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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How Play Cultivates Healthy and Enriching Friendships

Photo by Mark Harrington (Flickr)

It's almost time to celebrate the seventh annual International Day of Friendship held on July 30 this year. Established by the United Nations (UN), special events held on this day promote peace and community. As my girls and I plan a fun picnic for all of our friends, I reflect on how play cultivates healthy and enriching friendships for our kids.

1. Play Builds Important Communication Skills

Communication is more than talking. It also involves reading body language, expressing opinions, and understanding what other people are saying. I've observed that play builds all of these important communication skills and more. As my girls play, they learn how to communicate better on and off the playground.

2. Play Teaches Kids to Share Toys and Play Fair

The other day, I heard my girls arguing about which game to play. They did eventually choose one, but their argument reminded me that learning to share and play fair takes time. That's why kids need to play. As they take turns on the swings, compromise when choosing games, and share everything from the soccer ball to art supplies, they develop important life skills.

3. Play Increases Self-Expression

Most of the parents I know want their kids to express themselves and feel comfortable sharing their opinions, interests, and thoughts. I believe play increases a child's ability to express their true selves. First, it helps them learn what they like and who they are, and then it helps them practice sharing their opinions, interests, and thoughts with others.

4. Play Helps Kids Establish Boundaries

I never thought about helping my kids establish boundaries until I watched my younger daughter get bullied on the playground a few years ago. That's when I realized I needed to teach her how to stand up for herself in a healthy, positive way. Now, we talk often about how she wants to be treated and how she should treat others. With these boundaries, she's able to establish mutually respectful and healthy friendships.

5. Play Develops Social Skills

Kids aren't born knowing how to make friends, listen to others, or be empathetic. I've watched my girls develop these social skills while playing. They've both learned how to approach kids they don't know, listen to what other kids say, and understand spoken and unspoken emotions during play.

6. Play Boosts Self-Esteem

With a healthy self-esteem, kids feel confident in their abilities, accept their mistakes, and see their good qualities. It equips them to be successful in all areas of life, and I've discovered that play boosts kids' self-esteem. As they learn new skills, handle winning and losing, and grow their friendships, their self-esteem gets a boost, too.

7. Play Creates Fun, Engaging Environments

When kids have fun together, their friendships thrive. They bond as they spend time together laughing together, learning new things, and achieving goals. While I typically let my girls choose what they want to play, I also make sure they have a supply of games, art supplies, and options that encourage fun and engagement as they play with friends.

This year, my girls and I plan to celebrate the International Day of Friendship with a big play date. Play is important because it cultivates healthy and enriching friendships. How will you celebrate?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Guide to Choosing the Best Sunscreen for Your Family

Photo by sabreguy29 (Flickr)

Sunscreen is important as we play outside in the summer and year-round because it prevents sunburn, skin cancer, and early skin aging. There are dozens of choices, though, and I always spend way too much time guessing which one is best. This year, I compiled a guide to help me learn more about the different types of sunscreen. Use it to choose the best one for your family.

Why SPF Matters

The first thing I look for when shopping for sunscreen is the SPF. SPF stands for sun protection factor, and it measures sunburn protection. According to the American Cancer Society, everyone should use at least SPF 15. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends SPF 30.

I always thought that sunscreen with a higher SPF would protect skin better, but it turns out that experts don't recommend it. Sunscreens stop providing additional UVA protection after SPF 15, and high-SPF products may include higher amounts of sun-blocking chemicals that you may not be comfortable applying to your kids' skin. It's also easy to get lax about reapplying sunscreen with a high SPF every two hours as recommended because you think you're covered for way longer than that.

Read Sunscreen Ingredients

In addition to SPF, I check a sunscreen's ingredients. The words are usually hard to pronounce, but in a nutshell, they reveal if it's a chemical or mineral sunscreen or a combination of both.

Chemical sunscreens are also called chemical absorbers or organic sunscreens because they contain ingredients built on carbon molecules. Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation energy, transform that energy into heat, and disperse it throughout your skin. If you see benzophenones, cinnamates, octinoxate, oxybenzone, PABA derivatives, and salicylates on the ingredients list, the sunscreen is chemical.

Mineral sunscreens are also called physical blockers or inorganic sunscreens. They reflect and then scatter UV radiation. Identify a mineral sunscreen when you see ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

Consider Photostability and Comedogenicity

Here are more long words that are good to know: "photostability" and "comedogenicity." I know they seem intimidating, but they're vital to understand as you choose the best sunscreen for your family.

Photostability refers to how well a sunscreen continues to protect skin when it's exposed to UV light. You want a product with high photostability, since it will provide ongoing protection. Typically, mineral sunscreens are photostable while chemical sunscreens vary from high to low photostability. I suggest you look for the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recommendation on the bottle because it's only given to sunscreens that meet the organization's rigid photostability standards.

Comedogenicity describes how likely the product is to clog pores. The ingredients in mineral sunscreens usually have a low comedogenicity, making them perfect for baby sunscreen products. Chemical sunscreens typically have a higher comedogenicity that might be irritating to your skin.

Does Brand Matter?

When I grew up, my mom slathered me in Coppertone, and I relive my childhood every time I see this brand! Brand really doesn't matter, though. It's more important that you choose a sunscreen with three features.

  1. Broad-spectrum protection. When you use a broad-spectrum or full-spectrum sunscreen, you're protected from both UVA rays that cause premature aging, wrinkling, and cancer and UVB rays that cause sunburn.
  2. Water-resistance. Sunscreens that are water-resistant maintain their SPF for 40 minutes as you swim or sweat.
  3. Likeability. Whether you choose a cream, lotion, gel, stick, or spray sunscreen, you're more likely to use it if you and your kids like the texture, aroma, and coverage.

In addition to these three features, pay attention to application! Otherwise, you limit your sunscreen's effectiveness. First, apply at least an ounce of sunscreen to dry skin 30 minutes before you head outside. Then, reapply every two hours or more frequently if you're swimming, sweating, or fair-skinned. Make sure you cover all exposed skin, and use sunscreen on both sunny and cloudy days.

As you and your family play outdoors this summer, use this guide to help you choose the best sunscreen. It's an important part of your summer fun and your health!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, June 12, 2017

10 Ways to Help Kids to Keep Learning During Summer Vacation

Photo by Spirit-Fire (Flickr)

Summer vacation starts soon for my girls, and they're super-excited about sleeping in, hanging out with friends, and swimming. While I know they'll have tons of fun this summer, I also decided that this year, we'd be intentional about learning. I talked to my girls about it, and we came up with a list of ten educational and fun activities for kids during summer vacation.

Read

Reading is one of our favorite summer activities. In fact, my girls are already signed up for our public library's summer reading program, and they chose a favorite series we'll read together as a family before bed. Summer's also a great time for kids to discover new authors and genres or finish the required reading list for school.

Watch Birds

Last year, we hung a bird feeder that attracted more than a dozen different birds to our backyard. They were amazed at how many different bird species came to visit! This year, my girls plan to start a birding journal with pictures and info about all of our feathered visitors.

Go Geocaching

If you're looking for an adventurous and active way to learn, I suggest geocaching. It's a fun way to explore nature, meet people, and practice math, social studies, and science skills. My daughters have already updated our GPS and are eager to explore.

Plan a Family Day

We usually plan a big vacation every summer, but this year, we're taking several day trips. I've already given each of my girls the responsibility to plan one of our family days. They're discussing where they want to go and what they want to do, and I appreciate that they'll learn how to stay on budget, make reservations, and prep meals as they schedule our adventure.

Write a Summer Journal

On the first day of school, my younger daughter always has to write an essay about her summer vacation. She decided to get a head start on that project this year via a summer journal. She plans to fill a notebook with essays and drawings about her fun activities, and she even reserved a section to record interesting facts she learns.

Cook Together

I'm always looking for new family-friendly recipes, and what better way to test new dishes than by cooking together! As my girls and I choose and prepare new recipes, they'll have fun, exercise food safety, practice fractions while measuring ingredients, and hone their cooking talents.

Learn a New Hobby

If your kids are like mine, they love arts and crafts. My older daughter already asked if she can learn how to sew this summer, and my younger daughter wants to take an art class. Whether your kids are interested in sports, jewelry, or rockets, encourage them to expand their horizons and explore a new hobby.

Make Music

I found out recently that music improves learning, so we'll definitely add music to our summer vacation. My girls and I will share playlists and check out all of the free concerts in our community. Your kids can also continue music lessons, learn to play a new instrument, or make their own rain sticks, maracas, and rattles from household items to make music.

Adopt a Country

To learn more about our family's cultural heritage and expand my girls' worldview this summer, we're going to adopt a country. My girls will research foods, schooling, and everyday life as they discover more about where they come from and what life is like in other parts of the world.

Play Outside

Outdoor play is definitely a priority during our summer vacation! My girls love open-ended free time to play. It's fun, and it helps them relax, get creative, and appreciate nature.

School might be out for summer vacation, but my girls will continue to learn with these ten fun activities. Will your kids join us?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Blossoming Yogis: 7 Reasons Why Yoga Is Wonderful For Kids

Photo by Ilona (Flickr)

This school year, my younger daughter's teacher started doing yoga with her students every morning. The kids love it because it's fun, and the teacher has seen huge improvements in the students' behavior, attitudes, and moods. I'm amazed at the benefits these blossoming yogis gain! Seven particularly helpful benefits illustrate why yoga is wonderful for kids.

Increases Physical Activity

My girls love sports, and I can tell that my younger daughter is more coordinated and flexible this year. I think that's because of yoga, which increases strength, balance, flexibility, coordination, and spatial awareness. But what if your child doesn't enjoy physical activities or participate in organized sports? Yoga gives them a gentle way to stay physically active and keep moving.

Relieves Stress

In the midst of life's busyness, school pressures, and other challenges, our kids can feel intense stress. Yoga provides the perfect escape. Not only does it promote inner harmony, but the movement also releases tension and increases feelings of well-being, making yoga an ideal everyday activity for kids.

Improves Body Awareness and Appreciation

While I've noticed an improvement in my daughter's coordination since she started yoga, I also found out that it helps kids develop dexterity and motor skills. They also gain a greater awareness of how their bodies move and function as individual muscles, bones, and joints and as one unit. This body awareness and appreciation can motivate kids to make healthy choices that protect their body and ensure that it functions properly now and into the future.

Boosts Self-Esteem and Confidence

Every time my daughter meets a milestone in yoga, like beating her balance record or mastering a new pose, her face lights up. I love to see her confidence grow! I also appreciate that she puts the confidence, self-esteem, perseverance, and patience she gains from yoga into practice during everyday life at school, with friends, and during social activities.

Develops Focus and Concentration

Mastering yoga moves requires incredible focus and concentration. Kids must clear their minds and focus their attention on bending and twisting their bodies into position. This practice on the yoga mat transfers into the classroom and every arena of daily life. Our kids can get better grades in school and quiet their minds in a variety of situations because they learned to focus and concentrate while doing yoga.

Improves Self-Regulation

Therapists often suggest that patients with anxiety, anger, or fear should focus on controlling their breathing. This exercise quiets negative thoughts, calms strong emotions, and gives the person time to think. Yoga does the same thing for kids. They can use the skills they learn from yoga to regulate their bodies, minds, and emotions throughout the day.

Connects Kids to Nature

Yoga is filled with nature references. Whether our kids do an animal pose like the mouse, lion, or dog or a nature pose like the tree, sun, or mountain, they are connecting with nature and gaining a greater appreciation for the environment and the role they play in the world.

Yoga has definitely given my daughter these seven benefits and more. I highly recommend that all kids become blossoming yogis. How could your child benefit from yoga?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, May 26, 2017

9 Ways That Play Builds Self-Esteem in Children

Photo by HOPE Art (Flickr)

Kids with healthy self-esteem feel good about themselves and are confident in their abilities. They know they're valued and accepted, and they feel prepared to face any challenge. I want my girls to develop those characteristics, so I encourage them to play. Play builds confidence and self-esteem in nine ways.

Achievement

Do you know the look on your child's face when they succeed in building a fort, writing a song, or mastering a trick shot in basketball? Those achievements build their confidence and encourage them to continue trying and accomplishing new things.

Decision-Making

I'm a strong advocate for teaching kids to make decisions, and play offers the perfect training ground to learn decision-making skills. As kids decide what and how to play, they develop a value system, figure out who they are, and become more confident advocating for themselves, all essential for making smart decisions every day.

Independence

For Mother's Day this year, my daughters made me breakfast in bed. All of the hours we spent hanging out together in the kitchen over the past few years really paid off for me, and I'm grateful! I'm also proud of my independent young women. They're confident in their talents, abilities, and strengths, many of which they learned during play.

Skill Improvement

I remember the first time my older daughter tried to blow bubbles. She was only two, but she huffed and puffed on that bubble wand with all her might until she finally figured out how to make it work. It was adorable! Like learning to sew, riding a bike, or kicking a soccer ball, blowing bubbles is just one of thousands of skills kids learn as they play, and each new skill reinforces their value, confidence, and self-esteem.

Perseverance

Most kids (and adults!) don't like to make mistakes or fail, but mistakes or failures teach perseverance. Will our kids give up when they can't figure out how to build their new model train set, or will they keep trying until they get it? Every time kids face a challenge as they play, they learn something and develop perseverance, a character trait that boosts their confidence and equips them to face future challenges inside and outside of the playroom.

Resilience

My older daughter was devastated last year when she wasn't chosen for the school play. However, she decided to take a theater class over the summer and practiced her newfound skills in front of the mirror every day. This year, she landed a role and is super-excited. I'm proud of her, too, for turning her disappointment into an opportunity to learn and grow. The resilience she is developing is an important part of self-esteem and will help her stand up when life gets tough.

Risk-Taking

We tried rock-climbing for the first time last week at a new gym. Both of my girls were scared at first, but they were brave and actually reached the top of the wall! It's awesome when kids feel confident enough to trust their abilities. They're then more willing to embrace new activities, even ones that are challenging, scary, or risky.

Safety

Feelings play an important role in building self-esteem. When our kids feel safe exploring their interests, cultivating their talents, and achieving their goals during play time, they are more likely to feel confident and try other new things in the future.

Peer Support

In addition to solo play, I encourage my girls to play with peers. They feel valued as they contribute to the team's goal, and they thrive as they hear encouragement like, "Great job designing the set for our play" or "I couldn't have finished this art project without you."

A child with healthy self-esteem feels confident, valued, and empowered. Let's encourage our kids to play, since it builds self-esteem in nine ways.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

10 Ways That Play Cultivates Creativity in Children

Photo by Cambodia4kids.org Beth Kanter (Flickr)

When kids are born, they're highly creative. Each generation becomes a little less creative, though, and that creativity crisis bothers me. I want my girls and kids everywhere to spend their lives creating and producing original and useful ideas, things, and discussions. If you agree, encourage your kids to play because it cultivates creativity in ten ways.

Solve Problems

Most of life's problems can be solved in more than one way, so it pays to think outside of the box. Play helps kids begin to develop essential creative problem-solving skills. As they build with blocks, climb the jungle gym, and enjoy open-ended toys, they use their imaginations and discover creative solutions that help them succeed inside and outside of the playroom.

Learn to Adapt

When kids play, they must learn to adapt to different situations. Sometimes, they have to compromise on which game to play together, or they may need to choose a different playground activity if their first choice is unavailable. Their ability to adapt is an important part of the creative process, since it prompts them to find alternative solutions and be flexible as they engage with the world in new ways.

Develop Empathy

Our world is filled with uniqueness and diversity. To teach my girls to value these traits and show empathy to others, I encourage them to put on theatrical plays, play games from other cultures, and choose playmates of different ages and backgrounds. These diverse play activities help them see life from someone else's perspective and gain a better understanding of how other people think and feel.

Accept Mistakes

Mistakes are part of the creative process, and handling them is an essential life skill that everyone, including our kids, needs to develop. Even if their drawings don't quite look realistic or they build a sand castle that flops, they can get up and try again as they accept their mistakes and then move on.

Stay Curious

Young kids are infamous for asking questions. They're curious about the world and everything in it. For many kids, that curiosity fades over time. That's why I encourage my girls to play. It sparks their curiosity and helps them continue to ask questions and discover the uniqueness of the world.

Stimulate Learning

I get some of my best ideas when I'm playing. Whether I'm shooting hoops, playing tag, or drawing, play distracts me and frees my mind to think creatively. The next time your kids struggle to grasp a new concept in school or get frustrated trying to learn a new skill, like roller-skating, essay-writing, or algebra, encourage them to take a play break and reboot their brain.

Prompt Original Ideas

A friend of mine confessed recently that she threw away the rules to all of the board games in her house. She wants her kids to make up their own rules instead of feeling pressure to play the "right way." Because she encourages original ideas, her kids' creativity blossoms.

Stimulate the Imagination

As a toddler, my older daughter had an imaginary friend, and the conversations they shared made me laugh. Today, she's graduated to other imaginary play, including writing plays, drawing pictures, and making up games to play with our young neighbors. I love how play stimulates her imagination and helps her think in unusual and creative ways.

Develop Unique Self-Expression

Sometimes, my younger daughter gets so passionate, angry, or sad about something that she can't verbalize her emotions. I encourage her to harness play as a way to express herself. She can put on a puppet show, create art, or bang on her drum set as she shares how she feels in a unique way.

Interact With Their Environment

On the playground, kids interact with structures, tools, and environments in a variety of unique ways. The jungle gym transforms into a fort, and they can build an entire city from sticks, mud, and leaves. In fact, any time kids play, they discover unique ways to interact with their environment. Watch your kids the next time they play with water, shadows, or music and count all of the creative ways they see the world around them.

Our kids need creativity because it helps them succeed in life. As parents, teachers, and caregivers, we can cultivate creativity in 10 ways as we encourage our children to play. How will you entice your kids to play and be creative today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

11 Playful Interview Questions to Spark Summer Enthusiasm!

Photo by Billy McCreary (Flickr)

Do you know what your kids want to do this summer? I want my girls to have the best summer ever, so I decided to ask them 11 playful interview questions. Because they get to help plan our summer activities, they're now really excited about all of the fun we're going to have. These questions can spark your kids' enthusiasm, too, and ensure that they enjoy their best summer ever!

1. What parks do you want to visit?

In our community, there's one park that features a cooling wading pool that definitely made my girls' to-visit list! My girls want to visit an amusement park, too, since they love rides.

2. What healthy snacks do you want to eat?

The fresh summer air makes my girls hungry. I don't want them eating junk food all summer, though, so I challenge them to find healthy snack options. Their choices include fresh radishes from our garden, homemade guacamole, and whole-grain pretzels. Yum!

3. What kind of art materials would you like to play with?

Art is one activity both of my girls enjoy, which means they spend a lot of time working on projects over the summer. This year, they're excited to use chalk for sidewalk drawings, and they want me to buy felt, charcoal, and rubber stamps for their projects.

4. What would you like to read about?

My girls love playing outside, but I encourage them to read, too, as they expand their minds, practice this important skill, and relax between activities. As a bonus, they earn cool prizes from our local library and a free book from Barnes & Noble's reading program! Yay for summer reading!

5. Which friends do you want to play with?

Both of my girls have good friends from school who they want to play with this summer. They also have friends in other school districts and cousins who live several hours away, and summer is the perfect time to set up play dates with their favorite playmates!

6. What kinds of field trips do you want to take?

While browsing an online parenting group, I found several fun field trip ideas. We can visit a petting zoo, railroad museum, or interactive Lego display. I'm sure there are dozens of kid-friendly field trip options in your area, too!

7. What physical activities do you want to do?

Bike-riding, bowling, and roller-skating top my girls' to-do list this summer. They can't wait to have more time to get outside and play!

8. What uniquely summer activity is a must-do?

For us, swimming tops our must-do list! My girls have already made a list of local pools they want to visit. Now, we just have to find new swimsuits.

9. What new toy do you want to play with?

Homemade slime is the new big thing in our neighborhood, and my girls have asked to make their own slime this summer. They even started researching instructions online and sharing their favorite how-to videos with me.

10. What's a new skill you'd like to learn?

Last year, my older daughter decided to become a better photographer. She spent hours taking and editing pictures. This year, she wants to learn how to knit, and my younger daughter is interested in sketching horses. They're going to have a lot of fun learning these new skills.

11. What does your dream summer day look like?

During the school year, our days are structured, but summer means we can relax a little bit. While we still keep busy, my girls appreciate planning at least one dream summer day, complete with sleeping in, no chores, and doing their favorite activities.

This summer can be the best one yet for you and your kids! Ask your kids these 11 playful interview questions as you spark your kids' summer enthusiasm and get them ready to have fun. What other playful interview questions can ignite your kids' desire to play and have fun?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, May 1, 2017

Fresh Air, Twinkling Skies: 9 Tips for Camping With Kids

Photo by Steve Wainright (Flickr)

Camping is quickly becoming one of my family's favorite outdoor activities! We love the fresh air, twinkling skies, and never-ending fun. Over the years and through much trial and error, I've developed a list of nine tips that make camping with kids fun and safe. Check them out before your next camping adventure.

1. Practice Camping at Home

Set up a tent in your living room, backyard, or driveway and spend the night camping at home. I did this with my girls, and it gave them a better idea of what to expect when we went camping for real.

2. Go Day-Camping

Before your first overnight camping trip, visit a local campsite for the day. Check out the campground, hike the trails, and enjoy a picnic lunch as you familiarize your kids with the camping experience and help them feel comfortable with the campground.

3. Start Small

When you're ready to camp for real, ease into it. Plan a simple overnight visit to a local campground, and only pack absolute essentials. A successful first camping experience can lead to more successful and bigger trips in the future. There's no need to rush off hours away or pack everything, including the kitchen sink.

4. Teach Safety Protocols

Camping is definitely fun! But like any outdoor activity, there are risks. Keep your kids safe when you teach them safety protocols like these:

  • Never wander away from the campsite or trail alone.
  • Practice fire and grill safety.
  • Don't touch or disturb wildlife.
  • Check for ticks at least once a day.
  • Wear insect repellant and sunscreen.
  • Carry a whistle and use it if you get lost.
  • Wash hands often, especially after playing in the dirt or using the bathroom and before eating.

5. Prepare for the Weather

On one of our first camping adventures, we got soaked during an afternoon thunderstorm. I learned my lesson the hard way, and we always prepare for the weather now.

  • Wear layers for protection during those chilly mornings and evenings around the campfire.
  • Remember your rain gear, including rain coats and extra socks.
  • Pack sunscreen and hats (for hiking or as you hang out at your campsite).

6. Involve Your Kids in the Planning

Kids are more likely to get excited about camping and participate in the fun when they have a say in what you see, do, and eat. Before our camping trips, we gather as a family and discuss activities and the menu together.

7. Pack Fun Toys

Part of camping is the adventure outdoors! My girls love birding, hiking, and exploring around the campground, but we also pack a few fun toys. Here are our favorites.

  • Marshmallow launcher
  • Flying discs
  • Soccer, football or baseball equipment
  • Water cannons
  • Card games

8. Bring a Few Comforts

It's a good idea to pack lightly on your camping adventures, but I do recommend that kids bring at least one comfort item. They can use their favorite blankie, toy, or stuffed animal friend for comfort in case they feel anxious, scared, or overwhelmed on your adventure.

9. Stick to Your Usual Routine

Vacation is a time to get away from everyday life, but I notice that my girls function better, experience fewer meltdowns, and are more eager to play when we maintain their normal sleep and meal schedules. For the best camping experience, consider sticking to your kids' usual routine, too.

When your family is ready to start camping, keep these nine tips in mind. They ensure your entire family enjoys the fresh air, twinkling skies, and plentiful activities on your camping adventure. What other tips would you recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, April 24, 2017

11 Ways to Spark Enthusiasm For Nature in Children

Photo by Ed Ivanushkin (Flickr)

Only six percent of kids between the ages of nine and 13 play outside because they want to. I'm determined to take action to change this statistic! I invite you to join me. Try one or more of these 11 activities as you spark a child's enthusiasm for nature and encourage them to play, explore, and take care of the environment.

Watch Clouds

Warm spring days provide the perfect backdrop for cloud-watching. Together, you and your kids can lie on a blanket and watch the different clouds float by in the sky. Take turns identifying the types of clouds you see and all of the interesting shapes.

Observe Celestial Events

When I hear about meteor showers or planet appearances in my area, I set up an observation center in our backyard. Equipped with a telescope, blankets, and hot chocolate, my girls and I have the best view of these significant events and learn more about our wonderful world.

Go Birding

Every spring, my girls and I hit the local trails and parks to see the dozens of migrating birds that make their annual appearance in our hometown. Help your kids get excited about bird-watching when you research local birds online or borrow birding books from your library.

Inspect Small Creatures

Kids can learn a lot from inspecting bugs, worms, ladybugs, caterpillars, and even spiders in their natural habitats. I remember the first time my girls and I sat in our backyard and watched these amazing creatures walk, eat, and live. They had fun, learned a lot, and even got over their fear of the small creatures they used to call "creepy crawlies."

Plant a Garden

If your kids love veggies like mine do, plant your own garden! You can also cultivate flowers or herbs in your backyard or in patio containers as you prompt your kids to spend time outdoors.

Read Nature Books

When your kids would rather read than go outside, introduce them to nature books. These books can teach kids about nature:

  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
  • Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  • The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
  • The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle

Take Nature Photos

Instead of fighting your kids to put down their cellphones, challenge them to go outside and take pictures of flowers, wildlife, and other natural sights. We like capturing snapshots of nature's beauty during visits to our local parks, nature trails, and even our backyard.

Walk Outside Daily

Make it a daily habit to take walks with your kids. You can walk around the block, to a local park, or on a nearby trail as you observe nature and encourage your children to go outside every day.

Jump in Puddles

Think you can only go outside if the weather is sunny? Jump in puddles and have fun appreciating wet weather.

Create a Yearlong Nature Journal

Nature changes and grows with the seasons. Find a field, forest, or other habitat and observe these changes in a nature journal. You can include pictures, drawings, and other items that highlight the cycle of life.

Preserve Nature

Tap into your child's desire to make the world a better place when you preserve nature as a family. You can pick up litter on your street, set up a rainwater collection barrel in your yard, or find a restoration project in your community.

With these 11 activities, you can spark a child's enthusiasm for nature and help them have fun, explore, and take care of the environment. Which activity will you plan to enjoy today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Me, Myself, and I: 10 Benefits of Solo Play For Children

Photo by Alena Navarro- Whyte (Flickr)

My girls learn a lot when they play with other kids, and I encourage social play as often as possible. However, they do learn while playing solo, too. I know many parents feel concerned about letting their kids play alone, but kids gain ten key benefits from playing alone, making me, myself, and I time highly productive for children.

1. Increase Independence

It's important for kids to learn how to play well with other children, but they also need to be independent. When kids play solo, they become confident and comfortable making their own decisions, developing opinions, and becoming independent individuals.

2. Strengthen Personal Identity

Every child has unique likes and dislikes, interests, talents, and hobbies. Encourage solo play as you help your child discover what makes them tick. Over time, your child's personal identity will grow stronger, and they'll be more confident and secure as they embrace who they are.

3. Become Socially Independent

While my girls usually have access to at least one playmate, I've learned that solo play develops social independence. They become secure and confident in who they are, which allows them to stand up to bullies, play well with others, and feel comfortable in almost any group.

4. Promote Calmness

There is definitely a time and a place for wild and wacky play! But my girls need calm play, too, especially before naps and at bedtime. Solo play promotes calmness in their bodies and minds when they need that peace.

5. Teach Self-Regulation

When kids monitor and control their behavior, thoughts, and emotions based on their circumstances, they're exercising self-regulation. This skill helps them manage school, social, and other situations and is one they learn as they play alone.

6. Feel Comfortable Alone

When my older daughter started school, my younger daughter had to learn how to play alone. It took her several weeks to adjust, but she did eventually become comfortable playing alone. Because of this experience, I don't have to worry about how she'll entertain herself when no one else is around.

7. Overcome Separation Anxiety

Almost every child experiences separation anxiety at some point because it's a normal part of growing up. I know my girls didn't want me out of their sight during their toddler and preschool years. I gave them plenty of chances to play alone, though, and they did become more secure, less clingy, and better prepared for their first sleepovers with the grandparents and their first day of school.

8. Develop Imagination

During their last solo-play session, my older daughter drew a few elaborate mandalas and my younger daughter built an elaborate Lego castle. I was blown away by their imaginative ideas, particularly because imagination paves the way for academic, cognitive, and neurological development.

9. Foster Creativity

When playing in a group, it's easy for my girls to go with the flow and follow traditional game rules. Give kids a chance to play alone, though, and they start asking questions, thinking outside of the box, and finding unique solutions. This creativity definitely prepares them for real-world problems they will face.

10. Hone Talents

My girls' talent amazes me, and I see their talents improve every time they play alone. Whether they're putting on a play with their stuffed animals, shaping animal figures from paper, or drawing a coloring book, they're honing their unique talents, abilities, and skills that provide personal fulfillment and could turn into careers one day.

Me, myself, and I time gives children ten benefits and prepares for success as kids and adults. Whenever possible, I encourage my girls to take time for solo play. When will you schedule your child's next solo play date?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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