Q: I want our kids to ditch their digital devices and get connected with nature this summer. We can't afford a trip, but we have a big yard and live near rural areas. Do you have any suggestions?
A: I have plenty.
-- Plant a veggie garden. The National Gardening Association has suggestions on how you can get started. Choose crops that mature quickly, so your kids can see results right away. Lettuce, radishes, Swiss chard, sugar snap peas and beans are fast growers. Tomato plants take longer. Use well-drained containers or raised beds filled with light, fluffy soil. Plant a pot of herbs that kids can tend and then snip for a dinner salad.
For more tips on what will do well in your growing zone, go to www.kidsgardening.org.
-- Go off the grid. On June 28, more than 200,000 families will take part in the 10th annual Great American Backyard Campout, sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation. You can do it as a family, or host a "public" campout for the whole neighborhood. Find camping tips as well as campfire recipes, songs, stories and games at www.nwf.org/great-american-backyard-campout.aspx.
-- Find out what goes on in your backyard, suggests science educator Nadia Harvieux, director of New York's Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association's Watershed Education Program.
"Have each family member mark off a square yard on your lawn," she says. "Study it over a week. Each person keeps a field journal with notes, photos or illustrations. Discuss what you see and record it. Kids are always amazed at how much life there is out your back door."
Field journals are places for kids to record observations, thoughts, questions, measurements, data and their interpretations of what they see. Both amateur and professional researchers keep them as permanent records of their work to share with other scientists.
-- Identify backyard birds. Take a day trip through a local ecosystem such as a marsh, lake or beach to get to know birds that live there seasonally and year-round, suggests the National Audubon Society. Bird walks are most productive in early morning or late afternoon. For tips on family birding outdoors, go to education.audubon.org/birding-tips-families.
-- Become citizen scientists. Citizen science is ongoing research in which professional scientists collaborate with interested members of the general public. Many citizen science projects involve nature and the environment, often inspiring children and teens to engage more deeply in science in high school and college.
For more information, search "citizen science" at www.sciencebuddies.org.
-- Read about scientists working in the great outdoors. One spectacular series is "Scientists in the Field" -- stories and photos of scientists working throughout the natural world, from swimming with hammerhead sharks to tracking wolves. The latest book in the series is "Park Scientists: Gila Monsters, Geysers and Grizzly Bears in America's Own Backyard" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).
In addition, David A. Adler's new biography, "Colonel Theodore Roosevelt" (Holiday House, 2014), explains why and how President Roosevelt launched the effort to preserve national parks and public lands.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)