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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How to Cultivate Budgeting Skills in Children Early On

Photo by Carissa Rogers (Flickr)

A University of Cambridge study found that kids know how money works and form the basis of their future money habits by age seven. I find this fact fascinating. While I did know that kids must learn about money and budgeting, I didn't realize that we can and should start teaching them when they're young. As parents, caregivers, or teachers, these six tips can help us cultivate budgeting skills in our young kids.

Identify the Purpose of Money

We found a few pretend money bills and coins last week as we cleaned out the toy box. My girls spent hours playing with this money when they were little as they "purchased" toys from each other and learned the names of the coins and how many coins make up a dollar. More importantly, they learned that we use money to buy stuff, a fact that forms the foundation for all of their financial transactions, habits, and values.

Discuss How Much Stuff Costs

Kids sometimes think that food, clothing, and housing are free, but it's important for them to understand that everything around them costs money and that we have to work to make money. From the time my girls were little, I've tried to explain how many hours of work it takes for me to pay for things like their swim lessons, electricity, and ice cream cones. Now that they're older, they help me compare prices of different cereal brands at the grocery store and browse different stores online to find the best deal on their favorite jeans. They understand that certain items cost more than others, which equips them to use their money more wisely.

Explain the Importance of Savings and Show How Money Accumulates

Of course it's easier to spend money than save it, but I want my girls to spend less than they earn and create emergency funds, education accounts, and retirement accounts. To establish their savings habits early, we started a vacation fund. They drop spare change into a clear jar on our kitchen counter and watch their savings accumulate over time. Older kids can learn to save as they make their own deposits into a savings account and keep a ledger. Watching savings grow encourages kids to prioritize saving money instead of spending everything they get.

Distinguish Between Needs and Wants

Every time my younger daughter sees a toy commercial on TV, she asks me to buy her that toy. I know, though, that she doesn't need that particular toy right now. I help her distinguish the difference between needs and wants with a few questions:

  • Do you really need this toy right now?
  • How is it different than the other toys in your playroom?
  • Which two toys in your playroom will you donate to make room for this one?
  • Can we add it to your birthday wish list?
  • What else could we use that money to buy?

Distinguishing the difference between a need and a want is challenging, but we can start early as we help our kids learn this valuable budgeting skill.

Delay Gratification

In my home, we wait 48 hours before making purchases that exceed $25. Waiting gives us time to decide if we really need the item and research better prices online. Understanding the value of delayed gratification also improves a child's school performance and can lead to higher income later in life. Waiting in line for their favorite playground fixture, eating dessert after a healthy dinner, and saving for something they really want instead of buying with credit are all ways we teach our kids this valuable budgeting skill and help them become wise consumers.

Understand Invisible Money

Kids certainly need to understand how cash works, but most of my transactions involve credit or online transactions. Even though no cash changes hands, our kids need to understand how invisible money works. That's why I gave my girls a prepaid card that we load with their allowance each month. They decide what they want to buy and know that once the money's spent, they won't get more. They've learned the value of making a list, comparing prices, and choosing purchases carefully as they work with invisible money.

Budgeting skills help our kids spend money wisely now and into the future. What other strategies and tips have you used to teach kids budgeting skills?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, December 4, 2017

World Hello Day: How Play Can Help Children Overcome Shyness and Build Confidence

Photo by Maessive (Flickr)

At the park this week, we met a family who recently moved into our neighborhood. My younger daughter immediately introduced herself and started playing with the kids, but my older daughter stayed to herself. I was a shy kid, too, and I understand how hard it can be to interact with people you don't know very well. That's one reason why I was excited to celebrate World Hello Day with my girls. On World Hello Day and every day, you can play with kids and help them to build confidence in seven key ways.

Talk to People

Talking to other kids can be excruciating for shy kids. I roleplay social scenarios and conversations as I help my girls learn how to talk to others. We also read social skills books and stories about friendship as I show my girls how to introduce themselves, start a conversation, and be confident while they interact with other kids and adults.

Become Friendlier

I'm amazed almost every day at how a friendly smile and kind word can open professional and personal doors of opportunity. Our kids can learn this essential life skill as they play. Playing games, coloring together, and sharing playground toys with other kids teaches them to share, show kindness, and cooperate. In addition to playing during recess, you can also host one-on-one play dates and help your kids become friendlier human beings.

Reduce Anxiety

Shy kids don't all struggle with anxiety, but this challenge can inhibit our kids' confidence. Playing with other kids and learning new games or trying new activities helps kids can overcome their anxiety. They realize that they can learn and master new skills, and they gain courage to try new activities in the future.

Embrace Change

It's normal for kids to like routine. I know my older daughter in particular feels more secure when things stay the same. However, shy kids can stay stuck in a routine that prevents them from engaging in new activities. Play encourages kids to try new games, introduce themselves to other kids, and embrace change. They can then use these skills to cope better with changes in daily life.

Develop Empathy

I often use roleplaying and pretend or dramatic play to help my girls understand what it's like to live in someone else's shoes. With empathy, kids can understand what others think and feel, and it encourages them to stretch out of their comfort zone and talk to others. After all, we're all humans.

Learn Teamwork

Both of my girls have played team sports. While they have fun, they also learn to communicate better with others, overcome shyness, and develop confidence in their abilities.

Resolve Conflict

One of my daughters hates conflict. She would rather hide in her bedroom than confront an interpersonal challenge. Conflict is part of life, though, so I encourage her to play board and group games. While playing, she learns to express her opinion and compromise in a fun environment, and she gains confidence to use these skills in other areas of life, too.

Through play, shy kids can gain confidence. How do you help your shy kids gain the confidence they need for success in life?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

7 Reasons Why Boredom is Beneficial for Children

Photo by Shinichi Sugiyama (Flickr)

When my girls tell me that they're bored, I smile. I know they want me to entertain them or give them an electronic device, but I usually send them off to play with no direction or assistance. Why don't I solve their boredom? I believe boredom serves an important role in child development and gives kids seven benefits.

Learn to Entertain Themselves

While I love to play with my kids, I also want them to be comfortable, confident, and capable of entertaining themselves. This skill teaches them how to make decisions for themselves. It also develops their self-reliance and shows them that they can find happiness alone, which can help them say no to peer pressure and feel comfortable in a variety of circumstances.

Become More Independent

One of my parenting goals is raising strong, confident, and empowered young women who are prepared to take on the world. As my girls decide what to do during their free time and engage in solo activities they enjoy, they become more confident and independent.

Nurture Creativity and Imagination

Give kids plenty of unstructured time and they can explore, build, and create without feeling rushed. This gift of time opens creative doors in their minds that may otherwise remain locked. Our kids could invent a cure for cancer, end poverty, or become world leaders one day because they experienced boredom and had time to nurture creativity and imagination.

Discover New Passions

After one too many boring car rides, my older daughter decided to learn how to knit. I enjoy watching her discover and develop a new passion that sprang out of boredom. Our kids can use boredom as a springboard to stretch their wings, think outside the norm, and discover new interests and passions.

Work Through Emotions

Our kids can feel stress, anger, grief, or guilt, but they don't always have the ability to process or express these strong emotions and feelings. I've watched too many kids self-destruct because they hid their emotions and feelings behind an activity, screen, or distraction. Let's give our kids unstructured play time: As they relax and unwind, they may acknowledge, address, and work through the emotions and feelings they carry and become healthier and happier kids.

Improve Their Inner Lives

Time alone, without noise, distractions, or people, gives kids space to improve their inner lives. They hear themselves think, embrace their uniqueness, and discover deep truths about their beliefs, values, and interests. Of course, I love play dates and time with friends, but our kids must learn to appreciate solitude, too. It's essential for their sanity, self-esteem, and health.

Learn Gratitude

If your kids are like mine and have a playroom full of toys but still say they're bored, they may need a boredom break. Boredom forces kids to slow down, turn off the volume around them, and realize that they're surrounded by blessings. My girls become more grateful human beings every time they experience boredom.

As parents and caregivers, we often feel obligated to entertain our kids all of the time. I encourage you to help your kids embrace boredom, though. It gives them a lot of benefits and helps them become more well-rounded individuals. What other boredom benefits have you discovered?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, November 20, 2017

10 Tips and Activities for a Healthy, Happy Thanksgiving Day

Photo by JBLM MWR (Flickr)

Every Thanksgiving, I eagerly prepare a big feast and anticipate chatting, laughing, and eating with our extended family. People can consume up to 4,500 calories during this feast, though, and I don't like that statistic. This year, I rallied my family, and we decided to try out some tips and activities to make our Thanksgiving healthier and happier.

Enter a 5K

My family agreed to participate in our local turkey trot, a 5K race held on Thanksgiving morning. We're excited about the opportunity to exercise and enjoy quality family time together before our big celebration.

Eat a Healthy Breakfast

I'm a big breakfast fan because starting the day with a healthy meal can curb cravings and overeating later in the day. This year, I'll prepare an egg casserole and serve fresh fruit as we set the tone for a healthy holiday celebration.

Exercise During Parade Commercials

The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is an important tradition in our family. Personally, I love the balloons, performers, and music! While watching the parade this year, we'll also exercise during the commercials as we enjoy this tradition and stay active.

Take a Hike

Because I spend Thanksgiving Day cooking, baking, and entertaining, I usually skip my daily workout and then regret that decision the next day. We're planning to go on a short hike before dinner this year. The exercise will work off a few calories, and we'll get to enjoy family bonding and the great outdoors together.

Snack Smart

Because my family loves munching on snacks while we wait for the turkey to bake, we usually serve hot crab dip, crackers, and candy. These snacks are loaded with extra calories, though. Smart snack alternatives like fresh veggies, fruit, and single-serve bags of nuts will satisfy our hunger and decrease our overall caloric intake. Everyone wins!

Make Heart-Healthy Dishes

Our Thanksgiving meal includes dozen of delicious dishes, but I've got to admit that they're not all heart-healthy. We're changing the menu a bit this year and will prepare our favorite dishes with low-sodium broth, Greek yogurt, and whole grains. Plus, we'll serve mashed cauliflower and add kale to the stuffing. These heart-healthy changes are good for our waistlines and will taste great, too.

Eat Mindfully

I know Thanksgiving dinner only happens once a year, and I typically overindulge. This year, I'm challenging my family to eat mindfully and choose small portions, chew slowly, savor each bite, and stop eating when we start to feel full. Mindful eating is a great tool that prevents overeating and improves our health.

Choose Desserts Wisely

Our dessert table usually overflows with rich, sugar-laden goodies. Rather than fill a plate with desserts, I've already decided to choose small portions of one or two favorites. As I savor their flavor and texture, I'll indulge my sweet tooth without compromising my commitment to health and wellness.

Dance During Cleanup

While discussing ways to add healthy activities to our Thanksgiving festivities, my girls suggested a dance party. They've already created a playlist and anticipate dancing with their grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins as we clear the table, wash dishes, and sweep the floor after our meal.

Play Flag Football

If your family is like mine, you watch football on Thanksgiving. We're giving this tradition a twist this year and playing flag or touch football after dinner. I'm excited to get my family off of the sofa and have fun playing together!

Thanksgiving remains one of my favorite holidays because I love spending time with family around our bountiful dinner table. I also want to make the holiday healthy and happy, though, which is why I'll try out these tips and activities during our upcoming celebration. What other healthy tips and fun activities do you recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, November 13, 2017

9 Tips For Keeping Your Child Safe On the Internet

Photo by Lucélia Ribeiro (Flickr)

October 29 is Internet Day, but personally, my girls and I can't imagine life on any day without this technology that gives us access to information, friends, and the world. The Internet can open doors to scary and dangerous things, though, including identity theft, predators, pornography, and fake news. Consider these nine tips as we teach our kids to stay safe and be responsible while using the Internet.

Place Devices in a Common Area

My older daughter often asks for a computer in her bedroom, but I insist that it remains in a common area. This way, I can answer questions, talk about information, and successfully guide my kids as they use the Internet.

Know What They're Looking at

Now that my girls are a bit older, I don't stand over their shoulders as they go online. I do, however, frequently check their devices' browsing histories and monitor their social media and email accounts. With this information, I can initiate conversations about why they visit certain sites and ways they can protect themselves.

Teach Them to Protect Personal Information

An identity thief or sexual predator can use your child's name or photo to find them in real life. I often emphasize that my girls cannot publicly share personal information online, including their name, phone number, address, email, passwords, school, or photos. Also, they may only communicate online with people they know.

Block Explicit Material

While researching the history of her favorite toys for a school project, my daughter typed "legs" instead of "Legos." The results? Several porn sites popped up. That one misspelling prompted me to turn on the computer's parental controls, use Google SafeSearch, and check out the blocking options provided by CyberPatrol and other security sites.

Respond Properly to Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is defined as threatening behavior that occurs online and can include intimidation, name-calling, and body-shaming. I tell my girls not to respond to any cyberbullying messages and to report any bullying incidents to me.

Recognize Unsafe Websites

Unsafe websites can lead your kids to harmful content or install spyware, malware, or viruses on their device. In general, websites that end in .edu, .org, or .gov are the most reputable and safest. Check the color of the address bar, too, since it can turn yellow or red in some browsers if the site is unsafe. Consider bookmarking your children's favorite sites to promote safe browsing.

Learn to Spot Fake News

At dinner the other night, my younger daughter shared that the queen of England had died. She saw the story online and thought it was true. Our conversation opened the door to a discussion about how to spot fake news, and I reminded my girls to ask themselves a few questions as they evaluate what they read online.

  • Are other news sites reporting the same story?
  • Does it link to real news or reputable websites?
  • Is the news current?
  • Is the source itself reputable?
  • Is the writing mostly error-free?
  • Is the article satirical, a joke, or an opinion?

Invite Conversations About Internet Use

My girls know they can talk to me about anything, including their internet usage. If they ever feel uncomfortable online, see a friend being bullied, or wonder about the safety of certain websites, they know I will listen and not immediately overreact or suspend their online privileges.

Sign an Internet Usage Contract

An Internet usage contract gives your kids another layer of protection and shows them how to use the Internet responsibly. It includes details like how much time your kids can spend online, what sites they can use, and consequences for breaking the rules.

The Internet offers our kids nearly limitless access to information. Let's use these nine tips as we teach our kids how to be responsible online and use the Internet safely. In what other ways can we teach online safety?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, October 27, 2017

9 Ways to Embrace and Encourage Your Children's Individuality

Photo by Sergey Ivanov (Flickr)

While chaperoning a class field trip to an art museum recently, I noticed so many different personalities. Some of the kids asked dozens of questions, some joked around, and others chatted with friends. The variety of different and unique personalities made me think of how important it is for us as parents, teachers, and caregivers to embrace and encourage our children's individuality. We can do this important task in nine ways.

Encourage Free Play

Have you ever turned a group of kids loose in a game room? Each kid tends to gravitate to the toys, activities, and games that interest them. During playtime, kids show off their individuality, so let's encourage our kids to play in ways that interest them.

Compliment and Appreciate Quirks

One of our young neighbors likes to tell jokes and always makes me laugh. Even though he sometimes chooses inappropriate times to clown around, I try to compliment his uniqueness often. Life's definitely more fun because he and all of our kids choose to be themselves, quirks and all.

Ignite Curiosity

According to a U.K. study, kids ask an average of 300 questions a day. That's a lot of curiosity! As caregivers, it's sometimes tempting to ask our kids to stop being so curious, but they learn, grow, and develop unique opinions and interests partially because they ask questions. That thought motivates me to answer all of those questions and share resources that help my growing kids discover answers on their own.

Respect Differences

I admit that I'm one of those parents who dressed their toddlers in similar outfits. It didn't take long to figure out, though, that they each have their own sense of style, which doesn't always mesh with my preferences. And that's OK. We can respect our kids' differences and encourage them to be themselves even when they don't agree with us. They have the right to be unique.

Talk About Life

Every evening at the dinner table, our family discusses daily life. My girls know that I always appreciate hearing their views and opinions. By valuing our kids' viewpoints, we value our kids, tell them that they're interesting, and encourage them to continue thinking for themselves.

Promote Hobbies

My girls each enjoy vastly different hobbies, and I appreciate that they both express themselves through different outlets. Whether our children are into art, sports, or reading, we must give them time to explore the activities that inspire, motivate, and fulfill them as they express their individuality.

Promote Pretend Play

As they build block cities, ride cardboard ships into space, or rule kingdoms as kings and queens, our kids use pretend play to develop their unique voices. I also find that pretend play helps my girls discern the type of person they are now and want to become in the future.

Prevent Peer Pressure

When we denounce peer pressure, we equip our kids to be themselves. I often remind my girls that while they must be kind to other kids and look for ways to get along, they can be unique individuals. They don't have to think or do the same things as their siblings, classmates, or friends.

Resist Comparisons

My younger daughter sometimes struggles academically, but she excels on the soccer field. I try to affirm her strengths, talents, and skills rather than compare her to her sister, classmates, neighbors, or friends, and I politely ask others to do the same. Comparison only teaches our kids to conform rather than stand out and be themselves.

Even though they're young, kids are designed to be unique. We can embrace and encourage our children's individuality as we help them grow and develop. In addition to these nine tips, how else do you help your kids develop their own individuality?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

7 Ways That Play Helps Develop Good Behavior

Photo by tanitta (Flickr)

When I was a kid, recess was a favorite part of my school day, and my girls have fun playing with friends and taking a break from schoolwork, too. However, many schools are shortening recess in favor of additional instructional time. I suggest that we follow the example of Finland schools and advocate for more daytime free play and recess. These two activities help kids in seven ways to develop and reinforce good behavior.

Boost Focus

A child's attention span is roughly one minute per year of age. Most classroom instructional time and activities last longer than a few minutes, though, which can challenge a child's ability to focus and engage in the lesson. Breaks for recess and play stimulate a child's brain and boost their ability to focus. When they return to the classroom, they are ready to listen and learn.

Stay on Task

My older daughter used to daydream her way through the school day, and her teachers had to work constantly to keep her on task. One day, we realized that she had no trouble staying on task after recess. She needed that play break to reboot her brain and body. Because of play, she was able to follow directions, transition quickly between activities, and finish tasks.

Reduce Fidgeting

One energetic student who plays with their hair, rocks in their chair, or taps a pencil against the desk can distract the entire classroom and disrupt learning. While classroom-friendly fidget toys can reduce fidgeting, play is also an important and helpful tool. As kids run, jump, and play during their recess time, they burn off excess energy and return to the classroom ready to sit mostly still and learn.

Improve Compliance

Sometimes, kids who disobey the teacher, make noise during class, or otherwise don't comply with classroom rules are not trying to be difficult on purpose. Rather, they may be filled with extra energy that exhibits itself in non-compliance. When my girls begin to show signs of defiance, I consider their free time. They may need a play break to burn off energy and improve compliance.

Relieve Stress

The demands of school and other challenges at home or with friends can create stress for our children. Recess and free play give kids an escape from the demands of daily life. On the playground, they can simply be active kids who enjoy each other and have fun without worrying about stressors.

Process Emotions

Kids don't always express their emotions in productive ways. In fact, they may act silly, create drama, start fights, cry, and otherwise display their emotions in inappropriate ways while at school. They need play and recess. As they create, imagine, and exercise, they begin to process emotions in a healthy way, which allows them to behave better in the classroom.

Improve Communication

Last year, my daughter struggled with friendship drama at school. It took several months for her to connect with other kids in her class, and part of that transition happened because of recess. During this time, my daughter and two of her classmates created healthy bonds as they played together. Play definitely can influence communication and help our kids learn to understand each other better.

We all know that recess and free play are fun and give kids numerous benefits. I particularly appreciate that these activities help kids in seven ways to develop and reinforce good behavior. Because of play, our kids can learn better in the classroom. Will you join me in advocating for more play opportunities at school and throughout the day?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, October 23, 2017

6 Resources For Finding Parks and Trails in Your Area

Photo by Carl Mueller (Flickr)

After my girls and I visit a local playground or hiking trail, we always feel better. The fresh air clears away emotional and mental clutter, and we feel stronger physically and more connected socially as we spend time exercising with friends. Because we like to play and hike often, I use different resources to find new outdoor play spaces for my family to explore. These resources can help your family stay active and have fun with your community, too.

National Park Service

Experience your America when you visit the National Park Service website. This resource allows you to search for a variety of parks and trails almost anywhere in the United States. The site also includes information about local events, making it easy for my family and yours to connect with the community at home or while traveling.

Map of Play

When my girls need to run off steam, get fresh air, or connect with old or new friends, I visit Map of Play. Created by play experts Kaboom!, it includes photos and ratings of thousands of local playgrounds, parks, and play spaces. I also appreciate that Map of Play promotes community activity. You can share unique play spaces with friends and add new play spaces to the site as you encourage others to play. You can also join a playground cleanup crew or plan a play date with this helpful resource.

Find Your Park

With a user-friendly design, Find Your Park invites you to search for parks by ZIP code, state, park name, or activity. When you find a park you want to visit, share it with friends on social media. This resource also features a Google map of each park so you know exactly where it's located and what it looks like. You can discover details about nearby activities, too. My girls appreciate that we can find local historical tours, art and culture centers, and shopping opportunities to enjoy after we play.

AllTrails

Sometimes, we're in the mood for an easy trail, and other times, we want a challenge. I use AllTrails.com to search 50,000 trails by difficulty, length, or rating. I also appreciate the trail pictures, reviews, and maps shared on this site by actual hikers. We learn firsthand how others liked the trail, and we can share a map with friends and set up hiking dates. You can uUse the site to save trails, too. With this feature, it's easy to track how many trails you've visited or easily find interesting trails for future hikes!

Playground Buddy

Use this free app to find a local playground. The worldwide directory includes more than 200,000 playgrounds, which is especially useful when we travel because it helps my girls and me stay active anywhere! This website also shows details about the playground, including its play equipment, and you can share the playground's location with a friend. With this information, you can set up a fun and engaging play date for your family or connect with locals and make new friends.

Trails.com

I expect to find trails in rural areas, but Trails.com shows urban trails, too. Browse by state or activity, and check out topographical maps of each trail before you head outdoors. For example, when my older daughter wanted to try trail-running with a friend, we used this resource to find a nearby trail that was ideal for their excursion.

Outdoor playtime is essential for our kids and communities. It improves our physical, mental, and emotional states, provides socialization opportunities, and connects people. I use these six resources to find local parks and trails. What other resources do you use to find local play spaces?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, October 2, 2017

10 Benefits of Reading Aloud to Babies and Toddlers

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski (Flickr)

Last night before bed, my younger daughter picked out a book, snuggled close on the sofa, and asked me to read to her. My heart melted as I fondly recalled hundreds of similar moments from her early childhood years. Those memories are precious to me because they were great bonding experiences and also because reading aloud to my girls gave them these 10 important benefits.

1. Grow Vocabulary

When my girls started talking, they knew so many words! I attributed their vocabulary to all the books we read together, and experts agree; kids who hear a variety of words are more likely to speak a variety of words.

2. Develop Basic Speech Skills

By reading to our kids, we teach them basic speech skills. Kids learn how to properly pronounce words and enunciate sounds when they hear the words spoken. Even the jabbering sounds they make as they look through books and read to themselves contribute to their fundamental speech.

3. Build Reading Skills

As young children hear books, they develop the tools they need to become confident and successful readers. They learn how to hold and read a book from front to back, associate letters with sounds, and understand the basic concepts of sentence and plot structures.

4. Improve Concentration

The act of listening to a story requires concentration. My girls didn't sit still for very long when they were babies, but their concentration levels and attention spans improved as they grew older. By the time they were toddlers, they could sit still through an entire book and sometimes even remember what I read.

5. Boost Academic Performance

Children who are exposed to reading from a young age perform better in school. Hearing books read out loud helps them communicate better, understand concepts, and confidently read textbooks, homework, and tests. Plus, books expand their ability to problem solve, think outside the box, and ask questions.

6. Discover Empathy

Bear Feels Sick was a book my girls loved to read. They liked the pictures, and the story helped them understand friendship and how to help someone who is sick. This book is one of many books that introduce young children to the concepts of compassion and empathy.

7. Learn About the World

Books open our kids' minds to the world around them. They can travel to other countries, learn about other people's experiences, celebrations, and activities, and explore diverse cultures around the world or in their neighborhood.

8. Exercise Imagination

Think about your child's favorite book. Whether it features orangutans, oceans, or outer space, it transports your child to unique locations and exercises their imagination, which can improve their problem solving, creativity, and emotional processing skills.

9. Strengthen Bonds

Reading to my girls was definitely a bonding experience as we picked out books at the library, snuggled on the sofa, and read together. Reading can also bond kids with other family members and caregivers as they spend special nurturing time together with a good book.

10. Enjoy Fun

Many babies and toddlers genuinely enjoy story time. They have fun and are entertained as they look at the bright colors and engaging pictures, hear interesting stories, and snuggle with their caregiver.

I'm a big fan of reading aloud to babies and toddlers. Why do you like reading aloud to your kids?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, September 22, 2017

Little by Little: 6 Tips for Raising Patient Kids

Photo by jess2284 (Flickr)

As our kids wait for their turn on the slide or wait for a painting they've made to dry, they need to use patience and perseverance. Most kids aren't born with these essential character traits, though. I know my girls have had to learn these skills little by little. Here are six tips that help me raise patient kids.

Encourage Delayed Gratification

When my girls were toddlers, we frequently ate fast food because it was easy and quick. I soon realized, though, that we had to eat smarter meals, and we started cooking more often at home together. It was hard at first to wait longer than two minutes for dinner, but that delayed gratification paid off because my girls are both skilled cooks now. Over the years, we have also planted gardens, learned new hobbies, and hiked together, all slow activities that bring great rewards in the end.

Practice Mindful Breathing and Yoga

I discovered mindful breathing and yoga in college. These two tools do wonders to relax the mind and body and restore a sense of control. That's why I shared these tools with my girls. We breathe in through our noses, count to five, and slowly exhale through our mouths, and we do at least 10 minutes of yoga every day. When we start to feel impatient, agitated, or frustrated, we can draw on these tools as we relax.

Offer More Free Play

Free play is a big part of my girls' lives because it's very beneficial. I especially appreciate that it helps my girls become more patient. Play time is a natural training ground for patience and perseverance as they enjoy their favorite activities and have fun.

Prep for Challenging Moments

Long lines have always challenged my older daughter. In fact, she developed a bad habit in her preschool years of pinching me if we had to wait in line at the grocery store, movies, or amusement park. I finally began prepping her in advance for this challenge. At home, we pretended that we were waiting in line. I showed her how I expected her to behave and taught her how to keep her hands to herself, breathe mindfully, and wait patiently. With this prep and positive reinforcement, she learned to wait her turn and develop patience.

Review Impulsive Moments

During impatient moments, my girls aren't usually receptive to hearing about how they should be patient. I learned to wait until after the incident to review what happened. We talk about how their actions made them and others feel, and we review what they could have done differently. Over time, my girls have gotten better at impulse control.

Slow Down

We live in a fast-paced society, and I confess that I sometimes get in a hurry and rush my girls. Then we're all agitated! I'm learning to slow down and be more intentional about exercising patience and perseverance in my own life. When I am calm, tranquil, and relaxed, my girls see how they should act and follow my example.

Patience and perseverance are two skills kids can learn little by little. I use these six tips to help my girls become patient kids. What other tips can we use to help our kids develop these essential traits?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, September 21, 2017

How to Prepare Your Child For Their First Hike

Photo by slashvee (Flickr)

Hiking is one of our family's favorite activities. We love the fresh air, exercise, and family time! While both of my girls are pros now, I remember all the steps I took to get them ready for their very first hike. These tips can help you prepare your kids for a successful first hike, too.

1. Choose the Trail Carefully

Before I had kids, I loved hiking long hilly trails. I knew my favorite trails were not toddler-friendly, though. Instead, I had to choose flatter, shorter trails my toddlers could handle. To find kid-friendly trails, ask other parents for advice, search hiking guides, or check out the AllTrails website.

2. Think About Timing

I know you want your child's first hike to be a positive experience, so time it carefully. Try to hike when your child has high energy, and avoid any interruption to nap time.

3. Wear the Right Clothes

I made the mistake of buying my older daughter new speakers before her first hike, and they gave her blisters. Ouch! The right shoes and protective clothing, including a sunhat, keep kids comfortable and safe as they hike.

4. Pack Adequate Supplies

Be prepared for anything on your child's first hike - trust me! I suggest packing extra clothes, snacks, water, a first aid kit, bug spray, sunscreen, baby wipes, a blanket, and diapers, if necessary. I know it seems like a lot; if your kids are old enough, they can carry a backpack and share the load.

5. Involve Your Kids in the Planning

My girls loved helping plan their first hike. Even though they were too young to pick the trail, they chose the color of their shoes and helped pack the snacks as they took ownership of their hiking experience.

6. Familiarize Your Kids with Nature

It's natural to hear loud birds or see snakes on the hiking trail, but newbie hikers can be freaked out about these natural phenomena. Be sure your kids feel comfortable in nature so they can have fun and enjoy the wonder of the outdoors.

7. Anticipate Rest Stops

First hikes can be challenging for young kids. Plan to take several rest stops and refuel with water and a snack or explore an interesting site. Your child will then be reenergized and focused to keep moving.

8. Prepare a Few Games

In the middle of my younger daughter's first hike, she grew tired and cranky. Luckily, I was prepared to play games. We counted squirrels, played I Spy, and sang silly songs. Games can help your child stay entertained and remain enthusiastic for the entire hike.

9. Teach Safety Rules

Safety is a huge priority for me, so I taught my girls safety rules before we hit the trail. They knew to always keep me in their view, never stray from the trail, and leave no trace. These safety rules protect our kids and nature.

10. Take a Practice Run

Before your first official hike, try a short practice run or two. Use this practice hike to tweak your gear list and show your kids what to expect. I also appreciated trial runs because they helped my girls get excited for their first real hiking adventure!

A child's first hike can be tons of fun and is a big accomplishment. Follow these steps as you prepare your child for success. What other tips would you recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

8 Tactful Tips on Teaching Children About Current Events

Photo by Abhisek Sarda (Flickr)

From hurricanes to hijackings, the news headlines are filled with events that kids may find difficult to comprehend and process. A few years ago, I decided that I want my girls to understand current events and know the facts without feeling scared, confused, or overwhelmed. Here are eight tactful tips I use to teach my girls about current events. You, too, can use these tips with your kids at home or in the classroom.

Read Picture Books

Picture books use illustrations to share information and educate kids in a fun way. They're also age-appropriate. I find a variety of picture books at the library and online that discuss events like natural disasters, refugees, and racism in an unbiased, educational, and informative way.

Play Games

Games are an effective and fun way to introduce and discuss current events with kids. Consider trying two of my favorite current event games. The first game, the World Peace Game, helps kids solve political challenges around the globe in peaceful ways. Fantasy Geopolitics is the second game I really like. With a format similar to fantasy football, it introduces kids to global politics, geography, economics, and populations.

Create a Podcast

My girls and I often listen to entertaining and educational podcasts as we clean, exercise, and drive to school. They also create podcasts about current events. During this process, they research news stories, interview friends, re-enact events, write scripts, and record their podcasts as they understand and process the news.

Learn About Cultures

Learning about cultures is a fun way to discover different countries in the news and process current events. During a recent conversation about Princess Diana, my girls asked dozens of questions about Great Britain's monarchy. We ended up talking about the country's religion, history, climate, and even foods, art, and entertainment as we talked about the princess's life, work, and death.

Map the News

The world map hanging on our playroom wall does more than decorate our home. It also serves as the catalyst for greater understanding of world events. When we listen to the news, my girls stretch a string from our hometown to the locations they hear about on the TV or radio. We then talk about that region. With this tool, my girls relate better to the people and counties in the news, and they gain a broader world view.

Practice Journalism

I firmly believe that knowledge is power! When my girls understand current events, they're less likely to feel overwhelmed or scared by the news, which is a great reason to introduce kids to journalism. As kids examine the 5 Ws (who, what, where, when, and why) of an event, they discover facts that help them feel more engaged, informed, and secure despite what's happening around the globe.

Express Opinions

When we discuss current events, I enjoy hearing my girls' opinions about the people and issues involved. I often encourage them to write editorials and share their views on issues like local community improvements, national politics, or war. You can also host classroom debates or ask kids to interview other students as you give them an outlet to express their opinions and discuss the news.

Brainstorm Solutions

I'm constantly surprised at my girls' ability to solve problems creatively, see situations in unique ways, and come up with solutions I don't even think about. I've decided to harness their creativity as we discuss current events. They imagine they're world leaders, policy-makers, or city officials and write policies, laws, and solutions to problems in the news.

Whether local or global, current events affect our kids. I use these eight tips to teach my kids about current events and help them understand our world. What other tips or tools do you use?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, September 7, 2017

10 Reasons Why Public Parks Are So Important

Photo by Herry Lawford (Flickr)

Our local public park plays a big role in our family life. Ever since my girls were babies, the park has served as our playground, exercise area, and social hangout. There, we've spent countless hours playing together, meeting new people, and enjoying the fresh air. As we played at the park this week, it occurred to me that public parks are important for families and communities in ,any important ways.

Trees Filter Pollutants

Cleaner outdoor air is one reason to appreciate public parks. Air pollution contributes to health conditions like asthma, but trees filter pollutants and create a healthier living environment for everyone.

Public Parks Protect Natural Ecosystems

Every public park features its own unique ecosystem. My girls always marvel at the variety of plants and wildlife in our local parks. Building, preserving, and protecting public parks protects these diverse ecosystems now and allows them to thrive into the future.

Unpaved Soil Improves Storm Management

During rainstorms, the soil in public parks absorbs water, which reduces flooding and decreases storm management and sewer maintenance costs. Communities around public parks become safer and save money because of public parks.

Public Parks Reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect

I met a city engineer yesterday as our girls played together at the park, and she mentioned the urban heat island effect. In areas covered by asphalt and concrete, temperatures rise as levels of smog and other outdoor air pollutants increase. She said that trees reduce the urban heat island effect and create healthier cities, making public parks essential for community health and wellness.

Public Parks Generate Revenue for Communities

Communities benefit financially from their public parks. Many parks, like the one in our neighborhood, frequently hold holiday festivals, sporting events, and musical performances that generate revenue. And home values and taxes are higher for properties located close to public parks. The revenue potential is a big reason to support public parks, since they potentially pay for themselves!

Open Spaces Facilitate Community Engagement

Every time my girls and I visit our neighborhood park, we see people from our community playing, chatting, and visiting. I love that the park facilitates community engagement, since it's an ideal place to organize group sports, family parties, and play dates.

Public Parks Create Safer Neighborhoods

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered that access to public parks creates safer neighborhoods. Community members who spend time in the park report less mental fatigue and aggression and stronger relationships with their neighbors. Because of parks, crime, juvenile delinquency, and vandalism rates decrease and neighborhoods become safer.

Public Parks Encourage Physical Activity

My girls and I are lucky because our local park offers a fitness trail and a variety of recreational programs like yoga, baseball, and hiking. We can easily stay active and enjoy better physical health as we play.

Public Parks Boost Mental Health

Did you know that spending even ten minutes in an urban park reduces stress? I appreciate that the fresh air, exercise, and social interaction boosts our mental health and outlook on life.

Public Parks Improve Appreciation for Nature

While hiking through a state park last weekend, my girls spotted 20 different varieties of bugs in just one small section of the trail. They were so excited! These bugs are only a few wonders of nature we see and learn to appreciate when we visit a park.

I love public parks. They give families a fun place to play and are important for so many reasons. What's your favorite reason to play at the park?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, August 21, 2017

August is Family Fun Month! 10 Unique Activities to Enjoy This Fall

Photo by Kei Noguchi (Flickr)

August is Family Fun Month, and my family is definitely celebrating! In fact, my girls and I came up with ten unique activities we're planning to enjoy together in the coming months. Your family might enjoy these fun activities, too!

Watch the Stars

The night sky holds so many wonders, and we plan to spend at least one night stargazing as fall approaches. With a star chart in hand, we'll lie on a blanket in the backyard and find different constellations as we marvel at our wonderful universe.

Plan a Camping Weekend

I love camping outdoors. Usually, we set up a tent in our backyard, and this year is no exception. We'll turn off our phones, eat s'mores, and tell ghost stories as we enjoy the great outdoors together.

Create a Seasonal Soup

Thinking about fall always puts me in the mood for soup. This year, my girls want to help me create a seasonal soup filled with our favorite fall produce and herbs from our garden. Hopefully, our soup will be so good that we'll want to make it together every fall!

Pick Apples

Apples taste better when you pick them yourself, or at least that's what my daughters say. They've already checked out local apple farms online and scheduled a date for us to pick apples as a family.

Bake

As a child, my grandma welcomed fall with fresh fruit pies for her community's harvest festival. I'm looking forward to carrying on her tradition this year with my girls. Together, we will bake her famous caramel pear pie recipe. Hopefully, it will taste as good as hers!

Take a Nature Hike

The vibrant fall colors and cooler temperatures pull me and my girls outdoors every year. We usually hike local trails and look for signs of the season as we enjoy the fresh air and exercise.

Collect Leaves

Colorful fall leaves are easy to find and fun to use in a variety of crafts. My girls especially like to do leaf rubbings. This year, we also plan to laminate leaves in wax paper and turn them into place mats, and my girls want to create a leaf collection.

Make a Seasonal Centerpiece

Dinner time is one of my family's favorite times of the day, and I try to dress up the table with a decorative centerpiece. This fall, my girls decided to create a centerpiece from leaves, branches, acorns, pine cones, rocks, and flowers we collect on our hikes. These seasonal objects will be fun to arrange in a bowl or other container.

Prep Your Lawn for Winter

We spend a lot of time together in our garden during the summer, but our landscaping needs attention in the fall, too. We'll prep our lawn for the upcoming winter as we:

  • Mow the lawn one last time
  • Pull weeds, trim perennials, and mulch flower beds
  • Trim trees and shrubs
  • Collect leaves and deposit them in the compost pile

Volunteer Together

One thing I like about fall is that Thanksgiving is on the way! I like counting my blessings, and volunteering is one way our family can practice gratitude and give back to our community. Together, we will collect food for our local food bank, pull weeds for our neighbors, and visit the local retirement home this fall.

My family is excited about celebrating Family Fun Month in August and throughout the fall. We hope you will join us. What other fun activities does your family enjoy doing together?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, August 18, 2017

Laughter Heals! 7 Ways That Play Builds Emotional Health

Photo by DAVID Swift (Flickr)

Therapist Jenny Florence defines emotional health as a person's ability to understand and respond to emotional experiences. Our kids do experience all kinds of emotions every day, from joy, excitement, and anticipation to anger, disappointment, and sadness. They may be unprepared to handle or process their feelings properly, though. I've found that laughter and play actually help my girls and all kids heal and build their emotional health in seven ways.

Laughter Releases Endorphins

I love watching my girls tell jokes, share funny stories, and laugh with their friends as they play. In fact, laughter actually prompts the brain to release endorphins, feel-good chemicals. Through this simple act, kids can diffuse tension, worry, and stress and feel more positive, cheerful, and upbeat.

Social Play Builds Communication Skills

Some kids, like my younger daughter, struggle with communicating. In her case, she can't always verbalize her emotions, but your kids may have difficulty waiting their turn to talk, speaking up when they have an opinion, or talking to other kids. Play gives kids opportunities to build the healthy communication skills they need now and in the future.

Group Play Prompts Positive Conflict Resolution

My girls usually play nicely together, but yesterday, they fought all day! I finally walked with them to our neighborhood park. After playing for a few minutes, they apologized to each other and began laughing together. This experience is one example of how play can prompt kids to resolve conflicts. They learn to share, express disagreements calmly, and work through differences in a positive way as they play with others.

Pretend Play Encourages Kids to Work Through Emotions

My girls feared the dentist until the day we set up a pretend dental office for their dolls. Pretending to examine their dolls' teeth helped them work through their fear. Whether kids experience fear or a strong emotion like grief, shame, rage, or depression, pretend play encourages them to work through their emotions. In a safe and open environment, they learn to admit, address, and express all of their emotions in a healthy way.

Play Provides a Safe Environment

It's a sad fact that life can be hard for kids sometimes. They may experience anxiety, trauma, or other emotional challenges at home, with friends, or at school. Play can provide a safe environment where children can forget their troubles, be themselves, and have fun without worrying about the challenges in their daily life.

Play Teaches Problem-Solving

Emotions are complicated. My girls sometimes feel sad, happy, or disappointed but don't realize why they feel that way or how to stop. They need to develop essential problem-solving skills, and play can help. As they build block towers, practice soccer, or learn to knit, they figure out how to recognize and solve problems with patience and perseverance, and that skill sets them up for success socially, academically, and emotionally.

Laughter Improves Group Bonding

This year, my older daughter will be in a new building for school. She feels nervous, but I encourage her to look for opportunities to laugh with the kids around her. Laughter is contagious and relaxing, and it also bonds kids together. She'll feel more comfortable, make new friends, and solidify friendships in her new environment as she laughs.

Emotional health is important, and laughter and play build our kids' emotional health in seven ways. How will you encourage and support your child's emotional health today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Back-to-School Blues Busters: 10 Ways to Brighten Your Child's Lunch Box

Photo by Melissa (Flickr)

Back-to-school season is bittersweet for me. While I want my girls to get a good education, I also miss them, and they miss me! I've decided this year to use their lunch boxes to remind them of my love, encouragement, and support. I've found 10 unique ways to brighten my girls' lunch boxes and break through the back-to school blues.

Prep Lunches Together

We can't be together during the school day, so my girls and I prep their lunches together the night before. They already know how to cook and often create unique sandwiches, soups, and snacks for their lunch boxes. As we work together, we also laugh and talk. When they open their lunch boxes the next day, I know they will remember our prep time and smile then, too.

Write a Note

On a banana, neon paper, or sandwich bag, write a note for your child. I sometimes draw a simple heart or write a longer note telling them something I appreciate about them, something they're good at doing, or a recent moment when I caught them doing something good for someone else. This fun reminder that I'm thinking of them usually makes them smile.

Create a Puzzle

My younger daughter's newest obsession is word searches, so I've started creating small ones for her lunch box. Crosswords, sudoku, or other puzzles are also fun ways give your child a smile break in the middle of the school day.

Tell a Joke

At the library this summer, we found a fun kids' joke book. We spent hours laughing together as we read through that book, which shows me that they will appreciate a joke in their lunch boxes.

Share a Photo or Memento of a Fun Time

Recalling shared memories bonds us as a family. That's why I like to pack a photo or small memento like a painted pebble from our recent vacation or a feather from our latest craft project in my girls' lunch boxes. They'll be encouraged and remember that they're loved whenever they see these reminders of fun times.

Insert a Sticker

While shopping for school supplies, I found a few fun, inspirational, and cute stickers. They're perfect gifts for lunch boxes. I know my younger daughter laughs at the cartoon stickers I bought for her, and my older daughter likes her emoji stickers.

Cut Food Into Cute Shapes

Fun foods brighten anyone's day. Sometimes, I decorate their sandwiches to look like faces or use cookie cutters to create shaped cheese, fruit, or cookies.

Write an Inspirational Quote

It's natural for parents to want their children to feel happy all of the time, but kids sometimes feel sad, discouraged, or tired. I've found that inspirational quotes reminds my girls that they can succeed and that I love them and support them as they persevere!

Give Them a Survey

I may not be able to shadow my girls while they're at school, but I can use a fun survey to get feedback about their day. It asks questions about who they sat with at lunch, the best part of their day, and what they didn't like about the day. I can even customize it with my own questions and designs.

Send an Invitation

I value one-on-one time with my girls, which is harder to find when school's in session. Sometimes, I send an invitation in their lunch box and invite them on a special date. We may grab an ice cream cone, visit the park, or walk around the mall. The thought of special mom time always helps my girls smile as they anticipate fun time together.

Since my kids started the school year, these ideas have been helping me to make them smile at lunch time. What other ways do you brighten your child's lunch box?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Aloe There! 10 Adorable Succulent Craft Ideas For Kids

Photo by Kim Love (Flickr)

My girls and I said, "Aloe there!" to succulents recently, and we're having a blast caring for them! Succulents are colorful, easy to take care of, and perfect for novice gardeners. You can even use the plants or cuttings for crafts. After doing some research, my girls made a list of ten adorable succulent craft ideas they're excited to try.

Personalized Succulent Planter

We're always on the lookout for unique gift ideas for birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions, and a personalized succulent planter is an easy and fun gift idea. Start with a plain, white, rectangular bin. With a permanent marker, decorate the bin with pictures, the recipient's name, or words that describe the person. Fill the bin with soil and the succulents and you'll have a unique, personalized gift for any occasion.

Hanging Globe Terrarium

My girls became obsessed with terrariums after my mom bought one for her kitchen. We recently found globe terrariums that will look cute hanging around our house. To make a hanging globe terrarium for succulents, first, place soil in the globe, and then add your choice of succulents. Sprinkle decorative sand, crushed shells, or colorful stones on top of the soil. Hang the terrarium from a hook, drawer pull, or tree and enjoy your unique garden.

Succulent Garland

We sometimes decorate our fireplace mantel or even bookcases with garland. I think a succulent garland will be our next project! With wire and a variety of succulent cuttings, you can create a garland of any length. Hang it anywhere, mist it regularly, and you'll have a living garland that's pretty and unique.

Fairy Garden

At the garden center today, my girls and I saw the cutest fairy garden items! We decided we had to make one of our own. In a planter filled with dirt, we arranged succulents and fairy garden items. We chose a tea party theme, but your kids can customize their fairy garden based on their interests.

Succulent Ball

For Christmas last year, my neighbor gave us an herb ball. It's basically a moss ball covered in glue and aromatic herbs. We think it will be fun to modify this idea with succulents. To make one, first, soak a sphagnum moss ball of any size in water. Use scissors or a pencil to poke holes in it, and then push succulent cuttings through the holes, starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. When the ball is covered with succulents, hang it anywhere and enjoy your beautiful craft.

Succulent Birdcage

My older daughter purchased the cutest vintage birdcage at a garage sale last month! She said it will make a pretty succulent planter. In the bottom of the birdcage, she'll place landscaping fabric followed by soil. Then, she plans to arrange succulents inside. She might even attach a few cuttings with wire to the outside of the cage. If she mists her succulent birdcage regularly, it will thrive and be a cute decorative addition to her bedroom.

Succulent Ring

My girls know that their grandma loves jewelry. That's why they're excited to make her a succulent ring. To make your own, simply wind a piece of floral aluminum wire around your finger. Attach a leaf or moss to the wire for stability. Add small pieces of succulents until you get the look you want, and then enjoy your new jewelry!

Lantern Planter

My dad has a few old lanterns hanging around his shed. Instead of tossing them, he gave them to us to use as succulent planters. Inside each lantern, we'll place a Mason jar lid and fill it with soil. Then, we'll plant the succulents. My girls think this craft will look cute hanging from a hook on our deck, and I agree!

Eggshell Succulent Garden

As soon as my girls saw a picture of an eggshell succulent garden, they asked to make omelets. They plan to transform the eggshells into a unique succulent creation. After you clean the shells, you can fill them about three-quarters full with soil. Insert succulent cuttings, secure your mini planters in an egg carton or other container, and watch your garden grow.

Succulent Wreath

We try to change the decoration on our front door seasonally. This summer, my girls want to make a succulent wreath. To make this easy decorative piece, poke holes in a foam wreath form, insert succulent cuttings into the holes, and hang the wreath with a ribbon or hook.

Succulents are fun and easy for novice gardeners and crafters. Which of these adorable succulent craft ideas do your kids want to say "aloe there" to first?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, July 28, 2017

Stop Enamel Cruelty! How to Encourage Healthy Dental Habits in Children

Photo by MissMessie (Flickr)

A baby's teeth start to form during the first trimester of pregnancy, and a child's first tooth typically erupts between six and nine months of age. These developmental facts show the importance of dental health from the very beginnings of a child's life. With proper dental habits, your kids can have healthy smiles as they stop enamel cruelty. Here are seven ways I've encouraged my girls to embrace healthy dental habits.

1. Start Early

Even though babies don't have teeth, it's important to wipe their gums with a clean washcloth or damp gauze after every meal. This practice keeps your baby's gums clean and establishes good oral hygiene habits.

2. Teach Proper Oral Hygiene Techniques

When my girls first learned how to take care of their teeth, we brushed, flossed, and used mouthwash together every morning and every night. They each used a character toothbrush as we raced a timer, fought plaque monsters, and had fun. With this practice, my girls learned the right brushing techniques, like reaching every tooth surface and using only a pea-size dollop of toothpaste instead of the whole tube. They also learned to be consistent with these important oral hygiene habits.

3. Visit the Dentist Regularly

Kids should visit the dentist around their first birthday or within six months after their first tooth erupts. My dentist told me that this visit gave her a chance to assess tooth decay risk, check for cavities, and answer any dental hygiene questions a parent may have.

After that initial visit, continue to schedule regular dental check-ups. Your child should visit the dentist every six months to ensure oral health.

4. Limit Sugary Drinks

Soda and juice are filled with sugar and acid that can wear away your child's tooth enamel. Limit sugary drinks and serve water instead as you protect your child's teeth. If you want to give your kids sugary drinks, reserve these treats for special occasions, use straws to limit the tooth's exposure to the sugar and acid, and rinse with water afterwards.

5. Eat Enamel-Friendly Foods

The right foods clean teeth and strengthen enamel. I try to feed my girls these foods regularly.

  • Serve your kids apples, carrots, and other crunchy fruits and vegetables because they clean teeth.
  • Cheese, meat, nuts, whole grains, and green vegetables are also smart food choices since they contain strengthening vitamins and nutrients.
  • Avoid candy, bread, potato chips, and other foods that are high in sugar or stick to teeth because they contribute to tooth decay.

6. Advocate for Dental Hygiene Classes in School

Whether you're a teacher, caregiver, or parent, you can advocate for dental hygiene classes at your child's school. Ask a dentist or hygienist to visit your child's classroom and teach proper brushing techniques, or encourage the school to invite a mobile dental clinic to give kids check-ups and cleanings.

7. Model Good Dental Hygiene

My girls know that I take care of my teeth and see the dentist regularly. As I model good dental hygiene, I teach them to practice these same habits.

When you encourage healthy dental habits in children, you stop enamel cruelty and equip your kids to have a healthy smile for the rest of their lives. What other tips have you used to encourage your kids to take care of their teeth?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Kids Need Freedom! How Overscheduling and Micromanaging Can Backfire

Photo by Ole.Pophal (Flickr)

My girls love summer, but some days, they spend every waking minute running from swim lessons to art camp to play dates. I know my girls want to have fun, and I don't want them to miss out on any activities, but all of this busyness leaves my girls exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. I reflected this week on our recent busyness and realized that I have to give my kids freedom to create their own fun. Overscheduling and micromanaging my kids backfires in seven ways.

Hinders a Child's Independence

One of our basic jobs as parents is to equip our kids to be independent adults. We achieve this goal by giving our kids opportunities to make their own choices and find their unique voice. Start by giving kids free time and letting them decide how to spend it. Whether they're toddlers or teens, they will appreciate the freedom to explore hobbies, discover interests, and exercise their independence.

Causes Health Problems

Kids who are overscheduled or micromanaged may experience physical and emotional health problems like insomnia, anxiety, or headaches. For example, when we're too busy, my older daughter eventually drops wherever she happens to be sitting and sleeps for hours, while my younger daughter gets grumpy and clingy. I've learned to monitor their health and emotions and adjust our schedule as I help them stay healthy.

Harms School Performance

Some kids can juggle sports, music lessons, dance classes, and school work successfully. Others, including my younger daughter, struggle to keep up with homework and tests when they're busy. We decided to let the girls choose one after-school activity at a time during the school year. This way, they continue to enjoy the activities they love while they pursue academic excellence.

Impedes Kids From Learning Time Management

I want my girls to learn how to manage their time wisely so they get ready for school on time and don't wait until the last minute to finish big projects. To learn this skill, they need me to stop dictating how they spend every second. Instead, I must give them free time and space to practice and develop wise time management skills.

Isolates Kids From Friends

When kids are overscheduled with activities, their friendships can suffer. Friends are important because they help kids relax, improve physical and mental health, and boost immunity. Be sure your kids have plenty of time to spend with their friends. They need that support!

Cuts Into Family Time

We're so busy some days that my kids and I only connect for a few minutes in the car and before bed. Kids need quality and quantity face-to-face time with their parents and siblings. Prioritize family meal time, game time, and play time as you improve your family's relationships.

Prevents Kids From Being Kids

I often hear the phrase, "Let kids be kids." It means that we need to give kids time, space, and freedom to explore, experiment, and enjoy life. Whether they're 2 or 12, they need time to enjoy whatever hobbies, interests, and fun that helps them relax, unwind, and be a kid.

Do your kids show any of these signs that indicate that they're overscheduled and micromanaged? If so, I encourage you to evaluate your schedule. Activities definitely benefit our kids, but they need freedom to create their own fun, too. Join me in finding balance and helping our kids thrive!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Step in the Right Direction: 10 Benefits of Walking For Kids

Photo by Todd Morris (Flickr)

The next time you visit my community, you'll probably see my girls and I walking around town. They walk to school many days, and we like to walk together after dinner. We also often walk to the library, park, and friends' houses. Walking is a step in the right direction for our kids because it gives them ten important benefits.

Stay Active

The American Heart Association recommends that kids should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Since a one-mile walk can meet a sizable chunk of that requirement, challenge your kids to walk daily. Walking to the park or the library or even around the house keeps them active and healthy.

Improve Concentration

Walking to school helps kids concentrate in the classroom. In fact, the positive effects last up to four hours into the school day. I've found that after my girls walk home from school, they concentrate better on homework, too.

Promote Freedom and Independence

When we ride together in the car, my girls can't decide which route we'll take, who's riding in the car, or how long we'll travel. They have the freedom and independence to make these choices when they walk, though, and I've watched their confidence grow as they make decisions for themselves.

Practice Safety

Safety has played an important role in our family walks every since my girls' toddler years. They learned to wear the proper walking shoes, look both ways before they cross the street, and be conscious of their surroundings. They continue to practice these safety tips every time they walk alone or with a group.

Enjoy Nature

Even though we often walk the same paths, nature changes along the route every time. It's become a game for my girls and I to see who can spot and point out the most unique natural wonders, such as chirping birds, colorful flowers, and interesting clouds, as we walk together.

Protect the Environment

Walking reduces air pollution and provides other benefits to our environment. Partner with your kids to protect our planet when you encourage them to walk.

Socialize

Whenever my kids and I walk together, we chat about everything from the day's weather and our current favorite songs to our future hopes and dreams. Walking gives kids a great opportunity to talk and socialize with friends on the way to school, too.

Savor Alone Time

Kids need time with others, but they also need time alone. While walking, kids can daydream, think through problems, and enjoy their own company.

Have Fun

My girls like to walk, probably because we make it fun. We practice spelling words, skip, and play games. On the way to the park, corner store, or school, kids have fun as they walk.

Cultivate a Lifelong Habit

Walking is one form of exercise anyone of any age can enjoy! It's a lifelong habit that keeps our kids healthy now and into the future.

Walking is a step in the right direction for our kids, and it gives them ten important benefits. Join my girls and me today and take a walk with your kids!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

6 Ways to Keep Your Kids and Pets Safe From Ticks

Photo by s p e x (Flickr)

While playing at the park tonight, one of our neighbors noticed a tick crawling on her arm. I know most ticks are harmless, but deer, dog, and some other ticks can carry serious diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. I'm grateful I researched these arachnids earlier this year and discovered these ways to keep kids and pets safe from ticks.

Avoid Tick-Infested Areas

Ticks live close to the ground in any area with shrubs, brush, or grass. When your kids, pet, or other host walks, plays, or sits nearby, the tick crawls on you and looks for a tasty spot to latch onto. I know it's impossible to avoid infested areas altogether, but you can increase your safety when you avoid playing in or walking through overgrown, grassy areas. When hiking, stay on the trail and avoid touching plants.

Wear the Right Clothes

Our summer wardrobe includes mostly shorts and tank tops. These clothes don't provide tick protection, though. When we hike or spend time in a tick habitat, my girls and I wear light-colored clothing that allows us to see ticks more easily. We also cover our skin with long-sleeved shirts and long pants with the pant legs tucked into our boots. We tie our hair back and wear hats, too.

You can also consider tick-repellent clothing. Buy clothes that are pretreated with permethrin, or spray the insecticide on your clothes. It kills ticks on contact and protects your children as they enjoy the great outdoors.

Apply Insect Repellent

To prevent ticks from biting you, wear a tick repellent. It's easy to apply and prevents ticks from attaching themselves to exposed skin. The most effective and safest varieties of tick repellent for kids contain at least 10 to 30 percent DEET. I recommend that you follow the directions on the repellent bottle to ensure that you apply it safely and maximize its benefits.

Perform Regular Tick Checks

My girls know that I'll perform a tick check after every outdoor excursion! They toss their clothes in the washing machine, and then I check concealed areas, including their scalp and neck, behind their ears and knees, under their arms, between their fingers and toes, and in the groin area. Be sure to inspect your pets carefully and thoroughly, too.

Ask Your Vet for Pet Medication

Pets are not immune to ticks, so protect them, too. In addition to perfoming regular tick checks, I recommend that you ask your vet for a tick collar, shampoo, or medicine that repels ticks and protects your furry friend.

Remove Ticks Promptly

Despite these preventative measures, you could still find a tick crawling on your skin, clothing, or pet. The best approach is to remove it before it bites. Use a paper towel or tweezers to pick up the tick. Never use your fingers, since you could pick up spirochetes, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, by handling the tick. Drop it in rubbing alcohol to kill it, then place the dead tick in a baggie, seal the bag, and toss it in the trash.

Ticks thrive outdoors and are part of almost any outdoor play experience. Protect your kids and pets with these six tips. Do you have other suggestions that will keep kids and pets safe from ticks?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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