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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

20 Ways to Stay Connect and Play Online With Friends and Loved Ones

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We all miss the days when getting together with friends or family was as easy as meeting up on the playground equipment at the local park. Today, it takes a bit more work and thought to stay connected with the people we love whom we don't share a house with. Luckily, there is a wealth of online tools to help keep us connected.

1. Watch Movies Together

Photo by Deborah Breen Whiting (pixabay)

I've loved going to the movies with my favorite people since I was just a small child. Luckily, there are now a couple of different ways to watch movies with your friends and chat about the experience as you watch (something that's not allowed at your local multiplex). A Netflix Chrome extension allows Netflix subscribers to watch together, while WatchTogether also offers synchronized watching and private chat rooms.

2. Have a Dress-Up Video Chat Date

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The kindergartners in my acquaintance now have busy video conferencing schedules! One way to make weekly chats fun is to come up with themes! Try dressing up in your finest clothes, or even try something like "'70s Roller Disco" for laughs.

3. Sing Karaoke Online

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Apps like Smule allow you to have all the fun of singing with your friends from the safety of your living room. Never tried karaoke before? What better time to try?

4. Enjoy a Scavenger Hunt

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Do a scavenger hunt together but apart. Make it a race. Choose things like "something small and blue" and "something soft and fuzzy" and take photos. An app like ActionBound might help. Also, check out neighborhood social media sites. Some areas are doing things like putting teddy bears in windows or hanging crystals off of mailboxes.

5. Play Words With Friends Together

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Ten years ago, everyone I knew loved Words with Friends. Reload the app and reach out to your friends, it's still one of the best apps for having online fun with your real-life crew.

6. Create a Minecraft Server

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Minecraft has educational aspects but also is a great way to build community. Build your own virtual world to escape to.

7. Play Cards Against Humanity

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Cards Against Humanity is one of my go-to's for entertaining. The online version lets you hear your friends' inappropriate thoughts even when you are away from each other.

8. Join an Online Book Club

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If you already are a part of a book club, move it to video chat. Otherwise, reach out to your local indie bookstore! You'll make new friends and support a local business all at once.

9. Solve a Mystery Together Playing Clue

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Love board game nights? Try getting together a group to figure out just what Miss Scarlett was doing in the library.

10. Use Houseparty to Host an Online Dinner Party

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Miss dinner parties? Set your table, and start a video conference. You'll get dinner time conversation, and maybe even pick up some ideas for new dinner recipes.

11. Don't Miss Out on Your Weekly Card Game

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Many card games are available online, including UNO. These games allow you to play card games online with your real-life friends.

12. Enjoy Trivia Night

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Trivia Night needn't be skipped just because you aren't going out. Each week, let one person on the video conference be the trivia master and everyone else be the participants.

13. Use Screen Share to Take a Group Trip

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Many museums and historic sites are offering free tours online. Find one that will interest your group, and set up a screen share so that your crew can enjoy the experience together.

14. Mail Craft Kits to Your Kids Friends

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Make up age-appropriate craft kits and mail them your kids' best friends. Then schedule a video call where the kids can work on the craft kits together!

15. Set Up Group Text Chains

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Texting makes it easy to stay in touch, but some days it feels like my phone never stops buzzing! Streamline texts by setting up group chats with friends and family groups. That way, everyone sees important news but you don't have to text everyone individually.

16. Virtual Outdoor Playdates

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Video conferencing doesn't have to stay indoors! Setup the tablet and let your kids play with their friends from afar. Noticing your yard isn't the playland you'd like it to be? Contact local outdoor play equipment companies and stores.

17. Schedule Regular Check-ins

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It's easy to get overwhelmed and withdraw from the people you enjoy most. Schedule regular check-ins via text, phone, or video chat so you also have something you look forward to on your schedule.

18. Engage in Group Projects, Separately

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One of my favorite days in quarantine? My college best friend and I set up a video conference and chatted while we worked on some DIY projects (I painted my kitchen while she refinished a dresser). It gave each of us the impetus to knock something off our to-do list while we had fun chatting.

19. Plan a Fun Outing For Later

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One day we will leave our homes again, right? So plan a fun outing for later. It might be as simple as a group dinner at the local Mexican restaurant or as involved as a multi-family international trip. The trip will give everyone something to chat about and look forward to!

20. Do the Same Activity and then Compare Notes

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Have you been meaning to watch some binge-worthy show you missed, or learn how to bake sourdough bread or take up a new craft? Reach out to your loved ones and see if anyone else is interested. Work on the project separately, and then share your progress and thoughts during video chats.

Find more about the author:Kim Hart

Saturday, April 25, 2020

A Round-Up of Online Resources for Fun, Playful Learning

Photo by Виктория Бородинова (pixabay)

A Roundup of Online Resources for Fun, Playful Learning

A lot of us are spending a lot more time indoors these days, but the good news is that there's still plenty for our kids to do. There have never been more engaging Web resources available to help children learn, and a lot of these research-based, kid-friendly resources follow pedological and developmental best practices, so you don't have to feel too guilty about relaxing your usual limits on screen time. Kids will be entertained and learning while they use these resources, and you can get a little of that most valuable of resources: quiet time! While websites and apps aren't a total replacement for a robust curriculum or time spent playing on outside playground equipment, they can help reinforce and strengthen important skills in a way that's fun for kids.

PBS Kids

PBS Kids features educational games starring kid-favorite characters like Curious George. The games are divided into sections like "Teamwork" and "Feelings" along with educational categories like "Social Studies." These categories allow parents to guide their children toward games that can help them master areas where they need extra support.

Sesame Street

Preschoolers love this engaging website, featuring kid favorites like Big Bird and Elmo. The website offers videos, games, printables, and free ebooks to engage young learners while reinforcing basic literacy, math, and emotional skills.

National Geographic Kids

National Geographic designed its Web portal to supplement its magazine. The site is full of educational games and information presented in a kid-friendly way. Parents and other adults should be aware that some videos feature animals attacking each other, so supervision and caution are needed with young or sensitive children.


Funbrain first premiered back in 1998 and has been a part of generations of children's learning online. The quizzes and games cover a wide variety of subjects, including grammar, math, science, and social studies. The resources here are aimed at elementary-aged children; if you need something for younger kids, try Funbrain Jr.


Exploratorium encourages learning through inquiry-based experiences. The guided inquiries allow children to develop their critical-thinking skills and practice the scientific method.


ABCya offers Common Core-aligned digital learning experiences for children from preschool through middle school. Parents and educators designed the more than 400 games available on the site, which are organized by grade level and topic. Children can work on skills like multiplication, parts of speech, pattern recognition, and critical thinking while having fun!

Nick Jr.

Is there anything the average preschooler loves more than Paw Patrol? The Nick Jr. website leverages that love with a variety of videos and games designed to gently teach young viewers while also entertaining them.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy offers a variety of resources for children and students of all ages. The website offers schedules for kids that incorporate learning with needed breaks, and it includes outside activities as well as inside ones. Khan Academy offers an especially strong curriculum in math. They suggest starting your student a grade or two back from their current grade level, which will allow children to review material and fill in any knowledge gaps.
Khan Academy Kids features online learning for preschoolers, kindergarteners, and first-graders. The learning activities focus on basics like letters and numbers while also helping children master social-emotional lessons.

Math Games

Are your kids resistant to math drills or structured math activities? If so, trick them into learning with these math games, designed for kids to have fun while they sharpen needed math skills like number sequencing and fractions.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

10 Ways to Be Safe and Responsible When Visiting Parks During a Pandemic

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We are all adjusting to a "new normal". Kids are attending school at the dining room table and the day to day rhythms of our lives are altered. Most people's lives are suddenly more constricted than ever before. Movie theaters are closed, restaurants have moved to take out only, and everyone, save essential employees, is home. And on top of everything else, spring is here for most of the United States. It seems like the perfect time to spend some time at the park. But is it? The situation is very fluid, and differs in different parts of the country. However, with some safety tips in mind, your family can enjoy some outside time.

1. Give others a 6-foot radius while outdoors.

Social Distancing is the new word of 2020. The most important tip? Stay away from other people. COVID-19 particles are airborne (meaning it spreads through the air). The new recommendation is to wear masks when outside, but staying away from other people is still the best way to avoid contracting the illness.

2. Make sure you check websites and do your research before visiting a park to make sure it is open and to see if there are any specific regulations.

What's open where doesn't just vary from state to state, but in some states, it varies from county to county or city to city. Some municipalities have closed some parks while leaving others open. Most localities are updating their websites regularly to reflect what parks or trails are open in their district. If you aren't sure, call your local parks office.

National Parks Website

3. Keep your hands to yourself whenever possible. Wash them frequently.

If you have gloves, it's a good idea for you and your kids to wear them while out. However, even with gloves on its important to maintain good habits like not touching handrails and keeping your hands away from your face. Hand sanitizer is great, but washing your hands is even better. Bring water and hand soap to the park with you so you can wash your hands regularly.

CDC Handwashing Information

4. If a trail seems too crowded, find a different, less popular trail to minimize density.

The most important thing you can do is to stay away from other people. Stay away from trails that were packed on a normal spring Saturday, and instead head out towards less popular parks and trails. Even then, be aware of how many cars are in the parking area and how many people are milling about. If the park you chose is crowded, head to another place.

Keeping Distances on Trails

5. Avoid Touching Other People's Pets

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that animals can't spread the disease to humans. However, their fur acts as a surface. If an infected person recently touched the pet, it could transfer to you if you then touch the animal. It's also important to keep your pets away from other humans and pets. This is a great time to teach your pets to respect personal space on trails as they should anyway!

6. Choose low-risk recreation to avoid injury.

Hospitals, rescuers, and law enforcement are overwhelmed as it is, and the last thing need is to have to patch you up from an injury, or have to devote resources to looking for lost hikers or kayakers. Stay safe!

7. Stay Close to Home

Many popular recreation areas are asking people from other areas not to travel to their locale. As tempting as a quick jaunt to the beach or a trip to hike up your favorite mountain seems, resist! This is the time to stay close to home and enjoy your own area.

8. Bring Everything You Need

A great to avoid others is to bring absolutely everything you need with you. Snacks, water, sunscreen, a first aid kit, a picnic what your family needs to safely enjoy some time outside.

9. Change Your Clothes

Lots of people ask that you not wear shoes inside their homes. Now we should all embrace this ethos! Shoes worn outside should not be worn around the house. It's also a good idea to change everyone's clothes immediately when returning from being out in the world. Naturally, a good hand scrubbing is needed as soon as you get home.

10. Avoid Park Playgrounds

Remember, the name of the game for a safe park experience during a pandemic is to stay away from others. Most park departments have already closed playgrounds, but even if they haven't you'll want to stay away. A great alternative? Contact local outdoor play equipment companies and stores and see if they can construct the playground of your kid's dreams in the safety of your own backyard.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

9 Reasons Why Play Matters During Times of Crisis

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No matter how carefully we try to shield our children from stress during a crisis, children may still pick up on stress in their homes and their communities. Play allows children to work through the complex emotions stress causes in a safe, appropriate way. After all, everyone needs a release valve. For children, that release valve is play.

1. Video Games Are Helpful During Stressful Times

Many parents are very concerned about screen time, and carefully limit the amount of time their children spend engaging with screens. During the COVID-19 global pandemic crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests parents allow some amount of video game playing. Why? Video games often have an online social aspect that can help relieve a child's feeling of social isolation, and it engages the child in a different world which allows escape from the stress of their real life.

2. Playtime Reduces Stress

During normal times, 43% of children between the ages of 8-17 worry about things like doing well in school, their family's finances, and even what college they'll get into. Your child's headaches, stomach aches, and sleepless nights are likely to be influenced by stress in their lives. During a crisis, children's stress skyrockets along with the stress of the adults in their lives. Playing actually works to reduce stress. How? Free play allows children to physically engage with their environments and releases lots of oxytocin and serotonin, which counterbalance stress hormones. It also allows children to emotionally work through their feelings, by imagining scenarios where they can safely work through some of their emotions.? When your kid scales to the top of the playground equipment, they are achieving physical, emotional, and mental goals!

3. Playtime Makes Children More Productive

Some crises put an end to normal schooling. It doesn't put an end to parents wanting their children to continue growing and developing in a healthy manner! Luckily, playing is great for the physical development of your children, it also helps them continue developing mentally and cognitively. Play allows children to explore new concepts, unleash their imagination, and even try out new words. A child with plenty of chances for free play and outdoor activity will continue developing new skills and knowledge.

4. Play Keeps Children (and Adults) Active and Healthy.

Social distancing doesn't necessarily mean skipping all outdoor activities! The CDC recommends staying away from other people and being diligent about hand washing, but as long as your maintaining proper social distancing standards, getting outside is good for the health (mental and physical) of everyone in your household. People with yards should let their kids romp away, but as a family, getting outside with a ball or play a game of tag will relieve stress promote physical health.

5. Outdoor Play Boosts Immune Systems

Being outside boosts your immune system. Naturally, you want to follow all social distancing requirements, and stay away from other people. However, you and your kids still need sun exposure and time outside to work your muscles and blow off steam. If you have space, consider contacting local outdoor play equipment companies and stores and having a private playground installed in your yard.

6. It Helps Kids Deal with Losing a Sports Season

Kids who play organized sports are mourning the loss of playing their beloved sports, seeing their coaches, and being with their teammates. Outdoor, active play allows kids to maintain their physical abilities and relieve some of the stress of being away from their team. Parents should be careful not to turn play and fun outdoor time into drills, though. Forcing certain activities, like jumping jack drills, on stressed children will cause more distress.

7. During a Crisis, Kids Need a "New Normal"

The Coronavirus has caused most children's lives to be turned upside down. They no longer attend school. They don't see their friends or teachers. Many children don't see secondary caregivers or extended family members. Their familiar schedule is no longer in place. Children crave structure, and most parents I know are struggling to come up with a way to structure days in our new reality. Including various types of play daily-video game time, dress-up box time, free play outside, family outdoor games, puzzles in the evening, et cetera-help structure children's days and helps them acclimate to their new normal.

8. Children Need Consistent Caregivers

Many parents are still trying to balance work with their children being home 24/7, helping with distance learning, and preparing endless meals and snacks. Adults are also suffering from stress and uncertainty. All parents need a break! If the pressure causes you to snap, it's just going to make your kids' lives even more stressful. So let them play, and let yourself relax on the sofa while they entertain themselves.

9. Children Still Need Socialization

If you are like me, you leaning heavily on group texts with friends and family and the occasional video conferencing happy hour as an outlet for your socialization needs. Kids are very social little beings, and they miss their friends and classmates. Setup a virtual playdate with video conferencing! Each child can play safely in their own home but still get to engage with their friend!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, April 3, 2020

Whimsical Words: 9 Benefits of Communication Play

Whimsical Words: 9 Benefits of Communication Play

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Children learn best by doing. We all know about the physical health benefits of playing, but did you know that children learn a lot of communication skills through play? As children play, they learn how to carry on conversations, how to express their thoughts and ideas, and even how to decipher body language and facial expressions. Communication play is key to helping children to develop their language skills. Play that involves acting, singing, reciting rhymes, miming, or telling jokes helps children develop their communicative abilities. It also uses the entire body and mind, incorporating vocal skills, hand gestures, and body language. Learn more about the benefits of communication play and you'll see why it's so important for your kids.
    1. It helps develop language skills. When your child pretends that they are saving the world, they are a raccoon, or anything else their bright little minds come up with, they are pushing themselves to extend their language skills. Pretend play encourages children to explain the world they are creating in their mind and even promotes the use of new vocabulary. After all, everyday life might not encourage your children to describe a legend where a giant lives with tiny green fairies, but they might very well wish to dream up such a world and explain it to their playmates as they play.
    2. Remembering and telling jokes can help build memory and concentration. Did you know that babies show the first signs of a sense of humor at about five weeks of age when they start smiling at their parents' antics? From babyhood, the development of a sense of humor is an essential part of children's development. Learning to tell a joke requires children to memorize exact word order, learn how to pause for audience reaction, and relay information effectively. Just learning one joke helps kids build their memorization skills.
    3. It builds confidence when children can deliver a joke, line, or argument successfully. Even as an adult, there are few things better than having your loved ones and friends laugh at your jokes or change their mind because of one of your well-reasoned arguments. Successfully entertaining or educating people you love builds confidence for everyone. It's especially helpful in developing children's confidence. Learning to share information effectively is an important skill, and the immediate response of a laugh to a well-told joke or someone agreeing with their vocalized thoughts reinforces to children that their words matter and leads them to further experimentation and growth.
    4. Laughter is healthy and healing! A nice laugh is good for people in many ways. It relieves stress, and it also relieves physical tension in the body. Some studies have shown that muscles are more relaxed for up to 45 minutes after a good laugh! The immune system also benefits from a good bout of laughter: Laughter decreases stress hormones in the body and increases immune cell and antibody responses. So make silly faces at your kids and let them reciprocate. Laughter is good for the entire family!
    5. It helps children understand symbolism. Many children struggle with the idea that "$" represents money or that a $5 bill has more value than a $1 bill. Ever asked children to sort cash and seen that they were sure that a penny would be worth more than a dime because the penny is bigger? It's because these sorts of mental tasks require understanding symbolism. Parents often realize their children are having trouble grasping symbolism when the child struggles with the idea of the alphabet. Luckily, communicative play lets children experiment with symbolism. Pretending their swing set is really a castle while they act out fairy tales lets children grapple with the idea that one thing can stand in for another thing.
    6. It helps children understand the importance of listening carefully. Ever play Simon Says? It's a verbal game that requires children to listen carefully. When the leader says "Simon says" followed by an instruction, the player must perform the direction. But if the leader doesn't say "Simon says" before giving a direction and the player performs it anyway, the player is out. You can tell your children about the importance of listening carefully and following directions, but it won't have the impact that losing a communicative game like Simon Says will!
    7. It teaches children about teamwork. A lot of commutative play requires working with other people. Miming, acting out a favorite cartoon, and telling jokes all usually involve more than one person. Sometimes, participants are divided into the performer(s) and the audience, but other forms of performative play require the participants to work in a team. Games like Pass the Apple require children to work together using verbal and body language to win.
    8. Rhyming games show children the complexity of language. Language is very complex, and learning all of the subtleties and rules associated with both the written and spoken word can be overwhelming for many kids. Luckily, rhymes help children begin to understand and experiment with the complexity of language. They start learning about syllables through verses. Repeating nursery rhymes they are familiar with helps them learn to anticipate rhyming words. Anticipating the next word helps them prepare to make predictions about what they are reading, which is a vital literacy skill.
    9. Miming helps children learn to express their thoughts and feelings. Long before your children uttered their first words, they were already communicating with you through gestures. Gestures and body language form an essential part of everyone's communication skillset. Learning to mime and playing mime games helps children understand the importance of gestures as a communication tool and also teaches them to think about what they are trying to communicate and how they can best achieve their communication goals.
    10. Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, March 30, 2020

6 Tips for Cultivating Healthy Hygiene Habits in Children

6 Tips for Cultivating Healthy Hygiene Habits in Children

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Personal hygiene is essential: It not only keeps our bodies clean but helps to prevent the spread of disease. Teaching your children about proper hygiene is an integral part of parenting. Not only are children with poor hygiene habits more susceptible to disease, but they can also suffer social consequences. However, any parent who has ever fought to get a screaming child into a bath knows that getting your kids to practice good hygiene isn't easy. Here are a few simple, parent-tested tips to keep your kids safe and healthy.

Start Early

Babies need to have their diapers changed frequently, but they also need baths to be clean and dry and constant changes of clothes thanks to spit-up and other mishaps. Start with good hygiene practices while your kids are babies to form good habits for later. Brush their teeth as soon as the first baby tooth pops out, and wash their hands frequently.

Create Routines

Kids thrive on routines. If you make hygiene a habit, your kids are more likely to conform to your expectations. Children should know that in the morning, they wash their faces and brush their teeth. They should know to wash their hands before and after they eat, after they've been outside on the playground, after visiting the bathroom, after they've played with a pet, or anytime they've cleaned up anything. Washing everyone's hands every time you come in the house will soon become an ingrained habit for your kids. The same goes for baths: Make bath time an integral part of your evening routine.

Model Good Hygiene

Children learn best by example. You can talk all day about the importance of washing your hands and flossing, but if they don't see you doing these things, they are far less likely to embrace good hygiene themselves. So make sure you are washing your hands frequently, and let your kids see parts of your hygiene routine, like oral care.

Keep a Well-Supplied Home

Make hygiene easy by making sure that kids have what they need to be successful. Each sink should have hand soap and a towel so handwashing is easy. Bathtubs and showers should have soap, shampoo, and conditioner. Make sure everyone has a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss. It's also crucial that household chores like laundry are kept up with so that everyone in your family has consistent access to fresh towels and clean clothes.

Set Expectations

Set clear guidelines about hygiene. Make rules about changing into pajamas before getting into bed and about wearing clean clothes every day. As your children age and you are less involved in their bathing process, set rules about how often bodies should be bathed and hair should be washed. Enforce handwashing expectations, and remind kids who come in from playing outside to wash their hands. Check your kids' nails and insist on trims if necessary. If your kids seem to be going off course, open up a dialogue! And don't be afraid to lower the hammer to enforce minimal standards.

Have Age-Appropriate Conversations

The conversation about hygiene should start before your kids can talk, when it sounds like "uh oh, your onesie is dirty! Let's take it off and put on nice, fresh jammies!" However, as they age, the conversations are going to become more complex. As your children approach puberty, you'll need to talk about the importance of bathing more often due to shifting body chemistry. Girls and boys both have specific hygiene needs you'll need to prepare them for and help them adapt into their routines. Remember that skin care is often a concern for both boys and girls as they enter adolescence, and be prepared to help guide them into more complicated hygiene routines.
Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, March 26, 2020

10 Reasons Not to Rush Your Children Through Childhood

10 Reasons Not to Rush Your Children Through Childhood

Photo by Cheryl Holt (pixabay)

Ever hear the old saying about parenting that the days are long but the years are short? Parents who have raised their children into adulthood often tell younger parents that their children's childhoods go by quickly. Sometimes, though, that's hard to remember when you're trying to manage your own career, run the household, help your oldest build a volcano for science class, and get your youngest to soccer practice. The rush of modern life presses into our kids, just like it presses into us. There are many good reasons for not rushing your children through childhood, though.
    1. Play is crucial for healthy, happy child development. All mammals require play. It's actually hardwired into our brains! However, just because we have an impulse to play doesn't mean that it doesn't require nurturing and cultivation. Children in modern societies are showing signs of dysfunctional play: They don't know how to interact in mixed-age groups or how to engage in symbolic play like turning a box into a spaceship. Parents can nurture their children's play instincts by giving them unstructured time that allows their instinct for healthy play to kick in.
    2. Recess is essential for social skills, confidence, and academic performance. The rise of high-stakes testing led to a sharp decline in the amount of recess schoolchildren get in a day. Recess is vital, though, and its restriction has bad side effects. Children without adequate recess time typically have more learning challenges and behavioral issues. Recess offers a wealth of social, cognitive, and emotional benefits all children need to be successful students and grow into successful adults.
    3. A playful, happy childhood is more likely to lead to a happy, balanced adulthood. Happy children have a much better chance to grow into happy adults. A happy childhood requires more than loving parents, though: It requires time to actually be a child, to play, and to engage in creative endeavors.
    4. Children's lives need to be lived at a child's pace. We all know that adult lives move at a fast pace. Who doesn't have a hectic schedule? Unfortunately, that pace and those schedules impact the children in our lives. It means that young children sleep less and have more and faster transitions in their days. Developing brains aren't meant to move at such a fast pace. Letting your children move at their own, slower pace helps them develop better habits and a better understanding of the world.
    5. Children naturally love to learn, but overscheduling or overworking a child will destroy that love. Ever watched a child examine a bug, exclaim over a flower, or puzzle over some other small facet of life? When children engage with the world around them in this fashion, they are displaying their natural love of learning. For children, the world is a big puzzle, and they are eager to discover the pieces and how they fit together. A child left to their own devices will make these sorts of discoveries. But an overscheduled child won't have the time to engage in this sort of discovery, and their natural love of learning will be extinguished.
    6. Overscheduled children have less time to learn who they truly are. Being bored has its benefits. A bored child might learn to love the books on their shelf, tinker with their toys to learn how they work, put on plays with their dolls, or engage their creativity in other ways. These explorations through boredom help children learn what interests they have, what they are good at, and what they love doing. This self-knowledge helps children develop deep interests and eventually discover career paths. Kids who are overscheduled with lots of formal activities don't get these opportunities.
    7. It can destroy the conversational duet, which helps children learn. One vital way young children learn is through a conversational duet with their parents and other caretakers. Asking children open-ended questions lets children engage in spontaneous learning with adults. Want to incorporate this into your parenting? When your child draws a picture, instead of asking questions like, "What color is the sun?" say, "Tell me about your picture."
    8. Rushing through childhood increases the amount of stress hormone in a child's body. Children's bodies don't react well to stress. Stress chemicals can change a child's brain chemistry and even the underlying anatomy of the brain. These changes can result in problems with behavior, learning, mental health, and physical health, which can last a lifetime.
    9. Once they're acclimated to being busy, it's hard for children to learn to relax. Children used to racing from activity to activity don't have time to develop the mental resources to know how to relax. They don't know how to function with downtime: They feel like they must always be doing something.
    10. Stressed-out kids don't learn to adapt to life's challenges. When kids are constantly anxious because they're being pressured to grow up too quickly, they aren't able to develop the skills they'll need to deal with the unpredictability of adult life. Unstructured play helps kids to learn persistence, creativity, and confidence.
    11. Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, March 19, 2020

It's National Nutrition Month! Here are 10 Ways To Spark Healthy Habits in Children

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It's National Nutrition Month! Here Are 10 Ways to Spark Healthy Habits in Children

It's National Nutrition Month! During this time of the year, when parts of the country are still in the firm embrace of winter but spring is starting to feel like something that might happen, it's an excellent time to reassess what healthy habits your family embraces and which practices need reconsidering. If you are anything like me, you made some resolutions in January to adopt healthier habits, but by now, some of them may have fallen by the wayside. If so, use this month to get back on a healthier path.

  1. Be a role model. Don't we all want our children to have a healthy relationship with food? The number one way to ensure that they do is to model healthy habits and attitudes toward food yourself. Parents lay the groundwork for so much of their children's future relationship with food, creating memories of the foods they enjoyed, the foods they hated, and how their parents treated food. So even if you have to fake it, act like you have the relationship with what you eat that you want your kids to have in 15 years. Make good choices, don't engage in negative self-talk, and be adventurous.
  2. Play actively, such as going to the park, taking walks, or chasing bubbles. Staying active and getting outside as part of your daily routine is crucial for you, and it's also essential for your children, no matter how young they are! Lace up your sneakers, get the baby into the stroller or carrier, and head outside to get moving. Every night doesn't have to include a five-mile walk or family game of touch football, though. You could walk around the block, head to the park to have fun on the playground equipment, or just enjoy a game of tag.
  3. Don't pressure your children to play a sport that they don't enjoy. I grew up taking dance classes and performing, but my girls weren't nearly as enthusiastic about dancing as I was. Just because you loved all 15 years you spent playing baseball doesn't mean your kids will want to, too. And when you sign your child up for T-ball, don't start imagining their career as a future MLB superstar! Let your kids experiment with different sports until they find one that they enjoy. Then, let them have fun: They don't have to win championships or compete in the Olympics to get a lot of benefits out of participating in the sport they love.
  4. Encourage each child to find their own favorite outdoor activities. Just like not every kid loves playing lacrosse, not every one of your children will enjoy outdoor activities in the same way. Some children thrive on activities that are organized and competitive, while others want to be able to do their own thing in cooperative or solitary pursuits. There is no right way to be outdoors and be active, so let your children find their own path.
  5. Limit screen time! We all resort to electronics every once in a while, and that's OK. But limiting screen time leads to children who are more active, less anxious, less depressed, and less likely to be obese. So don't be afraid to pull out the tablet when getting on a plane, but when you're at home, encourage everyone to get outside or pursue another hobby instead.
  6. Plan tasty, healthy meals. A little planning can help you limit trips to the drive-through for meals you'll later regret. Healthy meals don't necessarily have to be time-consuming: You can buy foods that are both good for you and quick to cook, like steam-in-bag frozen vegetables. Canned foods like beans can add healthy protein to a quick meal.
  7. Get your kids involved in cooking. Getting your kids to help in the kitchen will slow you down but will give your children so many advantages. For one, knowing how to prepare a meal is an important skill they'll need as an independent adult! Also, kids are far more likely to eat food they were involved in preparing. Unsure how to engage your kids in the cooking process? The Montessori method has lots of ideas for how to include children as young as toddlers in the kitchen.
  8. Swap out less-healthy foods with healthier alternatives, but do it slowly. If you're trying to turn over a new leaf, don't throw away all the food in your cupboards and buy a bunch of new cookbooks all at once. Instead, make small substitutions. Try swapping a cauliflower crust for your regular pizza crust. Make zucchini noodles with meatballs and sauce instead of spaghetti. And saute food in olive oil instead of butter. Each small change you make will have substantial health benefits, and by making one small change at a time, your family is less likely to revolt.
  9. Keep your diet affordable. Making healthier food choices doesn't have to mean busting your grocery budget. Buying fresh produce that's currently in season is an easy way to save money. Switching out a couple of meat-based recipes for ones that focus on lentils or beans can be a significant money-saver. Canned and frozen goods can also be a significant source of savings and ensure that you always have healthy food on hand.
  10. Have an open dialogue with your children about healthy choices. Talk to your kids! Let them know your reasoning, listen to their opinions, and keep the conversation about healthy decisions open.
Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

9 Tips for Encouraging Healthy, Happy Sibling Relationships

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Any parent of more than one child has experienced their home going from a peaceful paradise of calm, happy play to an absolute war zone where the two little people you love best in the world are screaming at each other. Sibling rivalry is a real thing and can have a lasting impact. A little bit is a natural part of growing up with a brother or sister, but if you want your children to have a healthy, loving relationship as adults, it's important to rein it in and help them learn to get along now.

1. Spend Special Time With Each Child

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The first way to minimize sibling rivalry is to spend time with them both and make sure that they know that you appreciate each of them as individuals. Try to set aside some time for each of them on a regular basis when it's just the two of you, and spend this quality time doing something they enjoy. For instance, my younger daughter has started getting interested in yoga lately, so I've been doing regular workouts with her. Meanwhile, my older daughter loves to cook, so I make a point of bringing her into the kitchen with me at least once a week as my sous chef. Spending time alone with each child will deepen your bond with them and their bond with you, and it reassures them that they are loved and valued as individuals.

2. Compliment Good Behavior

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When you see one of your children making an extra effort to get along, like sharing a favorite toy or helping out with homework, compliment them (but do it out of earshot of the other kid). Also, don't be afraid to compliment the kids as a group if they are playing nicely together or otherwise involved in a shared activity.

3. Avoid Comparing Siblings

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The number one thing parents of multiple children need to remember is to avoid comparing your children to each other. Of course, it's inevitable that you'll notice that your son's room is neat while your daughter's looks like a hurricane went through it, but keep the comparison to yourself: Talk to your daughter about her messy room without referencing her brother. Similarly, if your daughter loves to climb jungle gyms, rock walls, and trees in the backyard but your son is afraid of heights, don't ask why he can't be brave like his sister. Comparing siblings can ruin their relationship.

4. Don't Force Forgiveness

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As a kid, I loved the book Little Women. What I didn't love was when little sister Amy was angry at big sister Jo and burned the book Jo was writing. When your kids strike out at each other (hopefully in less severe ways that don't involve fire!), don't force the wronged party to forgive them right away. Kids have feelings and emotional lives just like adults, and letting the wronged sibling work through their anger and sadness will allow the relationship to repair itself more naturally than you forcing them to act like everything is OK will.

5. Model Appropriate Behavior

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Want your children to behave reasonably, be generous, and act graciously? The best way to ensure that your home is peaceful, loving, and filled with gratitude is to model that behavior yourself. If the kids see you yell at your spouse for drinking all of the coffee or see you act out in moments of frustration, they will copy these behaviors. Being the person you'd like your children to be is hard, and no one is perfect. But making a real attempt and owning up to your own mistakes can help give your children the tools they need to behave appropriately.

6. Set Ground Rules

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Although it's important to let your children figure out their relationship, it's still important that you set and enforce some rules. Everyone in your household should understand the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. They also should understand the consequences of breaking the rules. Acting respectfully, avoiding name-calling, and refraining from criticizing are good ground rules to ensure healthy sibling boundaries.

7. Anticipate Issues

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Look for pressure points, and see how you can address them before they get out of hand. Are fights over bathroom access a common occurrence? Set up and enforce a schedule so that everyone has the time they need to get ready. Schedules also work for battles over who sits where in the car or whose turn it is to use the tablet.

8. Listen to Your Children

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I'm sometimes frustrated by my spouse, coworkers, friends, and family members. Children are just likely to be frustrated by their siblings. Let them talk about their feelings and frustrations. Don't be afraid to share stories of your childhood and issues with your siblings growing up. Consider having regular family meetings where issues can be shared and addressed.

9. Build Memories

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Find activities and experiences that your whole family will enjoy. These don't have to be costly: Afternoons at the park, evenings playing board games, and even simple things like singing silly songs on the way to school in the morning can help your children bond. These shared memories and childhood bonds will bolster their relationships as adults.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart