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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

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