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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

Monday, April 24, 2017

11 Ways to Spark Enthusiasm For Nature in Children

Photo by Ed Ivanushkin (Flickr)

Only six percent of kids between the ages of nine and 13 play outside because they want to. I'm determined to take action to change this statistic! I invite you to join me. Try one or more of these 11 activities as you spark a child's enthusiasm for nature and encourage them to play, explore, and take care of the environment.

Watch Clouds

Warm spring days provide the perfect backdrop for cloud-watching. Together, you and your kids can lie on a blanket and watch the different clouds float by in the sky. Take turns identifying the types of clouds you see and all of the interesting shapes.

Observe Celestial Events

When I hear about meteor showers or planet appearances in my area, I set up an observation center in our backyard. Equipped with a telescope, blankets, and hot chocolate, my girls and I have the best view of these significant events and learn more about our wonderful world.

Go Birding

Every spring, my girls and I hit the local trails and parks to see the dozens of migrating birds that make their annual appearance in our hometown. Help your kids get excited about bird-watching when you research local birds online or borrow birding books from your library.

Inspect Small Creatures

Kids can learn a lot from inspecting bugs, worms, ladybugs, caterpillars, and even spiders in their natural habitats. I remember the first time my girls and I sat in our backyard and watched these amazing creatures walk, eat, and live. They had fun, learned a lot, and even got over their fear of the small creatures they used to call "creepy crawlies."

Plant a Garden

If your kids love veggies like mine do, plant your own garden! You can also cultivate flowers or herbs in your backyard or in patio containers as you prompt your kids to spend time outdoors.

Read Nature Books

When your kids would rather read than go outside, introduce them to nature books. These books can teach kids about nature:

  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
  • Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  • The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
  • The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle

Take Nature Photos

Instead of fighting your kids to put down their cellphones, challenge them to go outside and take pictures of flowers, wildlife, and other natural sights. We like capturing snapshots of nature's beauty during visits to our local parks, nature trails, and even our backyard.

Walk Outside Daily

Make it a daily habit to take walks with your kids. You can walk around the block, to a local park, or on a nearby trail as you observe nature and encourage your children to go outside every day.

Jump in Puddles

Think you can only go outside if the weather is sunny? Jump in puddles and have fun appreciating wet weather.

Create a Yearlong Nature Journal

Nature changes and grows with the seasons. Find a field, forest, or other habitat and observe these changes in a nature journal. You can include pictures, drawings, and other items that highlight the cycle of life.

Preserve Nature

Tap into your child's desire to make the world a better place when you preserve nature as a family. You can pick up litter on your street, set up a rainwater collection barrel in your yard, or find a restoration project in your community.

With these 11 activities, you can spark a child's enthusiasm for nature and help them have fun, explore, and take care of the environment. Which activity will you plan to enjoy today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Me, Myself, and I: 10 Benefits of Solo Play For Children

Photo by Alena Navarro- Whyte (Flickr)

My girls learn a lot when they play with other kids, and I encourage social play as often as possible. However, they do learn while playing solo, too. I know many parents feel concerned about letting their kids play alone, but kids gain ten key benefits from playing alone, making me, myself, and I time highly productive for children.

1. Increase Independence

It's important for kids to learn how to play well with other children, but they also need to be independent. When kids play solo, they become confident and comfortable making their own decisions, developing opinions, and becoming independent individuals.

2. Strengthen Personal Identity

Every child has unique likes and dislikes, interests, talents, and hobbies. Encourage solo play as you help your child discover what makes them tick. Over time, your child's personal identity will grow stronger, and they'll be more confident and secure as they embrace who they are.

3. Become Socially Independent

While my girls usually have access to at least one playmate, I've learned that solo play develops social independence. They become secure and confident in who they are, which allows them to stand up to bullies, play well with others, and feel comfortable in almost any group.

4. Promote Calmness

There is definitely a time and a place for wild and wacky play! But my girls need calm play, too, especially before naps and at bedtime. Solo play promotes calmness in their bodies and minds when they need that peace.

5. Teach Self-Regulation

When kids monitor and control their behavior, thoughts, and emotions based on their circumstances, they're exercising self-regulation. This skill helps them manage school, social, and other situations and is one they learn as they play alone.

6. Feel Comfortable Alone

When my older daughter started school, my younger daughter had to learn how to play alone. It took her several weeks to adjust, but she did eventually become comfortable playing alone. Because of this experience, I don't have to worry about how she'll entertain herself when no one else is around.

7. Overcome Separation Anxiety

Almost every child experiences separation anxiety at some point because it's a normal part of growing up. I know my girls didn't want me out of their sight during their toddler and preschool years. I gave them plenty of chances to play alone, though, and they did become more secure, less clingy, and better prepared for their first sleepovers with the grandparents and their first day of school.

8. Develop Imagination

During their last solo-play session, my older daughter drew a few elaborate mandalas and my younger daughter built an elaborate Lego castle. I was blown away by their imaginative ideas, particularly because imagination paves the way for academic, cognitive, and neurological development.

9. Foster Creativity

When playing in a group, it's easy for my girls to go with the flow and follow traditional game rules. Give kids a chance to play alone, though, and they start asking questions, thinking outside of the box, and finding unique solutions. This creativity definitely prepares them for real-world problems they will face.

10. Hone Talents

My girls' talent amazes me, and I see their talents improve every time they play alone. Whether they're putting on a play with their stuffed animals, shaping animal figures from paper, or drawing a coloring book, they're honing their unique talents, abilities, and skills that provide personal fulfillment and could turn into careers one day.

Me, myself, and I time gives children ten benefits and prepares for success as kids and adults. Whenever possible, I encourage my girls to take time for solo play. When will you schedule your child's next solo play date?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Everyday Heroes: 15 Inspirational Quotes For Educators of Every Kind

Photo by U.S. Department of Education (Flickr)

Last month, I was privileged to attend parent-teacher conferences at my girls' school. I always enjoy these conferences because they allow me to check on my girls' academic performance and thank their teachers. In my opinion, educators truly are everyday heroes! My teachers shaped me in many ways, and I know my daughters' lives are being influenced by their teachers.

In honor of our amazing educators, I compiled this list of 15 inspirational quotes. Whether you're a teacher, school administrator, home educator, or someone who's otherwise involved in education, read these quotes and remember the invaluable role you play in shaping the next generation of children.

  1. "Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best." (Bob Talber)
  2. "One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child." (Carl Jung)
  3. "They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel." (Carl Buehner)
  4. "If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people." (Chinese proverb)
  5. "Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace." (Confucius)
  6. "The dream begins, most of the time, with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you on to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth." (Dan Rather)
  7. "A teacher is a compass that activates the magnets of curiosity, knowledge, and wisdom in the pupils." (Ever Garrison)
  8. "Education ... is painful, continual, and difficult work to be done in kindness, by watching, by warning ... by praise, but above all by example." (John Ruskin)
  9. "I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. It might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit." (John Steinbeck)
  10. "The job of an educator is to teach students to see the vitality in themselves." (Joseph Campbell)
  11. "The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life." (Plato)
  12. "Education is not to teach men facts, theories, or laws; it is not to reform them, or amuse them, or to make them expert technicians in any field. It is to teach them to think, to think straight if possible, but to think always for themselves." (Robert M. Hutchins)
  13. "It takes a big heart to help shape little minds." (Unknown)
  14. "The mind is not a vessel that needs filling but wood that needs igniting." (Plutarch)
  15. "The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." (William Ward)

If you're an educator or involved in any aspect of education, I hope these inspirational quotes encourage you as you shape children's lives and futures. Thank you for your dedicated service and for being an everyday hero!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, March 24, 2017

Self-Guided Growth: 11 Benefits of Unstructured Play

Photo by Henry Burrows (Flickr)

My girls love to play! While they enjoy structured and organized activities like sports, I also make sure they have plenty of time for unstructured or free play, where they choose what to play and engage in those activities with minimal adult supervision or direction. Over the years, I've found that kids gain many benefits from unstructured play. I call it self-guided growth and encourage you to give your kids plenty of opportunities for free play, too.

Builds Creativity

During unstructured play, kids make up their own games, rules, and activities. Their creativity blossoms when they're in charge of making up their own fun.

Develops Critical Thinking Skills

While building block towers, solving word puzzles, and climbing jungle gyms, kids must solve numerous problems and challenges. They'll use the valuable critical thinking skills they develop as they play to succeed in their academic, personal, and social pursuits for the rest of their lives.

Cultivates Communication Skills

My girls like to play with each other and with friends, and I often hear them talking about their hobbies, families, and daily lives. The ability to talk to others and communicate effectively is an invaluable skill cultivated during unstructured play.

Promotes Physical Well-Being

Kids need 60 minutes of play time every day to combat obesity and gain better physical strength. Play also improves coordination and body awareness, making it essential for a child's physical well-being.

Helps Kids Discover Likes and Dislikes

In the past year, my younger daughter has aspired to become an artist, writer, and veterinarian when she grows up, and she practiced being all of these things during unstructured play. Without realizing it, she's developing a list of things she likes and dislikes as she has fun.

Provides Relaxation

My girls spend eight or more hours every weekday following directions and focusing on school work and other responsibilities. Free play encourages them to relax, unwind, and have fun.

Reduces Stress

Even though they're still kids, my girls often feel stressed about school, friendship, and even family obligations. They need time to step away from the stress and enjoy carefree moments as kids while they enjoy free play activities.

Promotes Social Skills

When engaging in free play with other children or imaginary friends, kids learn a variety of social skills. I appreciate that free play promotes social skills like sharing, negotiating, taking turns, patience, and conflict resolution.

Hones Talents

Are your kids interested in music, sports, or art? Provide plenty of unstructured play time during which your kids can discover and hone their talents, abilities, and interests.

Builds Self-Esteem

I want my girls to become confident, courageous, and self-aware. They learn these skills as they make choices and self-advocate during free play.

Regulates Emotions

Almost every time my girls play, they experience a wide range of emotions, which can include joy, anger, fear, excitement, and disappointment. Through play, they develop the ability to regulate all of their emotions and show their feelings in appropriate ways.

Kids receive these 11 benefits when they participate in unstructured play. Encourage your kids toward self-guided growth by offering plenty of free play time. You may even get the same benefits as you join them!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Little Helping Hands: 10 Volunteer Ideas for Children

Photo by Virginia State Parks (Flickr)

As a parent and play advocate, I've discovered over the years that volunteering helps kids learn social skills, develop positive self-worth, and make a difference in their communities. It's also fun. I never pressure my girls to help others, but I do encourage them to participate in volunteer activities they enjoy. My favorite 10 volunteer ideas for children prompt kids to use their little helping hands for good. Your kids might enjoy helping others in one or more of these ways, too.

Donate Unwanted Toys and Clothing

Are your kids' closets or playroom overflowing with toys, clothes, and games? Encourage your children to give away their gently used items and help others. They can set up a toy or clothing swap with neighbors or fill as many bags as possible for the local thrift store or homeless shelter.

Host a Food Drive

Hunger affects millions of Americans, including people in your community. Help your children end hunger with a food drive that benefits your local food bank.

Babysit Younger Kids

Both of my girls love kids, but they're still too young for paid babysitting jobs. That's why I encourage them to volunteer their services. While I supervise, they organize and host play dates in our backyard for the neighborhood kids and learn valuable skills while having fun.

Clean Up the Environment

One of my daughters is passionate about protecting the environment, so she walks around our neighborhood every week or two and picks up litter. Your kids could also pick up litter and debris from a local park, playground, or cemetery.

Make a Grandfriend

Kids who spend time with senior citizens have fun, make memories, and learn valuable social and life skills. Adopt a grandfriend from your neighborhood or local senior center. Your kids can play games, do crafts, and share stories with their new friends.

Repair Broken Items

Last summer, one of my nephews discovered a talent for bike repair. Now, he opens his garage once a month and fixes his neighbors' bikes for free. Do your kids have a talent like sewing, computer repair, or carpentry that they can put to use?

Foster Pets

If your kids love animals, let them become a pet foster parent. The short-term commitment gives your children the opportunity to care for and love a pet, and it could save an animal's life.

Help the Neighbors

When one of our neighbors had a baby last month, my girls and I made her a meal. Since then, my children have helped neighbors unload groceries, walk dogs, and gather mail. What neighborhood needs could your kids meet?

Grow and Share Plants

On Facebook last week, a friend posted pictures of the herbs, flowers, and vegetables her kids started from seeds. They'll give those plants to their neighbors, teachers, and friends this spring. What a fun idea!

Do a Sibling's Chores

I woke up yesterday to the sound of the vacuum, and to my surprise, my younger daughter had decided to do her sister's chore and vacuum the playroom! I love that my girls have learned to serve each other occasionally by voluntarily doing each other's chores.

Every child can benefit from the life skills and lessons volunteering provides. How will you encourage your kids to have little helping hands today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, March 17, 2017

Spring Fever: 4 Great Ways to Play This Spring

Photo by Wellspring Community School (Flickr)

Spring makes my heart sing! I love the chirping birds, blossoming plants, and warmer temperatures. This spring, my girls and I plan to enjoy some playful activities that are unique to the season. They're sure to cure spring fever!

Enjoy Your First Picnic of the Year

As soon as the temperatures warm up, my girls and I head outdoors for our first picnic of the year. There's something about fresh air that makes food taste better! For our menu, we usually pack tasty foods that are easy to transport like cheese and crackers, apples, and nuts. You can customize your picnic lunch to include your favorite foods.

The backyard, neighborhood park, or a local picnic spot can provide the perfect setting for your picnic. Consider picking a spot with plenty of open space to play and run, and make sure you have bathrooms nearby, too.

Games are next on our list. My girls enjoy Frisbee, and we sometimes take cards, a football, or even art supplies.

Remember to plan for the weather. Sunscreen is a must! I also recommend extra sweatshirts or jackets and umbrellas, since spring weather is unpredictable. And here's one more tip: Consider making a checklist so you don't forget anything. One year, I forgot to take silverware and a trash bag, so now, I always make a "picnic essentials" list!

Attend a Tulip or Cherry Blossom Festival

I enjoy seeing all of the new plant life blooming in the spring, especially cherry blossoms and tulips. My bucket list includes visiting an international cherry blossom or tulip festival in Holland, Spain, Japan, Istanbul, or Ottawa.

Until then, we're considering a road or bus trip to Tulip Time in Holland, Michigan, this year. I'm looking forward to seeing all of the tulips, and my girls are excited about the entertainment, which includes parades and dancing. Join us or visit one of these festivals as you celebrate spring with the beauty of nature:

  • National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC
  • Albany Tulip Festival in Albany, New York
  • Wooden Shoe Tulip Fest in Woodburn, Oregon

Decorate a Birdhouse

A variety of birds fly through my neighborhood every spring, and they're fun to watch. This year, my girls suggested we decorate birdhouses for our feathered friends. I decided to buy a pre-assembled birdhouse at our local craft store, but we also considered kits we could assemble ourselves. For the decorations, we'll use our imaginations. I find inspiration in nature and plan to glue stones, moss, and twigs to my birdhouse. Meanwhile, my older daughter wants to paint her birdhouse bright colors, and my younger daughter will paint her birdhouse to look like a real house, complete with windows, doors, and shingles. When we're finished decorating our birdhouses, we'll hang them in the backyard and have fun bird-watching.

Plant a Container Garden

For some reason, spring makes me hungry for fresh tomatoes! It might be because we plant tasty tomatoes and other veggies and herbs in containers every spring. A container garden is convenient because it doesn't require tons of space or time, and it's fun. Follow these steps to plant a container garden of your own.

  • First, choose your plants. We grow veggies and herbs, but flowers would also work.
  • Then, choose a location. Certain plants need lots of sun, while others only need a little. Consider your plants' needs as you determine whether to place the containers on your deck, windowsill, or patio.
  • You're now ready to prepare the containers. Almost any container works as long as it has excellent drainage. After placing the containers where you want them, fill them at least two-thirds full with a quality potting soil and fertilizer mix from the garden center.
  • After arranging your plants in the soil, fill the container to within two inches of the top with soil. Water generously and enjoy watching your plants grow.

Do you have spring fever like me? Try one of these four activities. They're playful and fun for your entire family!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

5 Rules of Proper Playground Etiquette

Photo by dadblunders (Flickr)

At the playground, kids burn off energy, make friends, and have fun, but playground safety and fun depend on proper playground etiquette. I follow these five simple rules whenever taking the girls out to play and I've found they go a long way to avoid dampening their fun. They help everyone have fun while staying safe and teach our children important life lessons!

1. Monitor Your Children

Once your kids race off to play, it's tempting to snag a bench and check email, chat with other caregivers, or relax. What happens, though, if a child falls off the swing, is bullied by another kid, or chases a butterfly down the street or out of sight? Monitor your kids and avoid becoming too distracted. As a bonus, your attention boosts your child's self-esteem and shows them that you love them and are proud of their climbing, running, and playing.

2. Promote Sharing

Sometimes when we visit the playground, a kid will hog the swings or skip to the front of the line for the slide. It's annoying, and this behavior affects our fun. That's why I encourage my girls to share the equipment and take turns. When they aren't sharing, I give them a warning, and they know we'll leave if they continue the behavior. When another kid doesn't want to share, I'll encourage my girls to switch activities so they can continue having fun or, in appropriate cases, I'll ask their caregiver to step in.

3. Follow Equipment Age Limits

When my younger daughter was a toddler, she begged and cried to go on the big slide by herself. However, it was way too high and fast for her. On the other hand, we saw a teenager try to squeeze himself into the baby swing yesterday, and I had to ask him to stop before he broke it. Proper equipment usage is essential for playground safety and fun. Before you visit the park, set ground rules so your kids know which equipment they can safely use. If your kid is the one trying to use equipment that's too small, remind them to stick with equipment that's their own size so the playground stays safe and intact for everyone. This also helps to keep the bigger kids from playing around smaller, easily stepped on children.

4. Deal Properly With Aggressive Children

One time, my kids and I visited a park where a boy kept hitting everyone. We ended up leaving earlier than planned, which was unfortunate. Has this ever happened to your family?

Encourage your kids to stand up for themselves without resorting to violence. They can tell the aggressive kid to stop and walk away if the bully continues the aggressive behavior. Also, you can calmly talk to the child's parent or caregiver as you all cooperate to keep the playground safe for everyone. If the aggressor turns out to be your child, leave immediately to show that behavior will not be tolerated and so everyone stays safe.

5. Pick Up Your Litter

I always take snacks when we visit the park; I don't ever want to be caught empty-handed. We always pick up our cracker wrappers and juice boxes, though, because it's our responsibility to keep the park clean. Bring a plastic bag for your trash and other park litter (don't forget the hand sanitizer!).

With these five rules of proper playground etiquette, your kids can stay safe and have fun as they play. What other etiquette rules do you encourage your kids to follow on the playground?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

6 of the Coolest Parks and Playgrounds in America

Photo by wizardbearr (Flickr)

At our local playground, my girls and I enjoy playing on the swings, monkey bars, and basketball court as we socialize with friends. We love our playground! That's why we're celebrating Take a Walk in the Park Day on March 30. I've discovered six cool parks and playgrounds across America that offer a variety of exciting, educational, and playful attractions. Join us in taking a walk through one of these fun, entertaining, and cool sites with your family this month.

Imagination Playground in New York City

When I think of a playground, I think of play, but kids do so much more than play at Imagination Playground. This New York City attraction is also interactive and minimalist and encourages kids to be active during fantasy and co operative play. Kids discover and imagine as they maneuver, stack, and connect objects like sand, water, blocks, mats, wagons, and fabric. They can also climb, jump, and run. Basically, this outdoor space is a giant playroom that provides hours of engaging, entertaining, and creative fun.

Harry Thomas Sr. Playground

We know that playgrounds are supposed to be fun, but Washington, D.C.'s Harry Thomas Sr. Playground also incorporates math. Its design is inspired by the Fibonacci sequence, with curving paths and play equipment shaped in Fibonacci spirals. Other features include a fitness loop, rain gardens, basketball and tennis courts, and a shaded picnic area. Visitors also appreciate the community gardens and ADA-accessible walking paths. Kids can play, learn, and socialize while enjoying this pretty and cool playground in our nation's capital.

Woodland Discovery Playground

When designing the Woodland Discovery Playground in Memphis, Tennessee, its creators asked kids for input. The result? A fun and innovative playground! It's divided into six play nests connected via ivy-covered walkways, and visitors play together with slides, sand, tree houses, climbing nets, an open grassy lawn, and more. In addition to the play focus and ADA play elements, I appreciate that the playground is certified by the Sustainable Sites Initiative to meet stringent international standards for play.

City Museum

Talk about a playground designed for creativity, adventure, and learning! City Museum provides all of these features and more. It's housed in a 600,000-square-foot St. Louis, Missouri, building and includes dozens of attractions, many of which are made from reclaimed building materials such as chimneys, tiles, and bridges. During your visit, ride a 10-story spiral into the building's basement, play in the giant tree house, or ride in the 30-foot Ferris wheel on the roof. You can also crawl inside two airplanes, swing on a rope swing, and explore a series of underground tunnels as you enjoy one of the most eclectic playgrounds in the country.

Neptune Park

My girls can't wait to visit Neptune Park in Saratoga Springs, Utah, and climb the largest play pyramid in the country! It's 30 feet, or over two stories, tall, is made from metal, and includes rope netting for safety. But the pyramid is only one feature of the 10-acre park. Swing on the teeter-totter swing and regular swings, make friends on the toddler and older kids' playgrounds, and climb a crazy rock wall. You can also play Frisbee, basketball, or soccer, explore nature, and dine in the large pavilion or open air when you visit this unique park.

Encanto Park

Located a few blocks from Central Phoenix, Arizona, Encanto Park offers 222 acres of fun for kids and adults. Enjoy nature walks on the trails, go swimming in the pool, or share a picnic. Visitors may also go fishing, canoeing, or paddle-boating and observe waterfowl and ducks in the lagoon. The park also includes a playground, two golf courses, and an amusement park plus a sports complex where you can play softball, volleyball, basketball, racquetball, handball, and tennis. Encanto means "enchanted" in Spanish, and this park certain lives up to its name, in my opinion!

Are you ready for a different play experience? Try one of these six playgrounds. They're innovative, fun, and engaging for kids of all ages. Which one will you visit this month?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, February 16, 2017

10 Tips for Raising Resilient Children

Photo by liz west (Flickr)

I'd love to protect my girls from adversity, stress, and challenges, but let's face it: Life is hard! Just this week, one of our neighbors announced their divorce, my younger daughter found out she needs braces, and my older daughter almost failed a math test. As parents and caregivers, we can't erase adversity or make stress and challenges disappear, but we can work to teach our kids resilience. It helps kids navigate childhood hardships and prepares them for success as adults.

Allow Kids to Take Risks

I wouldn't let a five-year-old drive a car, but I could let her climb the jungle gym. Appropriate risks encourage kids to make their own decisions, solve problems, test their limits, and become confident.

Teach Kids to Problem-Solve

I love when my kids ask for help, but I'm often tempted to tell them how to fix their challenges. That approach won't help them become resilient. Instead, I want to teach them to brainstorm solutions, analyze each one, and find the solution that works best for each problem they face.

Ask "How" Rather Than "Why"

Please tell me I'm not the only parent who asks "why" questions! "Why didn't you do your homework?" or "Why did you pull your sister's hair?" "Why" questions put our kids on the spot, though. Instead, I'm learning to ask "how" questions. They encourage kids to think through solutions, problem-solve, and become more confident and resilient.

Help Kids Manage Emotions

Our kids may cry, retreat, or act out in anger when they face challenges because stress and adversity create strong emotions. We must teach our children how to acknowledge and manage their emotions when they face challenges so that they can respond in an appropriate manner.

Let Your Kids Make Mistakes

Forgotten homework and a failed test are two examples of mistakes my kids have made, and as an adult, I've made mistakes, too. Give your kids permission to make mistakes, and then show them how to overcome and move on as we help our kids become stronger and more resilient individuals.

Don't Rush to Accommodate Your Child's Needs

As parents and caregivers, we must make sure our kids' needs are met. However, we can give them space to overcome obstacles on their own. If your kids can make their own snacks, pick out their own clothes, and meet other needs on their own, let them.

Teach Healthy Conflict Resolution

Relationships can be a huge source of stress for kids and adults, which makes conflict resolution essential for kids of all ages. Begin early as you teach your kids the healthy way to address and resolve conflicts at home, with friends, and at schools.

Provide Plenty of Downtime

A few years ago, I noticed that my younger daughter had meltdowns every night before bed. I finally figured out that she was tired from running to soccer practice after school each day. I made a commitment to cut down on activities, and that has helped her tremendously. She needs the downtime to regroup and recover so that she's better able to handle daily life.

Model Resilient Behaviors

Our kids learn by watching us, so model the resiliency you want your kids to practice. Take risks, learn to manage your emotions, and admit your mistakes as you show your kids how they can be resilient, too.

Create a Safe Place for Your Child

Home is my safe place, and I often can't wait to come home, take my shoes off, and unwind, relax, and regroup. I want my kids to feel safe at home, too. Create a safe place when you listen without judgment, provide opportunities for your kids to play and be kids, and build strong, trusting relationships.

I wish my kids didn't face adversity, stress, and challenges, but they do, so I use these 10 tips to help them become resilient in childhood. With resilience, they're well on their way to becoming successful adults. What else could help our kids develop this crucial skill?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Sunshine Within: 10 Ways to Stay Positive During the Winter

Photo by Bina (Flickr)

Winter weather had arrived with a vengeance where I live, and we're bracing for lots of snow. For some reason, the season change messes with my emotions, though. I don't have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but I do start feeling a little moody and lethargic when cold weather arrives, and my girls get stir-crazy. This year, I decided to find the sunshine within and practice 10 ways to stay positive during the winter.

1. Go on Winter Hikes

Fresh air invigorates and energizes us, and sunlight exposure boosts our vitamin D levels, which helps to regulate mood. Take advantage of these natural benefits when you bundle up the family, grab your snowshoes, and go on a winter hike.

2. Take an Exercise Class

Exercise boosts your mood, relieves tension, strengthens your body, and helps you stay trim all winter. Personally, the girls and I enjoy dancing along to exercise shows on TV, but you can also sign up for a Zumba class at the local YMCA or gym, join a mall walking club, or watch YouTube workout videos.

3. Eat an Upbeat Diet

The foods you eat can affect your mood. Don't believe me? Research shows that an upbeat diet boosts serotonin and levels your blood sugar. Instead of reaching for sugary, fatty foods, eat whole grains, vegetables, proteins, and foods with B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids as you stay positive.

4. Do Puzzles

Beat the winter doldrums when you challenge your mind with puzzles. Crossword and jigsaw puzzles or Sudoku keep your mind active and give you have less time to feel sad.

5. Play in the Snow

So far, we've had minimal snow, but we have our snow attire and boots all ready for the big event! The girls plan to build a snow family, and they've already challenged me to a snowball fight. We'll share tons of fun and giggles as we stay positive and play outdoors together.

6. Clean Your House

Yesterday, I spent 30 minutes cleaning off my desk, and I felt so invigorated! Clutter can affect our mood, so if you're feeling down, take time to clean your house. Consider tackling a room or task like shoes, photos, or crafts each week.

7. Volunteer

It's easy to stay indoors when winter-weather strikes, but I encourage you to get out and help others. Volunteer to lead crafts at a senior center, read to kids at a preschool or the library, or help your neighbors clear their sidewalks. You'll feel more positive as you make a difference in the lives of others.

8. Enjoy a Hobby

I used to dread long, dark winter nights, but this year I'm going to make the most of those evenings and enjoy one of my hobbies. What do you like to do? Crochet a scarf, bake cookies, or create origami animals as you stay active this winter.

9. Schedule a Play Date

Socializing with friends boosts your mood. I know we always feel more upbeat after we spend time with friends, and we commit to planning regular play dates this winter. Host a slumber party for your kids, join a cooking class, or swim at the rec center with your buddies as you play and socialize.

10. Join a Book Club

Engage your mind, socialize with like-minded readers, and enjoy good literature when you join a winter book club. Most libraries offer book clubs for kids and adults or start your own with your neighbors and friends.

Don't let the winter doldrums steal your joy this season. Use these 10 ways to stay positive and find the sunshine within. What other suggestions can we try?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, January 16, 2017

Hopscotch to Happiness: 7 Emotional Benefits of Play

Photo by Dave Parker (Flickr)

My girls' newest obsession is hopscotch. While they haven't yet beaten the world record for most consecutive games in 24 hours (434 set in 1998), they've laid out hopscotch courts in almost every room of our house and play almost all the time. It's fun to watch them challenge themselves, and I encourage their play because it provides several great physical, mental, and emotional skills. Today, let's explore seven emotional benefits hopscotch and other play provides.

Gain Self-Confidence

Self-confidence is a realistic understanding of your ability, judgment, and power and is essential for success in life. Our kids develop this skill as they play because it provides opportunities for them to make and achieve goals, figure out what they like and don't like, and improve their abilities and strengths. Because of play, our children feel confident in themselves and become equipped to handle life.

Relieve Symptoms of Stress and Depression

We like to think that kids are immune from stress and depression, but school, social, or family challenges do affect children. Play gives kids an outlet for their emotions, helps them relax, and can relieve symptoms of stress and depression. See a professional therapist if your child exhibits serious signs of stress or depression, but encourage play to manage everyday symptoms.

Gain an Outlet for Expressing Feelings

Most kids internalize emotions, including grief, fear, or anger. Play therapy is a popular therapists' tool for kids. As they draw, create objects out of clay, or toss a ball, they open up and discuss their joys and troubles. Play also helps kids learn how to express their positive and negative emotions in an acceptable way.

Reduce Aggression

One of my son's friends became very angry and aggressive when he hit puberty. His mom decided to enroll him in swimming lessons, and her child thrived emotionally. This example is an excellent reason to encourage play, since it can help kids manage and reduce aggression.

Increase Joy

Laughing is great medicine for kids and adults. We feel less pain, experience improved memory, and enjoy better blood flow when we laugh. The next time your kids play, watch their faces light up with pleasure and joy. They'll feel happier and more relaxed as they have fun.

Improve Focus

Sometimes, my girls get so wiggly, energetic, and silly that they can't focus on anything, including their schoolwork, chores, or friends. I encourage them to play because it helps them shake out their sillies and focus. We always play before homework time or before we sit down to talk about serious issues so that they can be attentive and focused when it really matters.

Empathize With Others

Ever since my girls were young, I've encouraged them to play with each other and other kids so that they develop empathy. Kids don't always naturally emphasize with others. They do become sympathetic to others' emotions, learn to share, and develop negotiating skills as they play, though.

My girls may never beat the hopscotch record for most consecutive games. However, hopscotch and other play can lead to happiness, since play gives our kids so many emotional benefits. Let's encourage our kids to play more this year!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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