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Thursday, April 12, 2018

It's National Craft Month! 7 Benefits of Arts and Crafts for Kids

Photo by San Jose Public Library (Flickr)

Although my girls love to engage in active play, they also enjoy creative art and craft projects. They were especially excited to celebrate National Craft Month in March and used the month to learn how to make origami and bead earrings. We had so much fun that we plan to continue the celebration all year! You can encourage your kids to participate, too, because doing arts and crafts helps kids in seven beneficial ways.

Improve Fine Motor Skills and Coordination

While manipulating crayons, braiding yarn, and spreading glue, children practice finger and hand movements that improve their fine motor skills and coordination. These skills equip kids to tie their shoes, write or use a stylus, feed themselves, and hold a ball successfully.

Develop Executive Functioning

When our kids can focus on an activity, control their impulses, and direct themselves, they exhibit executive functioning skills. Use art and craft time to help your child develop these essential life and social skills. As they color mandalas, wait for paint to dry, or choose from a variety of possible artistic or crafty projects and activities, they practice the executive functioning skills that equip them to succeed in school, with friends, and in life.

Boost Confidence and Self-Esteem

After trying for days to master folding a complicated paper bird, my younger daughter finally succeeded. I loved seeing the joy on her face, and the confidence she felt boosted her self-esteem. Your kids will develop confidence and self-esteem, too, as they find projects they enjoy, practice their creativity, make mistakes, and achieve goals.

Hone Creativity

Our kids seem to have an unlimited imagination, and I love that! Let's put their creativity to good use and encourage them to draw chalk designs on the sidewalk or deck, design elaborate hats from paper, and mix homemade play dough. These fun and interesting activities hone their creativity and innovation, skills they need to solve problems, adapt to change, and handle diverse challenges successfully.

Learn Self-Expression

Kids may not always have the words to express themselves, but arts and crafts can give them a voice. Watch your child's artwork and the objects they choose to manipulate for clues to their emotional health. I've also seen parents, caregivers, and teachers introduce creative projects that draw out a shy or reserved child, help a child deal with trauma, or encourage children to express their emotions, ideas, thoughts, and opinions.

Discover Beauty

Our world is filled with color, patterns, and texture. As our kids work on arts and crafts projects like photo collages, flower-arranging, and soap-making, they create their own works of art and learn to look for and appreciate beauty around them.

Enjoy Free Play

My girls spend the majority of their day at school and in organized activities, but free play is essential. It helps them discover skills and talents, prompts their imaginations, and gives them space and time to relax. Consider stocking art and craft projects and supplies, giving your kids space to work on projects they enjoy, participating in the creative process with them, and pulling out the art and craft supplies during play dates. These free play opportunities help our kids learn and grow as they have fun.

Our kids gain seven important benefits when they do arts and crafts. At my house, we're excited to continue celebrating National Craft Month all year, and we invite you to join us. What project or activity will you and your kids enjoy first?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

15 Tips for Being a More Eco-Friendly New Parent

Photo by LoJoLu Photography (Flickr)

Parents always want the best for our children, and I think that includes taking care of our planet so we can leave them a world that's in the best shape possible. Here are 15 eco-friendly suggestions new parents can implement to care for your kids now and protect the environment for the future.

Use Cloth Diapers

Reusable cloth diapers reduce landfill waste and can save you big bucks in the long run. I know washing those diapers can be a pain, though, so you might want to use a diaper service. Barring that, choose an eco-friendly disposable brand to reduce waste and simplify your life.

Buy Biodegradable Wipes

Baby wipes remain useful long after our babies grow up. However, I always buy a biodegradable brand, cut the wipes in half, and think twice before using a wipe. You can also reduce waste with homemade fabric wipes.

Make Homemade Hygiene Products

Babies typically need diaper cream and lotion, but these products can dry a baby's skin and come in plastic packaging. Make your own homemade hygiene products with ingredients that protect your baby's skin and the environment.

Purchase Gently Used Clothing

Aren't baby clothes the cutest thing ever? Instead of buying new outfits, though, consider hand-me-downs. Organize a clothing swap or check out the baby section at consignment and thrift stores as you clothe your child in cute duds while protecting the environment.

Fight Stains Naturally

All babies spit up and make other messes. Stain fighters may contain artificial fragrances and other dangerous ingredients, though, so turn to lemons, vinegar, salt, rubbing alcohol, sunshine, and other natural products to remove stains.

Run Full Loads of Laundry

When my girls were babies, I spent tons of time washing onesies and pajamas! To conserve water, energy, and the fabric, I only washed full loads in cold water. I also line-dried our laundry whenever possible.

Reuse Items

Instead of tossing formula containers and stained onesies, reuse these and other items. Store toys in diaper boxes, turn formula canisters into flower planters, and stash crayons in an empty wipes container.

Make Your Own Baby Food

After my girls graduated to solid foods, I processed fresh fruits and veggies or the foods we ate for dinner. Homemade baby food reduces waste and conserves natural resources.

Borrow Furniture and Accessories

Your baby will need a crib, changing table, and stroller, but you'll save money and the environment when you borrow these furniture items and accessories from a friend. For safety, check the Consumer Product Safety Commission website for recalls.

Use Nontoxic Cleaners

To keep your house clean for your baby, you'll need to disinfect surfaces and vacuum the floors often. Use natural cleaners and disinfectants like baking soda, lemon, and vinegar to protect the environment and your child.

Buy Eco-Friendly Toys

Keep your baby entertained and teach your child valuable developmental skills with toys made from natural materials, organic fibers, or smooth wood. As my girls outgrew toys, we donated them to a local hospital or children's shelter and arranged toy swaps with neighborhood parents.

Unplug Power Vampires

Your cellphone charger, baby monitor, and coffee maker suck power whenever they're plugged in, even in standby mode. Develop the habit of unplugging all of your electronic devices and small appliances to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Bring Your Own Bags

Plastic bags decompose in 1,000 years. Yikes! I pack a few reusable bags in the car and use them at the grocery store and the mall.

Minimize Errands

You may have purchased an eco-friendly van, but try to consolidate errands into one trip whenever possible. You can also buy formula, diapers, and other supplies in bulk to save money and packaging or bike or walk to the store.

Enjoy Nature

I'm a big fan of nature. Kids and adults need fresh air, we use less energy when we unplug, and spending time outside gives our kids a greater appreciation of our natural resources and environment. Enjoy an outdoor picnic, spend tummy time on a blanket in the backyard, or go for a walk as you enjoy nature with your child.

To become a more eco-friendly parent, you may try all 15 of these tips or choose a few that work best for your family. What other eco-friendly tips do you recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

9 Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Nutrition and Physical Activity

Photo by Bruce Tuten (Flickr)

As a play advocate, I'm always on the lookout for ways to help kids and families stay healthy. In March, we celebrated National Nutrition Month, and now's the perfect time to help our kids understand the importance of good nutrition and physical activity. Here are nine ways we parents, caregivers, and educators can talk to kids and motivate them to make smart food and activity choices now and for the rest of their lives.

Be a Good Role Model

Kids learn from observation, so let's fill our plates with healthy foods, prioritize physical movement, and invite our children to join our efforts to get and stay healthy. When my kids see me embracing healthy choices, they're more likely to make wise choices, too.

Take the Focus off of Weight Loss

Of course, when we make healthy nutrition and activity choices, we may lose weight. But that's not the sole reason to take care of our bodies. Instead of saying, "Let's stop drinking soda and drink only water so we lose weight," try "Drinking water hydrates your body so it functions properly." With this mindset, our kids will want to make healthy choices to protect their bodies, not just to weigh less.

Engage in Fun Activities

My girls like playing at our local playground because they have fun. Encourage your kids to move each day, too, as they engage in fun activities like biking, hiking, and dancing.

Cook Together

This year, my girls and I vowed to cook together more often, and we're having so much fun in the kitchen! As we plan the menu, shop, and cook, we try new foods, talk about nutrition, and improve our health.

Provide Visual Aids

Hands-on demos and visual aids help kids see and understand concepts like serving sizes and sugar content. For example, demonstrate that a serving size of fruit equals one tennis ball, and show your kids that their favorite soda or cereal may contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar.

Read Nutrition Labels

The next time you visit the grocery store, introduce your kids to nutrition labels. They can learn to identify serving sizes, compare calories and sodium levels, and read the ingredients. With this knowledge, we teach our kids how to make thoughtful food choices.

Eat the Rainbow

While watching my older daughter prepare chicken, cauliflower, and rice for dinner the other night, I reminded her about the importance of eating a rainbow of colors. This guideline helps kids eat a balanced diet, consume a variety of nutrients, and try new foods. Plus, it's fun!

Understand How the Body Uses Food

Explain to kids that like their family car needs fuel and regular maintenance, their body needs a balanced diet to fuel it and exercise to help it function properly. This analogy can prompt our kids to make wise food choices and exercise regularly.

Stop Dieting

There's nothing wrong with reducing sugar, sodium, and caffeine in our daily diet, but dieting can damage our kids' health and view of food. We can instead promote balanced nutrition, eating in moderation, and daily physical activity as we equip our kids to embrace a healthy view of food and exercise that will last them a lifetime.

During National Nutrition Month and every month, we can teach our kids the importance of good nutrition and exercise. Try these nine tips year-round as you help your kids get and stay healthier.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, March 29, 2018

7 Ways to Help A Child Who is Overweight

Photo by USAG - Humphreys (Flickr)

Childhood obesity affects almost one in five kids and can cause a variety of physical and emotional problems. I talk to dozens of parents each week, and many of them express concern about their child's weight but don't know how to help. As parents, we can implement seven strategies as we address our children's weight challenges and prevent obesity.

Know the Dangers of Child Obesity

Before we can help our kids get healthy, we need to know the dangers of childhood obesity. Kids who are overweight may develop health problems like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, joint problems, breathing problems, and depression, and overweight kids may also experience bullying and low self-esteem. After we understand these dangers, we're better equipped to encourage our kids to maintain a healthy weight.

Be a Good Role Model

Kids often model what they see, so we parents must practice healthy habits. We must choose healthy foods, stay active, and develop a healthy perspective on our own weight as we model healthy behavior.

Limit Screen Time

The average kid spends two hours a day looking at a screen. I'm all for occasional screen time, but let's encourage our kids to get offline, stand up, and stay moving. Active hobbies, sports, and games help our kids fight obesity and stay healthy.

Promote Good Sleep Hygiene

While there are no definitive studies that prove that a lack of sleep causes obesity in kids, there may be a connection between sleep hygiene and weight gain. Sleep reduces stress, increases our ability to make healthy choices, and gives us energy to stay active. Let's help our kids get enough sleep and establish a healthy lifestyle when we promote good sleep hygiene habits.

  • Relax with a warm bath, meditation, or story time before bed.
  • Cut screen time at least two hours before bedtime.
  • Hang blackout curtains and turn down the thermostat in the bedroom.
  • Maintain the same sleep schedule every day.

Prepare Healthy Meals Together

The foods our kids eat can affect their weight. To fight obesity, I limit sweets in the house and provide fresh fruits and veggies for snacks. My girls also help me shop for groceries and prep meals. As we perform these tasks together, we often can talk about how healthy food choices fuel our bodies, the importance of limiting portions, and ways we can continue making healthy food choices every day.

Talk About Weight

We owe it to our kids to discuss challenging issues, including weight, but these conversations can be difficult. I found several tips that can help parents talk to kids about weight in an honest, non-confrontational way.

  • Ask kids how they feel about their weight instead of telling them they're fat.
  • Discuss ways your kids want to get healthier.
  • Talk about weight in everyday conversations rather than having one big talk.
  • Promote health rather than weight.
  • Avoid judging other people based on their appearance.

Involve the Pros

Sometimes, we need additional help, and that's when we can reach out to professionals our kids trust. A pediatrician, dietitian, therapist, or sports coach can chat with our kids about their weight, healthy habits, and feelings. This conversation can prompt kids to make positive lifestyle changes.

We owe it to our kids to equip them with the tools they need to maintain a healthy weight, so try out these seven strategies to help your overweight child. What other strategies do you use to prompt your kids to get and stay healthy?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, March 12, 2018

Why Play is a Crucial Part Finland's Academic Success

Photo by woodleywonderworks (Flickr)

I met a family from Finland this past week, and our conversation naturally turned to play. While kids in Finland and the United States play similar games, I discovered a key difference. Finnish classrooms incorporate playtime and recess throughout the school day. All of this play is crucial to Finland's academic success, and students benefit in several ways.

Promote Health and Well-Being

Ninety-eight percent of Finnish students attend preschool, but the classes don't prioritize academics. Instead, preschool classes and teachers promote a child's health and well-being. Kids play and engage in fun activities that are designed to nurture their natural curiosity, creativity, and imagination. I know that these skills aren't primarily academic, but they do prepare children for academic success when they enter school at age seven.

Develop Good Social Habits

Early education in Finland encourages kids to develop social competence as they play. While having fun, kids learn how to make friends, communicate, respect others, cooperate, and compromise. As parents, we know that these essential social skills help kids succeed academically and in life.

Foster a Joy of Learning

Playful school environments, particularly for young Finnish students, focus on the joy of learning. Children have fun as they develop skills like perseverance, communication, and curiosity while they enjoy childhood. I appreciate the fact that the children learn without realizing that they are learning, which helps their formal education stick once they do begin academic studies.

Encourage Play Breaks

Finnish students receive a 15-minute play break between classes, and some teachers allow students to play an educational game after they complete their lessons. After these breaks, students return to class refreshed, ready to learn, and able to sit still and focus on the lesson during instructional time. Their comprehension improves, and they learn more in less time because they play often.

Allow Free Play

I'm a big fan of free play, which allows kids to choose the activities they enjoy as they play. Finnish teachers agree. While teachers observe and assess the students to ensure that they're learning skills they need for academic and life success, the children can typically choose which activities they will enjoy. Because the students have a say in their play activities, they gain some control over their day and handle teacher-led classroom instruction better. Plus, children develop talents, build their strengths, and improve relational skills as they play.

Incorporate Fun Alongside Academics

In each grade, Finnish students have fun as they learn. Starting in preschool, Finnish students take some academic classes, but they primarily play to learn. By first grade, students attend math and science classes plus art, music, sports, textile handcrafts, and religion or ethics classes. Core curriculum subjects for older grades include entrepreneurship, digital skills, and crafts. Teachers also have the freedom to conduct classes outdoors where students can participate in relay races, explore a nearby forest, and enjoy other fun exercises that reinforce their academic lessons. Classes incorporate play alongside academics so that students receive a well-rounded education and develop a lifelong love of learning.

If you're like me, you know that children benefit from play. Let's take a lesson from Finland's schools and advocate for more play and recess in our children's school day. Then, our kids can improve their academic success and enjoy play time.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Positively Playful! 10 Ways to Promote Positive Thinking in Children

Photo by Steven Depolo (Flickr)

Soccer season starts soon for my girls, and they each will move up a level, which means they need to master more challenging skills. My older daughter feels excited about the opportunity, but my younger daughter is convinced that she'll have a terrible season. To encourage her to embrace a positive mindset about this and all of life's challenges, I'm trying ten positively playful strategies that can help her and your kids or students develop a more positive attitude.

Try New Activities

Although my daughter resists learning new soccer skills, her confidence, outlook, and attitude will improve as she tries new activities and succeeds. If your child can't get over their negative outlook and embrace new opportunities, learn a new game, take a cooking class, or tackle a new hiking trail together.

Reframe Negative Thoughts

One of my daughter's biggest complaints about the new season is her fear of failure, so I started playfully reminding her to say "I will do my best" instead of "I will fail." Reframing her negative thoughts will boost her confidence, give her a more positive outlook on the challenge, and prepare her for success.

Validate Emotions

As adults, we want our kids to be happy all of the time. However, it's normal for kids to feel afraid, angry, or negative. Instead of pushing our kids to feel happy, I want to validate my girls' thoughts, feelings, and emotions. When kids understand that emotions are not bad, they can begin to accept and process all of their emotions in a positive manner.

Set and Achieve Goals

My daughter will struggle to master her new soccer challenges, but we're using the WOOP strategy, with a wish, outcome, obstacle, and plan, to help her reach her goal. This effective strategy will help her succeed and give her confidence to keep trying and remain positive in the future.

Practice Gratitude

Despite the dread my daughter feels about soccer now, she will be grateful when she can run faster and play better. That's why we focus on the good things that happen each day. At dinner, we share positive moments, like a beautiful sunset, good test outcome, or surprise visit from Grandma. This exercise reminds both of my girls that despite challenges, they have much to be thankful for each day.

Help Others

Volunteering and helping others ultimately improves our self-esteem, well-being, and positivity. Choose a service project that's fun for the entire family, like babysitting for a single parent or cleaning up the park. By helping others, our kids begin to think more positively about themselves and life.

Repeat Positive Affirmations

The words our kids say to themselves can change their negative self-talk and promote positive thinking. I created a song for my daughter that repeats statements like, "I do my best, I achieve my goals, I am a strong kicker." Do the same for your kids. In time, they will internalize these affirmations and begin to think more positively.

Focus on Solutions

Every challenge, no matter how difficult, has a solution. I remind my daughter to look for ways she can overcome her fears and view the soccer season in a positive way. So far, she has decided to try her best and start training now, and I'm proud of her for moving past the problem and seeking a positive outcome.

Think Loving and Kind Thoughts

Thinking kindly about others can give our kids a more positive outlook on life. Here's an example mantra we say to our family members, friends, and classmates: "May you feel happy, healthy, safe, and at ease." I've already seen my daughter begin to think more positively about her challenges as she repeats this mantra.

Model Positivity

As parents and teachers, we play a powerful role in our children's lives and can accept and process our emotions properly, reframe our thoughts, remain grateful, and see the good in ourselves and others. We can also share experiences, joy, and laughter with our kids, which helps them feel secure and more positive about themselves and their lives.

Since we started practicing these positively playful tips, my daughter has slowly begun to see her new soccer season and other areas of life in a positive way. What other strategies do you use to promote positive thinking in your children or students?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, March 2, 2018

5 Ways That Children Can Keep Their Heart Healthy

Photo by ErstwhileHuman (Flickr)

At a recent well-child checkup, our pediatrician ordered a cholesterol test for my daughter. I was a little surprised, but he told me that up to 20 percent of children have high lipid levels, a heart disease risk factor. By checking her heart health now, he can help to reduce her risk of developing heart disease later in life. While we wait for the test results, he also suggested five things my daughter and all kids can do to keep their hearts healthy now and into the future.

Engage in Physical Activity Daily

Kids should move their bodies for at least 60 minutes each day. Physical activity keeps their hearts healthy, and exercise builds bones and muscles while improving self-esteem, mood, and sleep.

My girls love to run, jump, and climb at our local park and engage in free play every day. Additionally, the doctor suggested family walks, strength training, and aerobic activities like jumping rope to help my girls meet their daily physical activity goal.

Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet

The right diet supports a healthy heart. Ideally, our children need a balanced diet that includes a variety of colorful foods that are low in salt, sugar, saturated fats, and trans fats.

With dietary suggestions from our doctor, my girls decided to check their diet and see what changes they can make to improve their heart health. First, they will start reading nutrition fact labels. This can help them avoid foods with added sodium and sugar. Then, they plan to follow the recommended serving sizes and limit portions. Finally, they want to load up on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, all foods that support heart health.

Stay Hydrated

Adequate hydration improves almost all of the body's functions, including the heart's ability to pump blood properly. While kids often prefer to drink soda or juice, the pediatrician recommends water as the healthiest way to stay hydrated.

Every day, kids should drink at least eight ounces of water per year of age and up to 64 ounces after age eight. For example, your 3-year-old should drink 24 ounces of water. To stay hydrated, my girls will carry a water bottle everywhere they go, we plan to drink water with each meal, and they decided to consume soda or juice only on special occasions like birthday parties.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Gaining or losing weight affects how hard the heart works. That's why it's important to equip our kids with tools they can use to maintain a healthy weight and protect their hearts now and for the rest of their lives.

One clue to whether your child is underweight or overweight is their body mass index (BMI). Create a diet and exercise routine that supports a healthy weight gain or weight loss. For example, we plan to prepare healthy meals and have fun moving together each day as my girls achieve and maintain a heart-healthy weight.

Reduce Tobacco Exposure

Exposure to tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, regular cigarettes, and electronic cigarettes, and secondhand smoke damages almost every organ in the body, including the heart. In addition to harmful and dangerous toxins and chemicals, tobacco products contain nicotine, a substance that's highly addictive.

We must reduce our kids' exposure to tobacco products and avoid smoking around our kids and require grandparents, friends, and other caregivers to do the same. Our pediatrician also suggested that I talk to my girls about the dangers of smoking and using tobacco products. As parents and caregivers, we can equip our kids with the confidence they need to say no to peer pressure and not start smoking.

Heart health is important for kids. I'm grateful our doctor recommended these five ways that my girls can keep their hearts healthy now and into the future. What other heart-health tips do you and your kids recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

10 Simple Ways to Get More Steps Daily

Photo by JustyCinMD (Flickr)

To celebrate American Heart Month this month, my girls and I decided to walk more. We're already fairly active, but we want to increase our physical activity because sitting too much can increase our risk of developing high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and depression. Fitbit recommends that we walk 10,000 steps each day, the equivalent of five miles or 30 minutes, and we're going to try to meet this goal in 10 simple ways.

Wear Comfortable Shoes

The type of shoes I wear definitely affects my activity level during the day. If I grab cute but uncomfortable shoes, I tend to walk less, but watch out world if I wear sneakers! The right walking shoes have the power to keep me moving, so I will commit to wearing comfortable shoes as often as possible.

Park Far Away

I confess that I sometimes drive around the parking lot until I find a close parking spot, but I'm going to start parking at least a few blocks away on purpose. My girls agreed that we need to park farther away from stores when we do errands, too, so we can improve our step total.

Use the Stairs

The elevator quickly carries me to my office, but I plan to use the stairs from now on. I can also take the stairs to use the restroom on a different floor to I boost my step count.

Schedule Walk Breaks

I usually spend my lunch break checking social media or reading a magazine, but I want to use that time to walk instead. Even better, I plan to set hourly alarms on my phone to remind myself to get up and walk around.

Fire People Who Walk for You

Your housekeeper, lawn-mower, and dog-walker essentially walk for you as they work around your home. If you hire people to take on these chores, consider doing these tasks yourself so you can add more steps to your daily routine.

Walk to Relieve Stress

Eating chocolate, binge-watching TV, and hanging out online often help me cope with stress, but these habits don't improve my health. Instead, I want to walk and enjoy the quiet time, fresh air, and scenery as I relieve stress and meet my daily step goal.

Multitask

As I make dinner, watch TV, or talk on the phone, I typically stand or sit still. I can add dozens of steps into my day, though, if I multitask by walking while I do these things.

Embrace Inefficiency

If you're like me, you carry all of the grocery bags at once so you only have to make one trip from the car to the house. You may also cart a huge laundry basket upstairs all at once or email colleagues when you have a question because it's faster than walking to their desk. Inefficiency helps me walk more, though, so I will make multiple trips while unloading the car, walk over to see colleagues when I need to talk, and start using a smaller laundry basket. Being inefficient will take more time but is an easy investment in my health that I'm definitely willing to make!

Take a Buddy

Solo walks get boring fast, so my girls suggested that we each bring a friend. While we walk with our buddies, we have so much fun chatting that we forget to feel bored or tired. Plus, our friends keep us accountable and encourage us to walk each day.

Walk a Dog

While we don't have a dog, my girls suggested that we walk our neighbor's pooch before and after school or volunteer to walk our local shelter dogs. This task only takes about 15 minutes, but it's a great way to accumulate steps and do a good deed.

This month, my girls and I plan to celebrate American Heart Month by walking 10,000 steps a day. We'll use these simple ideas to reach our goal. What other tips could we try?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, February 15, 2018

9 Ways That Play Cultivates Compassion and Empathy

Photo by Caitlin Regan (Flickr)

Compassion and empathy improve our ability to interact positively with others. I reflected on these two character traits this week as I watched my girls play with our new neighbors, and I realized that they have both developed more compassion and empathy because of play. Consider these nine ways that play cultivates these two important traits in our kids.

Exposes Kids to the Emotions of Peers

Any time two or more children play together, our kids will see emotional expressions like happiness, anger, jealousy, or disappointment. Through this exposure, our kids can begin to understand the normalcy of feelings and identify the emotions they and their peers experience.

Fosters Emotional Regulation

Kids may understand that they have emotions, but it takes time to learn emotional regulation. Play helps. We parents, caregivers, and teachers can provide play opportunities and guidance as we role-play different scenarios, talk through situations during pretend play, and process emotions and feelings. These play activities equip our kids with self-control and self-regulation skills as they recognize appropriate and inappropriate ways to both express emotions and support peers in a variety of situations.

Puts Kids in Someone Else's Shoes

Pretend play and role-playing encourage children to transform into someone else's persona, character, or role. When my girls pretend to be a teacher, cashier, or astronaut, they discover what it's like to live in someone else's shoes, and they begin to develop empathy, which gives them a better perspective when they spend time with family members and peers in real life.

Develops a Cooperative Spirit

While playing soccer, riding bikes, or modeling clay together, kids begin to understand concepts like sharing, communication, and teamwork. They need this cooperative spirit to understand and appreciate others.

Builds Social Skills

Waiting in line, constructive play, and sports help our kids develop social skills. They learn how to be patient, wait their turn, share, negotiate, and recognize and read body language. With these social skills, our kids better understand how to relate to others and enjoy improved real-life relationships.

Improves Conflict Resolution

Conflict remains part of life, so encourage kids to play and improve their problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. Now that my girls are older, I often let them work through disagreements about which game to play or who gets the ball first because I want them to understand how to respect others and remain calm and kind as they resolve differences.

Addresses Trauma

One of our new neighbors doesn't talk much because of trauma from a recent accident, but I've already seen her open up a bit to my younger daughter as they draw, play with dolls, and run around the house. Play provides a safe haven for kids, allows them to be themselves, and provides a space where they can begin to address trauma and work through deep emotions. Eventually, this hard work equips kids to be more compassionate and empathetic to others.

Stimulates Creativity

When one of our new friends tripped during hopscotch, my older daughter tried to help, but he pushed her away. I watched her regroup, find a ball, and invite him to play. Her creative approach opened the door to a deeper relationship, and I feel grateful that kids develop this skill through play. As children explore different outcomes during constructive play, experiment with colors while painting, and brainstorm ideas during free play, they stimulate their creativity and imagination, skills they use to build relationships and meet the needs of the people around them.

Teaches Inclusion

Kids receive opportunities to include everyone regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or ability as they play. We can help our kids learn to wait for a slower runner to catch up as they play tag, choose to play inclusive games with their disabled friends, and see beyond skin color as they take turns on the slide. Through play, our kids learn to respect differences, include everyone, and value all life.

Thanks to play, I've watched my girls cultivate compassion and empathy, two essential skills for life success. How have you seen play help your kids become more compassionate and empathetic?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

15 Ways to Stay Healthy, Active, and Safe During the Winter

Photo by anjanettew (Flickr)

My girls and I typically play and stay active all year, but we recently experienced a huge winter storm that forced us to hibernate for several days. We ended up having so much fun together that I wasn't quite ready for life to return to normal! Our experience prompted me to research some ways that individuals, parents, and families can stay healthy, active, and safe during the winter, especially on lazy days when you end up stuck inside the house.

Get a Flu Shot

With this one immunization, you can cut your chances of getting the flu by 60 percent. Visit your doctor or pharmacist for more information.

Wash Your Hands

When you get home from work or school, before eating, and after using the bathroom, wash your hands. Frequent handwashing decreases your chances of contracting respiratory and other illnesses.

Use Hand Sanitizer

Fight germs on the go with hand sanitizer. Buy hand sanitizer that's at least 60 percent alcohol or make your own DIY hand sanitizer like my girls do, and carry a bottle in your purse, briefcase, and car.

Clean the House

Get rid of germs in your home and get some extra exercise when you disinfect all of the surfaces, including electronic devices, doorknobs, and trash cans. Change linens and your toothbrush often, too.

Enjoy a Massage

Lower your stress level, boost your energy, and improve your immunity with a relaxing massage. If you're like me and don't want to leave the house, trade back rubs with your kids.

Take Zinc

If you come in contact with someone who has a cold, take zinc twice a day for a week. Zinc lozenges can combat cold germs, boost your metabolism, and help you stay healthy.

Experiment in the Kitchen

My girls told me last week that they're bored with our dinner menu. I encouraged them to find new recipes that contain veggies and spices to boost our immunity and protein and fiber that help us feel full longer. We're excited about experimenting in the kitchen as we try new foods and eat a balanced and healthy diet this winter.

Stay Hydrated

I enjoy a daily cup of hot tea in the winter, and I try to drink several glasses of water each day. Staying hydrated reduces toxins and helps our bodies function properly.

Move More

Moderate exercise boosts your immunity, so if you're stuck inside, get moving with an exercise video, your stationary bike, or an active video game.

Shovel Snow

After a snowstorm, bundle up and grab your shovels. You'll get a cardio workout as you clear your property.

Enter a Fitness Challenge

We signed up for a 5K in the spring, which will help us stay active, motivated, and committed to training this winter despite the cold weather.

Play Games

During our recent hibernation, we played board and card games together. We had a ton of fun, and I appreciate that playing games exercises our minds and encourages us to spend quality time together.

Let There Be Light

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and/or a lack of vitamin D might affect you or one of your family members, so do your best to get some sunlight in your day. Go outside for at least 10 minutes daily, or purchase a light box to improve your mood.

Go to Bed Early

Double your body's ability to fight the flu when you get at least eight hours of sleep each night.

Join a Club

Hibernating during a storm may be fun, but socialization improves your mood and boosts your immunity. Find a hobby group or club at your local library, YMCA, or school and cultivate new friendships.

This winter, you and your family can stay healthy, active, and safe in these 15 ways, even if you spend the majority of your time indoors. What other tips do you and your family recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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