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Earth-friendly crafts and activities - Fun ways to forge a love of nature and recycling in kids

(ARA) Nature offers many beautiful gifts and wonders to explore, and parents can help get kids outside to discover them when they step away from the television or computer screen. Here are a few fun ways to encourage your children to explore nature.

A growing trend

As more people are discovering every year, gardening is a great way to enjoy nature. Kids will enjoy starting plants from seed or picking out starter plants at the nursery and watching them grow and develop. Even a small container garden on a balcony or patio can yield tomatoes for salsa, flowers for an entire season or strawberries galore. Cook up your favourite recipes with home grown ingredients and donate any excess produce to local food banks.

For the more adventurous gardener, help your kids plant a "vertical garden." In the style of famed French artist and botanist Patrick Blanc, grow your flowers and vegetables in a fun new way. Try filling a canvas hanging shoe organizer with a light-weight potting mix and filling each pocket with one of your favourite plants. Have fun using tomatoes, bell peppers, marigolds, strawberries, vinca vines or impatiens. Poke a drainage hole in each pocket and hang the entire organizer on your back fence or balcony. Water daily, and in just a few weeks you will be enjoying your own living art piece.

Find a local community garden or gardening co-op and volunteer with your family to help with weeding, watering, planting or harvesting.

Nature's bounty

Yard waste? Not when you can re-use and repurpose. Find the beauty in what nature provides by creating new uses for things that would otherwise be considered waste. Large sticks make great garden stakes for plants that need a little extra support, like tomatoes. Smaller sticks can be written on or carved into (by an adult) for an inexpensive way to label plants in the garden or pots.

How about using leaves for gift tags or place cards? Kids will love writing names on the leaves with a little paint and a fine-tipped brush or metallic pen. Then, simply punch a hole in one end and tie with a decorative piece of raffia or ribbon for a personalized touch to any gift or place setting. Flowers from your pots or garden don't have to fade away - they can be easily dried for use in homemade potpourri, candles or soap.

Give a worm a job

Many of us know that composting is a great way to reuse what Mother Nature has given us. Even a small compost bin will fill up quickly with kitchen scraps and yard waste. This waste can be used produce a nice compost mix for next year's garden - especially if you add some red worms to the compost bin. Worms are nature's little composters. They make composting more fun, interesting and efficient by breaking down organic matter into nutrient-rich vermicast allowing your family to compost kitchen scraps easily, and reduce the amount of garbage produced each year. Red worms can be purchased inexpensively from many garden centres or online outlets. A small bin will require about 2 pounds of red worms to get the job done.

The art of recycling

Recycling is a great way to reduce waste. It's likely you already have a recycling bin next to the garbage can. Chances are, however, that your kids do not see those recyclables as art - it is time to change their minds. Reusing and recycling everyday objects not only reduces waste but, with a little imagination, can also provide hours of creative fun. Make something together that will bring years of enjoyment to your home or landscape.

Make a bottle tree to enhance the garden or balcony. Since the invention of bottles, people have found ways to use them as decorations. Used as a way to explore the beauty of glass or ward off (or attract) spirits, bottle trees have been "planted" across the planet in various forms for thousands of years. To build your own bottle tree, collect colourful glass bottles from your recycling bin or from friends, family or even local restaurants. For a "tree" form, use steel re-bar, sturdy wire, wood, fallen limbs or dying trees. Simply remove labels from bottles and wash out. Then, hang the bottles from your form - use your bottle tree purely as a decoration or as a nice support for vine-like plants such as morning glory or tomatoes.

Preserving nature in photos

A digital camera may not seem like a device to get your kids outside, but they can be acquired quite inexpensively and are a great tool with which to view nature and animals. Go on walks in the yard, neighbourhood, a local park or zoo and click away. Zoom in or change the angle of the camera for new perspectives. By simply changing the way that we look at things like flowers, animals, trees and even bugs, cameras provide an up-close and personal view of the world that you would not otherwise get to see.

Use your photos for great screen savers on the computer, make photo collages or print them out for uniquely fantastic artworks to frame. Any way you use them, you will have preserved a little piece of nature and will have great memories for years to come.

Once you and your kids start exploring nature together, you will discover hours of fun for the entire family. Mother Nature may more to offer than you realized.

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