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Friday, March 24, 2017

Self-Guided Growth: 11 Benefits of Unstructured Play

Photo by Henry Burrows (Flickr)

My girls love to play! While they enjoy structured and organized activities like sports, I also make sure they have plenty of time for unstructured or free play, where they choose what to play and engage in those activities with minimal adult supervision or direction. Over the years, I've found that kids gain many benefits from unstructured play. I call it self-guided growth and encourage you to give your kids plenty of opportunities for free play, too.

Builds Creativity

During unstructured play, kids make up their own games, rules, and activities. Their creativity blossoms when they're in charge of making up their own fun.

Develops Critical Thinking Skills

While building block towers, solving word puzzles, and climbing jungle gyms, kids must solve numerous problems and challenges. They'll use the valuable critical thinking skills they develop as they play to succeed in their academic, personal, and social pursuits for the rest of their lives.

Cultivates Communication Skills

My girls like to play with each other and with friends, and I often hear them talking about their hobbies, families, and daily lives. The ability to talk to others and communicate effectively is an invaluable skill cultivated during unstructured play.

Promotes Physical Well-Being

Kids need 60 minutes of play time every day to combat obesity and gain better physical strength. Play also improves coordination and body awareness, making it essential for a child's physical well-being.

Helps Kids Discover Likes and Dislikes

In the past year, my younger daughter has aspired to become an artist, writer, and veterinarian when she grows up, and she practiced being all of these things during unstructured play. Without realizing it, she's developing a list of things she likes and dislikes as she has fun.

Provides Relaxation

My girls spend eight or more hours every weekday following directions and focusing on school work and other responsibilities. Free play encourages them to relax, unwind, and have fun.

Reduces Stress

Even though they're still kids, my girls often feel stressed about school, friendship, and even family obligations. They need time to step away from the stress and enjoy carefree moments as kids while they enjoy free play activities.

Promotes Social Skills

When engaging in free play with other children or imaginary friends, kids learn a variety of social skills. I appreciate that free play promotes social skills like sharing, negotiating, taking turns, patience, and conflict resolution.

Hones Talents

Are your kids interested in music, sports, or art? Provide plenty of unstructured play time during which your kids can discover and hone their talents, abilities, and interests.

Builds Self-Esteem

I want my girls to become confident, courageous, and self-aware. They learn these skills as they make choices and self-advocate during free play.

Regulates Emotions

Almost every time my girls play, they experience a wide range of emotions, which can include joy, anger, fear, excitement, and disappointment. Through play, they develop the ability to regulate all of their emotions and show their feelings in appropriate ways.

Kids receive these 11 benefits when they participate in unstructured play. Encourage your kids toward self-guided growth by offering plenty of free play time. You may even get the same benefits as you join them!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Little Helping Hands: 10 Volunteer Ideas for Children

Photo by Virginia State Parks (Flickr)

As a parent and play advocate, I've discovered over the years that volunteering helps kids learn social skills, develop positive self-worth, and make a difference in their communities. It's also fun. I never pressure my girls to help others, but I do encourage them to participate in volunteer activities they enjoy. My favorite 10 volunteer ideas for children prompt kids to use their little helping hands for good. Your kids might enjoy helping others in one or more of these ways, too.

Donate Unwanted Toys and Clothing

Are your kids' closets or playroom overflowing with toys, clothes, and games? Encourage your children to give away their gently used items and help others. They can set up a toy or clothing swap with neighbors or fill as many bags as possible for the local thrift store or homeless shelter.

Host a Food Drive

Hunger affects millions of Americans, including people in your community. Help your children end hunger with a food drive that benefits your local food bank.

Babysit Younger Kids

Both of my girls love kids, but they're still too young for paid babysitting jobs. That's why I encourage them to volunteer their services. While I supervise, they organize and host play dates in our backyard for the neighborhood kids and learn valuable skills while having fun.

Clean Up the Environment

One of my daughters is passionate about protecting the environment, so she walks around our neighborhood every week or two and picks up litter. Your kids could also pick up litter and debris from a local park, playground, or cemetery.

Make a Grandfriend

Kids who spend time with senior citizens have fun, make memories, and learn valuable social and life skills. Adopt a grandfriend from your neighborhood or local senior center. Your kids can play games, do crafts, and share stories with their new friends.

Repair Broken Items

Last summer, one of my nephews discovered a talent for bike repair. Now, he opens his garage once a month and fixes his neighbors' bikes for free. Do your kids have a talent like sewing, computer repair, or carpentry that they can put to use?

Foster Pets

If your kids love animals, let them become a pet foster parent. The short-term commitment gives your children the opportunity to care for and love a pet, and it could save an animal's life.

Help the Neighbors

When one of our neighbors had a baby last month, my girls and I made her a meal. Since then, my children have helped neighbors unload groceries, walk dogs, and gather mail. What neighborhood needs could your kids meet?

Grow and Share Plants

On Facebook last week, a friend posted pictures of the herbs, flowers, and vegetables her kids started from seeds. They'll give those plants to their neighbors, teachers, and friends this spring. What a fun idea!

Do a Sibling's Chores

I woke up yesterday to the sound of the vacuum, and to my surprise, my younger daughter had decided to do her sister's chore and vacuum the playroom! I love that my girls have learned to serve each other occasionally by voluntarily doing each other's chores.

Every child can benefit from the life skills and lessons volunteering provides. How will you encourage your kids to have little helping hands today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, March 17, 2017

Spring Fever: 4 Great Ways to Play This Spring

Photo by Wellspring Community School (Flickr)

Spring makes my heart sing! I love the chirping birds, blossoming plants, and warmer temperatures. This spring, my girls and I plan to enjoy some playful activities that are unique to the season. They're sure to cure spring fever!

Enjoy Your First Picnic of the Year

As soon as the temperatures warm up, my girls and I head outdoors for our first picnic of the year. There's something about fresh air that makes food taste better! For our menu, we usually pack tasty foods that are easy to transport like cheese and crackers, apples, and nuts. You can customize your picnic lunch to include your favorite foods.

The backyard, neighborhood park, or a local picnic spot can provide the perfect setting for your picnic. Consider picking a spot with plenty of open space to play and run, and make sure you have bathrooms nearby, too.

Games are next on our list. My girls enjoy Frisbee, and we sometimes take cards, a football, or even art supplies.

Remember to plan for the weather. Sunscreen is a must! I also recommend extra sweatshirts or jackets and umbrellas, since spring weather is unpredictable. And here's one more tip: Consider making a checklist so you don't forget anything. One year, I forgot to take silverware and a trash bag, so now, I always make a "picnic essentials" list!

Attend a Tulip or Cherry Blossom Festival

I enjoy seeing all of the new plant life blooming in the spring, especially cherry blossoms and tulips. My bucket list includes visiting an international cherry blossom or tulip festival in Holland, Spain, Japan, Istanbul, or Ottawa.

Until then, we're considering a road or bus trip to Tulip Time in Holland, Michigan, this year. I'm looking forward to seeing all of the tulips, and my girls are excited about the entertainment, which includes parades and dancing. Join us or visit one of these festivals as you celebrate spring with the beauty of nature:

  • National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC
  • Albany Tulip Festival in Albany, New York
  • Wooden Shoe Tulip Fest in Woodburn, Oregon

Decorate a Birdhouse

A variety of birds fly through my neighborhood every spring, and they're fun to watch. This year, my girls suggested we decorate birdhouses for our feathered friends. I decided to buy a pre-assembled birdhouse at our local craft store, but we also considered kits we could assemble ourselves. For the decorations, we'll use our imaginations. I find inspiration in nature and plan to glue stones, moss, and twigs to my birdhouse. Meanwhile, my older daughter wants to paint her birdhouse bright colors, and my younger daughter will paint her birdhouse to look like a real house, complete with windows, doors, and shingles. When we're finished decorating our birdhouses, we'll hang them in the backyard and have fun bird-watching.

Plant a Container Garden

For some reason, spring makes me hungry for fresh tomatoes! It might be because we plant tasty tomatoes and other veggies and herbs in containers every spring. A container garden is convenient because it doesn't require tons of space or time, and it's fun. Follow these steps to plant a container garden of your own.

  • First, choose your plants. We grow veggies and herbs, but flowers would also work.
  • Then, choose a location. Certain plants need lots of sun, while others only need a little. Consider your plants' needs as you determine whether to place the containers on your deck, windowsill, or patio.
  • You're now ready to prepare the containers. Almost any container works as long as it has excellent drainage. After placing the containers where you want them, fill them at least two-thirds full with a quality potting soil and fertilizer mix from the garden center.
  • After arranging your plants in the soil, fill the container to within two inches of the top with soil. Water generously and enjoy watching your plants grow.

Do you have spring fever like me? Try one of these four activities. They're playful and fun for your entire family!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

5 Rules of Proper Playground Etiquette

Photo by dadblunders (Flickr)

At the playground, kids burn off energy, make friends, and have fun, but playground safety and fun depend on proper playground etiquette. I follow these five simple rules whenever taking the girls out to play and I've found they go a long way to avoid dampening their fun. They help everyone have fun while staying safe and teach our children important life lessons!

1. Monitor Your Children

Once your kids race off to play, it's tempting to snag a bench and check email, chat with other caregivers, or relax. What happens, though, if a child falls off the swing, is bullied by another kid, or chases a butterfly down the street or out of sight? Monitor your kids and avoid becoming too distracted. As a bonus, your attention boosts your child's self-esteem and shows them that you love them and are proud of their climbing, running, and playing.

2. Promote Sharing

Sometimes when we visit the playground, a kid will hog the swings or skip to the front of the line for the slide. It's annoying, and this behavior affects our fun. That's why I encourage my girls to share the equipment and take turns. When they aren't sharing, I give them a warning, and they know we'll leave if they continue the behavior. When another kid doesn't want to share, I'll encourage my girls to switch activities so they can continue having fun or, in appropriate cases, I'll ask their caregiver to step in.

3. Follow Equipment Age Limits

When my younger daughter was a toddler, she begged and cried to go on the big slide by herself. However, it was way too high and fast for her. On the other hand, we saw a teenager try to squeeze himself into the baby swing yesterday, and I had to ask him to stop before he broke it. Proper equipment usage is essential for playground safety and fun. Before you visit the park, set ground rules so your kids know which equipment they can safely use. If your kid is the one trying to use equipment that's too small, remind them to stick with equipment that's their own size so the playground stays safe and intact for everyone. This also helps to keep the bigger kids from playing around smaller, easily stepped on children.

4. Deal Properly With Aggressive Children

One time, my kids and I visited a park where a boy kept hitting everyone. We ended up leaving earlier than planned, which was unfortunate. Has this ever happened to your family?

Encourage your kids to stand up for themselves without resorting to violence. They can tell the aggressive kid to stop and walk away if the bully continues the aggressive behavior. Also, you can calmly talk to the child's parent or caregiver as you all cooperate to keep the playground safe for everyone. If the aggressor turns out to be your child, leave immediately to show that behavior will not be tolerated and so everyone stays safe.

5. Pick Up Your Litter

I always take snacks when we visit the park; I don't ever want to be caught empty-handed. We always pick up our cracker wrappers and juice boxes, though, because it's our responsibility to keep the park clean. Bring a plastic bag for your trash and other park litter (don't forget the hand sanitizer!).

With these five rules of proper playground etiquette, your kids can stay safe and have fun as they play. What other etiquette rules do you encourage your kids to follow on the playground?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

6 of the Coolest Parks and Playgrounds in America

Photo by wizardbearr (Flickr)

At our local playground, my girls and I enjoy playing on the swings, monkey bars, and basketball court as we socialize with friends. We love our playground! That's why we're celebrating Take a Walk in the Park Day on March 30. I've discovered six cool parks and playgrounds across America that offer a variety of exciting, educational, and playful attractions. Join us in taking a walk through one of these fun, entertaining, and cool sites with your family this month.

Imagination Playground in New York City

When I think of a playground, I think of play, but kids do so much more than play at Imagination Playground. This New York City attraction is also interactive and minimalist and encourages kids to be active during fantasy and co operative play. Kids discover and imagine as they maneuver, stack, and connect objects like sand, water, blocks, mats, wagons, and fabric. They can also climb, jump, and run. Basically, this outdoor space is a giant playroom that provides hours of engaging, entertaining, and creative fun.

Harry Thomas Sr. Playground

We know that playgrounds are supposed to be fun, but Washington, D.C.'s Harry Thomas Sr. Playground also incorporates math. Its design is inspired by the Fibonacci sequence, with curving paths and play equipment shaped in Fibonacci spirals. Other features include a fitness loop, rain gardens, basketball and tennis courts, and a shaded picnic area. Visitors also appreciate the community gardens and ADA-accessible walking paths. Kids can play, learn, and socialize while enjoying this pretty and cool playground in our nation's capital.

Woodland Discovery Playground

When designing the Woodland Discovery Playground in Memphis, Tennessee, its creators asked kids for input. The result? A fun and innovative playground! It's divided into six play nests connected via ivy-covered walkways, and visitors play together with slides, sand, tree houses, climbing nets, an open grassy lawn, and more. In addition to the play focus and ADA play elements, I appreciate that the playground is certified by the Sustainable Sites Initiative to meet stringent international standards for play.

City Museum

Talk about a playground designed for creativity, adventure, and learning! City Museum provides all of these features and more. It's housed in a 600,000-square-foot St. Louis, Missouri, building and includes dozens of attractions, many of which are made from reclaimed building materials such as chimneys, tiles, and bridges. During your visit, ride a 10-story spiral into the building's basement, play in the giant tree house, or ride in the 30-foot Ferris wheel on the roof. You can also crawl inside two airplanes, swing on a rope swing, and explore a series of underground tunnels as you enjoy one of the most eclectic playgrounds in the country.

Neptune Park

My girls can't wait to visit Neptune Park in Saratoga Springs, Utah, and climb the largest play pyramid in the country! It's 30 feet, or over two stories, tall, is made from metal, and includes rope netting for safety. But the pyramid is only one feature of the 10-acre park. Swing on the teeter-totter swing and regular swings, make friends on the toddler and older kids' playgrounds, and climb a crazy rock wall. You can also play Frisbee, basketball, or soccer, explore nature, and dine in the large pavilion or open air when you visit this unique park.

Encanto Park

Located a few blocks from Central Phoenix, Arizona, Encanto Park offers 222 acres of fun for kids and adults. Enjoy nature walks on the trails, go swimming in the pool, or share a picnic. Visitors may also go fishing, canoeing, or paddle-boating and observe waterfowl and ducks in the lagoon. The park also includes a playground, two golf courses, and an amusement park plus a sports complex where you can play softball, volleyball, basketball, racquetball, handball, and tennis. Encanto means "enchanted" in Spanish, and this park certain lives up to its name, in my opinion!

Are you ready for a different play experience? Try one of these six playgrounds. They're innovative, fun, and engaging for kids of all ages. Which one will you visit this month?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, February 16, 2017

10 Tips for Raising Resilient Children

Photo by liz west (Flickr)

I'd love to protect my girls from adversity, stress, and challenges, but let's face it: Life is hard! Just this week, one of our neighbors announced their divorce, my younger daughter found out she needs braces, and my older daughter almost failed a math test. As parents and caregivers, we can't erase adversity or make stress and challenges disappear, but we can work to teach our kids resilience. It helps kids navigate childhood hardships and prepares them for success as adults.

Allow Kids to Take Risks

I wouldn't let a five-year-old drive a car, but I could let her climb the jungle gym. Appropriate risks encourage kids to make their own decisions, solve problems, test their limits, and become confident.

Teach Kids to Problem-Solve

I love when my kids ask for help, but I'm often tempted to tell them how to fix their challenges. That approach won't help them become resilient. Instead, I want to teach them to brainstorm solutions, analyze each one, and find the solution that works best for each problem they face.

Ask "How" Rather Than "Why"

Please tell me I'm not the only parent who asks "why" questions! "Why didn't you do your homework?" or "Why did you pull your sister's hair?" "Why" questions put our kids on the spot, though. Instead, I'm learning to ask "how" questions. They encourage kids to think through solutions, problem-solve, and become more confident and resilient.

Help Kids Manage Emotions

Our kids may cry, retreat, or act out in anger when they face challenges because stress and adversity create strong emotions. We must teach our children how to acknowledge and manage their emotions when they face challenges so that they can respond in an appropriate manner.

Let Your Kids Make Mistakes

Forgotten homework and a failed test are two examples of mistakes my kids have made, and as an adult, I've made mistakes, too. Give your kids permission to make mistakes, and then show them how to overcome and move on as we help our kids become stronger and more resilient individuals.

Don't Rush to Accommodate Your Child's Needs

As parents and caregivers, we must make sure our kids' needs are met. However, we can give them space to overcome obstacles on their own. If your kids can make their own snacks, pick out their own clothes, and meet other needs on their own, let them.

Teach Healthy Conflict Resolution

Relationships can be a huge source of stress for kids and adults, which makes conflict resolution essential for kids of all ages. Begin early as you teach your kids the healthy way to address and resolve conflicts at home, with friends, and at schools.

Provide Plenty of Downtime

A few years ago, I noticed that my younger daughter had meltdowns every night before bed. I finally figured out that she was tired from running to soccer practice after school each day. I made a commitment to cut down on activities, and that has helped her tremendously. She needs the downtime to regroup and recover so that she's better able to handle daily life.

Model Resilient Behaviors

Our kids learn by watching us, so model the resiliency you want your kids to practice. Take risks, learn to manage your emotions, and admit your mistakes as you show your kids how they can be resilient, too.

Create a Safe Place for Your Child

Home is my safe place, and I often can't wait to come home, take my shoes off, and unwind, relax, and regroup. I want my kids to feel safe at home, too. Create a safe place when you listen without judgment, provide opportunities for your kids to play and be kids, and build strong, trusting relationships.

I wish my kids didn't face adversity, stress, and challenges, but they do, so I use these 10 tips to help them become resilient in childhood. With resilience, they're well on their way to becoming successful adults. What else could help our kids develop this crucial skill?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Sunshine Within: 10 Ways to Stay Positive During the Winter

Photo by Bina (Flickr)

Winter weather had arrived with a vengeance where I live, and we're bracing for lots of snow. For some reason, the season change messes with my emotions, though. I don't have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but I do start feeling a little moody and lethargic when cold weather arrives, and my girls get stir-crazy. This year, I decided to find the sunshine within and practice 10 ways to stay positive during the winter.

1. Go on Winter Hikes

Fresh air invigorates and energizes us, and sunlight exposure boosts our vitamin D levels, which helps to regulate mood. Take advantage of these natural benefits when you bundle up the family, grab your snowshoes, and go on a winter hike.

2. Take an Exercise Class

Exercise boosts your mood, relieves tension, strengthens your body, and helps you stay trim all winter. Personally, the girls and I enjoy dancing along to exercise shows on TV, but you can also sign up for a Zumba class at the local YMCA or gym, join a mall walking club, or watch YouTube workout videos.

3. Eat an Upbeat Diet

The foods you eat can affect your mood. Don't believe me? Research shows that an upbeat diet boosts serotonin and levels your blood sugar. Instead of reaching for sugary, fatty foods, eat whole grains, vegetables, proteins, and foods with B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids as you stay positive.

4. Do Puzzles

Beat the winter doldrums when you challenge your mind with puzzles. Crossword and jigsaw puzzles or Sudoku keep your mind active and give you have less time to feel sad.

5. Play in the Snow

So far, we've had minimal snow, but we have our snow attire and boots all ready for the big event! The girls plan to build a snow family, and they've already challenged me to a snowball fight. We'll share tons of fun and giggles as we stay positive and play outdoors together.

6. Clean Your House

Yesterday, I spent 30 minutes cleaning off my desk, and I felt so invigorated! Clutter can affect our mood, so if you're feeling down, take time to clean your house. Consider tackling a room or task like shoes, photos, or crafts each week.

7. Volunteer

It's easy to stay indoors when winter-weather strikes, but I encourage you to get out and help others. Volunteer to lead crafts at a senior center, read to kids at a preschool or the library, or help your neighbors clear their sidewalks. You'll feel more positive as you make a difference in the lives of others.

8. Enjoy a Hobby

I used to dread long, dark winter nights, but this year I'm going to make the most of those evenings and enjoy one of my hobbies. What do you like to do? Crochet a scarf, bake cookies, or create origami animals as you stay active this winter.

9. Schedule a Play Date

Socializing with friends boosts your mood. I know we always feel more upbeat after we spend time with friends, and we commit to planning regular play dates this winter. Host a slumber party for your kids, join a cooking class, or swim at the rec center with your buddies as you play and socialize.

10. Join a Book Club

Engage your mind, socialize with like-minded readers, and enjoy good literature when you join a winter book club. Most libraries offer book clubs for kids and adults or start your own with your neighbors and friends.

Don't let the winter doldrums steal your joy this season. Use these 10 ways to stay positive and find the sunshine within. What other suggestions can we try?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, January 16, 2017

Hopscotch to Happiness: 7 Emotional Benefits of Play

Photo by Dave Parker (Flickr)

My girls' newest obsession is hopscotch. While they haven't yet beaten the world record for most consecutive games in 24 hours (434 set in 1998), they've laid out hopscotch courts in almost every room of our house and play almost all the time. It's fun to watch them challenge themselves, and I encourage their play because it provides several great physical, mental, and emotional skills. Today, let's explore seven emotional benefits hopscotch and other play provides.

Gain Self-Confidence

Self-confidence is a realistic understanding of your ability, judgment, and power and is essential for success in life. Our kids develop this skill as they play because it provides opportunities for them to make and achieve goals, figure out what they like and don't like, and improve their abilities and strengths. Because of play, our children feel confident in themselves and become equipped to handle life.

Relieve Symptoms of Stress and Depression

We like to think that kids are immune from stress and depression, but school, social, or family challenges do affect children. Play gives kids an outlet for their emotions, helps them relax, and can relieve symptoms of stress and depression. See a professional therapist if your child exhibits serious signs of stress or depression, but encourage play to manage everyday symptoms.

Gain an Outlet for Expressing Feelings

Most kids internalize emotions, including grief, fear, or anger. Play therapy is a popular therapists' tool for kids. As they draw, create objects out of clay, or toss a ball, they open up and discuss their joys and troubles. Play also helps kids learn how to express their positive and negative emotions in an acceptable way.

Reduce Aggression

One of my son's friends became very angry and aggressive when he hit puberty. His mom decided to enroll him in swimming lessons, and her child thrived emotionally. This example is an excellent reason to encourage play, since it can help kids manage and reduce aggression.

Increase Joy

Laughing is great medicine for kids and adults. We feel less pain, experience improved memory, and enjoy better blood flow when we laugh. The next time your kids play, watch their faces light up with pleasure and joy. They'll feel happier and more relaxed as they have fun.

Improve Focus

Sometimes, my girls get so wiggly, energetic, and silly that they can't focus on anything, including their schoolwork, chores, or friends. I encourage them to play because it helps them shake out their sillies and focus. We always play before homework time or before we sit down to talk about serious issues so that they can be attentive and focused when it really matters.

Empathize With Others

Ever since my girls were young, I've encouraged them to play with each other and other kids so that they develop empathy. Kids don't always naturally emphasize with others. They do become sympathetic to others' emotions, learn to share, and develop negotiating skills as they play, though.

My girls may never beat the hopscotch record for most consecutive games. However, hopscotch and other play can lead to happiness, since play gives our kids so many emotional benefits. Let's encourage our kids to play more this year!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, January 13, 2017

Vivacious Vocab: 5 Playful Ideas to Help Kids Learn New Words

Photo by Jonathan Rolande (Flickr)

As a blog writer, words are my job. They're the foundation of our language, and I'd be lost without them! Words are also important for our kids. I want my girls to develop a vivacious vocab, but I recently read that kids have to meet a new word five to seven times before they memorize it. Wow! Since learning is always more fun when we play, let's encourage our children to discover, use, and learn new words with these five playful ideas.

"Word of the Day" Challenge

Years ago, I kept a daily "word of the day" calendar in my office. My vocabulary really grew that year, and I decided to adopt the same principle for my girls. Instead of a "word of the day" calendar, we use refrigerator magnets. I spell a word from their school vocabulary list, the dictionary, or the newspaper, and they have to use it as often as possible during the day. My girls have fun competing each day to see who can use the word the most often!

Word Scavenger Hunt

The inspiration for a word scavenger hunt actually started when my younger daughter was in preschool. She struggled to read even the simplest words, but since scavenger hunts were one of our favorite hiking activities, I used the game to help her. She copied several easy words from her favorite books onto index cards, and after bed each night, I taped the cards to various spots around the house. In the morning, she had to find, say, and spell the words before breakfast. She sometimes even hid the words for me to find after lunch. While she eventually learned how to read well, this game is still a favorite for school spelling and vocab words.

Spelling Hopscotch

Traditional hopscotch courts include the numbers one through ten, but let's break with tradition for the sake of vocabulary! Spelling hopscotch is a fun game that challenges kids and is perfect for school or everyday learning. To play, draw a hopscotch court or two. Instead of numbers, fill the squares with letters. Your kids jump from letter to letter as they spell their assigned spelling or vocabulary homework or random words you select. They get exercise, have fun, and learn while playing this game.

Comic Strips

My older daughter enjoys writing and illustrating, and her sister likes to color, so I encourage them to use their interests to expand their vocabulary. They learn while having fun! Every week, I challenge my older daughter to incorporate as many new words as possible into a comic strip. She creates the story and draws the illustrations before her sister colors them. Their vocabulary has grown tremendously thanks to this activity, and I've compiled their creations into a scrapbook so we can see how much they've learned.

Dictionary Chase

Reading is one of the best ways to build vocabulary. Since they were born, my girls and I make time every day to read together. While reading, there's always at least one word one of my girls doesn't know, though, so I tell them to go on a dictionary chase. My mom taught me to this activity when I was a girl. Anytime I didn't know what a word means or how to spell it, she told me to look it up in the dictionary. I give my girls the same challenge, and then they have to use the word in a sentence during the day. Our vocabulary has grown tremendously with this fun activity, and my mom loves that she gets the credit for introducing it to us.

In my opinion, the best way to develop a vivacious vocab is through play! Try these five playful ideas as you help your kids discover and use new words. What other games and activities do you use to expand your child's vocabulary?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, January 6, 2017

9 Ways to Teach Kids to Embrace and Respect Diversity

Photo by The Irish Labour Party (Flickr)

Kids as young as four can exhibit racial prejudice. What a shocking statistic! It makes me even more determined to teach my girls to embrace, appreciate, respect, and celebrate diversity. Here are nine ways we as parents, teachers, and caregivers can encourage our kids to value the races, cultures, traditions, languages, religions, and behaviors that make the people in our world unique.

Read Books

While my girls and I enjoy reading for entertainment, I also appreciate books because they're educational. Several children's books help kids understand differences, learn about other cultures, and embrace their identity.

  • All Kinds of Families by Mary Ann Hoberman
  • I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr.
  • I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes
  • It's OK to Be Different by Todd Parr
  • Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer
  • The Color of Us by Karen Katz
  • The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss
  • Why Am I Different? by Norma Simon
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Explore the Globe

I'd love to pack a suitcase and travel the world with my kids someday, but for now, we spin a globe and choose a random country to explore each week. We also discuss current events and talk to our friends, family members, and neighbors who have lived or traveled internationally. Exploring the globe in these ways gives my kids exposure to different cultures, practices, and traditions.

Sample International Cuisine

Last weekend, one of our neighbors taught my girls and me how to prepare falafel. Yum! Cooking and eating international cuisine together is a fun way to bond. It also helps kids appreciate other cultures. The next time you make a new dish, choose a restaurant, or visit a festival, sample international cuisine.

Introduce a Variety of Toys and Games

Maximize your child's play time with diverse toys and games. I suggest disability dolls, non-gendered toys, and games from other cultures. These activities help kids learn about and appreciate other people, behaviors, and lifestyles all while having fun!

Participate in Local Cultural Activities

My girls know that if there's a cultural festival, parade, or event in town, we'll attend. I love meeting new people, observing other cultural traditions, and showing my girls diversity in action. If you can't find cultural activities in your area, create your own celebration complete with international foods, costumes, and games.

Listen to Music

Around the world, music plays an integral role in daily life, religious ceremonies, and cultural celebrations. Increase appreciation and understanding of other cultures when you download, listen to, and discuss a variety of music. We often use Pandora or YouTube to expand our family's music playlist.

Dress Up

My younger daughter recently saw a woman wearing a burka, and she asked me a dozen questions about it. That experience prompted me to use dress-up and dramatic play to help my girls understand how and why people wear burkas, yarmulkes, saris, and other diverse clothing. Add these items, wigs, accessories, and other cultural clothing to your dress-up bin as you promote cultural awareness and appreciation.

Visit Museums

Art, history, and cultural museums offer educational and entertaining opportunities to learn more about others. My parents invited us to explore an African textile exhibit at their local museum, and it's absolutely stunning. Make a date today to visit a museum in your town or participate in virtual museum tours as you discover the ways other people create, think, and live.

Model Diversity

Kids will imitate their parents, teachers, and caregivers. Let's consider our attitudes and prejudices and examine our friendships, reactions to current events, and jokes. We may need to make changes or step out of our comfort zones as we embrace and model diversity and teach our kids to do the same.

It's our responsibility as adults to teach our children to embrace, respect, and celebrate diversity, and we can do that while having fun. In addition to these nine suggestions, what other activities can you use to teach your kids about diversity?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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