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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

Friday, May 30, 2014

Happy Growing: How Playgrounds Boost Motor Skills

Photo by Listener42 (Flickr)

If you've been reading this blog, you know by now how much I love spending time with my children. During this time of year, when the weather is great, one of our favorite things to do is to visit one of the local playgrounds. It's not just fun for the kids, either, as I'm able to enjoy myself as well from time to time. Playing outside is great for your child's physical health, but did you know that the playground, for example, can help to boost your child's motor skills?

By playing, especially on a playground, children are able to be creative by exploring what's around them, thus learning more about both themselves and their surroundings. As a result, the playground is one of the best places for your children to boost their motor skills. Here are some ways that the playground can be beneficial in this way.

  1. Traveling through the tubes: Some playgrounds you might visit will have tubes for your children to crawl through, which can be a lot of fun. Not only are they fun to travel through, but they can benefit your child in that it will help them to develop both body coordination skills and core strength.
  2. Swinging from the monkey bars: A personal favorite of mine from when I was a child, monkey bars are great for your child's development in a couple of ways. For one, they will help to develop your child's upper extremity and hand strength. Not only that, but it will help with their coordination and how to make the mind and body work together with one common goal in mind.
  3. Up and down on the see-saw: Again, good coordination between the mind and body is important in your child's development. Not only are balance and core strength both required and built when using the see-saw, but coordination and cooperation come into play as well. By learning to cooperate with others, it helps your child become better with working with others. As adults, we understand how important teamwork is, and it's best for your children to start getting used to it at an early age.
  4. Having fun on the slides: Not only are slides arguably the most fun part of any playground, but they're great for developing your child's motor skills as well. They help to develop the vestibular system because when you're going down a slide, your body is moving and your head can be in different positions at different times. Also, it's important to consider what's taking place because your child actually goes down the slide. To get up on the slide, they need to be able to climb the stairs of the slide, which means they need to be able to balance on a single foot as they climb the slide. It's the little things like this that we may not pay very close attention to at first, but they're instrumental in your child's early development.

When it comes to play, what have you found to beneficial in your child's development? Share your thoughts, ideas, and stories in the comments below!

Kim Hart

Monday, May 12, 2014

Free Ride: 7 Perks to Biking More and Driving Less

Photo by: Kullez (Flickr)

I am wildly infatuated with this time of year and I'm sure I'm not the only one! Spring and summer months are simply the best; gone are the days of huddling inside during the cold, dark winter. Now we can burst back outside and have so much fun! One of my favorite things to do during this time of year is biking. It's just so liberating to trade four wheels for two! It's not only great exercise, but for me and my girls, it's relaxing and joyful. Physical activity is wonderful for kids and adults in countless ways, and it sure beats stayed cooped up indoors.

The delights of riding a bike extend beyond just fabulous exercise - it's the perfect way to go green, and by biking more and driving less, you're helping the environment, and the environment is important.

Here are seven great perks to spending more time on your bicycle:

  1. You'll save on gas: In case you haven't noticed, gas prices are high - painfully high. By traveling on two wheels instead of four wheels more frequently, you'll save a hearty chunk of money. Nobody likes being shackled to the pump, anyway!

  2. Help the environment: By cutting gas usage you're also doing your part to help the environment. Did you know that 33% of CO2 emissions in America come from transportation, with a lot of that coming from cars? As a cyclist, not only will you enjoy more fresh air, you'll preserve more clean air!

  3. Burn those calories: This one goes without saying. Physical activity is important. It packs a powerful punch for your physical and mental health. It eases anxiety, battles depression and boosts confidence! It is a mind-body revolution that is fun and so worthwhile! Plus, children develop their own habits by witnessing yours, so this is a fantastic way to foster loving dedication to health and sustainability in them.

  4. Appreciate your surroundings: It's difficult to stop and smell the roses when you're zooming by in a closed container on four wheels. With your eyes on the road (and never on your phone, of course!), the lovely birds and lush greenery pass you by in brief blips. On the bike, you can truly savor your surroundings. If you're on a leisurely ride with the kids, you can stop as you please and enjoy their company and this wonderful earth. You can teach them about birds and plants. Even if you're on a mission to get somewhere, the fresh air and lively nature sounds will invigorate you.

  5. Set a good example for your children: It's no secret that it's the digital age, and electronics are often what children crave, whether it's in the form of video games, cell phones, tablets or computers. However, it's important for your children to understand that there's nothing like playing outside and staying active. Outdoor play offers an endless bounty of benefits for kids; it grows imagination, hones decision-making skills, strengthens bodies, boosts confidence and so much more.

  6. Fresh air is good for you: Often, inside of homes and offices, the air is recycled. This process is imperfect, however, so dust and contaminants do accumulate. Biking is a glorious way to purge out the old, stale air and fill up with fresh air. Spring cleaning should definitely go beyond just the inside of our homes!

  7. You'll enhance family teamwork: I love the sense of camaraderie that comes with family biking trips. A lot of non-verbal communication is needed for safety. My family has developed a fun, quirky array of hand symbols we use to chat while biking. They make us laugh, feel secure and feel closer! We also like to cycle through leader positions; the lead biker gets to choose where to go! This gives kids a healthy dose of leadership skills and is often the start to some zany adventures!

Do you ever go out for a bike ride? When the weather is an absolute dream, it's a shame to miss out on it while driving. I know it's not always possible to trade four wheels for two, but I urge you to go for it whenever you can.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Dine and Shine: 7 Tips for a Peachy Picnic

Photo by: johnnyberg

One of the best parts about this time of year is the great weather that comes with it, and along with that great weather comes fun outdoor activities. Personally, one of my favorite activities during this time of year is to have picnics with my children, typically at the local park. It's not only a great bonding experience, but you get to enjoy the great weather and even better food.

Here are seven ways that you can make your picnic more peachy.

  1. Be Green: Most of you will know from reading some of my previous posts that I love being "green." Being eco-friendly is important, and you can be in a variety of ways when having a picnic. For example, one way to stay green is to stay local. For your picnic, head somewhere that is within walking distance, if possible, or get exercise by walking or biking. This not only saves resources and reduces pollutants, but exercise is important, too!

  2. Bring some non-traditional foods: When one thinks of a picnic, they might just think of sandwiches, but when I go out for a picnic with my children, I try to have some variety. There are so many great ideas that you can go with for food, and perhaps our favorite as of late would be hummus pesto dip. Not only is it a real treat, but it's one of the more healthy options, too!

  3. Enjoy what's around you: When you're out on a picnic in the midst of great weather, it's important to appreciate it and to appreciate what's all around you. With that said, put away your mobile devices for a bit and just take it all in. Embrace and enjoy what's around you.

  4. Pack accordingly: Simply put, even forgetting one thing can put a serious dent in your picnic plans. Remember to grab all of the essentials, such as your reusable utensils (remember, be green!), napkins, beverages, and whatever else. I don't need to mention to bring the food, right?

  5. Fun in the sun: Aside from all of the great snacks that you'll be bringing, don't forget to bring some enjoyment, too. Personally, we like to bring some books so that when we're done enjoying our tasty lunch, we can just relax in the great weather and enjoy some good books. Another fun idea is bringing a Frisbee because it's good to remember the importance of physical activity.

  6. Enjoy some music: Whether it's through your phone or some other device, plan on bringing some music to enjoy as well. However, it's important to remember to listen to your music at a reasonable level and not too loudly, as that could be inconsiderate to those around you.

  7. Clean up after yourself: It's fitting that this is the last one on the list. Remember to clean up after yourself. Don't forget to pack a trash bag so that when your picnic has come to an end, you're not leaving stray garbage all over.

What is your favorite part about going on a picnic? Also, are there any other traditions or ideas that you have that you would like to share?


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

5 Must-Visit Playgrounds Around the US

Climb, swing, and slide your way to a fun day at the playground – even when you're away from home! It's a great way to get some exercise and fresh air while traveling with kids, and you can do it on a dime. My family and I travel extensively; and, in every destination, we pack in visits to museums, try the local cuisine and do our best to find a fun playground. We like to use a website called to locate playgrounds in the area we are visiting. We plug in the name of the city and state, and a list of playgrounds with a map pops up. It's so easy, though we also often ask families we meet on the street. Locals always have the best advice!

Here are five playgrounds that stand out as some of the best we have found along the way, all from different parts of the country:

No. 1 If you want to go big and bold, don't miss Sugar Sand Park in Boca Raton, Fla., a 132-acre space that includes a carousel, theater and science playground. The playground has three levels of hands-on interactive equipment, including water features that are perfect for a hot day. The playground is adjacent to the Science Explorium, so you can plan a full day (or two!) at the park. Parking and admission to the playground are free, and it is open 365 days a year. The fort area of the

playground is quite large, so you have to keep a good eye on the kids, especially if you have a few to watch. There is a small fee to ride on the carousel. You might want to avoid going in the afternoon when the equipment can get very hot from the Florida sun. There are spots for a picnic so bring snacks and even lunch!

No. 2 Accessible playgrounds are the best because they are designed so EVERYONE can play together! When we filmed our show, "Family Travel with Colleen Kelly," in San Antonio, Texas, we visited Morgan's Wonderland, a fully accessible amusement park. It opened my eyes to how important it is for children of all abilities to get the opportunity to play together and have fun. I have found some resources that list accessible playgrounds. One is,

created by Mara Kaplan, an educator, mom and advocate for inclusive play. Another resource is via NPR: My accessible playground pick for the Midwest is on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in the town of Port Washington, Wis. Possibility Playground has a nice variety of features, including a pirate ship, lighthouse, rock wall and even a music area.

No. 3 Playgrounds with a theme are a fun twist on the traditional play space. Want to have a woolly mammoth greet the kids? Check out Fossil Creek Playground in Fort Collins, Colo. Mammoth bones were discovered during construction and became the inspiration for the playground's theme. The Tarpits Play Area has fun climbing structures, and the big yellow slide is a hit! Make sure you spend some time at the fossil wall, which is also great for adventurous climbers. Adventure Island has interactive water features, so prepare to get wet when visiting this playground. Because Fossil Creek does not have a lot of shade, the water features are a nice reprieve. There is also a dog park in case Fido is joining you on vacation. Older kids might enjoy the skateboarding area, tennis courts and baseball fields.

No. 4 A neighborhood park not far from Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, Calif., Dennis the Menace Playground offers a variety of activities for kids of all ages. I had fun featuring this awesome outdoor space in the Monterey episode of my show. It was designed by Hank Ketcham, creator of the "Dennis the Menace" cartoon series. Like the cartoon, the playground offers wholesome, good-natured fun. The brightly colored slides, bridges and tunnels will keep the kids busy for quite a while, but there is also a skate park and paddle-boats for rent just a hop, skip and a jump away, so you can stay for hours! Parking is at a premium, so get to the park early to catch a spot. There is a snack shop available, which is convenient, but there aren't very many tables, so you might want to bring a picnic blanket. Don't leave without checking out Steam Engine 1285, a local favorite.

No. 5 A very special collection of playgrounds is my last pick for this top five list. The Sandy Ground is a group of playgrounds created in loving memory of those killed in the Sandy Hook School tragedy. The playgrounds are being built in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey – in communities that were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. There will be 26 playgrounds created, one for each victim; 19 have been built so far. Everyone is invited to help build the last of the playgrounds by donating time, talent or treasure (go to the link above to see how you can get involved). Each playground is meant to be a space "Where Angels Play." What better way to honor the Newtown victims than by bringing your own children to the playground so they can have fun and celebrate life.


About Colleen:

Source of all photos is Travel Firm Productions.

(Byline: Colleen Kelly, Host and Executive Producer of "Family Travel with Colleen Kelly")

Colleen Kelly is a fun-loving parent, travel writer and avid explorer of the world. She focuses on discovering family-friendly trips in the US and around the world. So, it's a given that she's visited the most amazing playgrounds around the United States!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Free to Be: The Benefits of Healthy Risk in Play

(CREDIT: youflavio (Flickr))

The word risk is bouncing around the play world as of late. Some parents go pale just at the thought of it while others are eager to implement it into their children's daily play. We're talking responsible risk; striking that balance is tricky but quite possible. I'm all for the healthy union of freedom, risk and playtime; it brings play closer to its natural, exploratory state. Children delve into the invaluable, lifelong lesson of cause and effect. With less rules, they can discover a freestyle joy made by them and just for them.

All in all, risk prepares children for life. It prepares them for what's to come in the real world. It urges them to believe in themselves. Please keep in mind that in this context, risky doesn't mean dangerous or unsafe. It simply means more freedom, more exploration and less rules in play. I'd like to share with you some of the many benefits to playtime served with a light dollop of risk!

  1. Risk teaches your children about challenges – If the element of risk is present during play, it can teach your children to not shy away from challenges. Take tree climbing, for example. It certainly isn't easy, but it is rewarding and fun. Same goes for hiking; the trail may be rigorous and long, but the view is breathtaking! This will foster a healthy relationship between hard work and your child that will be infinitely beneficial as they grow.

  2. Challenges build up confidence – Self-esteem is essential to peace of mind and happiness. The freedom to interact with the world is a great, wonderful responsibility; your child's confidence will blossom if they feel you trust them in their play choices. It will also give them the chance to conquer their fears, such as that colossal slide or wobbly tire swing. They will feel more in charge of their own lives and in turn more comfortable with leadership and independence.

  3. Let the kids have fun – Free play invites your children to discover the joy of adventure and simply have fun! It can be hard to truly let loose, burn off energy and relish playtime when there's a rigid set of rules looming overhead. I think risking a skinned knee is worth the bursting happiness of running wild and free and I have a feeling your children would agree! Not only that, less rules means more experimentation; this expands their horizons and refines their tastes in play and life.

  4. Enhance their decision-making skills – Simple 'yes' or 'no' answers do not compel the child to explore deeper or make connections. Letting your child choose exactly what piece of playground equipment they wish to play on urges them to weigh the risks and rewards of each. Honing this discerning skill will be so worthwhile now and as they grow up. Life is rarely smooth sailing, but knowing how to make wise, gratifying choices makes for fine sailors.

  5. Real world experience can't be matched – Perhaps the most important aspect of all of this is that by having a little risk involved in their play, your children will experience what the real world is all about. They'll learn that there won't be constant hand-holding or a watchful eye. There won't always be some sort of assistance to get you through every situation, and they'll learn that most times, it will be up to them to make the decisions. Hopefully, they will grow fond of this independence and believe in themselves. They will love the world in all its risky, beautiful splendor and not be afraid to carve their places in it.

Throughout a child's development and growth, it's no secret that risk plays an important part. The right balance will bolster their self-confidence, tune their decision-making skills, prep them for the wonder and excitement of the world and encourage them to truly believe that they have the power to seek their wildest dreams!