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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Giddy Galaxy: 7 Playful Ways to Teach Kids About Space

Photo by Marc Cooper (Flickr)

A few weeks ago, I checked out a few fun holidays and discovered that April 14 is National Look Up at the Sky Day. My mind instantly started spinning because space is so interesting! I was excited to celebrate this fun day with my girls as we enjoyed these seven activities about visiting other planets, exploring far-away galaxies, and imagining life as an astronaut. Try out some of these ideas yourself to have fun and help your kids learn more about our giddy galaxy!

Play "Around the Galaxy"

Do your kids ever play the basketball game "Around the World" with their friends? Instead, play a game I call "Around the Galaxy." Use chalk to draw planets on the ground around the basketball hoop and take turns trying to make baskets from each planet, starting with Mercury. The first one to make baskets from all of the planets in order wins the game.

Talk About Planetary Environments

Every planet has different environments, climates, and features. For example, I learned last week that Neptune is stormy and Saturn is made entirely of gas. Learn more about these planetary features when you visit science websites or read library books. Then, challenge your kids to draw pictures of the aliens that would thrive on these planets. Whose alien will be the wackiest, most colorful, or most likely to survive?

Go Stargazing in a State Park

The sky is filled with notable astrological events every night, and a little research will show you which ones you can see. My girls and I grabbed our binoculars and a small telescope and headed to a nearby state park, in an area without many street lights or houses. From here, we could stargaze and observe heavenly wonders. It was so much fun!

Pretend You're Astronauts

I remember seeing astronauts on TV when I was a little girl and wishing I could travel to space. That will never happen in this lifetime, but that won't stop me from pretending that I'm an astronaut today! I challenged my girls to raid their dress-up bin and find items that could be used to make astronaut costumes. Your kids can also transform cardboard boxes into rocket ships and sit in them as they pretend they're traveling to Mars or visiting the moon.

Pretend That the Playground Is a Space Station on Another Planet

My girls and I frequently visit our local playground, but for National Look Up at the Sky Day, it became a space station on another planet. They used their imaginations to find aliens, plant life, and other creatures while exploring the jungle gym, swings, and slide.

Make Space Snacks

Turn your kitchen into a space station when you prepare a variety of space-themed snacks. I gave my girls cut fruit and let them design space ships. We even bought some freeze-dried astronaut food to add to our feast! Then, we ate our tasty space snacks during a picnic at our playground "space station."

Visit a Planetarium

In my city, we can tour the Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium. Field trips here are always fun and educational. If there's a planetarium near your home, take advantage of it as you learn about stars, planets, and space travel. You can visit virtual planetariums, too, if there's not one within easy travel distance.

I love National Look Up at the Sky Day! How about you? You and your kids can have fun playing and enjoy our giddy galaxy with some of these seven activities. Let me know which ones you choose!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, April 21, 2016

5 More Wonderful Play Advocates to Follow on Twitter

Photo by Dan Harrelson (Flickr)

A while back, I wrote a blog post about nine advocates on the playground of social media. It struck a chord with several people who shared how much they appreciated the post. One reader told me after she started following several of the advocates that she and her kids play more every day and are healthier than ever! Another reader said he's become more intentional about playing with his kids.

These encouraging stories made me wonder if maybe other parents and caregivers need a little play inspiration. I did some research and came up with another helpful list. This time, I found five wonderful play advocates. Learn more about them and why you should follow these advocates on Twitter!

@procm2

As a stay-at-home dad, @procm2 runs a day care. He's around kids all day and encourages the children in his care to play, explore, and experiment. Follow him on Twitter and you'll want to play, too! He always shares and retweets educational articles and inspirational quotes about play that help us become more playful parents and caregivers. His enthusiasm is definitely contagious!

@SaludToday

@SaludToday focuses on Latino health. They post about playtime, nutrition, recess, child obesity, and other related topics. While you'll want to read all of the informative posts, be sure to catch the weekly Twitter chat called #SaludTues. It's one of my favorite places to go for lively, insightful discussion. Join in with the volley of shared ideas, tips, and dialogue about how to improve the health of the Latino youth population and kids everywhere!

@Pgp_news

Find news about different play activities, the reasons why play is important, and different playgrounds around the world when you follow @Pgp_news. Their Twitter updates make finding new play ideas and new places to play easy. I recommend you check out the resources when you need a bit of inspiration or want to find a new play location. It will also remind you that play is indeed alive and thriving in locations across the world!

@Play2Health

Nine-time Ironman champ Meredith Kessler runs @Play2Health, an organization dedicated to play and being healthy. On the Twitter feed, you'll find a variety of information on all sorts of things related to kids' health, play time, and active schools. I've discovered insightful tips on why play is important, how play fights childhood obesity, and how play regulates emotions. I encourage every parent and caregiver I know to check it out and learn more about how to prioritize play and health.

@RaePica1

A respected Huffington Post blogger, author Rae Pica focuses on children and active learning. She is deeply dedicated to promoting the value of play and encouraging parents, teachers, and caregivers to encourage play. I love that she freely shares her insights and knowledge, so follow her at @RaePica1 and visit her website for information on why play is important and ideas about how you can keep your kids playing.

There's no time like right now to play! Get new ideas, support play initiatives, and have fun when you follow these five wonderful play advocates on Twitter. They influence my life every day, and I'd love to hear how they inspire you to play, too!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Gold Stars! 7 A+ Education Advocates to Follow on Twitter

Photo by Rex Pe (Flickr)

Did your teachers ever give you a gold star for acing a test, answering a question correctly, or paying attention in class? I love gold stars, and now it's my turn to pass a few on to education advocates. I follow these seven Twitter posters regularly and think they'll help you learn something from them, too.

@Edutopia

If you want massive and diverse resources, look no further than Edutopia. I'm blown away by the incredibly helpful game-based learning section, and I appreciate the focus on STEM learning. Edutopia also covers ways to incorporating technology in the classroom and the importance of focusing on emotional intelligence and academics. And did I mention that Edutopia is part of the George Lucas Educational Foundation? How cool is that?

@DellEDU

You've probably heard the Dell name associated with computers, but Dell Education posts a variety of tech-related information on their Twitter feed, too. Stay updated on ways to use and incorporate tech tools in and out of the classroom and follow global education and technological initiatives thanks to Dell's informative Twitter feed.

@KaBOOM!

As a regular reader of this blog, you're familiar with KaBOOM! because they're huge play advocates. However, I'm including their Twitter handle in a post about educators, too, because play is a huge part of a child's education. Kids perform better in school when they experience adequate play time, and many educators use play to reinforce lessons in the classroom. KaBOOM! works hard to give kids more play opportunities, and I appreciate their insight into how crucial play is for child development. I think you'll appreciate everything play does for our kids, too.

@Coolcatteacher

If you want to follow an educator who's impacted students worldwide, check out Vicki Davis. She's a teacher and author who focuses on individuality, play, reading, and more. You'll find everything from back-to-school shopping tips to homework help on her Twitter feed. You don't want to miss her!

@innovativeedu

Lisa Nielson thought school was boring and irrelevant, so she became a teacher. Now, she uses social media as a platform for promoting supportive learning environments and passion-driven learning. She wants kids to be prepared for success in the future, and she encourages educators and parents to think outside of the traditional teaching box. I appreciate her innovative message and its relevance to our kids.

@wfryer

From teaching educators about how to maximize iPads in the classroom to helping parents navigate their kids' social media usage, Dr. Wesley Fryer discusses all things education and tech on his Twitter feed. He's a teacher, technology director, and advocate for change, and he's approachable, knowledgeable, and helpful.

@cybraryman1

When you want a one-stop-shop for information that's relevant to parents, educators, and students, follow Cybrary Man Jerry Blumengarten. He worked in education for more than 30 years and began cataloging Internet information when he served as a teacher-librarian at his school. I appreciate how he writes tips for teachers and parents, and I learn something new every time he posts to Twitter.

Educators build our future as they teach our kids. I'm grateful for the teachers my girls have, and I encourage you to follow these seven education advocates. They each deserve a gold star, don't you agree?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, April 18, 2016

Budding Enthusiasm: 11 Ideas for a Playful Spring Scavenger Hunt

Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives (Flickr)

Spring is one of my favorite seasons because warmer temperatures mean my girls and I can spend more time outside! One way we welcome this season is by hosting an annual scavenger hunt. We grab our cameras, notebooks, and binoculars before we tie on our sturdy hiking shoes and explore our backyard, local park, and nature preserve. Your kids will enjoy this fun and educational activity, too, as you welcome spring and find these 11 items.

Spring Flowers

I love the sight of spring flowers. They remind me that gardening season has arrived! Encourage your kids to find spring flowers in nature. They can get bonus points for each unique flower they photograph, draw, or identify.

Leaf Buds

Leaf buds on trees are another symbol of new growth and warmer temperatures. Remind your kids of how the trees were bare during your winter scavenger hunt, and ask them to find as many leaf buds as they can now that spring has arrived.

Seeds

We've already started our garden seeds in the spare bedroom, but seeds abound in nature, too. Set your kids on a hunt for a variety of seeds in different shapes, sizes, and locations.

Animal Tracks

Squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits get active as the weather warms. Your kids can look for these and other animal tracks on your next nature walk in the forest or around your neighborhood.

Rabbits, Squirrels, Chipmunks, and Woodchucks

If the ground is still slightly frozen, your kids may be unable to see animal tracks. Maybe they can see live animals, though. I give my girls credit, too, for all of the evidence of live animals they find, including dens, trails, or droppings.

Earthworms

From the time my girls were little, I taught them to appreciate the benefits of earthworms. We love finding earthworms in spring ground. How many worms can your kids find?

Birds

Birds begin migrating, nesting, and feeding in earnest when the weather grows warmer. See if your kids can take a picture of a bird. Award extra credit for all of the bird species they find!

Five Touchable Items

Encourage your kids to explore nature with their sense of touch. They can find objects that are smooth, rough, and sharp. Make sure they know not to touch the objects, though, or your kids could end up like my daughter last year; she pricked her finger on a thorn!

Something Fragrant

Keeping with the sensory theme, include fragrant items on your scavenger hunt list. Increase the challenge when you include items that smell earthy, edible, and stinky.

Colors of the Rainbow

Rainbows are colorful, and those colors are present in nature, too. Remind your kids to look up, down, and under and behind objects as they find red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet in nature.

Lost Toys

This scavenger hunt item is one of my favorites! Now that the snow has melted, my girls search the backyard for at least one toy they forgot to bring into the garage in the fall. As a bonus, their cleanup efforts jump-start our landscape prep as we anticipate summer fun.

Spring is here! Cultivate your children's budding enthusiasm with a playful spring scavenger hunt. Whether you use these 11 items or make your own checklist, now's a great time to get outside and have fun together!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, April 14, 2016

15 Wonderful Quotes to Empower Educators

Photo by Norton Gusky (Flickr)

According to Stanford economist Eric Hanushek, teachers have more influence over a child's success than the curriculum or class size. Good teachers increase a child's chances of going to college, decrease the incidence of teen pregnancies, and can even influence a child's future income, according to The New York Times. I know my girls and their needs well, and I appreciate teachers who care about them, invest in them, and connect with them, so if you're a teacher, thank you for your hard work and dedication. May these 15 inspirational quotes empower and encourage you as you work hard on behalf of kids every day.

  1. "A teacher is a compass that activates the magnets of curiosity, knowledge, and wisdom in the pupils." (Ever Garrison, author and teacher)
  2. "Education is not filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire." (William Butler Yeats, Nobel Prize-winning author and poet)
  3. "The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you." (B.B. King, blues musician)
  4. "Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." (Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist)
  5. "Teach the children so it will not be necessary to teach the adults." (Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States)
  6. "Each of us has a fire in our hearts for something. It's our goal in life to find it and keep it lit." (Mary Lou Retton, Olympic gold medal gymnast)
  7. "The more that you read, the more things you will know, the more that you learn, the more places you'll go." (Dr. Seuss, writer and illustrator)
  8. "What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge and not knowledge in pursuit of the child." (George Bernard Shaw, playwright)
  9. "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education." (Martin Luther King Jr., minister, humanitarian, and civil rights leader)
  10. "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." (Nelson Mandela, politician, anti-apartheid revolutionary, and philanthropist)
  11. "I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think." (Socrates, one of the founders of Western philosophy)
  12. "Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace." (Confucius, Chinese teacher, politician, and philosopher)
  13. " A child mis-educated is a child lost." (John F. Kennedy, 35th president of the United States)
  14. "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." (John Dewey, philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer)
  15. "If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people." (Chinese proverb)

Teachers matter! I know that I'm grateful for the teachers in my kids' lives who inspire them to think creatively, encourage them to use their imaginations, and push them to do their best in all of their subjects. If you're a teacher, think about these quotes often to help you stay empowered, inspired, and encouraged while you do the important work you do!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, April 11, 2016

Pour Some Fun: 9 Ways to Play in the Rain

Photo by Marlon Dias (Flickr)

When was the last time you played in the rain? I love rainy days because they give my girls and I the perfect opportunity to have fun and learn new things. According to Alfred Wainwright, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing," and I totally agree. Here are nine ways your family can join us in pouring some fun as you play and learn in the rain.

Go for a Walk

You could stay inside and watch TV the next time it rains, but I prefer to exercise outside. Most kids need at least one hour of physical activity every day, so don't let the weather keep your kids inside. Slip into your rain boots, grab your rain coats, and take a walk in the rain. It's good exercise and gives your kids a fun chance to explore the neighborhood as they enjoy the weather.

Race Boats

Last week, the rain turned our street into a small river. We grabbed our paper boats and raced them to the intersection. Your kids can turn leaves, sticks, bark, and other objects into boats, too, as you look for flowing water and enjoy a little friendly competition.

Make Mud Castles

Wet dirt acts differently than dry dirt, and playing in the mud makes people of all ages happier, healthier, smarter, and more flexible, creative, and connected to nature. Grab your beach tools the next time it rains and discover the benefits of mud as you and your kids create works of art. What fun mud-castle designs will your kids create on a rainy day?

Look for Animal Tracks

All kinds of critters scamper around during rain storms and immediately after the rain. Head to the woods or your backyard and look for squirrel, worm, deer, and bird tracks. Your kids can earn extra credit if they find and correctly identify the tracks they see.

Play Sports

What sports do your kids like to play? Try playing those games in the rain. Talk about how the ball moves differently when it's wet or how you have to be a little more cautious when running on wet grass as you have fun playing soccer, football, tag, or tug-of-war during a rain storm.

Host a Dance Contest

My girls don't usually need an excuse to dance, and we certainly take advantage of the rhythm of the rain to get creative. We make up our own jigs, get silly, and have fun dancing. Your kids can, too, when you host a dance contest outside in the rain.

Compare and Contrast

I'm always amazed at the changes rain makes to the objects I see every day. Take time during the next rain shower to compare and contrast the differences and similarities between wet and dry days. You'll have fun exploring your backyard or neighborhood as your kids practice the art of observation and hone their detective skills.

Rain Painting

Who says you can't paint in the rain? My girls and I have used powdered paint, food coloring, and washable markers to create works of art in the rain. It's fun to be creative in a different environment and to see the effects of raindrops on different paint media and paper types.

Jump in Puddles

When my girls were little, they never missed an opportunity to jump in puddles. Now, we all get in on the action when it rains. We jump, hop, skip, gallop, and run through as many puddles as we can. It's a ton of fun and helps us stay active no matter what the weather is like.

The next time it rains, head outside with your kids. Try one of these nine suggestions or create your own list of outdoor activities as you pour some fun and learn new things.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Happy Hearts, Healthy Minds: 7 Emotional Benefits of Play

Photo by fauxto_digit (Flickr)

"Free play gives children an outlet to express their emotions and feelings and helps them to develop a sense of who they are." I love this quote by play experts and advocates KaBOOM! because it expresses exactly why I want my girls to play as much as possible. I want them to be happy and healthy. If you want the same for your kids, discover seven more emotional benefits of play.

Play provides a natural outlet for expressing emotions.

Because kids often don't know how to verbalize what they're feeling, they internalize emotions like fear, anger, or worry. Play can be just the activity that draws these emotions and feelings into the open. While running, jumping, and swinging, our kids relax their minds, let go of aggression, and experience joy as they express their emotions in a natural, welcoming, nurturing, and non-judgmental environment.

Play promotes healthy laughter.

Don't you love hearing your kids laugh? My girls' laughter is one of my favorite sounds. Not only does it show me that they're having fun, but laughter also provides amazing emotional benefits and is the perfect medicine for our kids, as it relaxes their entire body, boosts their immune system, and enhances their relationships.

Play develops communication and empathy skills.

When kids play together, they develop communication and empathy skills. I always appreciate how my girls can talk out a problem or compromise as they play with each other, friends, and me. Because of play, our kids will enjoy more emotionally fulfilling friendships and relationships now and throughout their lives.

Play improves a child's sense of self.

Every kid needs to discover their strengths, what they like, and what makes them happy, and play builds this sense of self-worth. During play, kids can decide if they excel at physical fitness, leadership, encouragement, or another skill. No matter what our kids are good at, they build their self-worth while playing.

Play is critical for stress relief.

Being a kid is stressful, but I've seen play help so many kids who are going through difficult home situations, friendship tests, school struggles, and other challenges. With fantasy, active, and free play, our kids manage stress and experience relief that helps them feel normal and achieve emotional stability.

Play builds a child's sense of accomplishment.

When my girls were little, I watched them try to master the monkey bars. They struggled, fell, and tried again until one day they finally succeeded. Because they set and achieved a goal, I watched their self-worth skyrocket. Now, they have the confidence to set goals at school and in their extracurricular activities thanks to play.

Play helps kids make friends.

Isn't friendship one of the best parts of childhood? Having a buddy, being accepted, and knowing that you're loved really build our kids up emotionally. By taking your children to the park, on a hike, or to your backyard for playtime, you help them make and keep friends.

Play is about more than fun or exercise. It actually builds the emotional lives of our kids and helps them have happy hearts and healthy minds. I love how play builds my kids up emotionally, and it does the same for the kids you love, too!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

7 Ways to Encourage Self-Expression in Kids

Photo by woodleywonderworks (Flickr)

We all want our kids to grow up and be confident about expressing their thoughts, feelings, and emotions in a logical and organized way. These skills aren't always natural, though. I've found that seven tools help my girls and the kids at summer camp express themselves, and you can use these tools, too, as you encourage your kids, students, or young friends to express themselves effectively.

Conduct an Easygoing and Fun Interview With Your Kids

Sometimes, conversations can be tricky for kiddos. They may not know what to say, be afraid to speak up, or fear saying the wrong thing. Encourage them to talk when you interview them. Fun questions about the best part of their day, which animal they'd be for a day, or what they want to be when they grow up get conversation started and help kids open up about their feelings and opinions.

Introduce Kids to Art

When my girls are in a bad mood but won't or can't talk about it, I pull out art. We paint, color, sing, dance, take pictures, or play musical instruments together. These artistic mediums assist my girls in expressing their feelings and thoughts, and they now have an art therapy tool that they can use for the rest of their lives.

Teach Your Kids to Read Body Language

Body language tells us about what a person's thinking and feeling, but most kids don't pick up on these subtle clues. I role-play with my girls so they learn how to understand, interpret, and use body language to communicate. We sometimes look at photos or watch TV together and try to identify different emotions based on a person's facial expression or how they're standing. We also use a mirror and take turns making angry, embarrassed, and happy faces that help them read body language.

Give Kids Permission to Share Their Feelings

When my girls were younger, I found myself telling them not to feel scared or to calm down when they were excited. In reality, our kids need to have permission to share their feelings honestly. I want them to know that feelings are normal and that they can always come to me and share when they're angry, happy, or scared.

Rehearse Asking for a Favor

Kids sometimes don't know that they can speak up, or they may feel comfortable asking for things they need. I taught my kids to feel comfortable asking for favors. We rehearsed this skill at home and tried it out in safe and familiar settings like our local park before we practiced in challenging situations like an unfamiliar store or restaurant.

Encourage Writing

Journals, blogs, poetry, newsletters, and other creative writing outlets are simply tools that help kids express themselves. I encourage my girls to write in a private blog or paper journal every day. Your kids could also write. Simple interviews, personal anecdotes, and written observations about culture, life, and current events help kids share their opinions, thoughts, and emotions in a concrete and fun way.

Be a Good Role Model

If you want your kids to express their emotions clearly and genuinely, then you need to be a role model. Let your kids know that it's OK to feel sad, angry, or happy, and explain why you feel certain ways. If you can be real, they can learn to be real, too.

Self-expression is something all kids can learn. I've found that these seven tools help train my girls. What tools work for you and the kids in your life?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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