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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Work, Family, Play? You Bet! Why Play Belongs in Happy Adulthood

Photo by: gavidandrewstewart (Flickr)

When we hear the word "playtime," we associate it with children, right? It doesn't have to just apply to kids, as it can actually be good for adults too. Face it – as an adult, you have a ton of responsibilities. Take it from me, between your job and taking care of your children, your schedule is usually booked. It can be stressful, sure, but there are ways to get through it, and one of these is to have some playtime!

It might sound silly, but adults need playtime too, to ease the stress of the 'real world.' We have always been told that play is beneficial for children, but why can't it be for adults too? As an adult, here are some ways you can incorporate playtime into your schedule.

  1. Exercise – This can be either with your significant other, or even with your children, but exercise is important. Physical activity will not only help with your health from a physical standpoint, but mentally as well. Even when you're out with your children at the playground, for example, you can get some exercise in. Who is ready for an inchworm pull-up?
  2. Unleash your creativity – When it comes to things like your career, it's important to be creative. By engaging in playtime, you can work to enhance your creativity, and it's worked for me. I've found that even by playing board games, for example, they have helped to work my brain, make me think, force me to improvise at some points, and overall have increased my level of creativity.
  3. Play enhances relationships – In any relationship, it's important to keep things exciting for your significant other. Playtime is great in this sense, because along with it comes laughter, natural storytelling, creativity, communication, and fun. The best part about this is that the possibilities are endless. If you feel that your relationship could use something new and exciting to it, consider some ideas where you can find time to play – even reliving your childhood in some ways can be a fun date idea. Consider it!
  4. Just have fun – In the end, and most importantly, it's all about having fun. If anything, a game, whether it's a physical game outside or a more mind-challenging game inside the office walls, playtime could be a great team building activity wherever you work. I've suggested it at my job in the past, and while some may have been a little reluctant at first, it ended up going over very well. Now we have a designated day each month where we have a 'game night' at the office, at the conclusion of the work day. It's great!

The problem is that many adults feel as though they're too old to play, and this isn't the case. Playtime – even for adults – is important because it allows us to escape any stress that we may have in the "real world." As an adult, how do you incorporate playtime into your life?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, May 30, 2014

Happy Growing: How Playgrounds Boost Motor Skills

Photo by Listener42 (Flickr)

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

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

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

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

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, May 12, 2014

Free Ride: 7 Perks to Biking More and Driving Less

Photo by: Kullez (Flickr)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Dine and Shine: 7 Tips for a Peachy Picnic

Photo by: johnnyberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

5 Must-Visit Playgrounds Around the US

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About Colleen:

Source of all photos is Travel Firm Productions.

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

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

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