Plant a Tree
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the cooling effect of a single young tree is the equivalent of 10 room-size air conditioners running 20 hours a day [source: Arbor Day Foundation]. Not only do trees provide shade on hot days, but they perform the invaluable task of converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. Planting trees as a family offers a great opportunity to beautify the community, teach your children about science and make a long-term environmental impact.
In some areas, free tree seedlings are available through the forest service or a conservation district office [source: Keep America Beautiful]. These agencies might even sponsor tree-planting activities in which you and the family can participate. The Arbor Day Foundation will send your family 10 free trees with a $10 membership. And a U.K. organization called the Woodland Trust is giving away millions of trees to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
You can also buy your own tree seedlings or small saplings from a local greenhouse or garden center. Talk to the salespeople about indigenous varieties that will thrive in your neighborhood's soil and climate conditions. Allow the kids to choose what type of tree they want.
Make sure to follow the planting instructions that come with your tree. Give each child a responsibility -- digging the hole, taking the tree out of the pot, covering the root ball with soil and mulch, watering and more -- and take a picture of the tree when you're done. Remember to take a photo of the tree every year or so to track its growth. Your kids will be proud to see the "family tree" become part of the neighborhood ecosystem.