as possible to see how each degrades over time.
You may want to take before pictures so that you can compare. Then bury each object in the ground or at the bottom of your compost pile and be sure to mark each spot so that you don’t lose what you’ve buried. Also mark a date on the calendar to check back in 2-4 weeks.
When you go back to dig them up, compare them to the before pictures and talk about the changes that each have undergone. What has changed the most? What has changed the least? Did you find any worms while you were digging things up? Talk about the lifespan of Styrofoam (it will never degrade) versus the lifespan of the lettuce leaf (which you probably won’t find). Help them Google their questions to find answers.
Repurpose Leftover Crafts
Most kids have boxes and piles of broken crayons, scraps of papers, bits of yarn or string and so on. And very few of them want to give them up. Help your grandkids re-purpose those leftover crafts into something fun.
Broken bits of crayons can be melted in a paper muffin cup to create new, multi-colored blocks of crayon—the outside may look brown, but the inside should look like a rainbow. Be sure to use a low heat and keep an eye on them together.
And why not challenge your grandchildren to create a masterpiece collage to frame for the wall? Offer them a large sheet of sturdy paper and a few suggestions—like a collaged ocean and beach scene, a flower garden, or even a family portrait. Eyes can be made of buttons or flower petals made of yarn.
Whatever they create, you can get it framed or frame it yourself with branches and a cardboard backing to display with pride.
Ask Them Questions
Through all your eco-friendly and sustainable activities with kids, do more listening than talking. Ask questions that encourage your kids to come to their own solutions. Offer what you think or what you’ve heard might be true and ask them what they think.
Even if you think they are coming to some incorrect conclusions, that’s okay! Part of the learning process is in making mistakes and deciding for themselves what makes sense. They will appreciate that you supported them through their discoveries.