What could be more rewarding than spending some time with your children observing life in your garden (or even your balcony or park)? Whether it is planting some seeds and watching them grow into veggies, or watching butterflies visit a flower and roll out their long “straw” to drink nectar, if you just take the time, your garden will give your children a moment of internal quietness while they witness amazing buzzing activity.
Before you start, try to make enough free time in order to enjoy nature’s activities with the family. With a bit of patience and flexibility, you can involve even small kids in the preparation phase and pick and choose your favourite activities:
1. Give your children their own little plot of land or their own plant container. Ownership is important here! No mum/dad or big sibling needs to interfere in the young child’s personal approach when it comes to gardening! A little freedom can create miracles (be prepared to bite your tongue if it does not look pretty or neat)!
2. Find some easy, fast-growing plant seeds which the children can also enjoy, such as giant sunflowers (they grow taller than dad), sweet peas (nice to harvest and eat right away) or the edible nasturtium (the tall growing 3-4m ones). Make it into a routine to check the process daily and talk the waiting time away with stories and riddle games about nature and by looking at nature books...
3. Small-sized garden tools and little gloves can make it into a special moment, working alongside mum or dad!
4. Planting indigenous bushes and flowers which attract butterflies, bumblebees, and bees (see our 4 language-list on our website www.sunbeams.eu) can make your patch of land into a feast for the eyes and nose. You can easily find nature books and websites which can help you and your kids to learn all about local species.
5. Do not forget to leave a patch of land to nature: the host plants for butterfly eggs and larvae are often called “weeds” by humans. Sowing some wild flower seeds in between makes it look very pretty. Leaving some piles of wood and stones will offer shelter for them as well!
6. Making your garden into a haven for birds is very rewarding: shrubs for birds to hide from predators, bushes with berries for their food (go for the local species), a little pond or water area, all of these will make a huge difference. Extra feeding is only necessary in winter time (November-February), but water is always welcome.
7. Hedgehogs and rabbits might visit your garden if you leave a space in and/or under the fence/wall/hedge of your garden for them to pass through.
8. And of course, it is not ideal to use pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides when you have children around. There are many alternatives available: e.g. eco-labelled garden products, homemade potions (internet!), or rediscover some old wisdom by combining the right plants to keep away insects (e.g. permaculture techniques).
9. A little pond with a shallow slope will automatically bring guests and permanent inhabitants: salamanders and frogs will find their way to your garden (do not get eggs from other places as these might bring with them the wrong bacteria for your local amphibians), and all kinds of dragonflies will become regular visitors!
10. Planting a domestic tree is a lovely thing to do with kids (local species can be found on our website in several languages)! Make sure you plant them in the right season (October to March) and that you find the right spot for them to grow big!
11. Last but not least: composting. There is no better educational process to observe with your children: the complete cycle! Involve your children in composting your kitchen waste, putting it into the right bin, bringing it outside in a little bucket, adding the right green and brown layers, maybe some more water or cardboard and watching the worms do all the work. Then, finally to end the cycle, add the compost to their little garden to make their next season seeds grow tall....
If you want to know more about what you can do for biodiversity take a look at the special page on our website www.sunbeams.eu or at the suggested activities with children on this page.
The Sunbeams Team
A few nice addresses:
- Toy shops such as e.g. Nature et Découvertes (www.natureetdecouvertes.be)Woluwe Shopping Centre, City 2 and Esplanade in Louvain-la-Neuve) and Lokilino (Tervuren) offer many ideas for nature activities;
- Webshop of Vivara (www.vivara.be) gives a commission fee to nature organisations like Natuurpunt (www.natuurpunt.be ) and Vogelbescherming (www.vogelbescherming.be );
- Some English bookshops have a good selection of nature books for kids, e.g. Treasure Trove (Tervuren).
Activities with kids:
www.naturalsciences.be: Many activities for the whole family including an exhibition on biodiversity in the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.
Summertime is here! Before you head off to your summer destination, you can plan ahead with some help from nature. Don’t let minor stings and aches spoil your travel fun! Put together a natural first aid kit so you are prepared for the unexpected.
When traveling, it’s always easier to have things close by and avoid the emergency scramble to find things and/or communicate your needs in a foreign language. All it takes is a few trips to an organic store and a pharmacy to take care of the essentials.
So what are some emergency essentials to keep on hand? The Belgian Red Cross has a First Aid kit available for around 20 euros and contains all the basics including bandages, an emergency thermal wrap, etc. In addition, here are some natural remedies (in alphabetical order) to get you started.
Arnica – a tube in gel or cream form of this is useful for any trauma – but do not use on open wounds. Arnica also comes in oil form which you can use on sore and strained muscles. Try arnica in homeopathic form for internal use to minimize trauma.
Aloe Vera – the gel of this plant is great for sunburns and skin irritations.
Calendula – available in many forms including cream, this plant has soothing, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties often used for healing wounds and burns. Many baby creams and oils contain calendula to help skin irritations.
Charcoal – look for this at a bio store and get the activated charcoal variety. This is a highly absorbent powder that is great for stomach ailments including diarrhea. It comes in powder, granular or capsule form (easiest when traveling).
Clay – Bring along a tube of ready-to-use green clay paste made from raw illite clay which can be used for clay packs and compresses in case of bone or muscle damage.
Essential oil-based insect repellant – make your own or buy one of the ready-prepared mixes that include essential oils like lemongrass, peppermint, cedar, geranium, or rosemary.
Natural eye drops made from euphrasia are useful for long flights. They come in handy, single-use tubes.
Ginger – with anti-spasmodic properties, ginger capsules are especially useful for motion sickness. Keep on hand for car or sea sickness. Another easy way to bring it with you is in tea bag form. You can also try specially formulated wrist bands that use acupressure to soothe stomach upsets.
Homeopathic remedies – head over to a specialist pharmacy like Debrus-Tensi near Montgomery for some tubes to help with common problems like runny nose, fever, stings, and overindulgence. You can also get homeopathic bug bite ointments.
Oregano – another plant with anti-bacterial properties that comes in capsule form, oregano is useful at the onset of a cold or sore throat. Pranarom has a whole line of essential oil formulas that come in capsule or spray form for easy transport and storage.
Other essential oils that come in handy include lavender and tea tree oil. Lavender is easy to use directly on the skin (test a small area first to ensure there are no allergies) and helps with burns and wounds. It’s also good for relaxing and for easing headaches. Both lavender and tea tree take the swelling and itch out of mosquito bites. Tea tree has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.
Rescue Remedy - Bach flower remedies for calming all kinds of emotions like anger, grief, and fear are also handy to have. There is also a specific night time formula to help with sleeplessness.
Keep all of the above in a safe place – you can get creative and store them all in a recycled cookie tin or lunch box, and remember to include some padding for the glass bottles so the contents stay safe for traveling.
I live less than 300 metres from a large grocery shopping complex. Due to my lack of a driver's license, this proximity to the shops was of primary concern when we chose our house (right behind price!). Yet shortly after moving in, I realised that my dream of popping up at the shops to do the weekly re-stocking of groceries had turned into a nightmare for one reason - the kids.
In my dream, I had never bothered to work out the seemingly impossible logistics of transporting three small children (at the time, all under 5), four large bags of shopping and my own, increasingly lagging morale, for 300 metres. What had initially seemed a hop, skip and jump from the house was suddenly more daunting than a marathon. Finally, after yet another epic excursion with me trying in vain to strap babies to my body, toddler in pushchair, bags of groceries to said pushchair and still have a hand free to escort the five-year-old across the road, I decided to take action. With persistence, I came up with three possible solutions: the bike trailer, the bike wagon (bakfiets in Dutch) or a Radio Flyer-type pull wagon.
A bike trailer is a sort of cart that can be attached to nearly any standard adult bike. Most trailers can fit a maximum of two children and have a small "boot" area in the rear. Some models can be transformed into a three-wheeled pushchair as well, albeit a large and cumbersome one. Bike trailers have several advantages: they are reasonably priced (a dedicated eBay search can find new models costing around 200 euro including transport), they are (usually) easily removed from your bike when you aren't bringing the kids for a ride, they are a convenient method of transporting more than one child at a time and they are remarkably stable. Bike trailers are built so that even if the bike tips over, the trailer stays upright. They also provide shelter from the elements for the children - but unfortunately not the cyclist! Finally, they can be used with very young babies, provided you install a proper baby seat. Some models will accommodate a Maxi-Cosi-type seat, but there is usually room for only one of these. A more practical option is the baby-seat designed for cycling with a trailer. These are very popular in The Netherlands where they are called a "babyschaal" and common brands include the Melia, Weber and Chariot. Several online shops offer transport to Belgium.
However, there are some other considerations when deciding on a bike trailer. First, make sure the model you choose will fit through any doors you will need to pass through to get it from where you are storing it to the street! Even with the wheel guards removed, a bike trailer is wider than most things you are likely to try getting out of the front door. You will also want to make sure you have adequate space to store it; unlike a collapsible buggy, once it is constructed, you are unlikely to want to completely dismantle the contraption after each use. You will likely also want a basket and saddle bags for your bike; the "boot" space in a trailer is far from spacious. Safety is another concern. Although trailers are stable, they do "trail" behind the bike and the not-so-vigilant driver might not notice their presence. The best way to mitigate this is to attach a flag to the trailer and to swallow your pride and just walk the thing across the zebra crossing. And of course, strap a helmet on yourself and your passengers. Finally, even the lightest bike trailer can become agonisingly heavy when loaded with kilos of toddler, baby, shopping, nappy bag, etc. If you are serious about doing the shopping with a bike trailer, and you aren't in the running for “World's Strongest Parent,” make sure your bike has gears. And as you sweat your way up the hill, remind yourself how much money you are saving on gym memberships!
A bike wagon attached to the front of an adult bike is one way to avoid the risk of drivers not noticing the children they are dragging around. Most drivers are bound to see it coming, especially if you have invested in one of the attractive pioneer-style canopies to protect your urchins from the meteorological elements. But investment is the key word here. These wagons do not come cheap - expect to pay at least 500 euro. And because they are not as easily removed from the bike as a trailer, if you want to do any cycling without the wagon, you're going to need a second bike. Due to their impressive size, locking them up can be a logistical challenge. However, for all that, they ooze old-world charm. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a kid that didn't want a ride.
For those not inspired to join the "peloton" of urban-chic cyclist mommies, why not try a simple pull wagon? Sure, they can be a little large and unwieldy, but imagine the fun of trekking out to the shops with the kids able to hop in and out as often as their little hearts desire (or as often as mommy feels inclined to stop and wait for them to clamber in/out, again). And unlike the tipsy pushchair, you don't need to worry that your hoard of groceries (or whatever) is going to cause Junior to do a backflip the second you let go of the handlebars. Again, you're going to need space to store it, and it isn't the most practical option for the baby who can't sit unaided, but for those of us with toddlers and pre-schoolers ,it can add a dash of sanity to the chaos that is shopping with children.
In the end, I chose a bike trailer and invested in two special seats: one for the newborn baby (Melia Babyschaal 0-8 months) and one for the toddler (Melia Babyschaal 8-18 months). The seats were a pain to install, but once in, were sturdy and, what with their faux-sheepskin coverings, provided the itsy-bitsies with luxurious first-class travelling quarters. I use the trailer for nearly all distances under 6 km and within six months it had paid for itself with money saved on tram and bus tickets. And the best bit: I didn't feel guilty about that bar of chocolate - surely I'd earned it!
We are happy to report that our tree planting in the Forêt de Soignes / Zoniënwoud on 18 March was a complete success. More than 500 of you joined us and planted nearly 2,500 trees! Our heartfelt thanks to all you who came along or contributed. You can browse though some pictures of the event in our online album.
Early spring vegetables feed our eyes with vivid colours, provide us with vitamins and minerals and revive our pallet with crisp, tasty choices. Popping up in grocery stores and markets, they are calling out to be bitten into. Flavourful and juicy, they’re a long-awaited change to the root vegetables available during endless winter months. Especially because at the beginning of spring, our bodies crave for a vitamin boost and a bit of variety in our everyday diets. But are the early spring vegetables really so healthy?
We humans are not an isolated species. Due to globalization, industrialization, and our number, we have an enormous impact on this planet. All the things we do and those we choose not to, have repercussions on the world we live in.
If we each started practicing a no-impact lifestyle today, without electricity, shops, or technology; if we just picked and ate berries and only used hand-made tools, one can argue that the planet would not be able support the current population. However, the opposite is certainly true. The planet cannot sustain every individual living an average Western lifestyle.
As my days get busier and time seems to get shorter, I decided to start the new year with a plan to simplify my life and do things more efficiently. I finally got myself signed up for delivery of organic veggies (thank you, Reason2.be!) and wonder why I didn’t start earlier. Every week, I receive a box of fresh organic produce delivered straight to my door. I no longer have to make a few trips a week to get my shopping done; hoping that the ingredient I am looking for is in stock, fresh and available in the quantity I’m looking for. I’m saving time, gas and shopping stress (yes, there is such a thing)!
Let’s face it: keeping your home clean is a chore. But, while we cannot avoid our household duties, we can avoid using conventional cleaning products that can be harmful to Mother Nature and our health. You can always opt for do-it-yourself cleaning products but if you are looking for eco-friendly commercial products, look no further than Ecover.
There are plenty of good reasons you should reduce your, and your household’s, energy intake: to save money, to lessen your dependence on the grid, to help planet Earth. Whether the motivation is economic, environmental or just plain experimental, there are numerous ways to achieve this goal. Energy-reducing tactics can be applied to your use of electricity, water, heating and cooling systems, as well as to your driving habits and food intake. While there are many avenues for diminishing your joule-dependence, let me give you 15 relatively easy tips to help get you on your way!
Anyone who loves clothes will tell you that the feeling of buying something new and imagining the various ways you can incorporate it into your wardrobe is strangely exhilarating. Adding a beautiful piece of clothing to your fashion repertoire and feeling great in it the next day can make us all feel a little like fashionistas. But, how often are we limited to thinking that this fabulous, fashion-induced feeling can only come from purchasing something on Rue Neuve or Avenue Louise? When we think of buying something 'special' and 'new' do we think outside of the never-been-worn-before box? I would dare to say - not very often. But this thinking is a shame considering all the avant-garde gems that hang neatly on vintage store racks. And if there is ever a place to experiment with second-hand shopping, it is in Brussels.