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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

Monday, August 21, 2017

August is Family Fun Month! 10 Unique Activities to Enjoy This Fall

Photo by Kei Noguchi (Flickr)

August is Family Fun Month, and my family is definitely celebrating! In fact, my girls and I came up with ten unique activities we're planning to enjoy together in the coming months. Your family might enjoy these fun activities, too!

Watch the Stars

The night sky holds so many wonders, and we plan to spend at least one night stargazing as fall approaches. With a star chart in hand, we'll lie on a blanket in the backyard and find different constellations as we marvel at our wonderful universe.

Plan a Camping Weekend

I love camping outdoors. Usually, we set up a tent in our backyard, and this year is no exception. We'll turn off our phones, eat s'mores, and tell ghost stories as we enjoy the great outdoors together.

Create a Seasonal Soup

Thinking about fall always puts me in the mood for soup. This year, my girls want to help me create a seasonal soup filled with our favorite fall produce and herbs from our garden. Hopefully, our soup will be so good that we'll want to make it together every fall!

Pick Apples

Apples taste better when you pick them yourself, or at least that's what my daughters say. They've already checked out local apple farms online and scheduled a date for us to pick apples as a family.

Bake

As a child, my grandma welcomed fall with fresh fruit pies for her community's harvest festival. I'm looking forward to carrying on her tradition this year with my girls. Together, we will bake her famous caramel pear pie recipe. Hopefully, it will taste as good as hers!

Take a Nature Hike

The vibrant fall colors and cooler temperatures pull me and my girls outdoors every year. We usually hike local trails and look for signs of the season as we enjoy the fresh air and exercise.

Collect Leaves

Colorful fall leaves are easy to find and fun to use in a variety of crafts. My girls especially like to do leaf rubbings. This year, we also plan to laminate leaves in wax paper and turn them into place mats, and my girls want to create a leaf collection.

Make a Seasonal Centerpiece

Dinner time is one of my family's favorite times of the day, and I try to dress up the table with a decorative centerpiece. This fall, my girls decided to create a centerpiece from leaves, branches, acorns, pine cones, rocks, and flowers we collect on our hikes. These seasonal objects will be fun to arrange in a bowl or other container.

Prep Your Lawn for Winter

We spend a lot of time together in our garden during the summer, but our landscaping needs attention in the fall, too. We'll prep our lawn for the upcoming winter as we:

  • Mow the lawn one last time
  • Pull weeds, trim perennials, and mulch flower beds
  • Trim trees and shrubs
  • Collect leaves and deposit them in the compost pile

Volunteer Together

One thing I like about fall is that Thanksgiving is on the way! I like counting my blessings, and volunteering is one way our family can practice gratitude and give back to our community. Together, we will collect food for our local food bank, pull weeds for our neighbors, and visit the local retirement home this fall.

My family is excited about celebrating Family Fun Month in August and throughout the fall. We hope you will join us. What other fun activities does your family enjoy doing together?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, August 18, 2017

Laughter Heals! 7 Ways That Play Builds Emotional Health

Photo by DAVID Swift (Flickr)

Therapist Jenny Florence defines emotional health as a person's ability to understand and respond to emotional experiences. Our kids do experience all kinds of emotions every day, from joy, excitement, and anticipation to anger, disappointment, and sadness. They may be unprepared to handle or process their feelings properly, though. I've found that laughter and play actually help my girls and all kids heal and build their emotional health in seven ways.

Laughter Releases Endorphins

I love watching my girls tell jokes, share funny stories, and laugh with their friends as they play. In fact, laughter actually prompts the brain to release endorphins, feel-good chemicals. Through this simple act, kids can diffuse tension, worry, and stress and feel more positive, cheerful, and upbeat.

Social Play Builds Communication Skills

Some kids, like my younger daughter, struggle with communicating. In her case, she can't always verbalize her emotions, but your kids may have difficulty waiting their turn to talk, speaking up when they have an opinion, or talking to other kids. Play gives kids opportunities to build the healthy communication skills they need now and in the future.

Group Play Prompts Positive Conflict Resolution

My girls usually play nicely together, but yesterday, they fought all day! I finally walked with them to our neighborhood park. After playing for a few minutes, they apologized to each other and began laughing together. This experience is one example of how play can prompt kids to resolve conflicts. They learn to share, express disagreements calmly, and work through differences in a positive way as they play with others.

Pretend Play Encourages Kids to Work Through Emotions

My girls feared the dentist until the day we set up a pretend dental office for their dolls. Pretending to examine their dolls' teeth helped them work through their fear. Whether kids experience fear or a strong emotion like grief, shame, rage, or depression, pretend play encourages them to work through their emotions. In a safe and open environment, they learn to admit, address, and express all of their emotions in a healthy way.

Play Provides a Safe Environment

It's a sad fact that life can be hard for kids sometimes. They may experience anxiety, trauma, or other emotional challenges at home, with friends, or at school. Play can provide a safe environment where children can forget their troubles, be themselves, and have fun without worrying about the challenges in their daily life.

Play Teaches Problem-Solving

Emotions are complicated. My girls sometimes feel sad, happy, or disappointed but don't realize why they feel that way or how to stop. They need to develop essential problem-solving skills, and play can help. As they build block towers, practice soccer, or learn to knit, they figure out how to recognize and solve problems with patience and perseverance, and that skill sets them up for success socially, academically, and emotionally.

Laughter Improves Group Bonding

This year, my older daughter will be in a new building for school. She feels nervous, but I encourage her to look for opportunities to laugh with the kids around her. Laughter is contagious and relaxing, and it also bonds kids together. She'll feel more comfortable, make new friends, and solidify friendships in her new environment as she laughs.

Emotional health is important, and laughter and play build our kids' emotional health in seven ways. How will you encourage and support your child's emotional health today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Back-to-School Blues Busters: 10 Ways to Brighten Your Child's Lunch Box

Photo by Melissa (Flickr)

Back-to-school season is bittersweet for me. While I want my girls to get a good education, I also miss them, and they miss me! I've decided this year to use their lunch boxes to remind them of my love, encouragement, and support. I've found 10 unique ways to brighten my girls' lunch boxes and break through the back-to school blues.

Prep Lunches Together

We can't be together during the school day, so my girls and I prep their lunches together the night before. They already know how to cook and often create unique sandwiches, soups, and snacks for their lunch boxes. As we work together, we also laugh and talk. When they open their lunch boxes the next day, I know they will remember our prep time and smile then, too.

Write a Note

On a banana, neon paper, or sandwich bag, write a note for your child. I sometimes draw a simple heart or write a longer note telling them something I appreciate about them, something they're good at doing, or a recent moment when I caught them doing something good for someone else. This fun reminder that I'm thinking of them usually makes them smile.

Create a Puzzle

My younger daughter's newest obsession is word searches, so I've started creating small ones for her lunch box. Crosswords, sudoku, or other puzzles are also fun ways give your child a smile break in the middle of the school day.

Tell a Joke

At the library this summer, we found a fun kids' joke book. We spent hours laughing together as we read through that book, which shows me that they will appreciate a joke in their lunch boxes.

Share a Photo or Memento of a Fun Time

Recalling shared memories bonds us as a family. That's why I like to pack a photo or small memento like a painted pebble from our recent vacation or a feather from our latest craft project in my girls' lunch boxes. They'll be encouraged and remember that they're loved whenever they see these reminders of fun times.

Insert a Sticker

While shopping for school supplies, I found a few fun, inspirational, and cute stickers. They're perfect gifts for lunch boxes. I know my younger daughter laughs at the cartoon stickers I bought for her, and my older daughter likes her emoji stickers.

Cut Food Into Cute Shapes

Fun foods brighten anyone's day. Sometimes, I decorate their sandwiches to look like faces or use cookie cutters to create shaped cheese, fruit, or cookies.

Write an Inspirational Quote

It's natural for parents to want their children to feel happy all of the time, but kids sometimes feel sad, discouraged, or tired. I've found that inspirational quotes reminds my girls that they can succeed and that I love them and support them as they persevere!

Give Them a Survey

I may not be able to shadow my girls while they're at school, but I can use a fun survey to get feedback about their day. It asks questions about who they sat with at lunch, the best part of their day, and what they didn't like about the day. I can even customize it with my own questions and designs.

Send an Invitation

I value one-on-one time with my girls, which is harder to find when school's in session. Sometimes, I send an invitation in their lunch box and invite them on a special date. We may grab an ice cream cone, visit the park, or walk around the mall. The thought of special mom time always helps my girls smile as they anticipate fun time together.

Since my kids started the school year, these ideas have been helping me to make them smile at lunch time. What other ways do you brighten your child's lunch box?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Aloe There! 10 Adorable Succulent Craft Ideas For Kids

Photo by Kim Love (Flickr)

My girls and I said, "Aloe there!" to succulents recently, and we're having a blast caring for them! Succulents are colorful, easy to take care of, and perfect for novice gardeners. You can even use the plants or cuttings for crafts. After doing some research, my girls made a list of ten adorable succulent craft ideas they're excited to try.

Personalized Succulent Planter

We're always on the lookout for unique gift ideas for birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions, and a personalized succulent planter is an easy and fun gift idea. Start with a plain, white, rectangular bin. With a permanent marker, decorate the bin with pictures, the recipient's name, or words that describe the person. Fill the bin with soil and the succulents and you'll have a unique, personalized gift for any occasion.

Hanging Globe Terrarium

My girls became obsessed with terrariums after my mom bought one for her kitchen. We recently found globe terrariums that will look cute hanging around our house. To make a hanging globe terrarium for succulents, first, place soil in the globe, and then add your choice of succulents. Sprinkle decorative sand, crushed shells, or colorful stones on top of the soil. Hang the terrarium from a hook, drawer pull, or tree and enjoy your unique garden.

Succulent Garland

We sometimes decorate our fireplace mantel or even bookcases with garland. I think a succulent garland will be our next project! With wire and a variety of succulent cuttings, you can create a garland of any length. Hang it anywhere, mist it regularly, and you'll have a living garland that's pretty and unique.

Fairy Garden

At the garden center today, my girls and I saw the cutest fairy garden items! We decided we had to make one of our own. In a planter filled with dirt, we arranged succulents and fairy garden items. We chose a tea party theme, but your kids can customize their fairy garden based on their interests.

Succulent Ball

For Christmas last year, my neighbor gave us an herb ball. It's basically a moss ball covered in glue and aromatic herbs. We think it will be fun to modify this idea with succulents. To make one, first, soak a sphagnum moss ball of any size in water. Use scissors or a pencil to poke holes in it, and then push succulent cuttings through the holes, starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. When the ball is covered with succulents, hang it anywhere and enjoy your beautiful craft.

Succulent Birdcage

My older daughter purchased the cutest vintage birdcage at a garage sale last month! She said it will make a pretty succulent planter. In the bottom of the birdcage, she'll place landscaping fabric followed by soil. Then, she plans to arrange succulents inside. She might even attach a few cuttings with wire to the outside of the cage. If she mists her succulent birdcage regularly, it will thrive and be a cute decorative addition to her bedroom.

Succulent Ring

My girls know that their grandma loves jewelry. That's why they're excited to make her a succulent ring. To make your own, simply wind a piece of floral aluminum wire around your finger. Attach a leaf or moss to the wire for stability. Add small pieces of succulents until you get the look you want, and then enjoy your new jewelry!

Lantern Planter

My dad has a few old lanterns hanging around his shed. Instead of tossing them, he gave them to us to use as succulent planters. Inside each lantern, we'll place a Mason jar lid and fill it with soil. Then, we'll plant the succulents. My girls think this craft will look cute hanging from a hook on our deck, and I agree!

Eggshell Succulent Garden

As soon as my girls saw a picture of an eggshell succulent garden, they asked to make omelets. They plan to transform the eggshells into a unique succulent creation. After you clean the shells, you can fill them about three-quarters full with soil. Insert succulent cuttings, secure your mini planters in an egg carton or other container, and watch your garden grow.

Succulent Wreath

We try to change the decoration on our front door seasonally. This summer, my girls want to make a succulent wreath. To make this easy decorative piece, poke holes in a foam wreath form, insert succulent cuttings into the holes, and hang the wreath with a ribbon or hook.

Succulents are fun and easy for novice gardeners and crafters. Which of these adorable succulent craft ideas do your kids want to say "aloe there" to first?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, July 28, 2017

Stop Enamel Cruelty! How to Encourage Healthy Dental Habits in Children

Photo by MissMessie (Flickr)

A baby's teeth start to form during the first trimester of pregnancy, and a child's first tooth typically erupts between six and nine months of age. These developmental facts show the importance of dental health from the very beginnings of a child's life. With proper dental habits, your kids can have healthy smiles as they stop enamel cruelty. Here are seven ways I've encouraged my girls to embrace healthy dental habits.

1. Start Early

Even though babies don't have teeth, it's important to wipe their gums with a clean washcloth or damp gauze after every meal. This practice keeps your baby's gums clean and establishes good oral hygiene habits.

2. Teach Proper Oral Hygiene Techniques

When my girls first learned how to take care of their teeth, we brushed, flossed, and used mouthwash together every morning and every night. They each used a character toothbrush as we raced a timer, fought plaque monsters, and had fun. With this practice, my girls learned the right brushing techniques, like reaching every tooth surface and using only a pea-size dollop of toothpaste instead of the whole tube. They also learned to be consistent with these important oral hygiene habits.

3. Visit the Dentist Regularly

Kids should visit the dentist around their first birthday or within six months after their first tooth erupts. My dentist told me that this visit gave her a chance to assess tooth decay risk, check for cavities, and answer any dental hygiene questions a parent may have.

After that initial visit, continue to schedule regular dental check-ups. Your child should visit the dentist every six months to ensure oral health.

4. Limit Sugary Drinks

Soda and juice are filled with sugar and acid that can wear away your child's tooth enamel. Limit sugary drinks and serve water instead as you protect your child's teeth. If you want to give your kids sugary drinks, reserve these treats for special occasions, use straws to limit the tooth's exposure to the sugar and acid, and rinse with water afterwards.

5. Eat Enamel-Friendly Foods

The right foods clean teeth and strengthen enamel. I try to feed my girls these foods regularly.

  • Serve your kids apples, carrots, and other crunchy fruits and vegetables because they clean teeth.
  • Cheese, meat, nuts, whole grains, and green vegetables are also smart food choices since they contain strengthening vitamins and nutrients.
  • Avoid candy, bread, potato chips, and other foods that are high in sugar or stick to teeth because they contribute to tooth decay.

6. Advocate for Dental Hygiene Classes in School

Whether you're a teacher, caregiver, or parent, you can advocate for dental hygiene classes at your child's school. Ask a dentist or hygienist to visit your child's classroom and teach proper brushing techniques, or encourage the school to invite a mobile dental clinic to give kids check-ups and cleanings.

7. Model Good Dental Hygiene

My girls know that I take care of my teeth and see the dentist regularly. As I model good dental hygiene, I teach them to practice these same habits.

When you encourage healthy dental habits in children, you stop enamel cruelty and equip your kids to have a healthy smile for the rest of their lives. What other tips have you used to encourage your kids to take care of their teeth?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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