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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Wild Child: 9 Ways to Nurture a Free Spirit in Kids

Photo by Jeff Rhines (Flickr)

I was blessed with free-spirited parents that encouraged me to let my true colors blossom. Today, I seek to nurture this liberty of self-expression in my own kids. My two wildflowers are very much their own ladies; the youngest has a bubbling enthusiasm for art while the eldest soars across the soccer field with dazzling eyes. They both share a curiosity for fantasy creatures and a love of playgrounds. As a mother, I am so eager to be present as they continue to grow into themselves.

As parents, we want to create an environment that fosters independence and self-expression. As infants, your children will need you to care for their livelihood. As they grow, they'll reach out into the world, exploring on their own. While they will still rely on us for love and support, they'll need to find their footing and develop an independent rhythm. How can we ensure their health and happiness without stifling their journey into adulthood? It's a tricky compromise, but I have some ideas on where to begin.

Here are nine ways to encourage independence and self-expression in your children.

  1. Let them play: This is simple and sweet; give your kids freedom to play. I cannot celebrate enough just how wonderful play is for all aspects of children's growth! Through solo play and group play, they'll discover their talents, hobbies, and communication styles. Play can also bolster essential motor skills so that they can spread their wings and explore.
  2. Distribute chores: By cleaning up, kids can gain self-reliance. When they'll able, give them a chance to wash the dishes or fold their own laundry. The trust you place in them will reassure them that they can get the job done. This builds accountability and respect for themselves.
  3. Don't just read to them: Reading to our children is deeply rewarding, especially if it's a mutual exchange. Ask them how it makes them feel. Do they agree with the actions of the protagonist? What would they have done in that situation? This gently urges them to think for themselves.
  4. Offer guidance: When a decision arises, offer guidance and support to them while handing them the proverbial keys. They'll navigate the cause and effect of their own actions while feeling empowered by your trust. Growing an internal driving force is essential to healthy independence throughout life.
  5. Compliment their actions: When your children do something awesome, express your pride about the positive details of their actions. Focus on the how and why of their success. This celebrates their unique efforts; they achieved a goal in their own way.
  6. Be a good example: We should never underestimate the influence we have on our kids. To nurture a free spirit in your children, take care of yourself, take pride in your endearing quirks, enjoy hobbies and be fearlessly you. Confidence is no easy feat, so take this to heart; as parents, we can grow and discover ourselves along with our children.
  7. Don't allow labels: Ban labels from your family's life. Inform them that a label could never capture all the facets of an individual. Labels are limits; invite your kids to soar past them in the dance of growth and learning. Show them that, no matter what, they are who they are and that's a gift to the world. After all, it takes a medley of unique instruments to make the music that delights us!
  8. Express, don't hide, feelings: Stress to your children that they should never bottle up their feelings. They should be aware of how vital it is to be able to speak openly about their feelings and how much it can help. I always let my girls know that emotions are nothing to be ashamed of; I let them see me crying or stressed and I also share with them my joy.
  9. Get artistic: Art! What better way to indulge in self-expression? There is a dazzling array of art forms to try, such as painting, drawing, singing, or dancing. Your children can truly express themselves in ways they never thought possible. Not only that, art is fun and therapeutic.

What ways are you nurturing a free spirit and independent thinking in your children? We'd love to hear from you!

You can find Kim on Google+: Kim Hart

Thursday, August 7, 2014

11 Playful Ways to Grow Solid Confidence in Kids

Photo by swong95765 (Flickr)

As parents, we want our children to feel safe and empowered in their own skin. We can talk to our kids to nurture confidence, but action makes a more lasting impact. Ben Franklin said it best: "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn." By engaging in confidence-boosting activities, your kids will feel ready to tackle their first day of school, socialize with friends and just be their wonderful selves. This confidence will grow and enhance their lives into adulthood.

Play is an ideal way to prep the "soil" for growing confidence. It mixes essential ingredients like learning, action, application and freedom. It can also help them relax and reflect so they can be more at ease with themselves. So without further ado, let's get to the fun stuff!

Here are 11 great ways to help grow solid confidence within your children.

  1. Who Wants To Sing? As a kid (and sometimes adult!), it can be so daunting to get up and present or perform in front of a group of people. Consider having a karaoke party at home with just the family; that way, your child can have silly, easygoing fun while receiving positive feedback. These happy thoughts can help ease the dread of public speaking.
  2. Head to the Playground: There are many benefits to visiting the playground, and confidence is a big one. The playground is a buffet of exploration, interaction and growth, all topped with a healthy dollop of fun. Here, a child can discover a bold sense of self and how they influence their surroundings.
  3. Assign Chores: When your children are old enough, consider giving them chores. Even if their cleaning skills aren't top-notch just yet, let them know that you appreciate their efforts. It also assures them that you believe in their abilities, and that they can make a positive impact on their environment. Chores can be fun and playful, too: stir up some big bubbles while washing the dishes!
  4. Water the Plants: Designate a plant for your child to care for. They will feel responsible and accountable, and this can do wonders for inspiring them to believe in themselves as caregivers capable of creating a better world. For older kids, caring for pet fish can also foster a sense of responsibility and pride.
  5. Play With Your Kids: By playing with your children, you're showing that you enjoy spending time with them and are interested in what they like. They will feel worth your time and energy. However, it's also essential to let them partake in independent, unsupervised play so they can gain trust in themselves by taking healthy risks and being their own leader.
  6. Go For a Bike Ride: By going for bike rides to nearby locations with your kids, it will empower your children by giving them control of their own transportation. Plus, everybody needs and deserves to exercise for optimal physical and mental health!
  7. The Wall of Fame: Setting up a "Wall of Fame" for your children has always been a personal favorite of mine. It's the perfect place to display their artwork, good grades, handmade cards and more. You are honoring their hard work and celebrating their creativity.
  8. Lights! Camera! Action! Take pictures of and with your kids. Try to steer clear of too many staged photos; by just snapping shots of them just being themselves, you show that you cherish their true colors. You can also invite them to take photos of anything they please so that they feel as if their interests are worthy of being illuminated.
  9. Does Anyone Want To Dance? Movement, especially dance, is vital for self-expression. This can build a fluid sense of awareness both in themselves and in a group dynamic. Not only that, it can promote a positive body image. Consider classes or just spontaneous dance parties with you and the kids. It's a ton of fun!
  10. Be Creative: This stretches far beyond just painting or drawing. Encourage them to explore a variety of creative outlets so they feel the liberty to find what best suits them. When they see what they've created, they'll realize, "I can do it!"
  11. Teach Good Manners: Reinforce good manners and applaud compassion. We can all create a more happy, healthy environment wherever we go, and your kids will be delighted and proud to be a part of that. The golden rule of treating others as we wish to be treated should play an active role during all activities.

How do you strive to foster lifelong confidence in your children? I'd love to hear about your own fun, unique ways of weaving playful confidence into your family life!

You can find Kim on Google+: Kim Hart

Thursday, July 31, 2014

13 Ways to Anchor Down Water Safety

Photo by LouisvilleUSACE (Flickr)

When I was a child, one of my favorite summer activities was to go swimming - whether it was in a pool, lake, or ocean, it didn't matter. Still, to this day, I love jumping into the water here and there when it's hot out, or if I've just had a long day in particular. There aren't many ways that are better to blow off some steam and relax!

Not only that, but my kids love it as well, as I'm sure yours do, too. However, as with most activities, especially those like swimming, there are always safety precautions that need to be considered. It's important to teach your children how to be safe in and around the water, so here are 13 ways to anchor down water safety with the kids.

  1. Don't Run Around the Pool: If a child runs on the wet area around the pool, they could slip and there could be a serious injury as a result. It's best to always walk around the pool area.
  2. Always Have a First-Aid Kit Handy: In the event of any accident, you always want to be prepared and have the necessary supplies to help aid in any situation.
  3. Keep an Eye on the Kids: Put the smartphone or laptop down, and be sure to keep a good watch on the kids at all times. Anything can happen, so you always want to be ready.
  4. The Importance of Swimming Lessons: From an early age, be sure to take your children to receive swimming lessons. The more they know, the better, and it can help to save their life.
  5. Enforce the Buddy System: Never let your child swim alone, and stress to them the importance of always having someone else in the pool with them. In the event that something happens, you'll always want someone there who can assist with a situation.
  6. Don't Rely on Others: If you go to a public pool or ocean, for example, don't always rely on those around you. While there may be lifeguards on duty, they have many different people to watch and potentially keep safe, so always keep an eye on your own children!
  7. Post a CPR Guide: Whether it's your own pool or another pool, it's best to make sure that there's a CPR guide posted somewhere in case of an emergency.
  8. Floatation Devices Aren't Lifeguards: Just because your child is wearing a life jacket or has floatation devices to rely on doesn't mean everything is completely fine. It can't be stressed enough: Keep a close eye on your kids when they're in the water.
  9. Have Rescue Equipment Available: In the event of an emergency, aside from calling 911, it's important to have rescue equipment available. If there's a bad situation going on, every second counts, and you need to help make them matter.
  10. Stay Within Your Limits: Kids can be daredevils, so it's important to stress to them to stay within their limits. Going over to the deeper end of the pool may sound tempting, but it's probably not a good idea, depending on their age.
  11. Have a Life Jacket: If you're out swimming in the lake or ocean, it's always best to have a life vest on you. The water can be more powerful than one might think, and a life jacket can do just that - save a life.
  12. Be Courteous of Others: Kids will want to horse around, but it's vital to teach them the importance of being kind to others and not pushing others in the pool!
  13. Always Be Careful: Most importantly, it's best to stress the importance of water safety by letting others know that you can't only drown in a pool or lake. It can also happen in bathtubs, for example, so it's best to always be as safe as possible!

Most importantly, just remember to have fun as a family. What have you taught your children about when it comes to water safety, and which of these tips do you find to be especially helpful? We want to hear from you!

You can find Kim on Google+: Kim Hart

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Play is Meditation for Kids

Photo by Ian D. Keating (Flickr)

Stress catches up to even the most carefree and whimsical of us, so it's essential to have a healthy repertoire of relaxing activities to put the pep back in your step. Many partake in quiet, restful meditation for this purpose. Since most children are unlikely to want to sit still and welcome calming vibes, I like to consider play as their own personal kind of meditation. After all, play and meditation share many of the same benefits.

Meditation expands the mind and preps it for ample learning and listening just as play does. It soothes worries and opens new perspectives to the practitioner much like hanging upside down on the monkey bars can! I am getting ahead of myself, so I'll break down the evidence step by step.

Here are just some ways that play is a form of dynamic meditation for kids:

  • Relieves Stress: Meditation is renowned for its stress-busting prowess. Play has the same power! Children burn off stress and excess energy through play. They can enjoy the release of expressing themselves and moving their bodies. Much like meditation offers the opportunity to diffuse painful, anxious emotions in a safe place, play gives children the chance to work through their experiences in a proactive way.
  • Expands Creativity: Creative expression is beautifully interwoven in children's play. They develop an understanding of how things are connected, what their own individual strengths are, and how to conjure up unique ideas on their own. Imagination blooms as they pretend their way through dazzling "playscapes" and simple objects become new, exciting symbols of their choosing. Meditation also liberates the mind to explore hidden connections that bring more peace and insight into everyday life.
  • Builds Relationships: Play encourages children to discover confidence and compassion in their place beside others. As they interact, share, negotiate and plan, they are establishing essential teamwork skills that will be rewarding throughout life. Certain forms of mindful practice, such as compassion meditation, can cultivate empathy. In this way, both play and meditation nourish the respect and appreciation we bring to relationships.
  • Puts Energy to Good Use: Both play and meditation can encourage us to channel energy in a healthy way. As kids play, they strengthen their bodies and liberate excess energy before it boils over into reckless behavior. Meditation can also establish a more gratifying bond with energy; with more mental strength, we can make better choices on what we eat and what activities deserve our time and effort.
  • Sharpens Concentration: Play is all about putting new concepts to work. It translates abstract ideas into something tangible, thrilling and fun. Not only that, children pay more attention to academics if they are granted regular bouts of free, undirected play. It's a simple truth backed by cognitive science; tasks are much more manageable after our minds receive some reprieve. Meditation is another form of this essential rest as it sorts out messy thoughts and creates a fresh canvas to take back to work.

Both play and meditation offer so many wonderful benefits! They relieve stress, cultivate imagination, sharpen concentration, nourish interpersonal skills and enhance concentration. So the next time your kiddos ask to play outside, try to think of it as their own delightful brand of meditation. How else has play helped your children grow and become more in tune with themselves?

You can find Kim on Google+: Kim Hart

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Happy Clan: 9 Ways to Play as a Family

Photo by Jhong Dizon (Flickr)

Summer's here, and it's without a doubt my favorite time of the year. The fresh, balmy air eases tension and invites plenty of free play. Whether it's swimming, camping, or even just appreciating summer for what it is, it's always such a delight for the whole family. We know how fleeting this lush, lively weather is here in Indiana, so we try to make every moment count. We laugh, play, connect, create and love our way through the hazy days of summer!

My girls love to play on their own, and that's wonderful. It empowers them to make creative decisions, explore confidence-boosting risks and be independent. But when the whole family plays together, the power of play unfolds in new ways. It builds teamwork, communication, pride and so much more. Here are nine ways that we play outdoors as a family and how you can, too.

  1. "Tag, You're It": Not only can classic games like this be fun for your children, but it can be fun for you as well, as it can bring back memories from your childhood. While classic tag rocks, there are also so many fresh variations to try. Plus, you'll get a healthy dose of cardio while you're on the run!
  2. Jump in the Pool: My girls are mermaids. Do you also have amphibious little ones in your bunch? The water is a "pool" of endless play possibilities. Independent play, exploration and group games like Marco Polo! Water safety is also an essential skill to have, so consider enrolling your kids into a class to get them started.
  3. Head to the Playground: What kid doesn't love going to the playground? Check out the local playground and have some fun with your kids, whether it's soaring on the swings or climbing the monkey bars. Playgrounds are the perfect landscape for kids to move, explore and imagine. As for you, try some of these handy playground exercises to keep up with your little adventurers!
  4. Be Artistic: When I was a kid, I took the driveway by storm with a frenzy of colorful chalk. I urge you to offer some chalk to your kids and watch the magic happen! Join them and create masterpieces together. It's an outlet of self-expression and it will help enhance their creativity as well.
  5. Simon Says: Always a laughter-filled game to play, Simon Says is a classic that will teach your children about paying attention to detail! Sure, this is something that you could play inside, but why not do it outside and revel in the dazzling weather?
  6. Build a Sand Castle: The beach is one of our favorite places to go when on vacation, and if you live near one, you're especially lucky. Building a sand castle, whether it's on the beach or even in a sandbox, can tease out the budding architect in you and your kids. It also encourages us to value the joy of the process just as much as the result.
  7. Not All Indoor Activities Have to Be Indoors: Shake things up and take board games outside! We bring along Apples to Apples on picnics and enjoy a healthy serving of leisure and laugher in the warm breeze. Twister is also fabulous on the grass as it adds a whole new element of balance!
  8. Nighttime Bowling: Bowling is a fun indoor activity for a rainy day, but I dare you to take it outside under the stars. Pop some glow-sticks in water bottles and use them as pins! It looks magical and the challenge of aiming the ball in the dark is so much fun!
  9. Run Through the Sprinkler: Sprinklers are a wonderful way to cool off. You can even throw a sprinkler dance contest; who can pull off the wildest dance move as they leap through the water? It makes for some hilarious photos, too!

What activities does your family enjoy together during the summer? I'd love to hear all about them!

You can find Kim on Google+: Kim Hart

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Cub Trails: 7 Tips for Kid-Friendly Camping

Photo by: amalakar (Flickr)

Summer is in full swing, and we're diving into all sorts of outdoor fun! During this time of year, there are three sunny activities that my children and I really enjoy, and those are biking around the area, having a picnic at the local park, and camping. We love this refreshing, down-to-earth (literally!) pastime because it unites us as a family and encourages us to purge out tech and material overload to just BE. If we can't make it to a campsite, the backyard suits our needs just fine!

With little ones in tow, every camping excursion can feel like tackling Mt. Everest, but don't let that stop you! With some preparation and patience, you can be a one-family wolf pack that moves in perfect harmony. Although that last sentence may be a bit of an exaggeration, here are seven helpful tips to make your next trip as kid-friendly as can be.

  1. Bring some snacks: One of the best parts of camping is the food that comes along with it. Some of the traditional favorites, like campfire-toasted marshmallows and s'mores, are always necessities, but one thing that I've enjoyed throwing into the mix (no pun intended) is trail mix. It's protein-packed, delicious and easy to gobble down during the trek. By making your own, you can slash excess sugar and cater it to the family's tastes. We toss in hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, cranberries, coconut shavings, multi-grain cheerios and dark chocolate hemp seeds. The possibilities are as endless as the open sky!
  2. Be enthusiastic about camping: If this will be your children's first camping trip, they may be timid and reluctant. In the event of this, be as enthusiastic as you can about the entire experience. Kids are very in tune with their parent's vibes, so try to exude energy and wonder. This is more effective than simply informing them that they're sure to have a wonderful time.
  3. Let the kids bring some toys: A first time camping trip is akin to leading them into foreign territory, so it's important to let them bring a few of their favorite toys so they feel more at ease. If you're gearing them up with brand new equipment, let them don their favorite socks, hair bows and jewelry. This will help them feel like they're meeting nature on their own terms.
  4. Bring your bikes: There are many benefits to biking, not only because it's a great form of physical activity but because it's fun as well. There are plenty of trails to conquer and puddles to splash through. Keep in mind that some state parks forbid bikes to slow erosion, so do some research beforehand.
  5. Appreciate your surroundings: Nature is amazing, isn't it? Soak in all of your surroundings. Take a look at the flowers, trees, and rocks around you. Relish in sharing the environment with wildlife. If you welcome the quiet and embrace the serenity, your kids are sure to follow. If you foster this appreciation early in life, it becomes a lifelong blessing; they become more independent, more healthy within and without and more connected to the world as a whole.
  6. Let everyone have responsibility: Camping and hiking duties can grow with the child; it will help them feel like a valued team player and build a strong sense of responsibility. Let them help you gather firewood, carry their own packs, aid in pitching the tent and concoct spooky stories around the fire!
  7. Safety first: The most vital rule of them all is to be safe. Camping can be a lot of fun for you and the kids, but take all of the necessary safety precautions, such as arming everyone with flashlights and spare batteries. If your family is avid about hiking and camping, consider taking wilderness survival courses and getting first aid and CPR certified.

The great outdoors has so much to offer your entire family, and camping is a wonderful way to be fully immersed in it. If you've been camping with your kids, in what ways have you made it "kid-friendly"?

You can find Kim on Google+: Kim Hart

Monday, June 23, 2014

Good Human: 11 Dog Park Manners to Obey

Photo by Tim-Hoggarth (Flickr)

I'm one of those wildly enthusiastic pet lovers, especially when it comes to dogs. When I was younger, I was always surrounded by precious pooches, and I simply can't deny that we didn't completely spoil them. With animals, they're more than just pets. They're family, and if you're an animal lover too, then you know exactly how this feels.

Now, we have two dogs in the family that my children and I absolutely love. They're rescue pups named Patrick and Joy, and they're truly like two more kids that just happen to smile with their exuberant tails. With summer in full swing, we enjoy playing with them outside, bringing them along for our family picnics, and taking them to their favorite place, the local dog park.

However, when visiting the dog park, it's important to remember that you're not alone. There are rules and etiquette that you should follow - this way, everyone can safely and happily enjoy this wonderful haven for our furry angels.

  • Don't smoke: Not only is this common courtesy for the people around you, but it's important to not smoke around the dogs. Secondhand smoke has been linked to certain cancers, skin diseases and respiratory problems for pets. They may also be tempted to eat discarded butts, which is extremely harmful and potentially deadly.
  1. Always close the gate: Be considerate of others. When entering the dog park, always close the gate behind you, because let's face it - animals are curious. They're going to wander. They are unpredictable and may suddenly chase something that may put them in danger. So always err on the side of caution and give yourself and other owners peace of mind by securing the gate every time.
  • Be up to date on shots: This one might sound obvious, but it can't be stressed enough. Make sure that your dog is caught up on all of their shots. In this setting, the dogs will be playing and interacting physically, so vaccines ensure healthy, happy play dates for all involved.
  • Keep your dog leashed until it's time: Keep your pup leashed until they're safely contained in the fence of the dog park. This safeguards them and respects pedestrians that may be wary of dogs. When you leave, leash your pet back up. If your dog is aggressive, it may be best to not let them loose at all. Consider equipping them with a yellow ribbon to relay to others that your dog should only be approached with caution. This goes for any dog that may have a reason to need personal space, aggressive or not.
  • Pick up after your dog: Dogs don't share our bathroom decorum, so if you're going to take yours to the local dog park, be sure to pick up after them! Do your part to avoid the spread of disease.
  • Keep an eye on your dog: In today's digital age, people are glued to their smartphones. However, the dog park is not the place for it. Keep an eye on your dog at all times. If a fight involving your dog breaks out, you want to be ready to step in. Plus, most dogs thrive on their beloved pack leader's attention!
  • Be friendly to those around you: The dogs aren't the only ones who get to play and socialize. Be friendly to the other owners around you because it will make the experience much more enjoyable. Plus, you never know who you will meet! I find that "dog people" often get along swimmingly.
  • Speak with your vet: Before bringing your dog to the local dog park, consult with your vet to ensure if your dog is healthy enough to play with others. Also, think of the temperature and breed of dog before vigorous exercise. Brachycephalic (short-nosed) dogs such as Pugs and Boston Terriers may struggle to breathe and stay cool if it's too hot.
  • Watch your children: Your kids may want to accompany you to the dog park. In this case, just be sure to watch them and keep them near you. Not all dogs are kid-friendly, so you don't want them getting too close to animals that they're unfamiliar with. Inform your little ones of dog park rules and etiquette too.
  • Don't scold another dog: If there's a dog in the park that is being unruly, don't scold it. There may be issues you're unaware of. Instead, let the owner take care of that. You wouldn't want someone to do this to your dog, right? The best you can do is politely avoid the dog in question. If you witness animal abuse, however, I urge you to report the situation to the authorities.
  • Follow the rules: There will likely be rules posted outside of the dog park, some of which may not be mentioned here. Either way, read them carefully and follow them!

Have you ever taken your dog to one of these parks? If so, I'd love to read and share any comments or tips you may have! These parks are a wonderful blessing, and as long as we respect each other and the rules, we can all enjoy them fully and safely.

You can find Kim on Google+: Kim Hart

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How to Create a Sensory Play Wonderland

Photo by: Carl Wycoff (Flickr)

What type of learning style best suits you? For children, this is very important in the early stages of their development, as it shows the best way that particular child can learn most effectively as they grow up. On the playground, learning styles are definitely related, as sensory-rich playgrounds can offer many different experiences for the kids. By having more sensory experiences available, your children will learn and gain more during their formative years.

For a playground to have maximum benefit for the growth and development of children, it should include five specific sensory areas - visual, vestibular, tactile, kinesthetic, and auditory. A child who is a visual learner would benefit the most from a playground full of vibrant colors, as it offers the most stimulation and will help form their perception of different things. Sensory activities are great because they help your children explore the world. Kids develop their senses the most when they're actively participating in something, and a great playground can offer all of that.

Here are a few different types of sensory areas, and how you can create a great playground for the children.

  1. Tactile - There are many different ways that you can create the proverbial 'Sensory Play Wonderland' for the kids. One way to do this is to make it feel "earthy." This helps with the tactile sensory area, where children will want to explore different textures, which are particularly prevalent in nature. This would refer to things like the grass, dirt, and more. With that said, including something like Garden Arches in your sensory play wonderland could be especially useful in this regard.
  2. Vestibular - This sensory area in your child's growth and development has a heavy emphasis on their sense of balance, as a result of small, liquid-filled tubes in their inner ears that help contribute to this. Not only that, but vestibular activities help children orient themselves in space. When going down a slide, for example, they're feeling themselves move through space; both their body and mind adjust to this type of situation, and that's where balance comes back in. When becoming comfortable with balance, a child can adjust their vision and speed. One great addition to a playground that would cover this sensory area is a balance beam.
  3. Kinesthetic- Another important aspect of sensory learning is kinesthetic, which correlates a child's position, weight, and movement with their muscles and joints. The kinesthetic sense helps develop spatial awareness and influences a child's eye-foot and eye-hand coordination. One way to incorporate this type of sensory activity into a play area for your children is to include a See Saw; this piece of equipment will allow children to not only develop these sensory skills, but to help increase them. With a See Saw, eye-foot coordination is everything, as the child will learn when to use their feet to burst from the ground. Not only that, but a See Saw is great for learning about teamwork.

What learning style best suits your child? Do you have any suggestions to share on great sensory activities?

You can find Kim on Google+: Kim Hart

Saturday, June 14, 2014

It's Finally Here! 9 Ways to Savor Summer

Photo by: Zach Dischner (Flickr)

It's finally here! The trees are bursting with lush green and the birds are tweeting with aplomb! My girls are giddy with that heavenly mix of sunshine and laughter. We've waited so long for summer, so let's make the most of it! There's always so much to do, and staying active outside is much better for your physical and mental health than staying inside.

Here are nine great ways to help you savor summer and enjoy all that it has to offer.

  1. Hop on your Bike – Hop on two wheels and go! My two wildflower gals and I are blessed with a medley of trails to explore close by. We also love to run errands and fill up our baskets with fresh produce from the farmer's market. Even if you just bike through the neighborhood, it's a fun, relaxing activity. Not only that, there are many perks to biking more and driving less. Strong legs and an eager heart will make your world go 'round!
  2. Embrace Nature through Camping – Camping is a one-of-a-kind summer experience. Swim, dance, sing, climb, hike, explore – it's an all-you-can-play buffet under the sun and stars! The outdoors wakes us up to the essentials and refreshes us on how precious life and family are. So whip up some hearty snacks, spin stories, melt away your worries by the fire, and of course, relish this time with family and friends. If you can't actually go to a camp site, it's no problem – set up a tent in the backyard!
  3. Have a Picnic – Nothing says summer like a blanket sprawled on warm grass. Cozy up to the earth, enjoy finger foods galore, soak up the scenery and just be. Breezy smiles and laughter are sure to greet the open sky! Isn't that the spirit of summer? There are ways to be 'green' when you're out for a picnic, too!

    Head to the Playground – This one is a given! The playground is a summer wonderland; kids can exercise, interact, learn and just play! Also, it invites them to express their creativity, which is just one way playgrounds build strong, smart children. Make sure to bring plenty of water!

  4. Read in the Sun – Swimming, hiking, gardening, lounging in the hammock – just get outdoors! My girls love to belly flop onto the hammock with books. Those long, languid summer afternoons make it so easy to slip into new worlds, don't they? Or you could let the sway of the hammock lull you into a blissful nap. Either way, sunscreen is a must!
  5. Who's Hungry? – Mmm. Grilled food. I can't get enough of grilled salmon, zucchini, avocado and mushrooms! What are your delicious, smoky favorites? I urge you to try to get your grub from sustainable, ethical and local sources such as the farmer's market. The earth and global community will thank you!
  6. Outdoor Games – Good riddance, snow! The summertime air and plush grass invite you to get adventurous about playtime. Bond with your little ones by playing frisbee, kickball, softball or volleyball with them. Spontaneous, independent play is wonderful for kids too, so be sure to give them lots of freedom.
  7. Soak up some Vitamin D – After months of being imprisoned indoors, our bodies and minds are thirsty for sunshine. So while your family is joyously at play in the sun, you'll be pleased to know you're soaking up this much-needed nutrient. But make sure you slather on the sunscreen first!
  8. Do some gardening – Gardening is a great activity to introduce to your children. It fosters a deep love and appreciation for nature and hard work. When I was younger, my mother was passionate about gardening, and I received that gift. Plus, the conversations I enjoy with my daughters as we tend to our patches are some of the most lively and enriching!

I hope you're as ready to leap into this summer as I am! What are your favorite summer activities?

You can find Kim on Google+: Kim Hart

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Work, Family, Play? You Bet! Why Play Belongs in Happy Adulthood

Photo by: gavidandrewstewart (Flickr)

When we hear the word "playtime," we associate it with children, right? It doesn't have to just apply to kids, as it can actually be good for adults too. Face it – as an adult, you have a ton of responsibilities. Take it from me, between your job and taking care of your children, your schedule is usually booked. It can be stressful, sure, but there are ways to get through it, and one of these is to have some playtime!

It might sound silly, but adults need playtime too, to ease the stress of the 'real world.' We have always been told that play is beneficial for children, but why can't it be for adults too? As an adult, here are some ways you can incorporate playtime into your schedule.

  1. Exercise – This can be either with your significant other, or even with your children, but exercise is important. Physical activity will not only help with your health from a physical standpoint, but mentally as well. Even when you're out with your children at the playground, for example, you can get some exercise in. Who is ready for an inchworm pull-up?
  2. Unleash your creativity – When it comes to things like your career, it's important to be creative. By engaging in playtime, you can work to enhance your creativity, and it's worked for me. I've found that even by playing board games, for example, they have helped to work my brain, make me think, force me to improvise at some points, and overall have increased my level of creativity.
  3. Play enhances relationships – In any relationship, it's important to keep things exciting for your significant other. Playtime is great in this sense, because along with it comes laughter, natural storytelling, creativity, communication, and fun. The best part about this is that the possibilities are endless. If you feel that your relationship could use something new and exciting to it, consider some ideas where you can find time to play – even reliving your childhood in some ways can be a fun date idea. Consider it!
  4. Just have fun – In the end, and most importantly, it's all about having fun. If anything, a game, whether it's a physical game outside or a more mind-challenging game inside the office walls, playtime could be a great team building activity wherever you work. I've suggested it at my job in the past, and while some may have been a little reluctant at first, it ended up going over very well. Now we have a designated day each month where we have a 'game night' at the office, at the conclusion of the work day. It's great!

The problem is that many adults feel as though they're too old to play, and this isn't the case. Playtime – even for adults – is important because it allows us to escape any stress that we may have in the "real world." As an adult, how do you incorporate playtime into your life?

Kim Hart

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