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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Happy Earth, Healthy Family: 9 Tips for Eco-Friendly Play and Parenting

Photo by Oregon Department of Transportation

As they play and go about their daily routines, our kids come in contact with at least 700,000 toxins. These chemicals harm our children and the environment. That's why I decided to fight back. I'm implementing nine tips that create a happy earth and a healthy family, and I hope you'll join me.

Invest in Eco-Friendly Toys

From baby's first rattle to the electronics our teens enjoy, eco-friendly toy options are everywhere. There are dozens of ways to invest in green toys for your kids, but my favorites are purging plastics, buying toys with a trusted manufacturer, and stocking multi-purpose toys.

Buy Used

Our home is filled with used books, furniture, and sports equipment. And you know what? These secondhand items work the same as new items! In thrift or consignment stores, at garage sales, or during neighborhood swaps, stock your home with used items, too, as you reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Collect Litter

In your neighborhood, park, or city, you can play a litter collection scavenger hunt game and reduce trash. We grab gloves and trash bags, then pick a few outrageous categories, like neon green bottles or baseball caps. The team that finds the most of these special items wins, but the environment also wins as we do our part to reduce litter.

Recycle Playground Equipment

When choosing playground equipment for the backyard or for your child's school, look for recycled options first. Whether you opt to relocate a gently used jungle gym from someone else's backyard or purchase recycled flooring, the kids have fun as you invest in their healthy future.

Wear Sustainable Clothing

I don't advocate that everyone run around naked, but I do encourage you to wear eco-friendly clothes. Choose options made from sustainable fiber sources like hemp and bamboo, and look for eco-friendly dyes, too. Personally, I also recommend secondhand clothing, donating your kids' gently used items, and gathering your kids for a monthly craft day when you repurpose outgrown clothing into shopping bags, winter gloves, and other functional stuff.

Eat Seasonal Snacks

My local farmers' market always sells a variety of fresh fruits and veggies that I turn into delicious snacks for the week. I feel good about buying local because this one step reduces carbon emissions and supports my organic farming neighbors. I realize, though, that not everyone has a local farmers' market. If that describes you, follow guidelines from the Environmental Working Group and buy organic milk, juice, and these produce items whenever possible:

  • Apples
  • Bell peppers
  • Blueberries
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries

Hydrate the Healthy Way

Staying hydrated is one of the most important parts of play, but we don't want our kids using water bottles that leak toxins. Instead, we use BPA-free sippy cups and stainless steel water bottles.

Implement Eco-Friendly Laundry Tips

Most kids I know get dirty when they play, and that means you have laundry and tons of it. Make your laundry routine eco-friendly when you:

  • Install a high-efficiency washer and reduce water usage.
  • Make your own laundry detergent.
  • Wash full instead of partial loads.
  • Use cloth diapers.
  • Hang your clothes to dry.

These five tips alone can yield big environmental savings and are easy on your wallet, too.

Use Non-Toxic Cleaners

Take a look around your kids' play room and you see dozens of surfaces. What chemicals are on your kids' toys, table, or floor? Clean the surfaces your kids touch every day with nontoxic cleaners. Baking soda and white vinegar are two of my favorite pantry products because they disinfect and clean. You can also dilute the cleaning products you already own as you take steps to clean green.

Maybe we can't control all of the chemicals in our kids' lives. But we can create a happy earth and healthy family when we take these nine steps. I'd also love to hear other ways you make play time and every day eco-friendly for your family.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, November 20, 2015

Climb to Success: 5 Ways That Play Preps Kids for the Future

Photo by LabyrinthX (Flickr)

What are your kids going to be when they grow up? My girls don't have their future life journeys figured out yet, but I know that I want them to be well-adjusted, healthy, and successful adults. That means they need to play today. How does play prepare our kids for the future? I've noticed that there are five specific ways our kids can climb to success as they play.

Improve Social Skills

As adults, we use social skills every day. We have to be comfortable around other people, and we need to be able to negotiate, communicate clearly, and express our emotions in healthy ways.

That's one reason why I encourage my girls to play. Every time they visit the playground, enjoy a play date at someone's house, or go outside for recess, they practice social skills. These opportunities improve and mature my kids and prepare them for adulthood.

Explore Different Roles

I'm a firm believer in empowering kids to understand their personalities, interests, and likes. I know, though, that children are a work in progress and need play to help them become more self-aware.

As they explore different roles and play house, tag, or soccer, they discover new things about themselves and about other people. They learn to put themselves in someone else's shoes and be more compassionate and empathetic.

Play also lets children discover their passions. I enjoy watching my girls pretend they're firefighters, teachers, and veterinarians. Who knows what career they'll ultimately choose, but for now, they're exploring new and different roles as they play, and that will help them be happier and more fulfilled as adults.

Establish Physical Activity Habits

I'm a big physical activity advocate because kids are less likely to be obese and more likely to be focused and engaged in school when they're active. Plus, kids who find a physical activity or sport they really enjoy are likely to stick with that activity when they grow up.

There's nothing wrong with playing video games or enjoying sedentary activities like reading, but I also encourage my girls to climb the park's jungle gym, hike a local trail, and roller-skate around the block at least daily. They need these play times for better health now and as they establish physical activity habits that last a lifetime.

Feel Comfortable Making Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. It's part of life. As adults, we can either embrace our mistakes and learn from them or feel depressed and useless when we mess up. I think we all can agree that we want our kids to know that mistakes happen and be comfortable when they fail. Those mistakes mean they're taking risks that help them grow.

Play time is a great time to learn how to make mistakes. As kids build block castles, throw a football, and practice drawing, they're figuring out that mistakes are normal, learning how to cope with their humanness, and honing their problem-solving skills. This resilience and ability to embrace mistakes can only help our kids in the future.

Promote Mental Health

Kids spend hours concentrating on academics every day in school. When they come home, they have homework, scheduled activities, and practices. When do they have time to relax, unwind, and play?

Kids need downtime in their daily schedule. A healthy work-life balance can reduce burnout and anxiety. Play also reduces depression. Shooting hoops, jumping rope, and building blocks are all activities that cam improve a child's current mental health and establish good mental health habits for them when they're adults.

Playtime today is essential for our kids' future success. They're more likely to be prepared for the real world thanks to lessons they learn during play. How will you encourage your kids to play and climb to success today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

10 Ways to Support Children Around the World

Photo by David Robert Bliwas (Flickr)

Of the 7 billion people living on earth today, a quarter of them, or 1,750,000,000, are 14 and younger. Those children are the future of our planet. They're the caretakers, parents, leaders, and thinkers of the future. What can we do today to support these kids? I can think of 10 supportive actions we can take today to support children around the world. Maybe my list will inspire you to help, too.

Donate to KaBOOM!

KaBOOM! promotes play and creates safe play environments for children around the world. In fact, they've built 16,300 playgrounds and served 8.1 million kids since 1996. Be part of their playful mission when you visit Kaboom.org and donate money, interact on social media, or volunteer your time.

Give Coats to Kids

A warm coat raises self-esteem, promotes pride, and builds excitement and joy for kids in need. Be part of providing kids in your community and around the country with a warm coat when you give money and other resources to Operation Warm.

Sponsor a Child Through Save the Children

You can't help every kid in the world escape poverty, but you can support Save the Children. By donating money, participating in a fundraiser, or sponsoring a child, you can provide medical treatment to newborns, tutor kids, and assist in disaster relief. Visit SavetheChildren.org and put 89 percent of your financial donation toward changing lives across the globe.

Volunteer at Your Local Library

Reading to kids improves their reading comprehension, standardized test scores, and chances of succeeding in life. Transform a child's life when you volunteer to read to kids at your local library.

Feed Hungry Children

As many as one in five kids in the U.S. are undernourished. We can change that statistic by donating an hour's wages, holding a bake sale, or volunteering with No Kid Hungry. The organization teaches nutrition and budgeting, operates food banks, and provides food to emergency relief organizations as it feeds our neighbors.

Fix Your Local Playground

Neglected playgrounds always make me feel a little sad as I think of the fun kids are missing. That's why I encourage you to take action in your neighborhood. Clean up trash, paint benches, and fix broken swing chains. You can also apply for grants or raise money for new equipment as you welcome kids to play safely.

Fund Doctors of the World

As many as 50,000 kids live on the streets of St. Petersburg, Russia. Did you know you can help those kids and children like them in 20 countries across the globe? Support Doctors of the World (DOW) with your financial donations and you combat epidemics, protect children's rights, and offer prenatal care.

Spend Device-Free Time With Your Kids

I appreciate that my kids need electronics for school projects and to stay in touch with family and friends, but they also need device-free time with me and each other. We unplug for dinner every night and at least one day a week. The experience builds stronger emotional bonds, boosts my kids' academic performance, and helps us have fun together. I encourage you to unplug with your family, too.

Support Reach Out and Read

Medical providers in all 50 states distributed 6.5 million books to kids in 2014. Be part of promoting literacy when you support Reach Out and Read. Donate money, volunteer, or buy a Ralph Lauren bookmark to support children's literacy.

Donate Birthday Presents

If your kids are like mine, they have enough stuff. This year, I'm challenging my girls to donate their birthday presents to kids in need. Instead of presents, their friends and family members can donate to a favorite children's charity in my girls' names as we all support kids around the world.

Are you ready to change the world one child at a time? Let's support kids with these 10 ideas. I can't wait to hear how you decide to make a difference!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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