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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

How to Keep Your Family Safe During the Transition to Relaxed COVID-19 Guidelines

Photo by educadormarcossv (pixabay)

Without question, this summer is very different from last summer. Last summer, we were all encouraged to stay inside, stay within our bubble, and limit our exposure to others as much as possible. It felt like I spent most of the summer trying to find ways to make our home and yard entertaining enough to keep us all occupied and avoid going stir-crazy! After all, like many families, we were forgoing summer vacations, beloved traditions, and time with extended family and friends to comply with the safety measures recommended by health officials. So it's exciting and wonderful that the world is coming back online this year. That doesn't mean that this summer is without its own challenges, though. How do we start resuming normal activities while COVID-19 continues to be a threat?

Get Vaccinated

COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and people who have been fully vaccinated can resume normal activities and do not need to be tested or quarantine when traveling within the United States. Get vaccinated as soon as you can, and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Don't be afraid to ask family and friends who will be around your kids about their vaccination status. Not everyone can get vaccinated yet, but those who can should do so to keep themselves and others safe.

Wear a Mask Where Required

Restrictions are loosening, but masks are still required in some public spaces. Some stores and restaurants are asking patrons to continue wearing masks, and masks are required on public transportation like buses and planes. The unvaccinated, including young children, should continue to wear masks when out in public. Families with younger children might want to consider having all members wear masks if the kids balk: It's a lot easier for a small child to grasp the fact that your whole family wears masks.

Keep Up Handwashing and Sanitation Procedures

There was a point last year when people were sanitizing their groceries and leaving packages outside of their homes (that wasn't just me, right?). The more we learned about the virus and how it spread, the more we understood that those sorts of precautions weren't necessary. What is necessary is enforcing regular handwashing and keeping hand sanitizer with you for the times when handwashing isn't feasible. Not only is this a good precaution against COVID-19, but it's also a healthy habit that will help keep your family safe throughout their lives.

Focus on Outdoor Activities

Summer is a great time to be outside, and the fresh air and sunlight hamper the virus's ability to spread. Also, activities such as walking, hiking, camping, biking, and running are naturally socially distanced, making it easier to stay away from strangers while you have fun with your family.

Check Travel Advisories

Within the United States, there is no need for vaccinated people to get tested or quarantine before or after a trip. But that doesn't mean that different areas of the country don't have varying requirements for social distancing and mask-wearing. Most requirements vary on a state-by-state level, but different cities and municipalities can also have different guidelines. The same goes for other countries: The State Department has information on the requirements and restrictions other countries are placing on international visitors.

Be Kind to Yourself

Re-entry anxiety is real, and many people are feeling it. For more than a year, many of us have stayed away from public spaces and consistently worn masks. Now, we're supposed to just stop? The first time I ate in a restaurant after I was vaccinated, it was very strange. Here I was, with all of these other people, and we were all just breathing the same air and eating like it was 2019! If you're a bit nervous about going back to normal, it's OK to step back and take resuming normal life at a pace that feels right for you and your family. However, if your anxiety doesn't decrease, it's also OK to seek help. We've all experienced trauma from living through a pandemic, so don't be hard on yourself.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

9 Tips for Encouraging Life-Long Healthy Hydration Habits in Children

Photo by jarmoluk (pixabay)

Kids should be drinking lots of water every day to stay hydrated and healthy. Staying well-hydrated is especially important in the summer or anytime a kid is particularly active. However, one recent study found that on any given day, 20% of American children don't drink a single drop of water. Instead, kids are turning to juice, soda, and other sugary drinks that don't offer the benefits of water. These drinks also contribute to obesity and can cause other health issues. However, as all parents know, it can be challenging to foster a habit of drinking water in kids. But there are things we can do as parents to make kids reach for water!

1. Set a Good Example!

The best way to get your kids to drink water is to model this behavior yourself. Instead of reaching for another coffee or soda, make a point of drinking water on a consistent basis around your kids. Not only is it setting a good example, but you'll be improving your own health in the process.

2. Make Sure Kids Have Access to Water

Everyone says they want kids to drink lots of water, but lots of kids don't have consistent access to cold, fresh water when they are thirsty. At home, make sure it's easy for kids to serve themselves water. Reach out to babysitters, teachers, and other people who care for your kids to make sure the messaging about hydration and access to water is consistent.

3. Let Kids Pick Fun Water Bottles

I carry my water bottle around in the same way I carry around my phone. It's something that's with me all the time, so along with making sure it's a good size and keeps my water cold, I wanted a bottle that looked good and matched my aesthetic. Kids are no different! A water bottle that they choose that represents some part of their personality or just looks cool is a water bottle they will carry around with them and actually use.

4. Try Frozen Fruit

Drinking plain water all the time can get a bit boring. Liven it up by switching out regular ice cubes for frozen fruit! Not only does it look pretty floating in your glass, but frozen fruit also adds a subtle flavor to the water without being unhealthy.

5. Use Natural Flavoring

Usually, a cold drink of water is exactly what I want when I'm thirsty or hot. Sometimes, though, I know I need to drink even when my body isn't sending strong thirst cues. That's when I break out some natural flavoring tricks to encourage myself to drink more. Drop in some mint leaves, add some cucumber, try a watermelon cube, or just add some lemon or lime slices. Suddenly, the water has a very different flavor without added sugar, corn syrup, or chemical sweeteners. It's a healthy trick your kids can use now and in the future.

6. Don't Stock Up on Sugary Drinks

The medical community agrees that sugary drinks are bad for kids. Even juice can be tricky: A lot of those products in the juice aisle are loaded with sugar and food coloring along with just a little bit of actual juice. But any parent can tell you how hard it can be to completely ban soda, sports drinks, or juice from their kids' diets. The answer is to treat these drinks like what they really are: sugary treats, just like ice cream, brownies, and other things we love but shouldn't eat every day. These things shouldn't be in your pantry or fridge on a regular basis, but having one now and then won't kill you.

7. Build in Drink Times

Sometimes, I don't realize I'm thirsty until I'm practically dehydrated. Kids also often struggle with recognizing thirst cues. To help with this, make drinking water part of their regular schedules. Drink water at meals, when they eat a snack, when they get home from school, and before and after playing. This way, even if they don't think they are thirsty, they are still getting the water they need to stay properly hydrated.

8. Take a Peek in the Toilet

When our children are first born, we monitor if they're staying hydrated by noticing how many wet diapers we change in a day. As kids get older, it's important to teach them to pay attention to how many times they use the bathroom in a day. If they hardly ever need to go, they probably need to drink more water. You can also teach kids to quickly peek at the color of their urine. If it's light, everything's fine, but if it's darker in color, drink more water.

9. Make It a Game

I have several apps on my phone that let me track how many glasses of water I have a day. My paper planner is also a good place to track how much I drink. Teach your kids to use something similar! Make a chart in the kitchen and let them mark each time they drink a glass of water. If they hit their goal, let them put a sticker on the day. It teaches them good tracking habits, ensures that they get enough water, and adds a little bit of fun to the routine.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

9 Ways to Encourage Respect for Diversity Through Play

Photo by trilemedia (pixabay)

Exposing young children to the idea of diversity and helping them to have respectful conversations about race, religion, and personal identity can be challenging; after all, even adults struggle with some of these concepts. Most parents already know the best way to engage their children is through play, and introducing the concept of respecting diversity is no different. Play is an amazing way to teach our kids many things, including how to be respectful and appreciative of our differences.

Start With the Toy Box

Most kids like to play with dolls and toys that look like them, but it's important to make sure that your collection of dolls reflects the reality of our world today. The dolls should have a variety of skin tones and reflect different cultural traditions. Additionally, go beyond dolls to incorporate toys from other cultures into your kids' toy rotation.

Diversify Your Bookshelf

Books should be windows into worlds, lives, and experiences very different from your own. Make sure the books on your kids' shelves aren't only mirrors that reflect lives much like you and your kids live. Seek out authors of different races and nationalities to expose them to different backgrounds. A lot of kids and adults tend to default to reading authors who look like them and stories about people like them. Creating a diverse bookshelf early on will help to ensure that your kids always have a rich and varied reading life.

Spin the Globe

One fun game children of all ages enjoy is the globe-spinning game. As you spin the globe, have your child place their finger on the globe to stop it. Whatever country they land on is the next one you'll explore. You could watch videos, try foods, or find books about this region at the library.

Try Music From Around the World

Music that once would have been hard to find is now available online with a few clicks. Find some modern music created by musicians from other cultures, and check out traditional music from around the globe as well.

Visit Museums

Museums can expose children to art and cultures beyond their own. A little preparation can allow your children to really immerse themselves in the experience. Trying food from cultures represented in the museum and reading storybooks before you go can help them build a context for what they will see. After your museum visit, try to create art or crafts like what you just saw.

Support Free Play

Play is a vital way for children to work through the ideas and concepts of diversity. However, children's playtime is under constant pressure. It's important to deliberately choose to create ample time and space for children's imaginative play. Scheduling in unscheduled time allows kids to experience unrushed playtime to work out their feelings and thoughts and become more competent and resourceful people.


Helping kids learn how to have difficult conversations and navigate challenging situations successfully is an important (but difficult) part of parenthood. Reading books or watching videos in which kids hear racist or other derogatory language lets kids think about how it feels to be in those situations, but role-playing after such exposure lets kids try out responses and strategies for dealing with these situations.

Start Early

Exposing your kids to different cultures isn't something that requires waiting. From infancy, incorporating storybooks from a diverse range of authors and listening to music from different cultures is an excellent foundation for a child who will respect diversity. But if your child is older, the window isn't closed: The best time to begin is now.

Listen to Your Kids

Most children have already seen or experienced prejudice. Playing is a great way to get them to start talking about things they've already witnessed in their own lives. These conversations can serve as building blocks to help them reach higher levels of understanding.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, June 21, 2021

10 Children's Snacks That Are Shockingly Unhealthy

Photo by Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Modern parents have a lot to worry about, but what to feed our kids is at the top of the list for many of us. We want them to eat fresh, nutritious food and have a lifelong healthy relationship with the things they eat. They want easy-to-eat snacks that taste good. Grocery store shelves are overflowing these days with updated versions of the snacks we grew up eating, like chips, cheese crackers, and Popsicles. However, although these new options may seem like they are more nutritious and wholesome, many are actually filled with added sugar, refined flours, chemical additives, and sodium.

1. Cereal Bars

We all have mornings when we need grab-and-go breakfasts. Cereal bars are easy for those rushed days, and the package says they contain fruit and whole grains: That should be healthy, right? The problem is that cereal bars are typically loaded with a tablespoon or more of sugar in each serving, and along with this dose of sugar comes trans fat and a host of artificial dyes and flavors. Instead, try keeping boiled eggs or protein bars on hand for easy, portable breakfasts that aren't hiding massive amounts of sugar.

2. Fruit Snacks

Fruit is a wholesome snack, but a piece of fruit is a far cry from a package of fruit snacks. Most fruit snacks are made from sugar-filled juice concentrates, actual sugar, and corn syrup. They also contain food coloring and artificial flavors. When it comes right down to it, fruit snacks are basically just candy with good marketing. A better alternative is to eat fiber-rich fruit or snack on fruit leathers or dehydrated fruit with few (if any) added ingredients.

3. Graham Crackers

Graham crackers entered our food culture as one of the first health food items, but even though they are still the snack of choice for many schools and parents, the bad news is that they basically offer the same nutritional value as a cookie. Their ingredient list includes sweeteners and highly refined flour. Does that mean you should panic each time another parent serves up graham crackers? Of course not! They are OK as an occasional treat, but try not to make them a daily staple.

4. Juice

I certainly grew up drinking juice, and I still love a cold glass of OJ on a hot morning. You might think that since it comes from fruit, it has to be a wholesome, healthy choice. But juicing fruit removes the fiber, which is a vital part of a healthy diet and also what helps our bodies to digest the natural sugar in fruit more slowly and evenly. Without the fiber, all of that sugar hits your bloodstream at once. Currently, the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is to limit children under 6 to no more than eight ounces of juice a day, while elementary-aged children should have no more than 12 ounces a day. Children under the age of one shouldn't have juice at all. Drinking too many sugary beverages increases the likelihood that children will develop weight issues or diabetes.

5. Muffins

Many kids (and adults) would love to start their morning off with a doughnut, but few of us would call that a healthy breakfast. Muffins, though, are far more likely to end up on the breakfast table. I've got bad news for you, though: If you're buying muffins at the store, you might as well be buying doughnuts. Commercially prepared muffins are basically cake. Healthier muffins can be made at home using whole-wheat flour or a flour alternative and mixing in zucchini or bananas. You could also seek out a bakery that specializes in healthy baked goods and get your muffins there.

6. Prepackaged Lunches

So many parents have been tempted by the bento box craze. After all, small bites of basically healthy food very much fits with how kids eat. And often, those boxes are easier for smaller children than a large sandwich. You'd think that the prepackaged versions of these meals should be a great choice, too, but you'd be wrong. They are filled with sodium: In fact, many of them have more than the entire recommended amount of sodium that children should get daily.

7. Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter

Most of us have internalized the message that reduced-fat foods are always better than full-fat versions. However, when it comes to peanut butter, that's not the case. Natural, full-fat peanut butter is made simply from peanuts and is chock full of healthy fats and protein. But when that fat is removed, it has to be replaced by something, and often, those "somethings" include unhealthy fats, sugar, and corn syrup. You're much better off choosing natural peanut butter or an alternative like almond butter or sun butter.

8. Sports Drinks

On a hot day when your kid is playing hard for an hour or more, sports drinks can help stave off dehydration and keep vital minerals in balance. But any other time, they're not a great choice. A bottle of a typical sports drink has 200 calories and a lot of sugar and sodium. Instead, for shorter exercise sessions or on cooler days, opt to give the kids cold water. If they want a little flavor, float orange or cucumber slices in their water bottles. This will help them establish the habit of reaching for water when they are thirsty. That's the kind of habit that will help them maintain a healthy weight into adulthood.

9. Veggie Puffs and Straws

They're made out of veggies and offers kids a snappy crunch, so you might think that veggie puffs make a great snack. But not so fast: It turns out that these lunch-box favorites are filled with refined grains like rice, soy flour, and corn flour, and those refined carbs are typically the first three ingredients, meaning they make up more of the puffs than the various vegetables used to flavor them. Need a healthier option that still provides crunch? Consider options like baked kale chips or freeze-dried snap peas.

10. Yogurt

Yogurt seems like such a healthy, nutrient-dense snack to offer our kids, and lots of yogurts are actually packed with vitamins. But the yogurt specifically marketed as being kid-friendly usually hides an unhealthy secret: up to two teaspoons of sugar in a 2.25-ounce container of yogurt! Food dyes and artificial flavors also are on the ingredient lists of popular yogurt varieties aimed at the lunch-box set. A far healthier alternative is to mix some fruit or even a small serving of jam into regular yogurt.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

7 Ways to Help Your Children Stay Focused And Succeed During Distance Learning by Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

7 Ways to Help Your Children Stay Focused and Succeed During Distance Learning

One constant challenge for families during the pandemic year has been learning how to best implement distance learning. For many parents who had never considered homeschooling, learning how to be a consistent part of their child's school day (which now is taking place at the kitchen table!) was a new experience. Children also had to very quickly learn how to cope with a very different form of school. Luckily, we have learned some strategies for helping children to stay focused during distance learning.

Know the Expectations

The first thing parents should do is determine what expectations their children's schools and teachers have for distance learning. How much time are the students required to spend online? Screen time limits should apply to all children, and for younger children especially, other types of learning are vital.

Consider Your Child's Learning Style

Not everyone learns the same way. Similarly, not all children are comfortable with all distance learning assignments. Which learning methods suit your child best? Do they do better when they are working with their teacher live on their device? Or does your child perform better when the teacher gives the assignment and then the child works away from the computer, perhaps with Mom or Dad watching? It's important to remember that there is no one best way for every student. There's just the way your kid learns best!


Kids need to move their bodies during the day. Getting the wiggles out (and I'm talking about kids from preschool to high school!) helps them stay focused when they are sitting down working. Make sure they have time to get out of their seat, run around, dance about the room, or just go play for a few minutes. Some kids even do better on schoolwork when they're standing. Try raising the computer or tablet to make an impromptu standing desk to see if that helps your kids focus for longer.

Limit Distractions

Just like with in-person schooldays, not every moment of your child's virtual school day is going to hold their interest. But now, of course, they have all of the distractions of home. And in my home, they also have the distraction of their sibling's school day and their parents' Zoom meetings! If possible, try to construct quiet zones so everyone can have a peaceful place to work. Everyone needs a pair of headphones. A clutter-free work zone with a comfortable chair can also make a huge difference!

Make a Schedule, but Keep it Flexible

Consistency and routine are important for kids (and let's be honest, for adults as well). Schedule subjects or activities your kid struggles with for times when you can actively supervise and engage with them. It's also important to schedule those activities for when your kid's focus is high and their energy level is up. For some kids, that's first thing in the morning. Other kids get off to a slow start and are better after lunch. Also, share this information with your children's teachers. If your kid is deeply involved in an assignment or activity, don't insist that they move to the next thing on the schedule.

Use Checklists

Checklists are fantastic, and you can use them in several ways. Make a checklist for every day for your child to work through. And don't be afraid to put non-academic things on the checklist. Chores like "fill the cat's water bowl" or "make your bed" absolutely should be on your kids' daily checklists. Also, many kids do better with checklists that break down each task. For example, if the teacher wants your kid to watch a video, read a supporting document, and then write a response, make a checklist that lists each step separately. This is also a great time to work with your kids on developing their own checklists, a skill they will use into adulthood and their working lives.

Be Kind to Your Kids and Yourself

No teacher wants their students to hate learning. It's OK to prioritize your children's happiness as well as their academic progress. If they are struggling with a concept or assignment, suggest a break! If distance learning is moving at a quick pace, talk to the teacher about slowing down the pace for your child. If the frustration level really gets high, you might decide that the day is over and give it another try tomorrow. On a similar note, make sure you are giving your kids consistent positive feedback for finishing assignments, completing their checklists, or acing a test. And give yourself that same positive feedback for shepherding your kids through distance learning successfully!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, December 14, 2020

How to Keep the Spirit of Play Alive During Distance Learning

Photo by 5712495 (Pixabay)

How to Keep the Spirit of Play Alive During Distance Learning

"Learning" and "fun" aren't always viewed as synonymous. In the eyes of many educators and parents, class time is for learning, and playtime is for fun. I would argue, however, that combining learning with play maximizes the positive effects of both. It's been scientifically proven that when a child is having fun, they are far more likely to retain the information that they took in at that time. Just think back to your own childhood. What captured your attention more as a child: a dry, hour-long lecture about fractions, or a Jeopardy!-style math game where your team had to solve problems first to win?

It's even more critical to be able to combine learning and play nowadays, as so many kids are attending school in the same place they play: at home. My girls have struggled to focus on schoolwork amid the distractions of home, as have their peers. Just ask any parent or teacher and they will tell you that keeping a child's attention on a computer screen for a full school day is no simple task. But just because they're doing remote learning doesn't mean that they have to stay in their chair all day listening to their teachers talk. Try these ideas to add more play to the school day.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

10 Ways That Play Builds Future Pioneers

Photo by 5712495 (Pixabay)

10 Ways That Play Builds Future Pioneers

If you want your kids to grow into responsible and successful adults, you should encourage them to play more. That sounds a little counterintuitive, but it's through play that kids learn the necessary skills to succeed on their path through life and become the world's future pioneers. This has become perfectly apparent to me after watching my two daughters play together over the years and seeing firsthand just how valuable unstructured playtime can be to their development.

My girls have recently fallen in love with playing hide and seek, and I mean LOVE. It's become an almost-daily activity in our household, and they're getting pretty good at it. The other day, my oldest got the idea to remove some clothes from the hamper, get in, and then pile the discarded clothes back on top of her. The illusion was so well done that we spent almost a half-hour searching for her. (In truth, I actually began to worry a bit before we found her.) For context, this is the same girl who just a few months earlier had attempted to conceal herself behind a curtain that only covered her from the knees up. By playing hide and seek, she practiced problem-solving and learned how to outwit her opponent, honing valuable skills she'll need throughout life.

Here are just a few ways that play can help turn your child into a pioneer.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Play Helps Children Become Smart and Happy Adults: Here's How

Photo by StartUpStockPhotos (Pixabay)

Play Helps Children Become Smart and Happy Adults: Here's How

Predicting potential professions for their children is a favorite pastime of many parents. Maybe you foresee your daughter becoming a top brain surgeon, or your son's got one heck of an arm and is going to be the starting pitcher for the Cubs someday. Whatever the case, every parent has at least some hopes and dreams for their child's future.

When it comes to my girls, anytime someone has asked me what I want for them in life, my answer has always been same: "I just want them to be smart and happy."

To me, what they end up doing is far less important than how they feel about what they end up doing. As long as they find a career path that makes them feel content and fulfilled, it doesn't matter to me what they choose.

This is why I place such a high value on my daughters' playtime. Unstructured playtime has real-world repercussions that can impact their lives for years and years to come. It's through play that children discover and develop the necessary skills to become happy and smart adults.

Monday, November 23, 2020

10 Virtual Field Trips That Are Fun and Educational for Kids

Photo by EdiNugraha (Pixabay)

Friday, August 7, 2020

7 Ways to Enjoy Summer While Social Distancing

In the past, the arrival of the summer season was a cause for celebration. It meant the start of pool parties, warm weather, and backyard barbecues. But amid the coronavirus pandemic the world finds itself in and all the social distancing guidelines that have been put into effect to keep people safe, it's easy to feel like it's passing you by. That doesn't have to be the case, though. Here are 7 ways to make the most of your sunny summer.

1: Go for a Hike

A man enjoying a hike. 

Photo by 5688709 (Hermann)
With all the social distancing and quarantine rules in effect, there's a good chance you've felt pretty cooped up these past few months. Why not change it up and get outside while staying safe by taking a hike. Taking a stroll through the woods or up a mountain is a perfect way to get a good dose of that sunshine you've been missing while still avoiding large crowds. Plus, taking in the vista from a mountain top is a surefire way to help take your mind off the problems of the world, at least for a while.