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Thursday, February 16, 2017

10 Tips for Raising Resilient Children

Photo by liz west (Flickr)

I'd love to protect my girls from adversity, stress, and challenges, but let's face it: Life is hard! Just this week, one of our neighbors announced their divorce, my younger daughter found out she needs braces, and my older daughter almost failed a math test. As parents and caregivers, we can't erase adversity or make stress and challenges disappear, but we can work to teach our kids resilience. It helps kids navigate childhood hardships and prepares them for success as adults.

Allow Kids to Take Risks

I wouldn't let a five-year-old drive a car, but I could let her climb the jungle gym. Appropriate risks encourage kids to make their own decisions, solve problems, test their limits, and become confident.

Teach Kids to Problem-Solve

I love when my kids ask for help, but I'm often tempted to tell them how to fix their challenges. That approach won't help them become resilient. Instead, I want to teach them to brainstorm solutions, analyze each one, and find the solution that works best for each problem they face.

Ask "How" Rather Than "Why"

Please tell me I'm not the only parent who asks "why" questions! "Why didn't you do your homework?" or "Why did you pull your sister's hair?" "Why" questions put our kids on the spot, though. Instead, I'm learning to ask "how" questions. They encourage kids to think through solutions, problem-solve, and become more confident and resilient.

Help Kids Manage Emotions

Our kids may cry, retreat, or act out in anger when they face challenges because stress and adversity create strong emotions. We must teach our children how to acknowledge and manage their emotions when they face challenges so that they can respond in an appropriate manner.

Let Your Kids Make Mistakes

Forgotten homework and a failed test are two examples of mistakes my kids have made, and as an adult, I've made mistakes, too. Give your kids permission to make mistakes, and then show them how to overcome and move on as we help our kids become stronger and more resilient individuals.

Don't Rush to Accommodate Your Child's Needs

As parents and caregivers, we must make sure our kids' needs are met. However, we can give them space to overcome obstacles on their own. If your kids can make their own snacks, pick out their own clothes, and meet other needs on their own, let them.

Teach Healthy Conflict Resolution

Relationships can be a huge source of stress for kids and adults, which makes conflict resolution essential for kids of all ages. Begin early as you teach your kids the healthy way to address and resolve conflicts at home, with friends, and at schools.

Provide Plenty of Downtime

A few years ago, I noticed that my younger daughter had meltdowns every night before bed. I finally figured out that she was tired from running to soccer practice after school each day. I made a commitment to cut down on activities, and that has helped her tremendously. She needs the downtime to regroup and recover so that she's better able to handle daily life.

Model Resilient Behaviors

Our kids learn by watching us, so model the resiliency you want your kids to practice. Take risks, learn to manage your emotions, and admit your mistakes as you show your kids how they can be resilient, too.

Create a Safe Place for Your Child

Home is my safe place, and I often can't wait to come home, take my shoes off, and unwind, relax, and regroup. I want my kids to feel safe at home, too. Create a safe place when you listen without judgment, provide opportunities for your kids to play and be kids, and build strong, trusting relationships.

I wish my kids didn't face adversity, stress, and challenges, but they do, so I use these 10 tips to help them become resilient in childhood. With resilience, they're well on their way to becoming successful adults. What else could help our kids develop this crucial skill?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Sunshine Within: 10 Ways to Stay Positive During the Winter

Photo by Bina (Flickr)

Winter weather had arrived with a vengeance where I live, and we're bracing for lots of snow. For some reason, the season change messes with my emotions, though. I don't have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but I do start feeling a little moody and lethargic when cold weather arrives, and my girls get stir-crazy. This year, I decided to find the sunshine within and practice 10 ways to stay positive during the winter.

1. Go on Winter Hikes

Fresh air invigorates and energizes us, and sunlight exposure boosts our vitamin D levels, which helps to regulate mood. Take advantage of these natural benefits when you bundle up the family, grab your snowshoes, and go on a winter hike.

2. Take an Exercise Class

Exercise boosts your mood, relieves tension, strengthens your body, and helps you stay trim all winter. Personally, the girls and I enjoy dancing along to exercise shows on TV, but you can also sign up for a Zumba class at the local YMCA or gym, join a mall walking club, or watch YouTube workout videos.

3. Eat an Upbeat Diet

The foods you eat can affect your mood. Don't believe me? Research shows that an upbeat diet boosts serotonin and levels your blood sugar. Instead of reaching for sugary, fatty foods, eat whole grains, vegetables, proteins, and foods with B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids as you stay positive.

4. Do Puzzles

Beat the winter doldrums when you challenge your mind with puzzles. Crossword and jigsaw puzzles or Sudoku keep your mind active and give you have less time to feel sad.

5. Play in the Snow

So far, we've had minimal snow, but we have our snow attire and boots all ready for the big event! The girls plan to build a snow family, and they've already challenged me to a snowball fight. We'll share tons of fun and giggles as we stay positive and play outdoors together.

6. Clean Your House

Yesterday, I spent 30 minutes cleaning off my desk, and I felt so invigorated! Clutter can affect our mood, so if you're feeling down, take time to clean your house. Consider tackling a room or task like shoes, photos, or crafts each week.

7. Volunteer

It's easy to stay indoors when winter-weather strikes, but I encourage you to get out and help others. Volunteer to lead crafts at a senior center, read to kids at a preschool or the library, or help your neighbors clear their sidewalks. You'll feel more positive as you make a difference in the lives of others.

8. Enjoy a Hobby

I used to dread long, dark winter nights, but this year I'm going to make the most of those evenings and enjoy one of my hobbies. What do you like to do? Crochet a scarf, bake cookies, or create origami animals as you stay active this winter.

9. Schedule a Play Date

Socializing with friends boosts your mood. I know we always feel more upbeat after we spend time with friends, and we commit to planning regular play dates this winter. Host a slumber party for your kids, join a cooking class, or swim at the rec center with your buddies as you play and socialize.

10. Join a Book Club

Engage your mind, socialize with like-minded readers, and enjoy good literature when you join a winter book club. Most libraries offer book clubs for kids and adults or start your own with your neighbors and friends.

Don't let the winter doldrums steal your joy this season. Use these 10 ways to stay positive and find the sunshine within. What other suggestions can we try?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, January 16, 2017

Hopscotch to Happiness: 7 Emotional Benefits of Play

Photo by Dave Parker (Flickr)

My girls' newest obsession is hopscotch. While they haven't yet beaten the world record for most consecutive games in 24 hours (434 set in 1998), they've laid out hopscotch courts in almost every room of our house and play almost all the time. It's fun to watch them challenge themselves, and I encourage their play because it provides several great physical, mental, and emotional skills. Today, let's explore seven emotional benefits hopscotch and other play provides.

Gain Self-Confidence

Self-confidence is a realistic understanding of your ability, judgment, and power and is essential for success in life. Our kids develop this skill as they play because it provides opportunities for them to make and achieve goals, figure out what they like and don't like, and improve their abilities and strengths. Because of play, our children feel confident in themselves and become equipped to handle life.

Relieve Symptoms of Stress and Depression

We like to think that kids are immune from stress and depression, but school, social, or family challenges do affect children. Play gives kids an outlet for their emotions, helps them relax, and can relieve symptoms of stress and depression. See a professional therapist if your child exhibits serious signs of stress or depression, but encourage play to manage everyday symptoms.

Gain an Outlet for Expressing Feelings

Most kids internalize emotions, including grief, fear, or anger. Play therapy is a popular therapists' tool for kids. As they draw, create objects out of clay, or toss a ball, they open up and discuss their joys and troubles. Play also helps kids learn how to express their positive and negative emotions in an acceptable way.

Reduce Aggression

One of my son's friends became very angry and aggressive when he hit puberty. His mom decided to enroll him in swimming lessons, and her child thrived emotionally. This example is an excellent reason to encourage play, since it can help kids manage and reduce aggression.

Increase Joy

Laughing is great medicine for kids and adults. We feel less pain, experience improved memory, and enjoy better blood flow when we laugh. The next time your kids play, watch their faces light up with pleasure and joy. They'll feel happier and more relaxed as they have fun.

Improve Focus

Sometimes, my girls get so wiggly, energetic, and silly that they can't focus on anything, including their schoolwork, chores, or friends. I encourage them to play because it helps them shake out their sillies and focus. We always play before homework time or before we sit down to talk about serious issues so that they can be attentive and focused when it really matters.

Empathize With Others

Ever since my girls were young, I've encouraged them to play with each other and other kids so that they develop empathy. Kids don't always naturally emphasize with others. They do become sympathetic to others' emotions, learn to share, and develop negotiating skills as they play, though.

My girls may never beat the hopscotch record for most consecutive games. However, hopscotch and other play can lead to happiness, since play gives our kids so many emotional benefits. Let's encourage our kids to play more this year!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, January 13, 2017

Vivacious Vocab: 5 Playful Ideas to Help Kids Learn New Words

Photo by Jonathan Rolande (Flickr)

As a blog writer, words are my job. They're the foundation of our language, and I'd be lost without them! Words are also important for our kids. I want my girls to develop a vivacious vocab, but I recently read that kids have to meet a new word five to seven times before they memorize it. Wow! Since learning is always more fun when we play, let's encourage our children to discover, use, and learn new words with these five playful ideas.

"Word of the Day" Challenge

Years ago, I kept a daily "word of the day" calendar in my office. My vocabulary really grew that year, and I decided to adopt the same principle for my girls. Instead of a "word of the day" calendar, we use refrigerator magnets. I spell a word from their school vocabulary list, the dictionary, or the newspaper, and they have to use it as often as possible during the day. My girls have fun competing each day to see who can use the word the most often!

Word Scavenger Hunt

The inspiration for a word scavenger hunt actually started when my younger daughter was in preschool. She struggled to read even the simplest words, but since scavenger hunts were one of our favorite hiking activities, I used the game to help her. She copied several easy words from her favorite books onto index cards, and after bed each night, I taped the cards to various spots around the house. In the morning, she had to find, say, and spell the words before breakfast. She sometimes even hid the words for me to find after lunch. While she eventually learned how to read well, this game is still a favorite for school spelling and vocab words.

Spelling Hopscotch

Traditional hopscotch courts include the numbers one through ten, but let's break with tradition for the sake of vocabulary! Spelling hopscotch is a fun game that challenges kids and is perfect for school or everyday learning. To play, draw a hopscotch court or two. Instead of numbers, fill the squares with letters. Your kids jump from letter to letter as they spell their assigned spelling or vocabulary homework or random words you select. They get exercise, have fun, and learn while playing this game.

Comic Strips

My older daughter enjoys writing and illustrating, and her sister likes to color, so I encourage them to use their interests to expand their vocabulary. They learn while having fun! Every week, I challenge my older daughter to incorporate as many new words as possible into a comic strip. She creates the story and draws the illustrations before her sister colors them. Their vocabulary has grown tremendously thanks to this activity, and I've compiled their creations into a scrapbook so we can see how much they've learned.

Dictionary Chase

Reading is one of the best ways to build vocabulary. Since they were born, my girls and I make time every day to read together. While reading, there's always at least one word one of my girls doesn't know, though, so I tell them to go on a dictionary chase. My mom taught me to this activity when I was a girl. Anytime I didn't know what a word means or how to spell it, she told me to look it up in the dictionary. I give my girls the same challenge, and then they have to use the word in a sentence during the day. Our vocabulary has grown tremendously with this fun activity, and my mom loves that she gets the credit for introducing it to us.

In my opinion, the best way to develop a vivacious vocab is through play! Try these five playful ideas as you help your kids discover and use new words. What other games and activities do you use to expand your child's vocabulary?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, January 6, 2017

9 Ways to Teach Kids to Embrace and Respect Diversity

Photo by The Irish Labour Party (Flickr)

Kids as young as four can exhibit racial prejudice. What a shocking statistic! It makes me even more determined to teach my girls to embrace, appreciate, respect, and celebrate diversity. Here are nine ways we as parents, teachers, and caregivers can encourage our kids to value the races, cultures, traditions, languages, religions, and behaviors that make the people in our world unique.

Read Books

While my girls and I enjoy reading for entertainment, I also appreciate books because they're educational. Several children's books help kids understand differences, learn about other cultures, and embrace their identity.

  • All Kinds of Families by Mary Ann Hoberman
  • I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr.
  • I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes
  • It's OK to Be Different by Todd Parr
  • Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer
  • The Color of Us by Karen Katz
  • The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss
  • Why Am I Different? by Norma Simon
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Explore the Globe

I'd love to pack a suitcase and travel the world with my kids someday, but for now, we spin a globe and choose a random country to explore each week. We also discuss current events and talk to our friends, family members, and neighbors who have lived or traveled internationally. Exploring the globe in these ways gives my kids exposure to different cultures, practices, and traditions.

Sample International Cuisine

Last weekend, one of our neighbors taught my girls and me how to prepare falafel. Yum! Cooking and eating international cuisine together is a fun way to bond. It also helps kids appreciate other cultures. The next time you make a new dish, choose a restaurant, or visit a festival, sample international cuisine.

Introduce a Variety of Toys and Games

Maximize your child's play time with diverse toys and games. I suggest disability dolls, non-gendered toys, and games from other cultures. These activities help kids learn about and appreciate other people, behaviors, and lifestyles all while having fun!

Participate in Local Cultural Activities

My girls know that if there's a cultural festival, parade, or event in town, we'll attend. I love meeting new people, observing other cultural traditions, and showing my girls diversity in action. If you can't find cultural activities in your area, create your own celebration complete with international foods, costumes, and games.

Listen to Music

Around the world, music plays an integral role in daily life, religious ceremonies, and cultural celebrations. Increase appreciation and understanding of other cultures when you download, listen to, and discuss a variety of music. We often use Pandora or YouTube to expand our family's music playlist.

Dress Up

My younger daughter recently saw a woman wearing a burka, and she asked me a dozen questions about it. That experience prompted me to use dress-up and dramatic play to help my girls understand how and why people wear burkas, yarmulkes, saris, and other diverse clothing. Add these items, wigs, accessories, and other cultural clothing to your dress-up bin as you promote cultural awareness and appreciation.

Visit Museums

Art, history, and cultural museums offer educational and entertaining opportunities to learn more about others. My parents invited us to explore an African textile exhibit at their local museum, and it's absolutely stunning. Make a date today to visit a museum in your town or participate in virtual museum tours as you discover the ways other people create, think, and live.

Model Diversity

Kids will imitate their parents, teachers, and caregivers. Let's consider our attitudes and prejudices and examine our friendships, reactions to current events, and jokes. We may need to make changes or step out of our comfort zones as we embrace and model diversity and teach our kids to do the same.

It's our responsibility as adults to teach our children to embrace, respect, and celebrate diversity, and we can do that while having fun. In addition to these nine suggestions, what other activities can you use to teach your kids about diversity?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, December 22, 2016

New Year's Playvolution: 10 Ways to Jumpstart a Playful, Creative 2017

Photo by "G" jewels g is for grandma (Flickr)

As I reflect on 2016, I marvel at all the fun play times my girls and I have shared. I'm also looking forward to making a New Year's "playvolution" and enjoying even more play this next year. Here are 10 activities, resolutions, and ideas that will jump-start our playful, creative 2017. Will you join us?

Buy a YMCA Membership

Our entire family will have an easier time staying active year-round when we join the YMCA. It offers a variety of community play and fitness opportunities for all age groups and fitness levels.

Give Active Gifts

It should come as no surprise that my favorite holiday gifts promote play and activity. Bicycles, snowshoes, jump ropes, and other fitness-oriented gifts can motivate everyone on your gift list to play and explore.

Babysit Other Kids

Whenever I spend time playing with kids, I find myself relaxing and having fun. I also learn new games and love how kids have a different perspective on life. Volunteer to babysit at local community activities or offer your services to your neighbors to add more play to your life.

Take a Group Class

I love my yoga class! This year, I'm also committed to taking a Zumba class, and my older daughter wants to learn how to line-dance. What type of group class would you like to try? Check your local rec or community center for affordable classes that interest you.

Make Art

There's something about art that brings out the kid in me! We always have a stocked art supply box with crayons, clay, and other supplies, and it sparks our creativity. As you and your family finger-paint self-portraits, create collages of your favorite things, and draw unique animals, remember to have fun and not worry about coloring outside of the lines as you create.

Learn a New Game

My dad was the jacks champion in his childhood class, and he was thrilled when my girls asked him to teach them how to play. What new games could your family learn to play this year? Ask grandparents and friends for suggestions and find new games at your local toy store.

Set up a Neighborhood Sports League

What games do your neighbors enjoy playing? Start a neighborhood football, basketball, soccer, or hockey league and meet regularly to practice and play. You'll have fun, build community relationships, and stay active as a family.

Train for a 5K

Several charities in our community host 5K races to raise funds. We decided as a family to train for these races and get active as we support good causes.

Adopt a Shelter Animal

If your family is ready to adopt a pet, visit the local animal shelter and find a new furry friend. Caring for and loving a pet encourages physical activity, relieves stress, and builds responsibility.

Schedule More Play Time With Your Kids

On New Year's Eve, I sit down with a glass of sparkling cider and my planner and record birthdays and other important events. I also schedule time to play with my girls every day. Prioritizing play is important to me, and I'm more likely to make sure it happens when I see it printed on my daily schedule.

This year is going to be the biggest play year ever for my family! I'm so excited about my New Year's playvolutions. Which of these 10 ideas will you use to jump-start your playful and creative 2017?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, December 19, 2016

Wonderland Walk: 9 Tips for Safe and Fun Winter Hiking

Photo by Francesco Doglio (Flickr)

There's something magical about winter hiking. The white snow, fresh air, and invigorating exercise excite and motivate my girls and me! We started enjoying wonderland walks when my girls were babies, and you can, too, with these tips to keep your entire family safe and comfortable.

Start Winter Hiking When Your Kids Are Small

Hiking with kids is more challenging in cold weather. I remember how long it took to get my girls bundled in their snowsuits and boots! The effort pays off, though, when you see their wonder at finding animal tracks in the snow or seeing a colorful bird along the trail. I'm glad we started hiking when my girls were young. Now, they've built their endurance and can tackle harder trails and see even more winter wonders.

Protect Your Baby

I'm convinced that my girls love hiking today in part because I took them when they were babies. We took three important precautions, though. First, they always wore a dry diaper and layers, and I covered their exposed skin with clothing or a blanket. Second, we used a baby carrier that kept them warm and allowed both of us to enjoy the sights. Third, we stopped every 20 minutes to make sure they were still warm and dry.

Pick a Route Carefully

One of our favorite summer trails crosses a stream and features several steep inclines. That trail is definitely unsafe and off-limits when it's covered in snow and ice. Instead, we choose trials that are safe for our entire family. I consider my kids' stamina, whether the trail is accessible to emergency personnel, and how much time we have to hike.

Tell Someone Where You're Hiking

Thankfully, we've never been stranded on a winter hike, but people get lost, take a wrong path, or suffer an injury while hiking every year. Plan for this possibility by telling someone where you'll be hiking, who's with you, and when you expect to return.

Check the Weather

Last year, my girls and I didn't check the weather outlook and had to finish a hike in a freezing rain storm. We learned our lesson! Now, I always check the forecast for expected weather changes, precipitation, wind speeds, and daylight hours. Remember to check how the altitude may affect conditions, too. It's totally OK to postpone your hike because of unsafe weather conditions.

Carry Life-Saving Gear

Be prepared! Assemble essential life-saving gear and have everyone carry a few items in their backpack.

Here's our list. You can adjust it to meet your needs.

  • Trail map and compass
  • Fire-starter and flares
  • Multi-purpose tool
  • Extra clothing
  • Flashlight or headlamp with lithium batteries
  • Food and water
  • Rope
  • First aid supplies including sunscreen, pain reliever, and bandages
  • Emergency shelter

Dress in Layers

My girls and I have learned over the years that layers and covering exposed skin are the keys to staying warm during cold winter hikes. We always wear these five layers to help us stay dry and prevent hypothermia:

  • Nylon or polyester wicking layer next to your skin pulls away moisture
  • Warming layer of wool, polyester, or nylon provides insulation
  • Waterproof layer protects you from rain, snow, and wind
  • Hat and gloves or mittens conserve body heat
  • Goggles or sunglasses prevent eye strain from sun and wind

Wear the Right Shoes

I learned a valuable footwear lesson the first year I hiked in the winter. My feet got cold because I wore only one pair of socks, and I kept slipping in the wet snow in my traditional hiking shoes. Now, I always wear two pairs of socks. The first layer pulls moisture away from the skin, and the second pair insulates your feet. Then, I wear boots that are designed for the trail and weather conditions. They should be broken in, too, so you don't get blisters.

Include Your Pet

Dogs love winter hiking as much as kids. I have friends who even take their dog on overnight winter hikes! If you decide to take your pet hiking, confirm that it's capable of a vigorous winter hike, and follow these etiquette and safety rules.

Verify that your dog is allowed on the trail, since some public parks do not allow dogs. Then, keep your dog on a leash and under control so your dog doesn't chase other hikers or wild animals. Carry water and food for your pet, too. You may also invest in a dog vest, coat, and boots that protect your dog from the elements.

Winter hiking offers your family an amazing opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors. With these nine tips, you can stay safe and comfortable and have fun. What other wonderland walk tips do you suggest?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, December 12, 2016

7 Ways That Laughter Fuels the Mind, Body, and Soul

Photo by Ben Francis (Flickr)

Have you ever listened to kids laugh? It's hysterical! Hearing my girls laugh always makes me laugh, and their laughter prompted me to study the topic this week. I found seven ways laughter fuels our minds, bodies, and souls, helps children develop, and leads to grown-up happiness and success. Let's examine these seven ways together.

Laughter Reduces Stress

My stress level was through the roof last Wednesday as I juggled a large work project, a school conference, and a sick child. I felt miserable until a co-worker told a funny joke during lunch. I started laughing and instantly felt less stressed.

There's a reason I felt that way. Laughter is clinically recognized to affect four stress-related hormones: cortisol, dopamine, epinephrine, and growth hormone. Ultimately, it relieves tension and reduces stress. A good belly laugh does wonders for helping kids and adults manage stress successfully. I know it works for me!

Laughter Decreases Pain

As toddlers, my daughters fell often, which meant plenty of skinned knees and tears. To calm them, I told funny jokes and stories. Their laughter didn't completely erase their pain, but science shows that laughter does decrease pain. My girls were able to endure all of those skinned knees and even handle aches they feel today when they laugh.

Laughter Improves Respiration

One of my daughter's friends suffers from chronic asthma. Her mom frequently invites my daughter over for play dates because the girls always end up laughing. She knows that laughter stimulates our lungs and supporting muscles. As we breathe in oxygen-rich air during a fit of the giggles, our lungs expand, and respiration improves. My daughter's friend and anyone with breathing challenges can be healthier because of laughter.

Laughter Strengthens Relationships

According to researchers, we're 30 times more likely to laugh when we're in a group. I know I always laugh more at funny stories when I'm with other people. Laughter is infectious. It also erases age, culture, and demographic boundaries and helps us bond with friends, family, and strangers. I love how laughter strengthens interpersonal relationships, whether we're kids or adults.

Laughter Improves Coping Skills

Life is tough for kids and adults. Maybe your family is facing a challenge like difficult homework, family drama, or chronic illness. Laughter may be the key you need to cope. Humor helps us see things from a positive perspective and encourages us to stop taking ourselves so seriously. Laughter improves our ability to cope with challenges and be successful in life, so watch videos of animal antics, read the comics pages in the newspaper, and tell funny jokes every day.

Laughter Reduces Blood Pressure

At every doctor appointment, the nurse checks my girls' blood pressure. The numbers are usually pretty good, possibly because we laugh so much! Frequent laughter improves blood flow as it dilates blood vessels, increases oxygen intake, and improves blood circulation. Our risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack decreases when our blood pressure drops, and that's a compelling reason to laugh more often.

Laughter Boosts Immunity

My uncle experienced a health scare last year, and laughter was a tool that helped him recover. His doctors always told jokes and encouraged him to watch funny movies. Laughter played a role in healing my uncle because it boosts our immune systems. We get and stay healthier thanks to laughter.

Have you laughed yet today? For kids and adults, laughter provides many benefits as it fuels our mind, body, and soul, helps kids' development, and increases adult happiness and success. I encourage you to make laughter a regular part of your daily routine and see the ways it helps you and your family!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Building Brilliance: 7 Benefits of Constructive Play

Photo by Howard Lewis Ship (Flickr)

Lego bricks, K'Nex, cups, and boxes are a few of my girls' favorite constructive toys. They enjoy manipulating, connecting, and building. And while they play, they gain seven valuable benefits. Your kids can have fun building brilliance, too, thanks to constructive play.

Hone Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills describe your child's ability to control their hands and fingers as they move, grip, and write. These skills improve when kids play with construction toys. For example, I've watched my girls grow from barely being able to stack two blocks to building elaborate buildings. Clicking pieces into place, manipulating blocks, and holding blocks and pieces of all sizes hones their fine motor skills and prepares them to dress themselves, throw a ball, and hold a pencil.

Improve Problem-Solving Skills

The other day, my daughter tried to build a gangplank on the pirate ship she made out of blocks. Her first five ideas didn't work, but she kept brainstorming and finally found a solution. I'm grateful that her toys teach her how to solve problems. Because of constructive play, she's learning to think outside of the box, think quickly on her feet, be flexible, and keep trying until her vision becomes reality and she achieves her goal.

Enhance Academic Skills

Did you know that construction toys actually help our kids succeed in school? My younger daughter's teacher uses blocks in the classroom, and I sometimes pull them out to help with homework. As kids connect blocks and build objects, they practice:

  • Math: Counting, addition, subtraction, and basic geometry all come into play.
  • Reading and writing: Spacial awareness improves a child's ability to read and write.
  • Science: Tinkering and experimenting, kids explore cause and effect, hypothesize, and develop curiosity.

Expand Imagination

Constructive play allows kids to create whatever fantasy they imagine. Last week, my girls built a castle complete with a moat and dragon. This week, they built a tall spaceship. And as they play, they expand their imaginations and creativity that will prepare them to face real-world challenges and problems that require unique solutions.

Teach Focus and Patience

Most kids, my girls included, are not naturally focused or patient. They need these important skills to succeed in school, relationships, and every area of life, though. That's another benefit of constructive play. Kids have to focus as they build a project from start to finish and work carefully so they don't knock over their creation. As they play, they actually become more focused, patient, and prepared for life.

Encourage Cooperative Play

Blocks are one toy that brings kids together. They're ideal for boys and girls, and my girls often work together to create elaborate sets for their stories and search for the small pieces they need. This social interaction during constructive play encourages them to be cooperative, work as a team, and self-regulate. With these skills, my girls are better friends and teammates in their everyday social interactions.

Boost Confidence

I remember when my daughter built her first castle from blocks. She was only four, but she squealed with delight and insisted that I take a picture of it. She was so proud, and that confidence gave her courage to continue to build even bigger masterpieces. It encourages me to see how my girls' confidence grows as they play with constructive toys!

Constructive play offers seven key benefits and builds brilliance. It's an ideal way to play. What other benefits do these toys provide your kids?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, November 28, 2016

7 Benefits of Structured Play

Photo by San Jose Library (Flickr)

What do puzzles, Simon Says, and basketball have in common? They are all games my girls enjoy, and they are examples of structured play, activities that can be led by an instructor for the purpose of teaching a lesson or skill. This type of play is different from free play (kids choose the activity and play without adult guidance) or risky play (roughhousing, climbing, and racing). While all types of play are important, structured play provides seven key benefits and allows our kids to have fun as they learn.

Nudges Kids Out of Their Comfort Zones

When left to their own devices, my girls would play the same familiar games and with the same familiar toys. It's important, though, that they stretch their wings and get out of their comfort zones sometimes. Structured play introduces kids to new games and new playmates. Nudging them out of their comfort zone ultimately helps them become well-rounded and more confident individuals.

Improves Social Skills

One of my daughters doesn't enjoy group play with strangers. She prefers playing with people she knows. In her case, structured play at school, the playground, and summer camp encourages her to make new friends and be more social. I love watching her blossom socially, learn to communicate, and develop important social skills as she plays.

Teaches Teamwork

Life is filled with opportunities for our kids to work in teams. Structured play teaches kids how to respect the abilities and opinions of others, exchange ideas, and put themselves aside in favor of the greater good and the team. I appreciate band, board games, and soccer as three examples of structured activities that teach my girls teamwork. This type of play also equips them to be comfortable leading others and following, two essential teamwork traits.

Cultivates Imagination and Creativity

My girls have big imaginations and well-developed creativity in part because I encourage them to consider imaginary scenes as they play. They become spaceships while zooming through the play room picking up toys, and they turn into minnows while I'm the shark during tag. Even though structured play includes adult direction, many games and activities require kids to be flexible and use their imaginations and creativity. With these skills, kids have fun and cultivate the ability to think outside the box in daily life.

Hones Problem-Solving Skills

When faced with a challenge during a board game, kids have to consider different strategies for solving the problem. I will sometimes coach my girls to help them think about how their move will affect the game's outcome, but generally, I let them think through the situation themselves. These situations hone my girls' problem-solving skills. They're better able to come up with solutions in real life because of structured play.

Develops Emotional Skills

Identifying and expressing emotions is a learned skill. Since my girls were toddlers, I've used structured play opportunities to help them identify and express their emotions. Together, we've worked through disappointments over losing at Uno and frustrations over missing puzzle pieces. We've also learned to empathize with others, show kindness, and acknowledge grief as we've played.

Boosts Physical Activity

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend at least 60 minutes of exercise per day for our kids. Use structured play to help your children move. Play hopscotch on the walk home from school, have them run from the laundry room to their bedrooms as they put away laundry, or organize a game of Capture the Flag with the neighbors. This activity can prevent obesity and make sure our kids stay active.

Structured play provides seven key benefits for our kids. It's fun, too! How will you add more structured play time and its benefits into your child's life this week?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart