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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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How Play Cultivates Healthy and Enriching Friendships

Photo by Mark Harrington (Flickr)

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

1. Play Builds Important Communication Skills

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

2. Play Teaches Kids to Share Toys and Play Fair

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

3. Play Increases Self-Expression

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

4. Play Helps Kids Establish Boundaries

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

5. Play Develops Social Skills

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

6. Play Boosts Self-Esteem

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

7. Play Creates Fun, Engaging Environments

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

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

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Guide to Choosing the Best Sunscreen for Your Family

Photo by sabreguy29 (Flickr)

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

Why SPF Matters

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

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

Read Sunscreen Ingredients

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

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

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

Consider Photostability and Comedogenicity

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

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

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

Does Brand Matter?

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

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

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

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

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, June 12, 2017

10 Ways to Help Kids to Keep Learning During Summer Vacation

Photo by Spirit-Fire (Flickr)

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

Read

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

Watch Birds

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

Go Geocaching

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

Plan a Family Day

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

Write a Summer Journal

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

Cook Together

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

Learn a New Hobby

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

Make Music

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

Adopt a Country

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

Play Outside

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

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

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Blossoming Yogis: 7 Reasons Why Yoga Is Wonderful For Kids

Photo by Ilona (Flickr)

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

Increases Physical Activity

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

Relieves Stress

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

Improves Body Awareness and Appreciation

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

Boosts Self-Esteem and Confidence

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

Develops Focus and Concentration

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

Improves Self-Regulation

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

Connects Kids to Nature

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

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

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, May 26, 2017

9 Ways That Play Builds Self-Esteem in Children

Photo by HOPE Art (Flickr)

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

Achievement

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

Decision-Making

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

Independence

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

Skill Improvement

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

Perseverance

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

Resilience

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

Risk-Taking

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

Safety

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

Peer Support

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

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

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

10 Ways That Play Cultivates Creativity in Children

Photo by Cambodia4kids.org Beth Kanter (Flickr)

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

Solve Problems

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

Learn to Adapt

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

Develop Empathy

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

Accept Mistakes

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

Stay Curious

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

Stimulate Learning

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

Prompt Original Ideas

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

Stimulate the Imagination

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

Develop Unique Self-Expression

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

Interact With Their Environment

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

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

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

11 Playful Interview Questions to Spark Summer Enthusiasm!

Photo by Billy McCreary (Flickr)

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

1. What parks do you want to visit?

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

2. What healthy snacks do you want to eat?

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

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

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

4. What would you like to read about?

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

5. Which friends do you want to play with?

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

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

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

7. What physical activities do you want to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. What does your dream summer day look like?

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

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

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, May 1, 2017

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

Photo by Steve Wainright (Flickr)

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

1. Practice Camping at Home

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

2. Go Day-Camping

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

3. Start Small

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

4. Teach Safety Protocols

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

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

5. Prepare for the Weather

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

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

6. Involve Your Kids in the Planning

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

7. Pack Fun Toys

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

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

8. Bring a Few Comforts

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

9. Stick to Your Usual Routine

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

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

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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