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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

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