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Thursday, February 15, 2018

9 Ways That Play Cultivates Compassion and Empathy

Photo by Caitlin Regan (Flickr)

Compassion and empathy improve our ability to interact positively with others. I reflected on these two character traits this week as I watched my girls play with our new neighbors, and I realized that they have both developed more compassion and empathy because of play. Consider these nine ways that play cultivates these two important traits in our kids.

Exposes Kids to the Emotions of Peers

Any time two or more children play together, our kids will see emotional expressions like happiness, anger, jealousy, or disappointment. Through this exposure, our kids can begin to understand the normalcy of feelings and identify the emotions they and their peers experience.

Fosters Emotional Regulation

Kids may understand that they have emotions, but it takes time to learn emotional regulation. Play helps. We parents, caregivers, and teachers can provide play opportunities and guidance as we role-play different scenarios, talk through situations during pretend play, and process emotions and feelings. These play activities equip our kids with self-control and self-regulation skills as they recognize appropriate and inappropriate ways to both express emotions and support peers in a variety of situations.

Puts Kids in Someone Else's Shoes

Pretend play and role-playing encourage children to transform into someone else's persona, character, or role. When my girls pretend to be a teacher, cashier, or astronaut, they discover what it's like to live in someone else's shoes, and they begin to develop empathy, which gives them a better perspective when they spend time with family members and peers in real life.

Develops a Cooperative Spirit

While playing soccer, riding bikes, or modeling clay together, kids begin to understand concepts like sharing, communication, and teamwork. They need this cooperative spirit to understand and appreciate others.

Builds Social Skills

Waiting in line, constructive play, and sports help our kids develop social skills. They learn how to be patient, wait their turn, share, negotiate, and recognize and read body language. With these social skills, our kids better understand how to relate to others and enjoy improved real-life relationships.

Improves Conflict Resolution

Conflict remains part of life, so encourage kids to play and improve their problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. Now that my girls are older, I often let them work through disagreements about which game to play or who gets the ball first because I want them to understand how to respect others and remain calm and kind as they resolve differences.

Addresses Trauma

One of our new neighbors doesn't talk much because of trauma from a recent accident, but I've already seen her open up a bit to my younger daughter as they draw, play with dolls, and run around the house. Play provides a safe haven for kids, allows them to be themselves, and provides a space where they can begin to address trauma and work through deep emotions. Eventually, this hard work equips kids to be more compassionate and empathetic to others.

Stimulates Creativity

When one of our new friends tripped during hopscotch, my older daughter tried to help, but he pushed her away. I watched her regroup, find a ball, and invite him to play. Her creative approach opened the door to a deeper relationship, and I feel grateful that kids develop this skill through play. As children explore different outcomes during constructive play, experiment with colors while painting, and brainstorm ideas during free play, they stimulate their creativity and imagination, skills they use to build relationships and meet the needs of the people around them.

Teaches Inclusion

Kids receive opportunities to include everyone regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or ability as they play. We can help our kids learn to wait for a slower runner to catch up as they play tag, choose to play inclusive games with their disabled friends, and see beyond skin color as they take turns on the slide. Through play, our kids learn to respect differences, include everyone, and value all life.

Thanks to play, I've watched my girls cultivate compassion and empathy, two essential skills for life success. How have you seen play help your kids become more compassionate and empathetic?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

15 Ways to Stay Healthy, Active, and Safe During the Winter

Photo by anjanettew (Flickr)

My girls and I typically play and stay active all year, but we recently experienced a huge winter storm that forced us to hibernate for several days. We ended up having so much fun together that I wasn't quite ready for life to return to normal! Our experience prompted me to research some ways that individuals, parents, and families can stay healthy, active, and safe during the winter, especially on lazy days when you end up stuck inside the house.

Get a Flu Shot

With this one immunization, you can cut your chances of getting the flu by 60 percent. Visit your doctor or pharmacist for more information.

Wash Your Hands

When you get home from work or school, before eating, and after using the bathroom, wash your hands. Frequent handwashing decreases your chances of contracting respiratory and other illnesses.

Use Hand Sanitizer

Fight germs on the go with hand sanitizer. Buy hand sanitizer that's at least 60 percent alcohol or make your own DIY hand sanitizer like my girls do, and carry a bottle in your purse, briefcase, and car.

Clean the House

Get rid of germs in your home and get some extra exercise when you disinfect all of the surfaces, including electronic devices, doorknobs, and trash cans. Change linens and your toothbrush often, too.

Enjoy a Massage

Lower your stress level, boost your energy, and improve your immunity with a relaxing massage. If you're like me and don't want to leave the house, trade back rubs with your kids.

Take Zinc

If you come in contact with someone who has a cold, take zinc twice a day for a week. Zinc lozenges can combat cold germs, boost your metabolism, and help you stay healthy.

Experiment in the Kitchen

My girls told me last week that they're bored with our dinner menu. I encouraged them to find new recipes that contain veggies and spices to boost our immunity and protein and fiber that help us feel full longer. We're excited about experimenting in the kitchen as we try new foods and eat a balanced and healthy diet this winter.

Stay Hydrated

I enjoy a daily cup of hot tea in the winter, and I try to drink several glasses of water each day. Staying hydrated reduces toxins and helps our bodies function properly.

Move More

Moderate exercise boosts your immunity, so if you're stuck inside, get moving with an exercise video, your stationary bike, or an active video game.

Shovel Snow

After a snowstorm, bundle up and grab your shovels. You'll get a cardio workout as you clear your property.

Enter a Fitness Challenge

We signed up for a 5K in the spring, which will help us stay active, motivated, and committed to training this winter despite the cold weather.

Play Games

During our recent hibernation, we played board and card games together. We had a ton of fun, and I appreciate that playing games exercises our minds and encourages us to spend quality time together.

Let There Be Light

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and/or a lack of vitamin D might affect you or one of your family members, so do your best to get some sunlight in your day. Go outside for at least 10 minutes daily, or purchase a light box to improve your mood.

Go to Bed Early

Double your body's ability to fight the flu when you get at least eight hours of sleep each night.

Join a Club

Hibernating during a storm may be fun, but socialization improves your mood and boosts your immunity. Find a hobby group or club at your local library, YMCA, or school and cultivate new friendships.

This winter, you and your family can stay healthy, active, and safe in these 15 ways, even if you spend the majority of your time indoors. What other tips do you and your family recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, January 29, 2018

7 Ways That Children Benefit From Growing Up With a Dog

Photo by Virginia State Parks (Flickr)

Every few weeks, my girls and I visit our local dog park to hang out with our neighbors and play with their dogs. We also come home relaxed after these fun excursions! While we don't have a dog at home, I definitely see the benefits that some kids can receive when they grow up with a dog (assuming that nobody in the family is allergic to them).

Relieve Stress

For some people, the simple act of petting a dog can raise serotonin and dopamine levels, the chemicals that are responsible for helping kids feel positive, peaceful, and calm. Pet ownership can also lower blood pressure and ward off depression. Any time your kids feel emotionally escalated, worried, or upset, they can pet or play with the dog and feel their bodies and minds relax.

Learn Responsibility

In addition to daily and weekly chores, your kids can help take care of the family dog. As your kids walk, feed, and groom their dog, they learn to fulfill obligations each day, be responsible, and stay accountable. These skills ensure that their pet is cared for and help your kids succeed in other areas of life, too.

Boost Self-Esteem

Kids with a dog can feel a sense of accomplishment and pride as they perform age-appropriate pet care tasks and ensure that their dog stays happy and healthy. For instance, maybe your four-year-old son can't walk the dog by himself, but he can give it fresh water each day and join you during vet check-ups. Your child's face will shine with pride when he tells everyone he meets that he helps to care for his dog.

Develop Empathy

When kids must care for an animal, they learn to read nonverbal cues, nurture a living being, and put their pet's needs before their own. All of these skills help them develop empathy and compassion for other living beings, including family members and friends.

Improve Learning

Our library hosts "read with a dog" events, and my girls regularly participated when they were younger. They always appreciated reading to the attentive dogs, sharing pictures, and talking about the story without worrying that they would be judged or ridiculed for mispronouncing a word. Studies show that kids relax and have fun when they read to pets, so consider giving your kids a leg up on their learning by letting them study with the family dog.

Receive Comfort

When kids face emotional, scary, or frustrating situations, they don't always have the words to talk about the situation with an adult. A pet offers a sympathetic, listening ear, though, and won't judge, criticize, or counsel our kids. While we don't have a dog at home, my girls often turn to their stuffed animal friends for comfort when they're frustrated, and they always emerge from their snuggle time feeling more positive and peaceful.

Stay Moving

Most dog breeds need plenty of exercise and give your kids the perfect excuse to keep moving. As your kids walk the dog, take it outside to use the bathroom, or play fetch, they get exercise and ensure that the dog receives the stimulation and exercise it needs for better health. Both your kids and your dog will be happier and healthier as they spend time together.

When you add a dog or another type of pet to your family, your kids can gain these seven benefits, and you'll have fun as a family caring for and bonding with your pet and each other. Are there other benefits of growing up with a dog that you've noticed?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Saturday, January 20, 2018

10 Year-Long Tips to Boost Health and Relieve Stress for the Whole Family

Photo by jepoycamboy (Flickr)

Like many, my family always strives to be healthier, but we don't always know how to start. After talking with a few friends and my girls, I created a list of 10 tips families can implement as they boost health and relieve stress together all year.

1. Cook and Eat Healthy Meals

To encourage my girls to try a variety of healthy foods and learn to cook, we'll prepare dinner together at least once a week and try to eat together at least four times a week. Eventually, I want my girls to pick out recipes and shop for groceries, too, as we make healthy meals and share quality time in the kitchen and around the table.

2. Cut Soda

The average can of soda contains 150 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar. Yikes! Plus, drink one soda a day, and you could gain five pounds this year, and soda adversely affects dental health. Try drinking one less soda per day, watering down your soda, and replacing soda with fruit-infused water as you cut soda from your diet this year.

3. Go to the Gym

When you exercise together as a family, you all get healthier, and my girls agree that they stay motivated to move and have more fun when we work out together. Find an affordable family fitness plan at your local YMCA, and commit to weekly family workouts. You can also take a water aerobics, cycling, or other family class as your schedule allows.

4. Explore the Outdoors

Spend time in nature, and you'll feel your body and mind relax. Hiking, playing in the park, and other outdoor exploration also helps you reach fitness goals. As a family, you could plan 52 hikes (one for each weekend!), spend long weekends camping, or participate in a litter cleanup crew as you explore the outdoors.

5. Walk and Bike More

While it's easy to jump in the car and drive everywhere, walking and biking can reduce obesity, heart disease, and anxiety. My girls decided to walk or bike to the library, grocery store, and school as much as possible this year as we enjoy the health and wellness benefits active transportation provides.

6. Play More Games

If you don't plan a family game night each week, consider starting one this year. Play active video games or board games together, and you'll teach your kids valuable skills like taking turns and sharing. Game night also helps you relax, unwind, and bond as a family.

7. Implement Better Sleep Hygiene

Lately, I've noticed that my older daughter feels exhausted after school because she stays up late doing homework and talking to friends. If you can relate, join us in improving sleep hygiene. We decided to turn off our screens at least an hour before bed and read, meditate, or take a warm bath. These sleep hygiene strategies will improve our rest and well-being.

8. Prioritize Social Interactions

My girls and I always feel more relaxed after we hang out with friends, so we're prioritizing social interactions this year. I've scheduled a few coffee dates with friends, and my girls planned several playdates and sleepovers so we can recharge and improve our mental health.

9. Improve Self-Care

Many adults I know put their physical and mental health on the back burner. We owe it to ourselves and our kids to improve our self-care, though. Personally, I'm committed to setting better boundaries at work, visiting the doctor for regular checkups, and prioritizing time for hobbies this year, and I'm encouraging my kids to take similar steps. With self-care, we reduce stress and improve our health every day.

10. Turn off the Screens

I love technology, but screens distract me from being present with my girls. Together, my girls and I have agreed to turn off our phones and the TV during meals, and we plan to work up to screen-free weekends as we strive to be present and enjoy life this year.

To boost health and relieve stress this year, I'm following these 10 tips with my family. I encourage you to join us and share other wellness tips could we try!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, January 12, 2018

8 Ways to Help Children Make Healthy and Sustainable New Year's Resolutions

Photo by Carol VanHook (Flickr)

Every year, my girls and I choose goals that will improve our health. Last year, we resolved to drink more water, and our energy levels and moods definitely improved as we stayed hydrated. I plan to encourage my girls to make healthy New Year's resolutions this year, too, and will work with them to plan and work toward sustainable goals.

Ask Your Kids What They Want to Change

I usually have ideas about what health changes I'd like my girls to make, but I've learned that I need to listen to them and hear what's important to them. I might think they need to exercise more, but they may want to learn how to cook healthier meals. Ultimately, I want them to create goals that meet their needs.

Let Kids Choose Their Resolutions

As parents and caregivers, we want our kids to eat more veggies and exercise more, and these resolutions are good. However, we have to give our kids freedom to choose their resolutions, which allows them to take responsibility for their actions and improves the chances that they'll follow through.

Offer Guidance

Sometimes, my girls struggle to choose a resolution or pick one that's age-appropriate. I ask questions like, "What are you willing to do this year to get healthier?" and "What would you like to do differently this year?" These questions help my girls start to think about realistic goals they can work on throughout the year.

Prioritize Resolutions

My older daughter made a long list of resolutions last year. She wanted to run a faster mile, eat five servings of fruit and veggies each day, learn how to cook a different meal each week, eat breakfast every day, and lose 10 pounds. Her goals were admirable, but I encouraged her to prioritize them so she could focus on accomplishing the resolutions that were most important to her.

Encourage Small Steps

Our resolution to "drink more water" was vague, so we decided to drink at least four bottles of water each day, use rubber bands to track our progress, and check off each successful day on a calendar. Breaking our big resolution into concrete and specific steps with a plan to remain consistent helped us stay on track, and I'll encourage my girls to take small steps with their resolutions this year, too.

Be a Resolution Role Model

If we want our kids to choose and keep their resolutions, we can model how to make and keep resolutions. Let's show them how to set realistic goals with manageable steps and give them permission to ask us about our progress.

Schedule Periodic Check-Ins

Nagging never helps kids achieve their goals, and we don't want to bribe them to get healthy. We can check in periodically, though, and provide accountability. I usually ask my girls weekly if they're happy with their progress or if something's getting in their way. Then we can talk about possible adjustments that will help them keep progressing.

Stay Positive

Making resolutions is easy, but keeping them is hard. I praise my girls often as they achieve their health goals. We also talk about their successes during the past year as I help my kids succeed in making and reaching their health goals.

As you and your kids consider New Year's resolutions, encourage your children to make healthy and sustainable goals. These eight tips can help them succeed. What other suggestions do you recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

10 Tips for Encouraging Children to Set Manageable Goals

Photo by The Global Orphan Project (Flickr)

As a family, we decided to run a 5K together this spring. My girls are super-excited, but I had to remind them to set reasonable goals as they train for our big race. Your kids might have big goals, too, in the classroom, on the sports field, or in other areas of life. We can use these tips to help our kids set and achieve manageable goals.

Let Kids Choose

I totally support my girls' decision to live a healthier lifestyle this year, and they decided to run a 5K so we could bond and because they wanted a challenge. Because they picked a goal that matters to them instead of going with my agenda, they're more likely to follow through and succeed.

Stretch a Bit

While running a marathon would be too challenging for my girls right now, walking a 5K would be a goal they could master with ease. The right goal stretches them a bit but is attainable and bolsters their confidence to try hard things in the future.

Be Realistic

My older daughter wants to run at least one mile every day before and after school. I love her enthusiasm, but I reminded her that she'll get burned out and potentially injure herself if she pushes herself too hard. More realistic goals, like running around the block the first week and gradually adding more time and length, will actually build her stamina as she strives to achieve her goal.

Set Bite-Sized Goals

The thought of running a 5K overwhelmed my younger daughter at first because she doesn't like running. Then, she decided to alternate running, walking, and strength training, similar to a sofa to 5K training program. Now, she's on board because she knows she can master the daily bite-sized goals as she prepares for our race.

Choose Measurable Parameters

It's one thing to say that we'll run a 5K and another to be ready for that race. My girls need to set training goals they can measure. As an example, instead of saying they'll run more each day, they plan to run five minutes longer.

Add Details

It's easy to make a goal and then not reach it. I challenged my girls to specify when, where, and for how long they'll train each week, and we've already signed up for a local 5K so we know when we have to be ready. These details improve our chances for success.

Chart Progress

Every worthwhile goal includes a progress chart that allows us to see how far we've come and how far we still have to go. A whiteboard, spreadsheet, or pie chart helps us track progress, celebrate the goals we meet, and stay motivated.

Agree on Checkpoints

I definitely don't want to nag my girls about training, but they know that I'll check in regularly to see how they're doing. We will talk about their triumphs and areas in which they want to do better.

Prepare to Readjust Goals

I totally believe that my girls can succeed in training for the 5K, and I also know that life could interfere with their best intentions. For instance, how will they handle busy weeks when they don't have time to train, and what happens if an injury prevents them from running? Without discouraging them, I remind my girls that it's OK to be flexible and readjust their goals as needed.

Model Realistic Goal-Setting

As parents, caregivers, and teachers, we influence the kids in our life, so it makes sense that we model how to set realistic goals. In the spirit of transparency, I give my girls permission to ask about my training progress as I act as a goal-setting role model for my girls.

These tips can help my family train for our first 5K, and they're adaptable to all areas of life. Whether our kids want to get healthy, earn better grades in school, or make more friends, we can use these tips as we encourage our kids to set manageable goals. What other goal-setting tips do you recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Why Play Can Help Children with ADHD

Photo by San José Public Library (Flickr)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects up to one in ten children, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and it can cause kids to have trouble controlling their impulses, sitting still, focusing, or staying organized. I've worked with dozens of kids who have ADHD, and play is a tool that can help them manage their symptoms. Through play, children with ADHD learn how to do many important things.

Deal Naturally With Emotional and Energy Fluctuations

Kids with ADHD experience intense emotional and energy highs and lows that hinder their school performance, social interactions, and body control. That's why your child with ADHD might fidget, make inappropriate comments, and lose things. They need opportunities to play, run, jump, and climb, which allows their minds and bodies to relax and prepares them to return to the classroom ready to focus and learn.

Use Excess Energy Productively

Last summer, one of the neighbor kids often kicked a tree or yelled at my girls while they played. She had tons of energy she channeled in an aggressive way. Thankfully, her dad signed her up for the swim team, and I've since noticed a big change in her behavior and self-esteem. Play helps her release energy in a productive way so she can avoid acting out inappropriately.

Rehearse Lifetime Skills

Taking turns, handling frustration and disappointment, and following rules challenge kids with ADHD. I find that play helps kids learn these essential life skills, especially when I use modified game rules and build skills in increments. For example, play the board game Chutes and Ladders with your child, and make all of the chutes and ladders go up. As your child masters taking turns and concentrating on this shortened game, introduce two downward chutes and begin teaching your child how to accept, reframe, and overcome disappointment. Eventually, you can use all of the chutes and add more players while using play to rehearse life skills.

Boost Memory

Because kids with ADHD have trouble paying attention, they also forget things easily, especially homework or what they're supposed to do right now. Learning to play an instrument and playing games like Memory or Simon Says can help your child become more attentive and remember things better.

Improve Focus

Kids with ADHD get distracted easily and struggle to stay on task. Play breaks and free play time encourage them to run off their excess energy, regulate their emotions and bodies, and enjoy activities. Games like Battleship and Memory also give kids practice focusing, concentrating, and paying attention to details. With play breaks, kids return to the classroom or any other gathering or event and are able to focus and concentrate without feeling distracted or distracting others.

Stay Organized

Children with ADHD typically struggle with organization as their brains shift quickly from one thought to another. Building with blocks, art, and other creative activities improve a child's ability to organize and approach life in a methodical manner. As they create, they must first organize their ideas and then assemble the project in a calculated manner, which can translate into greater organization in other areas of life.

Control Impulses

Simple games like mancala, freeze tag, and group sports help kids with ADHD stop, look, listen, and feel. While they could make moves without thinking, they're more likely to win if they practice impulse control and think before they act.

Build Friendships

Sometimes, the fluctuating behavior of a child with ADHD scares other kids who may be annoyed or unsure about playing with a kid who's different. Play time brings kids together as they share a common goal of having fun, and it can build friendships for kids who may otherwise struggle to make and keep healthy and fulfilling relationships. Consider role-playing with puppets, dolls, or figurines, too, as you prompt your child to consider social situations, responses, and anticipated outcomes. Ask questions like, "How would Dolly feel if Teddy took all of her crackers, jumped on her foot, or forgot to bring back the toy he borrowed?" and you give your child valuable tools that can help them build meaningful friendships.

Explore New Experiences in a Safe Environment

Kids with ADHD can't always express how they feel or think. Use action figures, doctor kits, and dress-up play to give your kids a safe outlet where they can practice and develop self-expression skills. With an adult or other kids they trust, they can expand their experiences and skills with limited risk.

I strongly support play for all kids, especially those who struggle with ADHD, because I've observed how play can help them. What other advantages does play provide your child with ADHD?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

9 Ways That Play Helps Children Develop Empathy for Others

Photo by dadblunders (Flickr)

My girls recently discovered a new passion: volunteering at the animal shelter. They love cuddling, feeding, and playing with the animals, and I love watching them show empathy. Empathy, the ability to identify what others think and feel and put yourself in their shoes, improves our kids' understanding of and respect for their peers, adults, and animals. Although our kids aren't born with the ability to empathize, I found nine ways that play helps our kids develop this essential skill and become more compassionate human beings.

Imagine Life as Someone Else

Pretend play and role play introduce kids to someone else's world. As they pretend they're teachers, veterinarians, or a classmate, they step into a different persona and must act, feel, and think like that character. Through play, kids see life from someone else's viewpoint and improve their understanding of the people around them.

Cooperate With Others

On the playground, in the classroom, and on the sports field, our kids must work with others. Teamwork can be challenging, though, particularly when our kids don't understand or agree with their peers or the adult in charge. Fun games and activities like scavenger hunts, relay races, and cooking prompt our kids to listen to others and cooperate, compromise, and share.

Understand That Others Have Feelings and Emotions

As a toddler, my younger daughter often pulled our cat's tail and then wondered why the cat avoided her. I used puppets to act out stories that demonstrated how animals and people have feelings. We also observed people, wildlife, and insects during our daily walks and talked about emotions they may feel. As we played, my daughter realized that others have feelings and emotions, and she learned to respect those feelings and emotions.

Consider What Others Think

I admit that sometimes, I wish I could read minds! Because that will never happen, I encourage my girls to play checkers and chess. These two strategy games challenge our kids to think like their opponent, understand their viewpoint, and become more empathetic to how others think.

Learn a Vocabulary for Feelings

By the time they turn two, most kids use 50 words regularly. They don't yet know words to describe all of the emotions they and others experience, though. That's where play comes in. Play "Simon Says" and ask your kids to show you their happy, angry, and sad faces, talk about what two dolls may feel as they get dressed for a party, and discuss what taking turns feels like during family game night. With these play activities, we equip our kids with the words they need to describe feelings.

Respect Unique Play Choices

One of my daughters prefers to play with trucks, and the other loves dolls. I encourage them both to disregard gender norms and respect the choices others make during play. When kids feel accepted and learn to respect and encourage their peers, they develop and show empathy to others who may make different choices on the playground and in life.

Achieve Common Goals

Some days, my girls fight like cats and dogs, usually because they focus on all of the ways they're different. But when they work together to complete a puzzle, build a blanket fort, or create a musical show for their grandparents, they focus on each other's strengths and talents. Let's provide opportunities for our kids to build block creations, make art, and play other games and activities that encourage them to focus on their similarities and appreciate others as they work together to achieve a common goal.

Expand Their Worldview

A boy in my daughter's class has autism, and he sometimes stims. She didn't really understand him until we read a few children's books that describe autism. Now, she understands him better and plays with him every day. I often use books and stories to expand our kids' worldview and improve their understanding of the people and animals around them.

Recognize Facial Expressions and Body Language

A person's facial expressions and body language often demonstrate how they feel or what they're thinking, but kids don't always identify these signs. My girls and I often make faces in front of a mirror. I call out an emotion like joy, anger, or excitement, and they show a matching face and body language. As they mature, I've added more complicated emotions like shock, anxiety, or discouragement so they can recognize and understand the full range of what others may feel.

I love watching my girls show empathy to their peers, adults, and animals. Through play, we help our kids develop compassion and understanding for others. What additional play activities do you recommend as we help our kids learn empathy?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

10 Benefits of Puzzles for Early Child Development

Photo by Abigail Batchelder (Flickr)

In our playroom, we have a table set up just for puzzles. My girls both enjoy complicated jigsaw puzzles now, and I attribute their passion to all of the puzzles they put together as toddlers. Those simple puzzles featured shapes, knobs, or interlocking pieces that were the perfect size for my girls' toddler hands. In addition to providing hours of fun, those puzzles aided my girls' early development and provided 10 benefits.

Develop Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills are movements kids make when they use their arms and legs. With these skills, our kids roll over, crawl, walk, and run. Completing stacking puzzles and manipulating large puzzle pieces improve a child's gross motor skills.

Hone Fine Motor Skills

When kids learn to hold a spoon, fasten buttons, or pick up objects from the floor, they use fine motor skills. These skills require small, precise movements our kids hone as they fiddle with puzzle pieces and put those pieces into their assigned spots.

Establish Cognitive Skills

The brain uses cognitive skills to think, learn, remember, read, pay attention, and solve problems. Let your kids play with puzzles and they will establish these essential skills. With puzzles, they process information, learn about cause and effect, evaluate and organize ideas, apply knowledge, and discover how ideas relate.

Expand Memory

Kids need both short-term, working memory and long-term, semantic memory to remember what happened moments ago and create a basis of their identity. Puzzles are one tool I used to improve my girls' memories. As they remember which pieces they've tried in certain slots and which piece worked last time, they develop working and semantic memory to aid them in all areas of life.

Enhance Problem-Solving Skills

When kids put puzzles together, they use their mind and logic, think critically, and solve problems. Plus, as they look at a piece and guess where it might go, they ask questions, narrow down their options, and eventually make a decision. This same process helps them solve problems they face in real life, such as what to wear on a snowy day or which book to read.

Teach Shape Recognition

My older daughter's first puzzle featured shapes. I'm glad she spent hours learning the difference between circles, triangles, and rectangles. Not only do we see shapes all around us, but our kids use shapes in their math, reading, science, and other academic classes.

Improve Hand-Eye Coordination

To brush their teeth, tie their shoes, and color with crayons, kids use hand-eye coordination. They develop this skill as they turn, flip, place, and remove puzzle pieces. Their eyes see the piece, their hands feel it, and their brain tells their hands where it belongs.

Evolve Goal-Setting and Achievement Skills

When school starts each year, I ask my girls to list the activities, grades, and achievements they wish to enjoy, earn, or gain that year. This discussion prompts them to set goals and work hard to achieve their dreams, and I taught them this skill through puzzles. Kids know they want to finish a puzzle, but first they have to sort the pieces, check the board, and then assemble the puzzle one piece at a time. That's how goal-setting and achievement work, and our kids learn this skill through puzzles.

Encourage Patience, Persistence, and Determination

As a toddler, my younger daughter always tried to complete jigsaw puzzles that were too advanced for her. Sometimes, she grew frustrated, but the patience, persistence, and determination she developed help her succeed in school, with friends, and on the sports field.

Promote World Awareness

One of my older daughter's favorite puzzles included a dozen farm animals. She would make animal noises as she played with each piece, and that puzzle prepared her for her second birthday party at a farmyard petting zoo. Your kids will explore the world, too, as they play with animal, geography, alphabet, and space puzzles.

Thanks to puzzles, our kids have fun and receive 10 important benefits that aid their development. In what ways have puzzles helped your child?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How to Cultivate Budgeting Skills in Children Early On

Photo by Carissa Rogers (Flickr)

A University of Cambridge study found that kids know how money works and form the basis of their future money habits by age seven. I find this fact fascinating. While I did know that kids must learn about money and budgeting, I didn't realize that we can and should start teaching them when they're young. As parents, caregivers, or teachers, these six tips can help us cultivate budgeting skills in our young kids.

Identify the Purpose of Money

We found a few pretend money bills and coins last week as we cleaned out the toy box. My girls spent hours playing with this money when they were little as they "purchased" toys from each other and learned the names of the coins and how many coins make up a dollar. More importantly, they learned that we use money to buy stuff, a fact that forms the foundation for all of their financial transactions, habits, and values.

Discuss How Much Stuff Costs

Kids sometimes think that food, clothing, and housing are free, but it's important for them to understand that everything around them costs money and that we have to work to make money. From the time my girls were little, I've tried to explain how many hours of work it takes for me to pay for things like their swim lessons, electricity, and ice cream cones. Now that they're older, they help me compare prices of different cereal brands at the grocery store and browse different stores online to find the best deal on their favorite jeans. They understand that certain items cost more than others, which equips them to use their money more wisely.

Explain the Importance of Savings and Show How Money Accumulates

Of course it's easier to spend money than save it, but I want my girls to spend less than they earn and create emergency funds, education accounts, and retirement accounts. To establish their savings habits early, we started a vacation fund. They drop spare change into a clear jar on our kitchen counter and watch their savings accumulate over time. Older kids can learn to save as they make their own deposits into a savings account and keep a ledger. Watching savings grow encourages kids to prioritize saving money instead of spending everything they get.

Distinguish Between Needs and Wants

Every time my younger daughter sees a toy commercial on TV, she asks me to buy her that toy. I know, though, that she doesn't need that particular toy right now. I help her distinguish the difference between needs and wants with a few questions:

  • Do you really need this toy right now?
  • How is it different than the other toys in your playroom?
  • Which two toys in your playroom will you donate to make room for this one?
  • Can we add it to your birthday wish list?
  • What else could we use that money to buy?

Distinguishing the difference between a need and a want is challenging, but we can start early as we help our kids learn this valuable budgeting skill.

Delay Gratification

In my home, we wait 48 hours before making purchases that exceed $25. Waiting gives us time to decide if we really need the item and research better prices online. Understanding the value of delayed gratification also improves a child's school performance and can lead to higher income later in life. Waiting in line for their favorite playground fixture, eating dessert after a healthy dinner, and saving for something they really want instead of buying with credit are all ways we teach our kids this valuable budgeting skill and help them become wise consumers.

Understand Invisible Money

Kids certainly need to understand how cash works, but most of my transactions involve credit or online transactions. Even though no cash changes hands, our kids need to understand how invisible money works. That's why I gave my girls a prepaid card that we load with their allowance each month. They decide what they want to buy and know that once the money's spent, they won't get more. They've learned the value of making a list, comparing prices, and choosing purchases carefully as they work with invisible money.

Budgeting skills help our kids spend money wisely now and into the future. What other strategies and tips have you used to teach kids budgeting skills?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart