Quick hits of news and fresh ideas for busy parents.

Kids can take the Eat Local Challenge, too!

Local group Local Matters has gotten parents thinking about the virtues of eating locally-grown food. Now they're launching a special program to get kids thinking about becoming "locavores," too!

The Kids! Eat Local Challenge has just begun, and Central Ohio kids have until Aug. 15 to enter. As with a similar challenge (for grownups) that ran last October during Local Foods Week, entrants need to get a game card and complete at least four of six foodie activities on it. They can then enter to win prizes like a party at the Little Chefs Academy, a gardening kit or a kid-friendly cookbook.

The challenge activities are: cooking with a grownup, growing an herb in a pot, working in a garden, picking your own fruit or vegetable, making an Ohio fruit smoothie and drawing a picture of Ohio food.

Kids can obtain a game card in a number of ways - printing one off from the EatLocalOhio.org website or picking one up at North Market's Greener Grocer stand, a Columbus city public swimming pool or at Local Matters' booth at the Easton Farmers Market (held on Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.). Once completed (with at least four activities checked off), entrants can mail their game cards to Local Matters at 731 E. Broad St, 3rd Floor, Columbus, OH 43205, and they will be entered in the grand-prize drawing.

And don't forget those bus passes

It got a little dicey last year, waiting for the renewal of the Columbus City Schools' contract with the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA). At a cost of $600,000 to the district, more than 15,000 high-school students in the city can ride the COTA buses for free when traveling to school, jobs or sports activities.

However, even though the district's contract with COTA runs until Oct. 1, a coding error will shut off the current bus passes after June 30 (meaning, if a student swipes the card on a bus's fare box, it won't work).

For the past couple of months, COTA and district have been trying to notify students about the problem and advising them that they need to obtain new passes. They have until June 30 to do so. After that, said COTA spokesman Marty Stutz, they can still obtain new passes, but their old ones will not work anymore.

To schedule an appointment to obtain a new pass, students should call the Columbus City Schools' transportation office at 614-365-5074 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. The student will have to turn in the old pass before a new one is issued during that appointment. If the old pass has been lost, there will be a $25 replacement charge, otherwise the new one is free and good until Oct. 1. The transportation office is located at 89 E. 17th Ave. in Columbus.

Get up and go

Before we set out on our urban, suburban and rural walks, let's check some of the academic goals we can take with us: vocabulary enrichment, letter recognition, oral language, number concepts, comprehension, listening skills, physical fitness, problem solving, categorization, environmental awareness, the world of natureWe could go on, but I think you get the idea!

Keeping academic goals in mind, add the first syllable of fundamentals - FUN! Learning through fun, safe, non-stressful, playful and direct engaging experiences are the BEST ways children learn.

Slip a small notepad into your pocket. Don't forget a pen or pencil. With your young companion(s), jot down notes about what you experience while you walk. Even one word, sketch or number will help you remember. What if Lewis and Clark had not taken notes?

Enjoy this mini-potpourri of ideas as you swing into a warm-weather walkabout:

Decision making and problem solving: In many parks, paths diverge. In neighborhoods, streets intersect. Discuss: which way shall we go? What do you think? What path shall we take and why?
Notice how many states are represented by license plates. Even walking through a parking lot can yield a fun session of talking, counting, comparing, geographic awareness, the fun of discovery.
Stop. Look. Listen. Appreciate the wonders of nature. The magic of caterpillar to butterfly, tadpoles to frogs, seeds to flowers. Be open to all of the discoveries, those extraordinary moments in seemingly ordinary walks!
Name names: Flowers? What kind of flowers? Colors? Which colors? Be specific. Chalk it up for vocabulary enrichment!

Our children are waiting to read, write, sing, dance and examine the world. Don't wait too long! Get walking!

-Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld, arts educator