A summer adventure: Building wildlife habitats with your children
Rosilee Trotta, LCSW
Urban Youth & Family Specialist
One of my favorite Mother’s Day presents was observing five of my grandchildren as they watched a large wild turkey peck at seed beneath a bird feeder in our yard. Even in their excitement, these little ones (aged 2 -7) were careful not to frighten the majestic bird away. A lot of learning took place before they skipped away to become Princess Belle, Spiderman and other magical creatures.
While not everyone lives in habitats of turkey, deer and coyote, any outdoor space offers the potential for wildlife wonder. Bees, butterflies, frogs, dragonflies, lizards, birds and spiders occupy all but the most urbane setting. And even here, many species thrive. But large numbers of today’s kids tend to be relatively unaware of the natural wonders that surround them.
Life in 2005 has moved indoors for a whole lot of reasons. Safety has become a far greater issue than when many of us were free to roam neighborhoods at will. Children now have scheduled baseball and soccer practice, music, art and dance lessons. Playtime for kids between the ages of 3-12 has actually decreased by 7 hours per week from 1981-1997 (Hofferth & Sandberg). Children no longer have time to explore, experiment and develop their own creative hypotheses about nature and the natural.
If you wish to help your children tune into the joys of the outdoors in a safe environment, there is much you can do, regardless of the size of your backyard, patio or deck. Start with a planning process that includes the kids. You can encourage math skills by drawing plans and deciding dimensions. Talk about the height of plants and whether they will look right in a certain location as they grow.
Decide what types of creatures you wish to attract: butterflies, humming birds, song or migrating birds, small mammals, large mammals, ducks, turkey, etc.
Look up plants that are likely to draw intended “wildlife” to your yard. Native species are usually your best bet as they are generally more adapted to the area, tend to be disease-resistant, and are more familiar to native birds and animals.
Consider plants that will offer both shelter and food even during winter months, such as mountain ash, highbush cranberries, hawthorns, crabapples, sweet gum and native sumacs. Evergreens, such as spruce, cedar and pine, offer warm housing for birds that stick around during cold weather.
Summer plants that are welcoming and provide food include sunflowers, black-eyed susans, honeysuckle, phlox and zinnias. Butterflies love butterfly weed, butterfly bush, lantana, and purple coneflowers. Hummingbirds are attracted to bee balm, pineapple sage, wild columbine, and cardinal flowers.
Don’t forget water. Your children will love watching birds shake the dust off their wings and take a little dip in the birdie pool outside their window. If you get as inundated as we are, you will add a thermostatically controlled birdbath heater for winter months when water becomes critical for non-migrating birds. There are also battery-operated mechanisms that deter mosquitoes by keeping the water moving in either elevated “baths” or those on the ground for mammals.
Let your children help design, plant and set up your wildlife environment. Then get ready for year-round pleasure and entertainment shared by the entire family. Next, pat yourself on the back. You have made a conscious decision to improve the world we all live in.
Reference: Hofferth, S.L., & Sandberg, J.F. “Changes in American Children’s Time, 1981-1997.” In Strum, R., Childhood Obesity—What We Can Learn From Existing Data on Societal Trends, vol. 2,
no. 1, January 2005.
Fuel kids for sports and play
Cynthia Fauser, MS, RD, LD
Nutrition & Health Education Specialist
Parents and volunteer coaches of children’s sports have lots to juggle—schedules, uniforms, equipment and carpools, just to name a few things. Proper fuel and fluids also demand attention for children and teens to perform their best. Wise parents realize that offering healthy choices will support positive lifelong habits, as well as the ability to feel good, play hard and have fun now.
The goal is a balanced, varied diet, high in carbohydrates and fluids. Kids thrive on routines they can count on and access to regular meals and snacks. In fact, they need to eat about every 2-3 hours! On average, school-age children need the following each day:
6-9 servings of bread, cereals, grains (half of which should be whole grain)
3-4 servings of vegetables
2-3 meat (5-6 ounces total)
6-8 cups of fluid throughout the day (water, fruit juice, milk, sports drinks, soup, fruits and vegetables are all good fluid sources).
Plan to succeed. Plan and shop in a way that keeps healthy choices at hand when needed. This is the best way to ward off “emergency” trips to the vending machine or drive-through where options are limited and costs higher. Parents can help by teaching kids to include appropriate snacks and beverages along with their sports equipment for after-school refueling before events.
Timing is important. Children and adults alike play and compete best when schedules are managed to allow adequate time for snacks and meals to be digested before exercise. It takes 3-4 hours for a full meal to digest, 2-3 hours for a smaller meal to digest, and about an hour for a small snack to digest. Muscles and brains run on carbohydrate, so pre-game meals should be high in carbohydrate, low in fat, with moderate amounts of protein.
Fluids should be encouraged before, during and after physical activity, especially when temperatures soar. Sports drinks have advantages for intense activity of an hour or more. They are also well accepted by children, encouraging adequate hydration. Water, milk and juices are fine for more moderate pursuits.
Try these fuels and fluids. Here are some grocery list items worth keeping available to fuel active kids. Pack them for hikes, day trips or team sports events. A few, like dairy and meat items, require a cooler; others are safe in book bags and lockers at room temperature.
Any fruits: fresh, canned or dried
Vegetable strips with low-fat dip or salsa
Animal crackers, graham crackers, fig bars, oatmeal cookies, low-fat granola bars
Pita pockets, rice cakes,
tortillas, popcorn, pretzels
Water, sports drinks or 100% fruit-juice boxes
Lean meat cubes
Mozzarella string cheese, low-fat pudding cups
Whole grain mini-bagels and peanut butter
Peanut butter, turkey, ham or roast beef sandwiches
Yogurt smoothies, low-fat milk chug jugs.
WATTS UP? Check your electric IQ!
Rebecca Blocker, MS
Housing & Environmental Design Specialist
We usually don’t think about electricity until the power goes off, or the utility bill arrives. How much do you know about your electricity? Learn ways to stay cool, stay safe and save energy with this Electric IQ Quiz.
TRUE OR FALSE:
Turning the thermostat lower will cool your home faster.
False. Don’t turn your thermostat down lower to cool faster—it won’t work! Your air conditioner cools at the same rate regardless of the setting. With central air conditioning, buy a programmable thermostat to save energy. It automatically adjusts your home’s temperature at night, while you’re at work or on vacation.
Computer screen savers save energy, and your computer will last longer if you leave it on all day, instead of shutting it off when you’re not using it.
False and False. Screen savers do not save energy. To save energy, turn the monitor off. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends you turn the computer off, too, if you aren’t going to use it within a half hour. The EPA claims the lifetime of the hard disk is limited by use, rather than start-ups.
Power strip surge protection devices will protect electronic equipment from lightning strikes.
False. Power strips, while effective at stopping most in-house spikes, can be overwhelmed by lightning strikes that enter through the power line. For total protection, have a licensed electrical contractor install a whole-house network that begins outside at the meter. Power strips will
provide protection for the 80 percent of power surges caused by motor-driven appliances like air conditioners, refrigerators or even laser printers.
It’s cheaper to leave fluorescent lights on when leaving a room than to turn them back on when you return.
False. According to the EPA, turning the lights off for more than five seconds will save more energy than leaving them on. Fluorescent replacement bulbs for lamps and fixtures last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs and use up to 75 percent less electricity. Look for warm or daylight fluorescents for the best color rendition.
Houses built between 1965 and 1973 have a greater risk of electrical fire.
True. Many houses built between 1965 and 1973 have aluminum wiring, which the Consumer Product Safety Commission says is 55 times more likely to reach “fire hazard conditions” than copper wire. Insulation on all house wires can become frayed or broken, creating a fire hazard. If you have any doubts about your wiring, have a qualified electrician do an inspection.
Installing motion detectors on outdoor lighting uses more energy.
False. Strategically placed outside your home, motion detectors turn on outdoor floodlights only when a person walks near them. They will save electricity and make your home safer and more secure, since thieves don’t like being caught in the spotlight.
For every 10 percent you lower your water heater’s thermostat, you save up to 11 percent of
True. Try setting your thermostat to 120 degrees or on “low.” It will save energy, increase the life of the water heater and help prevent accidental burns. If leaving for a weekend or longer, turn electric water heaters off, or turn gas water heaters to the “pilot” setting.
Closing shades and drapes helps keep your home cool in summer.
True. Closing drapes and shades during the daytime, especially on southern windows, will help keep your home cool. Cover eastern windows in the morning and western windows in the afternoon. Reference: Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), www.electrical-safety.org
For more ways to stay cool, stay safe and save energy, see the following publications (available free on the Web or for a nominal fee from your local extension office):
GH5983, Energy Management Checklist for the Home
GH5990, Conserve Energy in Your Apartment
G6910, Landscape Plantings for Energy Savings
GH4879, Energy Quiz for Home Appliances
Here's a fun and informative web site from the U.S. Department of Energy:
Tips on Saving Energy and Money at Home, www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/energy_savers