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Monday, November 20, 2017

10 Tips and Activities for a Healthy, Happy Thanksgiving Day

Photo by JBLM MWR (Flickr)

Every Thanksgiving, I eagerly prepare a big feast and anticipate chatting, laughing, and eating with our extended family. People can consume up to 4,500 calories during this feast, though, and I don't like that statistic. This year, I rallied my family, and we decided to try out some tips and activities to make our Thanksgiving healthier and happier.

Enter a 5K

My family agreed to participate in our local turkey trot, a 5K race held on Thanksgiving morning. We're excited about the opportunity to exercise and enjoy quality family time together before our big celebration.

Eat a Healthy Breakfast

I'm a big breakfast fan because starting the day with a healthy meal can curb cravings and overeating later in the day. This year, I'll prepare an egg casserole and serve fresh fruit as we set the tone for a healthy holiday celebration.

Exercise During Parade Commercials

The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is an important tradition in our family. Personally, I love the balloons, performers, and music! While watching the parade this year, we'll also exercise during the commercials as we enjoy this tradition and stay active.

Take a Hike

Because I spend Thanksgiving Day cooking, baking, and entertaining, I usually skip my daily workout and then regret that decision the next day. We're planning to go on a short hike before dinner this year. The exercise will work off a few calories, and we'll get to enjoy family bonding and the great outdoors together.

Snack Smart

Because my family loves munching on snacks while we wait for the turkey to bake, we usually serve hot crab dip, crackers, and candy. These snacks are loaded with extra calories, though. Smart snack alternatives like fresh veggies, fruit, and single-serve bags of nuts will satisfy our hunger and decrease our overall caloric intake. Everyone wins!

Make Heart-Healthy Dishes

Our Thanksgiving meal includes dozen of delicious dishes, but I've got to admit that they're not all heart-healthy. We're changing the menu a bit this year and will prepare our favorite dishes with low-sodium broth, Greek yogurt, and whole grains. Plus, we'll serve mashed cauliflower and add kale to the stuffing. These heart-healthy changes are good for our waistlines and will taste great, too.

Eat Mindfully

I know Thanksgiving dinner only happens once a year, and I typically overindulge. This year, I'm challenging my family to eat mindfully and choose small portions, chew slowly, savor each bite, and stop eating when we start to feel full. Mindful eating is a great tool that prevents overeating and improves our health.

Choose Desserts Wisely

Our dessert table usually overflows with rich, sugar-laden goodies. Rather than fill a plate with desserts, I've already decided to choose small portions of one or two favorites. As I savor their flavor and texture, I'll indulge my sweet tooth without compromising my commitment to health and wellness.

Dance During Cleanup

While discussing ways to add healthy activities to our Thanksgiving festivities, my girls suggested a dance party. They've already created a playlist and anticipate dancing with their grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins as we clear the table, wash dishes, and sweep the floor after our meal.

Play Flag Football

If your family is like mine, you watch football on Thanksgiving. We're giving this tradition a twist this year and playing flag or touch football after dinner. I'm excited to get my family off of the sofa and have fun playing together!

Thanksgiving remains one of my favorite holidays because I love spending time with family around our bountiful dinner table. I also want to make the holiday healthy and happy, though, which is why I'll try out these tips and activities during our upcoming celebration. What other healthy tips and fun activities do you recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, November 13, 2017

9 Tips For Keeping Your Child Safe On the Internet

Photo by Lucélia Ribeiro (Flickr)

October 29 is Internet Day, but personally, my girls and I can't imagine life on any day without this technology that gives us access to information, friends, and the world. The Internet can open doors to scary and dangerous things, though, including identity theft, predators, pornography, and fake news. Consider these nine tips as we teach our kids to stay safe and be responsible while using the Internet.

Place Devices in a Common Area

My older daughter often asks for a computer in her bedroom, but I insist that it remains in a common area. This way, I can answer questions, talk about information, and successfully guide my kids as they use the Internet.

Know What They're Looking at

Now that my girls are a bit older, I don't stand over their shoulders as they go online. I do, however, frequently check their devices' browsing histories and monitor their social media and email accounts. With this information, I can initiate conversations about why they visit certain sites and ways they can protect themselves.

Teach Them to Protect Personal Information

An identity thief or sexual predator can use your child's name or photo to find them in real life. I often emphasize that my girls cannot publicly share personal information online, including their name, phone number, address, email, passwords, school, or photos. Also, they may only communicate online with people they know.

Block Explicit Material

While researching the history of her favorite toys for a school project, my daughter typed "legs" instead of "Legos." The results? Several porn sites popped up. That one misspelling prompted me to turn on the computer's parental controls, use Google SafeSearch, and check out the blocking options provided by CyberPatrol and other security sites.

Respond Properly to Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is defined as threatening behavior that occurs online and can include intimidation, name-calling, and body-shaming. I tell my girls not to respond to any cyberbullying messages and to report any bullying incidents to me.

Recognize Unsafe Websites

Unsafe websites can lead your kids to harmful content or install spyware, malware, or viruses on their device. In general, websites that end in .edu, .org, or .gov are the most reputable and safest. Check the color of the address bar, too, since it can turn yellow or red in some browsers if the site is unsafe. Consider bookmarking your children's favorite sites to promote safe browsing.

Learn to Spot Fake News

At dinner the other night, my younger daughter shared that the queen of England had died. She saw the story online and thought it was true. Our conversation opened the door to a discussion about how to spot fake news, and I reminded my girls to ask themselves a few questions as they evaluate what they read online.

  • Are other news sites reporting the same story?
  • Does it link to real news or reputable websites?
  • Is the news current?
  • Is the source itself reputable?
  • Is the writing mostly error-free?
  • Is the article satirical, a joke, or an opinion?

Invite Conversations About Internet Use

My girls know they can talk to me about anything, including their internet usage. If they ever feel uncomfortable online, see a friend being bullied, or wonder about the safety of certain websites, they know I will listen and not immediately overreact or suspend their online privileges.

Sign an Internet Usage Contract

An Internet usage contract gives your kids another layer of protection and shows them how to use the Internet responsibly. It includes details like how much time your kids can spend online, what sites they can use, and consequences for breaking the rules.

The Internet offers our kids nearly limitless access to information. Let's use these nine tips as we teach our kids how to be responsible online and use the Internet safely. In what other ways can we teach online safety?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, October 27, 2017

9 Ways to Embrace and Encourage Your Children's Individuality

Photo by Sergey Ivanov (Flickr)

While chaperoning a class field trip to an art museum recently, I noticed so many different personalities. Some of the kids asked dozens of questions, some joked around, and others chatted with friends. The variety of different and unique personalities made me think of how important it is for us as parents, teachers, and caregivers to embrace and encourage our children's individuality. We can do this important task in nine ways.

Encourage Free Play

Have you ever turned a group of kids loose in a game room? Each kid tends to gravitate to the toys, activities, and games that interest them. During playtime, kids show off their individuality, so let's encourage our kids to play in ways that interest them.

Compliment and Appreciate Quirks

One of our young neighbors likes to tell jokes and always makes me laugh. Even though he sometimes chooses inappropriate times to clown around, I try to compliment his uniqueness often. Life's definitely more fun because he and all of our kids choose to be themselves, quirks and all.

Ignite Curiosity

According to a U.K. study, kids ask an average of 300 questions a day. That's a lot of curiosity! As caregivers, it's sometimes tempting to ask our kids to stop being so curious, but they learn, grow, and develop unique opinions and interests partially because they ask questions. That thought motivates me to answer all of those questions and share resources that help my growing kids discover answers on their own.

Respect Differences

I admit that I'm one of those parents who dressed their toddlers in similar outfits. It didn't take long to figure out, though, that they each have their own sense of style, which doesn't always mesh with my preferences. And that's OK. We can respect our kids' differences and encourage them to be themselves even when they don't agree with us. They have the right to be unique.

Talk About Life

Every evening at the dinner table, our family discusses daily life. My girls know that I always appreciate hearing their views and opinions. By valuing our kids' viewpoints, we value our kids, tell them that they're interesting, and encourage them to continue thinking for themselves.

Promote Hobbies

My girls each enjoy vastly different hobbies, and I appreciate that they both express themselves through different outlets. Whether our children are into art, sports, or reading, we must give them time to explore the activities that inspire, motivate, and fulfill them as they express their individuality.

Promote Pretend Play

As they build block cities, ride cardboard ships into space, or rule kingdoms as kings and queens, our kids use pretend play to develop their unique voices. I also find that pretend play helps my girls discern the type of person they are now and want to become in the future.

Prevent Peer Pressure

When we denounce peer pressure, we equip our kids to be themselves. I often remind my girls that while they must be kind to other kids and look for ways to get along, they can be unique individuals. They don't have to think or do the same things as their siblings, classmates, or friends.

Resist Comparisons

My younger daughter sometimes struggles academically, but she excels on the soccer field. I try to affirm her strengths, talents, and skills rather than compare her to her sister, classmates, neighbors, or friends, and I politely ask others to do the same. Comparison only teaches our kids to conform rather than stand out and be themselves.

Even though they're young, kids are designed to be unique. We can embrace and encourage our children's individuality as we help them grow and develop. In addition to these nine tips, how else do you help your kids develop their own individuality?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

7 Ways That Play Helps Develop Good Behavior

Photo by tanitta (Flickr)

When I was a kid, recess was a favorite part of my school day, and my girls have fun playing with friends and taking a break from schoolwork, too. However, many schools are shortening recess in favor of additional instructional time. I suggest that we follow the example of Finland schools and advocate for more daytime free play and recess. These two activities help kids in seven ways to develop and reinforce good behavior.

Boost Focus

A child's attention span is roughly one minute per year of age. Most classroom instructional time and activities last longer than a few minutes, though, which can challenge a child's ability to focus and engage in the lesson. Breaks for recess and play stimulate a child's brain and boost their ability to focus. When they return to the classroom, they are ready to listen and learn.

Stay on Task

My older daughter used to daydream her way through the school day, and her teachers had to work constantly to keep her on task. One day, we realized that she had no trouble staying on task after recess. She needed that play break to reboot her brain and body. Because of play, she was able to follow directions, transition quickly between activities, and finish tasks.

Reduce Fidgeting

One energetic student who plays with their hair, rocks in their chair, or taps a pencil against the desk can distract the entire classroom and disrupt learning. While classroom-friendly fidget toys can reduce fidgeting, play is also an important and helpful tool. As kids run, jump, and play during their recess time, they burn off excess energy and return to the classroom ready to sit mostly still and learn.

Improve Compliance

Sometimes, kids who disobey the teacher, make noise during class, or otherwise don't comply with classroom rules are not trying to be difficult on purpose. Rather, they may be filled with extra energy that exhibits itself in non-compliance. When my girls begin to show signs of defiance, I consider their free time. They may need a play break to burn off energy and improve compliance.

Relieve Stress

The demands of school and other challenges at home or with friends can create stress for our children. Recess and free play give kids an escape from the demands of daily life. On the playground, they can simply be active kids who enjoy each other and have fun without worrying about stressors.

Process Emotions

Kids don't always express their emotions in productive ways. In fact, they may act silly, create drama, start fights, cry, and otherwise display their emotions in inappropriate ways while at school. They need play and recess. As they create, imagine, and exercise, they begin to process emotions in a healthy way, which allows them to behave better in the classroom.

Improve Communication

Last year, my daughter struggled with friendship drama at school. It took several months for her to connect with other kids in her class, and part of that transition happened because of recess. During this time, my daughter and two of her classmates created healthy bonds as they played together. Play definitely can influence communication and help our kids learn to understand each other better.

We all know that recess and free play are fun and give kids numerous benefits. I particularly appreciate that these activities help kids in seven ways to develop and reinforce good behavior. Because of play, our kids can learn better in the classroom. Will you join me in advocating for more play opportunities at school and throughout the day?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, October 23, 2017

6 Resources For Finding Parks and Trails in Your Area

Photo by Carl Mueller (Flickr)

After my girls and I visit a local playground or hiking trail, we always feel better. The fresh air clears away emotional and mental clutter, and we feel stronger physically and more connected socially as we spend time exercising with friends. Because we like to play and hike often, I use different resources to find new outdoor play spaces for my family to explore. These resources can help your family stay active and have fun with your community, too.

National Park Service

Experience your America when you visit the National Park Service website. This resource allows you to search for a variety of parks and trails almost anywhere in the United States. The site also includes information about local events, making it easy for my family and yours to connect with the community at home or while traveling.

Map of Play

When my girls need to run off steam, get fresh air, or connect with old or new friends, I visit Map of Play. Created by play experts Kaboom!, it includes photos and ratings of thousands of local playgrounds, parks, and play spaces. I also appreciate that Map of Play promotes community activity. You can share unique play spaces with friends and add new play spaces to the site as you encourage others to play. You can also join a playground cleanup crew or plan a play date with this helpful resource.

Find Your Park

With a user-friendly design, Find Your Park invites you to search for parks by ZIP code, state, park name, or activity. When you find a park you want to visit, share it with friends on social media. This resource also features a Google map of each park so you know exactly where it's located and what it looks like. You can discover details about nearby activities, too. My girls appreciate that we can find local historical tours, art and culture centers, and shopping opportunities to enjoy after we play.

AllTrails

Sometimes, we're in the mood for an easy trail, and other times, we want a challenge. I use AllTrails.com to search 50,000 trails by difficulty, length, or rating. I also appreciate the trail pictures, reviews, and maps shared on this site by actual hikers. We learn firsthand how others liked the trail, and we can share a map with friends and set up hiking dates. You can uUse the site to save trails, too. With this feature, it's easy to track how many trails you've visited or easily find interesting trails for future hikes!

Playground Buddy

Use this free app to find a local playground. The worldwide directory includes more than 200,000 playgrounds, which is especially useful when we travel because it helps my girls and me stay active anywhere! This website also shows details about the playground, including its play equipment, and you can share the playground's location with a friend. With this information, you can set up a fun and engaging play date for your family or connect with locals and make new friends.

Trails.com

I expect to find trails in rural areas, but Trails.com shows urban trails, too. Browse by state or activity, and check out topographical maps of each trail before you head outdoors. For example, when my older daughter wanted to try trail-running with a friend, we used this resource to find a nearby trail that was ideal for their excursion.

Outdoor playtime is essential for our kids and communities. It improves our physical, mental, and emotional states, provides socialization opportunities, and connects people. I use these six resources to find local parks and trails. What other resources do you use to find local play spaces?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, October 2, 2017

10 Benefits of Reading Aloud to Babies and Toddlers

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski (Flickr)

Last night before bed, my younger daughter picked out a book, snuggled close on the sofa, and asked me to read to her. My heart melted as I fondly recalled hundreds of similar moments from her early childhood years. Those memories are precious to me because they were great bonding experiences and also because reading aloud to my girls gave them these 10 important benefits.

1. Grow Vocabulary

When my girls started talking, they knew so many words! I attributed their vocabulary to all the books we read together, and experts agree; kids who hear a variety of words are more likely to speak a variety of words.

2. Develop Basic Speech Skills

By reading to our kids, we teach them basic speech skills. Kids learn how to properly pronounce words and enunciate sounds when they hear the words spoken. Even the jabbering sounds they make as they look through books and read to themselves contribute to their fundamental speech.

3. Build Reading Skills

As young children hear books, they develop the tools they need to become confident and successful readers. They learn how to hold and read a book from front to back, associate letters with sounds, and understand the basic concepts of sentence and plot structures.

4. Improve Concentration

The act of listening to a story requires concentration. My girls didn't sit still for very long when they were babies, but their concentration levels and attention spans improved as they grew older. By the time they were toddlers, they could sit still through an entire book and sometimes even remember what I read.

5. Boost Academic Performance

Children who are exposed to reading from a young age perform better in school. Hearing books read out loud helps them communicate better, understand concepts, and confidently read textbooks, homework, and tests. Plus, books expand their ability to problem solve, think outside the box, and ask questions.

6. Discover Empathy

Bear Feels Sick was a book my girls loved to read. They liked the pictures, and the story helped them understand friendship and how to help someone who is sick. This book is one of many books that introduce young children to the concepts of compassion and empathy.

7. Learn About the World

Books open our kids' minds to the world around them. They can travel to other countries, learn about other people's experiences, celebrations, and activities, and explore diverse cultures around the world or in their neighborhood.

8. Exercise Imagination

Think about your child's favorite book. Whether it features orangutans, oceans, or outer space, it transports your child to unique locations and exercises their imagination, which can improve their problem solving, creativity, and emotional processing skills.

9. Strengthen Bonds

Reading to my girls was definitely a bonding experience as we picked out books at the library, snuggled on the sofa, and read together. Reading can also bond kids with other family members and caregivers as they spend special nurturing time together with a good book.

10. Enjoy Fun

Many babies and toddlers genuinely enjoy story time. They have fun and are entertained as they look at the bright colors and engaging pictures, hear interesting stories, and snuggle with their caregiver.

I'm a big fan of reading aloud to babies and toddlers. Why do you like reading aloud to your kids?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, September 22, 2017

Little by Little: 6 Tips for Raising Patient Kids

Photo by jess2284 (Flickr)

As our kids wait for their turn on the slide or wait for a painting they've made to dry, they need to use patience and perseverance. Most kids aren't born with these essential character traits, though. I know my girls have had to learn these skills little by little. Here are six tips that help me raise patient kids.

Encourage Delayed Gratification

When my girls were toddlers, we frequently ate fast food because it was easy and quick. I soon realized, though, that we had to eat smarter meals, and we started cooking more often at home together. It was hard at first to wait longer than two minutes for dinner, but that delayed gratification paid off because my girls are both skilled cooks now. Over the years, we have also planted gardens, learned new hobbies, and hiked together, all slow activities that bring great rewards in the end.

Practice Mindful Breathing and Yoga

I discovered mindful breathing and yoga in college. These two tools do wonders to relax the mind and body and restore a sense of control. That's why I shared these tools with my girls. We breathe in through our noses, count to five, and slowly exhale through our mouths, and we do at least 10 minutes of yoga every day. When we start to feel impatient, agitated, or frustrated, we can draw on these tools as we relax.

Offer More Free Play

Free play is a big part of my girls' lives because it's very beneficial. I especially appreciate that it helps my girls become more patient. Play time is a natural training ground for patience and perseverance as they enjoy their favorite activities and have fun.

Prep for Challenging Moments

Long lines have always challenged my older daughter. In fact, she developed a bad habit in her preschool years of pinching me if we had to wait in line at the grocery store, movies, or amusement park. I finally began prepping her in advance for this challenge. At home, we pretended that we were waiting in line. I showed her how I expected her to behave and taught her how to keep her hands to herself, breathe mindfully, and wait patiently. With this prep and positive reinforcement, she learned to wait her turn and develop patience.

Review Impulsive Moments

During impatient moments, my girls aren't usually receptive to hearing about how they should be patient. I learned to wait until after the incident to review what happened. We talk about how their actions made them and others feel, and we review what they could have done differently. Over time, my girls have gotten better at impulse control.

Slow Down

We live in a fast-paced society, and I confess that I sometimes get in a hurry and rush my girls. Then we're all agitated! I'm learning to slow down and be more intentional about exercising patience and perseverance in my own life. When I am calm, tranquil, and relaxed, my girls see how they should act and follow my example.

Patience and perseverance are two skills kids can learn little by little. I use these six tips to help my girls become patient kids. What other tips can we use to help our kids develop these essential traits?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, September 21, 2017

How to Prepare Your Child For Their First Hike

Photo by slashvee (Flickr)

Hiking is one of our family's favorite activities. We love the fresh air, exercise, and family time! While both of my girls are pros now, I remember all the steps I took to get them ready for their very first hike. These tips can help you prepare your kids for a successful first hike, too.

1. Choose the Trail Carefully

Before I had kids, I loved hiking long hilly trails. I knew my favorite trails were not toddler-friendly, though. Instead, I had to choose flatter, shorter trails my toddlers could handle. To find kid-friendly trails, ask other parents for advice, search hiking guides, or check out the AllTrails website.

2. Think About Timing

I know you want your child's first hike to be a positive experience, so time it carefully. Try to hike when your child has high energy, and avoid any interruption to nap time.

3. Wear the Right Clothes

I made the mistake of buying my older daughter new speakers before her first hike, and they gave her blisters. Ouch! The right shoes and protective clothing, including a sunhat, keep kids comfortable and safe as they hike.

4. Pack Adequate Supplies

Be prepared for anything on your child's first hike - trust me! I suggest packing extra clothes, snacks, water, a first aid kit, bug spray, sunscreen, baby wipes, a blanket, and diapers, if necessary. I know it seems like a lot; if your kids are old enough, they can carry a backpack and share the load.

5. Involve Your Kids in the Planning

My girls loved helping plan their first hike. Even though they were too young to pick the trail, they chose the color of their shoes and helped pack the snacks as they took ownership of their hiking experience.

6. Familiarize Your Kids with Nature

It's natural to hear loud birds or see snakes on the hiking trail, but newbie hikers can be freaked out about these natural phenomena. Be sure your kids feel comfortable in nature so they can have fun and enjoy the wonder of the outdoors.

7. Anticipate Rest Stops

First hikes can be challenging for young kids. Plan to take several rest stops and refuel with water and a snack or explore an interesting site. Your child will then be reenergized and focused to keep moving.

8. Prepare a Few Games

In the middle of my younger daughter's first hike, she grew tired and cranky. Luckily, I was prepared to play games. We counted squirrels, played I Spy, and sang silly songs. Games can help your child stay entertained and remain enthusiastic for the entire hike.

9. Teach Safety Rules

Safety is a huge priority for me, so I taught my girls safety rules before we hit the trail. They knew to always keep me in their view, never stray from the trail, and leave no trace. These safety rules protect our kids and nature.

10. Take a Practice Run

Before your first official hike, try a short practice run or two. Use this practice hike to tweak your gear list and show your kids what to expect. I also appreciated trial runs because they helped my girls get excited for their first real hiking adventure!

A child's first hike can be tons of fun and is a big accomplishment. Follow these steps as you prepare your child for success. What other tips would you recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

8 Tactful Tips on Teaching Children About Current Events

Photo by Abhisek Sarda (Flickr)

From hurricanes to hijackings, the news headlines are filled with events that kids may find difficult to comprehend and process. A few years ago, I decided that I want my girls to understand current events and know the facts without feeling scared, confused, or overwhelmed. Here are eight tactful tips I use to teach my girls about current events. You, too, can use these tips with your kids at home or in the classroom.

Read Picture Books

Picture books use illustrations to share information and educate kids in a fun way. They're also age-appropriate. I find a variety of picture books at the library and online that discuss events like natural disasters, refugees, and racism in an unbiased, educational, and informative way.

Play Games

Games are an effective and fun way to introduce and discuss current events with kids. Consider trying two of my favorite current event games. The first game, the World Peace Game, helps kids solve political challenges around the globe in peaceful ways. Fantasy Geopolitics is the second game I really like. With a format similar to fantasy football, it introduces kids to global politics, geography, economics, and populations.

Create a Podcast

My girls and I often listen to entertaining and educational podcasts as we clean, exercise, and drive to school. They also create podcasts about current events. During this process, they research news stories, interview friends, re-enact events, write scripts, and record their podcasts as they understand and process the news.

Learn About Cultures

Learning about cultures is a fun way to discover different countries in the news and process current events. During a recent conversation about Princess Diana, my girls asked dozens of questions about Great Britain's monarchy. We ended up talking about the country's religion, history, climate, and even foods, art, and entertainment as we talked about the princess's life, work, and death.

Map the News

The world map hanging on our playroom wall does more than decorate our home. It also serves as the catalyst for greater understanding of world events. When we listen to the news, my girls stretch a string from our hometown to the locations they hear about on the TV or radio. We then talk about that region. With this tool, my girls relate better to the people and counties in the news, and they gain a broader world view.

Practice Journalism

I firmly believe that knowledge is power! When my girls understand current events, they're less likely to feel overwhelmed or scared by the news, which is a great reason to introduce kids to journalism. As kids examine the 5 Ws (who, what, where, when, and why) of an event, they discover facts that help them feel more engaged, informed, and secure despite what's happening around the globe.

Express Opinions

When we discuss current events, I enjoy hearing my girls' opinions about the people and issues involved. I often encourage them to write editorials and share their views on issues like local community improvements, national politics, or war. You can also host classroom debates or ask kids to interview other students as you give them an outlet to express their opinions and discuss the news.

Brainstorm Solutions

I'm constantly surprised at my girls' ability to solve problems creatively, see situations in unique ways, and come up with solutions I don't even think about. I've decided to harness their creativity as we discuss current events. They imagine they're world leaders, policy-makers, or city officials and write policies, laws, and solutions to problems in the news.

Whether local or global, current events affect our kids. I use these eight tips to teach my kids about current events and help them understand our world. What other tips or tools do you use?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, September 7, 2017

10 Reasons Why Public Parks Are So Important

Photo by Herry Lawford (Flickr)

Our local public park plays a big role in our family life. Ever since my girls were babies, the park has served as our playground, exercise area, and social hangout. There, we've spent countless hours playing together, meeting new people, and enjoying the fresh air. As we played at the park this week, it occurred to me that public parks are important for families and communities in ,any important ways.

Trees Filter Pollutants

Cleaner outdoor air is one reason to appreciate public parks. Air pollution contributes to health conditions like asthma, but trees filter pollutants and create a healthier living environment for everyone.

Public Parks Protect Natural Ecosystems

Every public park features its own unique ecosystem. My girls always marvel at the variety of plants and wildlife in our local parks. Building, preserving, and protecting public parks protects these diverse ecosystems now and allows them to thrive into the future.

Unpaved Soil Improves Storm Management

During rainstorms, the soil in public parks absorbs water, which reduces flooding and decreases storm management and sewer maintenance costs. Communities around public parks become safer and save money because of public parks.

Public Parks Reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect

I met a city engineer yesterday as our girls played together at the park, and she mentioned the urban heat island effect. In areas covered by asphalt and concrete, temperatures rise as levels of smog and other outdoor air pollutants increase. She said that trees reduce the urban heat island effect and create healthier cities, making public parks essential for community health and wellness.

Public Parks Generate Revenue for Communities

Communities benefit financially from their public parks. Many parks, like the one in our neighborhood, frequently hold holiday festivals, sporting events, and musical performances that generate revenue. And home values and taxes are higher for properties located close to public parks. The revenue potential is a big reason to support public parks, since they potentially pay for themselves!

Open Spaces Facilitate Community Engagement

Every time my girls and I visit our neighborhood park, we see people from our community playing, chatting, and visiting. I love that the park facilitates community engagement, since it's an ideal place to organize group sports, family parties, and play dates.

Public Parks Create Safer Neighborhoods

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered that access to public parks creates safer neighborhoods. Community members who spend time in the park report less mental fatigue and aggression and stronger relationships with their neighbors. Because of parks, crime, juvenile delinquency, and vandalism rates decrease and neighborhoods become safer.

Public Parks Encourage Physical Activity

My girls and I are lucky because our local park offers a fitness trail and a variety of recreational programs like yoga, baseball, and hiking. We can easily stay active and enjoy better physical health as we play.

Public Parks Boost Mental Health

Did you know that spending even ten minutes in an urban park reduces stress? I appreciate that the fresh air, exercise, and social interaction boosts our mental health and outlook on life.

Public Parks Improve Appreciation for Nature

While hiking through a state park last weekend, my girls spotted 20 different varieties of bugs in just one small section of the trail. They were so excited! These bugs are only a few wonders of nature we see and learn to appreciate when we visit a park.

I love public parks. They give families a fun place to play and are important for so many reasons. What's your favorite reason to play at the park?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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