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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

Friday, January 13, 2017

Vivacious Vocab: 5 Playful Ideas to Help Kids Learn New Words

Photo by Jonathan Rolande (Flickr)

As a blog writer, words are my job. They're the foundation of our language, and I'd be lost without them! Words are also important for our kids. I want my girls to develop a vivacious vocab, but I recently read that kids have to meet a new word five to seven times before they memorize it. Wow! Since learning is always more fun when we play, let's encourage our children to discover, use, and learn new words with these five playful ideas.

"Word of the Day" Challenge

Years ago, I kept a daily "word of the day" calendar in my office. My vocabulary really grew that year, and I decided to adopt the same principle for my girls. Instead of a "word of the day" calendar, we use refrigerator magnets. I spell a word from their school vocabulary list, the dictionary, or the newspaper, and they have to use it as often as possible during the day. My girls have fun competing each day to see who can use the word the most often!

Word Scavenger Hunt

The inspiration for a word scavenger hunt actually started when my younger daughter was in preschool. She struggled to read even the simplest words, but since scavenger hunts were one of our favorite hiking activities, I used the game to help her. She copied several easy words from her favorite books onto index cards, and after bed each night, I taped the cards to various spots around the house. In the morning, she had to find, say, and spell the words before breakfast. She sometimes even hid the words for me to find after lunch. While she eventually learned how to read well, this game is still a favorite for school spelling and vocab words.

Spelling Hopscotch

Traditional hopscotch courts include the numbers one through ten, but let's break with tradition for the sake of vocabulary! Spelling hopscotch is a fun game that challenges kids and is perfect for school or everyday learning. To play, draw a hopscotch court or two. Instead of numbers, fill the squares with letters. Your kids jump from letter to letter as they spell their assigned spelling or vocabulary homework or random words you select. They get exercise, have fun, and learn while playing this game.

Comic Strips

My older daughter enjoys writing and illustrating, and her sister likes to color, so I encourage them to use their interests to expand their vocabulary. They learn while having fun! Every week, I challenge my older daughter to incorporate as many new words as possible into a comic strip. She creates the story and draws the illustrations before her sister colors them. Their vocabulary has grown tremendously thanks to this activity, and I've compiled their creations into a scrapbook so we can see how much they've learned.

Dictionary Chase

Reading is one of the best ways to build vocabulary. Since they were born, my girls and I make time every day to read together. While reading, there's always at least one word one of my girls doesn't know, though, so I tell them to go on a dictionary chase. My mom taught me to this activity when I was a girl. Anytime I didn't know what a word means or how to spell it, she told me to look it up in the dictionary. I give my girls the same challenge, and then they have to use the word in a sentence during the day. Our vocabulary has grown tremendously with this fun activity, and my mom loves that she gets the credit for introducing it to us.

In my opinion, the best way to develop a vivacious vocab is through play! Try these five playful ideas as you help your kids discover and use new words. What other games and activities do you use to expand your child's vocabulary?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, January 6, 2017

9 Ways to Teach Kids to Embrace and Respect Diversity

Photo by The Irish Labour Party (Flickr)

Kids as young as four can exhibit racial prejudice. What a shocking statistic! It makes me even more determined to teach my girls to embrace, appreciate, respect, and celebrate diversity. Here are nine ways we as parents, teachers, and caregivers can encourage our kids to value the races, cultures, traditions, languages, religions, and behaviors that make the people in our world unique.

Read Books

While my girls and I enjoy reading for entertainment, I also appreciate books because they're educational. Several children's books help kids understand differences, learn about other cultures, and embrace their identity.

  • All Kinds of Families by Mary Ann Hoberman
  • I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr.
  • I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes
  • It's OK to Be Different by Todd Parr
  • Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer
  • The Color of Us by Karen Katz
  • The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss
  • Why Am I Different? by Norma Simon
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Explore the Globe

I'd love to pack a suitcase and travel the world with my kids someday, but for now, we spin a globe and choose a random country to explore each week. We also discuss current events and talk to our friends, family members, and neighbors who have lived or traveled internationally. Exploring the globe in these ways gives my kids exposure to different cultures, practices, and traditions.

Sample International Cuisine

Last weekend, one of our neighbors taught my girls and me how to prepare falafel. Yum! Cooking and eating international cuisine together is a fun way to bond. It also helps kids appreciate other cultures. The next time you make a new dish, choose a restaurant, or visit a festival, sample international cuisine.

Introduce a Variety of Toys and Games

Maximize your child's play time with diverse toys and games. I suggest disability dolls, non-gendered toys, and games from other cultures. These activities help kids learn about and appreciate other people, behaviors, and lifestyles all while having fun!

Participate in Local Cultural Activities

My girls know that if there's a cultural festival, parade, or event in town, we'll attend. I love meeting new people, observing other cultural traditions, and showing my girls diversity in action. If you can't find cultural activities in your area, create your own celebration complete with international foods, costumes, and games.

Listen to Music

Around the world, music plays an integral role in daily life, religious ceremonies, and cultural celebrations. Increase appreciation and understanding of other cultures when you download, listen to, and discuss a variety of music. We often use Pandora or YouTube to expand our family's music playlist.

Dress Up

My younger daughter recently saw a woman wearing a burka, and she asked me a dozen questions about it. That experience prompted me to use dress-up and dramatic play to help my girls understand how and why people wear burkas, yarmulkes, saris, and other diverse clothing. Add these items, wigs, accessories, and other cultural clothing to your dress-up bin as you promote cultural awareness and appreciation.

Visit Museums

Art, history, and cultural museums offer educational and entertaining opportunities to learn more about others. My parents invited us to explore an African textile exhibit at their local museum, and it's absolutely stunning. Make a date today to visit a museum in your town or participate in virtual museum tours as you discover the ways other people create, think, and live.

Model Diversity

Kids will imitate their parents, teachers, and caregivers. Let's consider our attitudes and prejudices and examine our friendships, reactions to current events, and jokes. We may need to make changes or step out of our comfort zones as we embrace and model diversity and teach our kids to do the same.

It's our responsibility as adults to teach our children to embrace, respect, and celebrate diversity, and we can do that while having fun. In addition to these nine suggestions, what other activities can you use to teach your kids about diversity?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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