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Thursday, June 21, 2018

How to Encourage Your Children to Eat More Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Photo by RubyDW (Flickr)

I love having my girls home for summer vacation, but like most parents I know, I find it hard to keep up with their growing appetites and make the time to cook healthy meals. One thing I can do is ensure that they eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially during June, National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month. Because these foods build strong bodies, reduce obesity, and improve school performance, the American Heart Association recommends that kids eat one to two cups of fruit and three-quarters of a cup to three cups of vegetables each day, depending on their age. I plan to use several strategies to boost my girls' fruit and veggie intake in June and all summer.

Visit Local Farmers' Markets

Our community hosts a weekly farmers' market that's part of our shopping routine. I want my girls to know where their produce comes from, and I can use these trips to teach them how to pick produce that's ripe and delicious.

Grow a Garden

My girls always enthusiastically eat the produce they grow themselves. They feel proud of their accomplishments and want to enjoy their hard-earned harvest. Plus, fruits and vegetables taste better when they're eaten within minutes of being picked.

Cook Together

As often as possible, I ask my girls to help in the kitchen. They learn invaluable life skills as we have fun, plus they're more likely to eat fruits and vegetables they prepare.

Prepare Vegetarian Dishes

Last week, I made vegetarian lasagna, and my girls loved it! This success prompted me to add even more vegetarian dishes to our menu as we boost our veggie intake with flavorful food.

Serve Salads

Every weekend, I chop a variety of vegetables for our daily dinner salad and let my girls pick at least one other kid-friendly salad to make. My girls enjoy customizing their daily salad with whatever veggies they feel like eating, and we use healthy citrus juice to top them instead of high-fat dressings.

Season Bitter Vegetables

Despite their health benefits, broccoli, kale, and other bitter vegetables aren't appealing to kids. I toss a little butter, coconut oil, salt, or herbs on these foods to make them more appealing to my kids.

Offer Fruits and Veggies as Snacks

After a busy day of summer fun, my girls feel so hungry that they'll eat anything in sight. That's why I prep plenty of fresh fruits and veggies and place them on the counter or in plain sight in our fridge.

Phase Out High-Calorie and Sugary Snacks

I admit that my girls like eating cookies, candy, and chips, but I limit high-calorie and sugary foods to special occasions. I want my girls to enjoy the natural sweetness of fruit and gain all of the health benefits of these real foods.

Make Dips

Dunking fruits and vegetables into yummy dips adds fun to snacks and meals. In addition to using low-fat ranch dressing, I mix spices or fresh fruit puree into Greek yogurt, serve hummus, and make other healthy dips for my girls.

Get Creative

While my girls will grab a whole apple or carrot sticks, they prefer fun fruit and veggie displays. We assemble kebabs, make smoothies, and build edible arrangements. These and other creative displays encourage my kids to have fun as they consume their recommended daily fruit and veggie servings.

Mix it Up

Everyone knows that eating the same foods every day is boring, so I offer my girls a variety of fruit and vegetable choices. In addition to serving fruits and veggies in different textures and forms, I freeze grapes, puree fruits and veggies for smoothies, and dehydrate blueberries and kale.

Give Kids Control

Usually, I let my girls pick the fruits and vegetables they eat, and they help plan our weekly menu. They feel empowered and are more likely to eat healthy foods when they have a say in what they eat.

Be a Role Model

We know that kids model what they see, so I add fruit to my morning cereal, pack veggies for my lunch, and fill my dinner plate at least half full with vegetables. My daily food choices encourage my girls to also embrace a balanced and healthy diet.

During National Fruit and Vegetables Month, I will use these tips to encourage my girls to eat more fruits and veggies. Not only will they consume a healthier diet, but I'll also reinforce healthy habits that last a lifetime. What other tips do you suggest for increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables our kids eat?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

9 Benefits of Playing on Swings for Children

Photo by tanakawho (Flickr)

There's no other feeling in the world quite like swinging. From the moment we sit down on the swing until we feel ourselves flying through the air as we cling with all our might to the swing's chain, the experience is invigorating and exhilarating. While I loved the swings as a kid, I also love swinging now and encourage my girls to engage in this activity as often as possible, since I know that kids also gain important benefits when they swing.

Swinging Prompts Sensory Integration

The acts of balancing on the seat, pumping their legs, and holding onto the chains as they swing prompt sensory integration development. With sensory integration, our kids' brains can better organize and interpret information, and it lays the groundwork for them to learn and develop more complicated academic, social, and emotional behaviors later in life.

Swinging Stimulates the Brain

The motion of swinging stimulates several different parts of the brain at the same time. These interconnected brain pathways then assist our kids with rhythm, muscle control, and focus.

Swinging Builds Spatial Awareness

As kids decide where to sit on the swing so they don't fall off and balance their bodies as they swing, they build spatial awareness skills. These skills equip our kids to navigate their environment successfully as they differentiate right, left, up, and down, avoid obstacles as they walk, and understand math, science, and other concepts.

Swinging Improves Gross Motor Skills

Our kids walk, run, and jump thanks to their gross motor skills. Swinging can boost your child's gross motor skills as they pump their legs and strengthen their bodies.

Swinging Develops Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills enable our kids to button buttons, hold a pencil, and cut with scissors. Gripping and holding onto the swing chains develops the hand, finger, and arm coordination that's essential for our kids' fine motor skill development.

Swinging Strengthens the Core

I want my girls to have a strong body core, the muscles around their trunk and pelvis, because these muscles are responsible for stability and balance. Plus, a strong core reduces injuries. The repetitive motions of swinging strengthen our kids' cores and give them strong bodies.

Swinging Calms Kids

When my girls were babies, I often took them swinging. The rhythmic motion calmed and relaxed them. Even now, we will take a swing break when we feel frustrated, angry, or stressed, and I can see my girls instantly relax.

Swinging Encourages Social Interaction

Every time we visit the park, at least one other kid wants to swing, so my girls get to make new friends and practice taking turns, sharing, and making small talk. These interactions boost their social skills and prepare them for future social situations.

Swinging Promotes Fun

Swinging is one of the most fun activities on the playground, in my opinion, and my girls agree. They could swing forever and enjoy the time we get to spend together on the swings.

Swinging has always been one of my favorite playground activities. It offers many benefits to our kids, which makes it an important activity for them, too. Will you join my girls and I and go swinging today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, June 15, 2018

25 Inspirational Quotes to Celebrate International Yoga Day

Photo by Dave Rosenblum (Flickr)

If you've ever done yoga, you know it involves more than headstands and other challenging poses. It's a beneficial activity that strengthens our bodies, enriches our minds, and prompts relaxation. My girls and I do yoga regularly because it helps us stay physically, mentally, and emotionally strong, and we invite you and your kids to join us as we participate in International Yoga Day on June 21. In celebration, I compiled 25 of my favorite inspirational yoga quotes. Hopefully, they will encourage and motivate you in your yoga journey.

  1. "Go from a human being doing yoga to a human being yoga." (Baron Baptiste)
  2. "There will always be people who can do it better than you, but that's a good thing! Start to see competition as inspiration, without envy." (Kathryn Budig)
  3. "Yoga is the perfect opportunity to be curious about who you are." (Jason Crandell)
  4. "The ultimate goal of yoga is to always observe things accurately and therefore never act in a way that will make us regret our actions later." (T.K.V. Desikachar)
  5. "You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state." (Sharon Gannon)
  6. "Yoga is not a workout, it is a work-in. And this is the point of spiritual practice; to make us teachable, to open up our hearts and focus our awareness so that we can know what we already know and be who we already are." (Rolf Gates)
  7. "Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self." (the Bhagavad Gita)
  8. "Yoga is not about touching your toes; it's about what you learn on the way down." (Jigar Gor)
  9. "If I'm losing balance in a pose, I stretch higher and God reaches down to steady me. It works every time, and not just in yoga." (Terri Guillemets)
  10. "A photographer gets people to pose for him. A yoga instructor gets people to pose for themselves." (Terri Guillemets)
  11. "Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes." (Thich Nhat Hanh)
  12. "Yoga is a light which once lit will never dim; the better your practice, the brighter your flame." (B.K.S. Iyengar)
  13. "The very heart of yoga practice is abhyasa, steady effort in the direction you want to go." (Sally Kempton)
  14. "Yoga is a dance between control and surrender, between pushing and letting go, and when to push and when to let go becomes part of the creative process, part of the open-ended exploration of your being." (Joel Kramer)
  15. "One of the fundamental principles of yoga: A small action done repeatedly can make an enormous difference." (Dr. Timothy McCall)
  16. "The body benefits from movement, and the mind benefits from stillness." (Sakyong Mipham)
  17. "Exercises are like prose, whereas yoga is the poetry of movements. Once you understand the grammar of yoga, you can write your poetry of movements." (Amit Ray)
  18. "Yoga means addition: addition of energy, strength, and beauty to body, mind, and soul." (Amit Ray)
  19. "It is not arrogant or egotistical to feel good inside. You had nothing to do with it. It's simply the honest response to clearly perceived reality." (Erich Schiffmann)
  20. "Yoga begins right where I am, not where I was yesterday or where I long to be." (Linda Sparrowe)
  21. "Remember, it doesn't matter how deep into a posture you go. What does matter is who you are when you get there." (Max Storm)
  22. "Anyone who practices can obtain success in yoga, but not one who is lazy. Constant practice alone is the secret of success." (Svatmarama)
  23. "Most people have no idea how good their body is designed to feel." (Kevin Trudeau)
  24. "Your soul is your best friend. Treat it with care; nurture it with growth; feed it with love." (Ashourina Yalda)
  25. "Yoga is really trying to liberate us from … shame about our bodies. To love your body is a very important thing: I think the health of your mind depends on your being able to love your body." (Rodney Yee)

These 25 inspirational yoga quotes encourage and motivate me to practice this activity consistently. I hope they inspire you to join us in celebrating International Yoga Day on June 21 this year.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, June 7, 2018

9 Ways to Encourage Learning Throughout the Whole Summer

Photo by JON_CF (Flickr)

While my girls feel excited that school's almost over for the year, I plan to encourage them to keep learning throughout the summer. I can hear them groaning right now, but kids who don't continue to learn over the summer score lower on standardized tests and could lose up to two months of reading and math skills. For these reasons, I found nine fun ways for my girls to engage in learning as they stay active and have fun this summer.

Play

All forms of play help kids learn while they have fun. I plan to give my girls opportunities for free play, and we'll build block castles, ride bikes, and play ball together.

Swim

Water plays a big role in our summer fun. Swimming in the community pool does more than entertain my girls and teach them water safety, though. They also learn to set goals as they develop their swimming skills, practice their social skills, and get physical exercise. All of these benefits can translate into success when school starts again.

Hike

I'm always amazed at the education we receive when we hike. Thanks to books and the Internet, we discover details about science, wildlife, topography, plants, and birds we see while enjoying the great outdoors. As a bonus, the physical activity helps us retain all the fun facts we learn and observe.

Read

Our local library sponsors a summer reading program for kids of all ages, and my girls will definitely participate this year. Usually, they get to pick the books they read, but I also have a few age-appropriate classics I want to introduce them to this year. Reading engages their mind, teaches them facts, and is fun.

Explore a Favorite Topic

One of my girls is obsessed with soccer, so I will challenge her to learn more about the sport and her favorite players. She's already eager to explore the origins of the game, the geography of countries where soccer is popular, and details about playing technique. Your child will also learn and have fun whether they study and explore cars, Pokemon, or cupcakes.

Enjoy Crafts

I wish we could spend all summer outside, but I have several craft projects lined up for rainy days. We'll make bubbles, create clay art, and paint. As my girls enjoy craft activities, they also develop their self-esteem, self-regulation, problem-solving, and creativity skills.

Visit Local Museums

We already decided to visit several local museums this summer. I plan to connect the art, artifacts, and textiles we see with information my girls learned in school. We'll also have fun with a scavenger hunt as we find different colors, shapes, and objects.

Volunteer

I know the value of knowledge, but skills like compassion and empathy are also important, which is why we will volunteer this summer. So far, we're set to babysit for a neighbor, help with games at a kids camp, and pet-sit for a friend. These and other acts of service can help my girls discover the value of helping others as they hone important life skills.

Create a Summer Adventure Journal

Each summer, we create a journal so my girls can remember all of the fun activities we enjoyed together. Each girl takes turns writing about our daily activities, which helps them practice writing essays. They include pictures and drawings, too, as they record our summer adventures.

This summer, my girls will keep learning as they have fun and stay active. So far, we plan to engage in these nine activities. In what other fun ways do you encourage your kids to learn throughout the whole summer?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Sunday, June 3, 2018

9 Playful Family Staycation Ideas That Are Fun and Active!

As a family, we make time for an annual summer vacation because my girls and I need to reconnect, relax, and unwind. We don't always travel far away, though. Often, we stick close to home and enjoy a staycation. Over the years, I've collected dozens of playful staycation ideas, including these nine favorites that help families have fun and stay active together during the summer break.

Attend Local Festivals and Fairs

Many towns host summer festivals and fairs, often with free admission and plenty of unique activities. We check our local newspaper, browse community bulletin boards, and search online to ensure that we schedule these fun events on our summer calendar.

Enjoy an Active Picnic

During summertime picnics, my girls and I enjoy eating yummy food and relaxing together, but first, we work up an appetite. We may ride our bikes to the park, play on the disc golf course, or hike to a secluded picnic spot. The physical activity rejuvenates us and is fun.

Visit a Hands-On Museum

Several children's museums in our town feature interactive exhibits that welcome my girls to play. I like to join them and explore the exhibits, take photos, and learn as we have fun. If money's an issue, check for coupons online that make this staycation affordable.

Do a Park Hop

We're big playground fans, but we usually frequent only a few local parks. Summer provides us with the perfect opportunity to check out different parks and playgrounds, including those with water features or a petting zoo.

Organize a Progressive Neighborhood Dinner

A few years ago, I asked our neighbors to participate in a progressive dinner, and it's become an annual summer tradition. Each family prepares a different course or type of food and plans a backyard game or activity, such as basketball, cornhole, or the limbo. As we walk through the neighborhood, we spend an enjoyable evening playing, laughing, eating, and bonding with our neighbors.

Plan a Craft Day

Spending the day creating art allows us to unleash our inner child while having fun together. Last year, we took a photography class at the library, and this year, we signed up for a painting class at our local rec center. We enjoy creating unique mementos of our summer break, and of course, it's fun to get messy!

Go Camping

Whether we rent a cabin at a nearby campground, assemble a tent in our backyard, or set up a makeshift campsite indoors, camping helps our family relax and unwind. We turn off electronics, go geocaching, take a walk, play cards, tell stories, and roast marshmallows while engaging in this fun and active summertime tradition.

Play the Tourist

My girls and I are adventurous, but I realized a few years ago that we were missing out on adventures right in our hometown. That's why we browse guidebooks, research online, and check out our visitors' bureau for ideas for unique local experiences, such as museums, landmarks, restaurants, and attractions. Then, we play tourist, sometimes even taking the bus or a cab to our destination.

Make a Movie

One of my daughters likes live theater and decided to write an adventure movie script for our family to perform this summer. We'll assemble the props, make the costumes, and record our performance. Other years, we've edited our existing family videos, recorded a "day in the life" of our family, and participated in a summer theater class.

This summer, our family will enjoy a playful staycation thanks to these nine ideas. We're looking forward to having fun and staying active close to home. What staycation ideas does your family enjoy?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wheels of Fortune! 10 Benefits of Biking for the Whole Family

Photo by Jonny Hunter (Flickr)

One of my co-workers loves to ride her bike, affectionately named "Wheels of Fortune," to work every day. This year, I joined her for National Bike to Work Day on May 18. My girls also decided to celebrate National Bike Month with a commitment to ride our bikes as a family at least once a week this year. I'm glad they enjoy riding and support their endeavor because cycling provides many benefits for the whole family.

Improves Cardiovascular Fitness

During our most recent family bike ride, we tackled a trail with hills. That ride was tough, but it gave us a new appreciation for how cycling improves our cardiovascular health. In fact, riding a bike can reduce our risk for developing high blood pressure by 31 percent, an important reason to ride often.

Furnishes Low-Impact Exercise

My mom suffers from arthritis in her knees and can't jog, but her doctor did suggest that she ride her bike. Cycling is a low-impact exercise that's easy on our joints and ideal for riders of any fitness level.

Develops Core Strength

Bike-riding strengthens our core and improves our balance, coordination, and flexibility. That means we reduce our risk of strains, injuries, and falls every time we cycle.

Produces a Full-Body Workout

We exercise more than our legs as we pedal a bike. Cycling works out every muscle group in our body, a good reason to take a ride every day.

Fights Obesity

Obesity affects one in three adults and one in six children. As a family, we can ride our bikes regularly and burn calories, boost our metabolism, and lower our risk of obesity.

Promotes Healthy Habits for a Lifetime

Physical fitness is important to me, and I want my girls to value staying active, too. This is one reason we ride our bikes together. Now that my girls know how to ride a bike with confidence, they can enjoy cycling and all of its benefits for the rest of their lives.

Boosts Mental Health

Sometimes, when I notice that my girls are anxious, stressed, or down in the dumps, we'll take a bike ride. Cycling regulates our mood, reduces anxiety, and gives us a mental health boost that helps us cope successfully with life.

Provides Cheap Exercise

I love that we don't need special equipment to get a workout on our bikes. We just grab our helmets and go for a ride. I even found our bikes at a yard sale, making this form of exercise even more affordable.

Reduces Vehicle Emissions

Vehicle emissions affect our lungs and damage our planet. Instead of driving to work, school, or local shops, let's ride our bikes. Cycling cuts our pollution exposure, improves our health, and helps us save money on fuel and vehicle maintenance.

Offers Fun Entertainment

The thrill of enjoying the great outdoors, spending time together, and seeing beauty around our neighborhood makes my girls and I smile. Every ride offers us a new, fun adventure.

Cycling provides families with 10 benefits that enrich our lives now and into the future. Please join us in celebrating National Bike Month all year. What's your favorite way to maximize your "wheels of fortune" and enjoy biking as a family?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, May 17, 2018

30 Quotes to Inspire You to Make the Most of Summer!

Photo by Roderick Eime (Flickr)

Daytime temperatures soared into the 90s recently weekend, a sure sign that means summer's right around the corner. My girls and I can't wait! They've already started a summer bucket list and plan to read books in our hammock, take hikes on local trails, and spend time with their friends around the pool. Their enthusiasm motivated me to find quotes that will inspire us and your family to make the most of this season.

  1. "And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer." (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  2. "One benefit of summer was that each day, we had more light to read by." (Jeanette Walls)
  3. "Summer, after all, is a time when wonderful things can happen to quiet people. For those few months, you're not required to be who everyone thinks you are, and that cut-grass smell in the air and the chance to dive into the deep end of a pool give you a courage you don't have the rest of the year. You can be grateful and easy, with no eyes on you and no past. Summer just opens the door and lets you out." (Deb Caletti)
  4. "One must maintain a little bit of summer even in the middle of winter." (Henry David Thoreau)
  5. "Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts." (Rachel Carson)
  6. "If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere." (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
  7. "To me, a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug." (Helen Keller)
  8. "In the long dusks of summer, we walked the suburban streets through scents of maple and cut grass, waiting for something to happen." (Steven Millhauser)
  9. "Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August." (Jenny Han)
  10. "In the summer, the days were long, stretching into each other. Out of school, everything was on pause and yet happening at the same time, this collection of weeks when anything was possible." (Sarah Dessen)
  11. "I never before knew the full value of trees. Under them I breakfast, dine, write, read, and receive my company." (Thomas Jefferson)
  12. "As children observe, reflect, record, and share nature's patterns and rhythms, they are participating in a process that promotes scientific and ecological awareness, problem-solving, and creativity." (Deb Matthews Hensley)
  13. "Nature teaches more than she preaches. There are no sermons in stones. It is easier to get a spark out of a stone than a moral." (John Burroughs)
  14. "Children learn best through their everyday experiences with the people they love and trust and when the learning is fun. And the best place for these experiences is outdoors, in the natural world." (Center for Families, Communities, Schools, and Children's Learning)
  15. "In the woods, we return to reason and faith." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
  16. "A weed is no more than a flower in disguise." (James Russell Lowell)
  17. "Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time." (John Lubbock)
  18. "To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, an eternity in an hour." (William Blake)
  19. "The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature." (Anne Frank)
  20. "The forests are the flags of nature. They appeal to all and awaken inspiring universal feelings. Enter the forest and the boundaries of nations are forgotten. It may be that sometime an immortal pine will be the flag of a united and peaceful world." (Enos A. Mills)
  21. "Children the world over have a right to a childhood filled with beauty, joy, adventure, and companionship. They will grow toward ecological literacy if the soil they are nurtured in is rich with experience, love, and good examples." (Alan Dyer)
  22. "Children have a natural affinity towards nature. Dirt, water, plants, and small animals attract and hold children's attention for hours, days, even a lifetime." (Robin C. Moore and Herb H Wong)
  23. "At these times, the things that troubled her seemed far away and unimportant: All that mattered was the hum of the bees and the chirp of birdsong, the way the sun gleamed on the edge of a blue wildflower, the distant bleat and clink of grazing goats." (Alison Croggon)
  24. "Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives." (Thomas Berry)
  25. "One of the most important resources that a garden makes available for use is the gardener's own body. A garden gives the body the dignity of working in its own support. It is a way of rejoining the human race." (Wendell Berry)
  26. "The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration." (Claude Monet)
  27. "The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent upon it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do." (Galileo)
  28. "Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you." (Frank Lloyd Wright)
  29. "To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves." (Gandhi)
  30. "Let children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed and as beautiful as life." (John Muir)

This summer, my girls and I plan to enjoy every day to the fullest. These 30 quotes can also inspire you to maximize your summer. What summer activities are you and your kids looking forward to the most?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Spring Into Adventure! 10 Tips for Spring Hiking With Children

Photo by Loren Kerns (Flickr)

While walking to school today, my girls and I spotted dozens of flowers poking up from their winter slumber, and we heard plenty of birds chirping from the trees. These sights and sounds of spring reminded me that's it's time to plan our first hiking adventure of the season. Whether you're a first-time hiker or veteran, consider using these 10 tips that help my family as we engage in safe, fun, and frequent spring hiking with our children.

Start Small

Although my girls can tackle longer hikes now, we only took short hikes when they were young. I researched trails to make sure they weren't too hard, and I tried to pick trails with a unique feature, like a wildflower patch, stream, or rocks. With a manageable and interesting trail, my girls successfully finished each hike and felt more excited about future hikes.

Focus on the Experience

Most kids don't care if they hike 20 miles or 20 yards because they're too busy enjoying the experience. I always try to slow down, let my girls set the pace, and enjoy the experiences of the great outdoors, like the colorful plants, different insects, and unique stones.

Pack the Right Supplies

On one of our first hikes, I forgot to pack water. We were so thirsty that we had to turn around early! Now, we each carry essential supplies:

  • Map and compass
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat
  • Insulation like a jacket, hat, and gloves
  • Headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries
  • First-aid supplies, insect repellent, and prescription medications
  • Multi-tool, knife, and scissors
  • Dry foods such as energy bars, crackers, and trail mix
  • Water, at least one liter per person per hour
  • Camera and binoculars
  • Safety whistles

Dress Properly

Wearing layers keeps you comfortable while hiking and can protect your kids from cold or wet weather. Remember to wear hiking shoes that suit the terrain, too. I also learned to always toss an extra change of clothes in the car in case we get muddy or wet on the trail.

Prioritize Safety

One of our local trails stretches through a wooded area covered with boulders, and we hear reports every year of someone falling off of the rocks. I definitely want my girls to explore as we hike, but we also have to stay safe. Teach your kids to stay on the trail, be careful when navigating rocks and creeks, not touch animals, and know how to use a safety whistle.

Understand Basic First Aid Skills

Despite your best safety precautions, your kids may accidentally fall, trip, or get poked by a thorny plant. My girls and I take a basic first aid class each year. The class reminds us to exercise "safety first" and refreshes our first aid skills so that we can treat minor injuries without disrupting our hike.

Plan Frequent Breaks

Even short hikes can wear out young kids. Plan to stop often for a snack, drink, or rest. My girls often tell me that these energy stops help them stay motivated to keep walking.

Leave No Trace

To protect the outdoors for future generations, follow the guideline of "pack it in, pack it out." My younger daughter feels passionate about protecting the environment, so she picks up litter as we hike, too. In addition to not littering, leave nature alone and resist the temptation to disturb animals or plants along the trail.

Hike Often

Frequent hikes build endurance, and I know my girls feel empowered and excited about hiking as they accomplish harder and longer adventures. As often as possible, take your kids hiking on local park, forest, and neighborhood trails.

Make it Fun

When you make hikes fun for your kids, they will want to go hiking again. We play games, sing songs, count wildflower species, identify birds, and complete a scavenger hunt that requires us to find items of different colors, textures, and sizes. These activities help the time pass quickly and make our hikes fun and engaging.

Spring into adventure with your kids when you go hiking! I suggest these 10 tips that promote safe, fun, and frequent spring hiking with children. What other hiking tips do you recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, April 26, 2018

15 Ways to Reduce Your Family's Carbon Footprint

Photo by Chris Potter (Flickr)

On April 22, we celebrate Earth Day. Because I'm passionate about outdoor play, my family and I plan to show our planet a little love by reducing our carbon footprint. Use these ideas to join us.

Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

With a carbon footprint calculator, your family will know if you have to take small or big steps to reduce your negative impact on the environment. Ideally, our carbon footprint should total less than two tons of CO2 per year.

Reduce Trash

Almost every week, we fill our trash bin to nearly overflowing, which is way too much trash. My girls agree that we want to purchase fewer goods and reuse or recycle more items as we reduce waste.

Use Fewer Plastics

While staying hydrated is important, we plan to eliminate plastic bottles in favor of aluminum or stainless steel water bottles. Reusable grocery bags, glass food containers, and metal drinking straws also help us use fewer plastics.

Recycle

My girls love playing games, so I challenged them to see if we can double the amount of stuff we recycle. They already decided to use one-sided school papers in our printer, save packaging material for holiday gift wrap, and use a local low-cost recycling program for large items.

Upcycle Craft Projects

On YouTube, my girls found hundreds of fun, crafty ways to upcycle clothing, containers, and boxes. They're excited to sew old T-shirts into grocery tote bags, transform wooden pallets into bookshelves, and turn magazines into coasters.

Walk or Bike More

By walking or biking to work and consolidating errands, we reduce emissions. My girls agree that they want to walk to school more often, and they want to ride their bikes to the grocery store, too.

Go Paperless

Between school papers, junk mail, and bills, I handle dozens of pieces of paper each day, but that will change this month. I will request digital copies of my bills and bank statements, cancel unread magazine and newspaper subscriptions, and use a memo app to track my grocery list and other notes on my phone.

Buy Sustainable Goods

At a recent home show, I saw beautiful furniture and home goods made from metal, glass, bamboo, and renewable natural fibers, materials that reduce environmental damage. The next time we need any items for our home, my girls and I will buy sustainable goods.

Replace Light Bulbs

I constantly tell my girls to turn off the lights when they leave a room. I'm also replacing our incandescent bulbs with energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) options.

Shop Secondhand

Although my girls love the mall, they are also learning to love consignment and thrift stores. They appreciate reducing waste and saving money while building a cute and functional wardrobe.

Buy Energy-Efficient Appliances

Last week, my washing machine started making a funny noise. While shopping for a replacement, I'm looking for models with the Energy Star label.

Compost

We're frequent salad-eaters, but somehow, we always end up tossing leftover lettuce and tomatoes in the trash. This month, we're starting a compost bin to turn our plant scraps into food for our lawn, flower beds, and herb containers.

Unplug to Reduce Phantom Energy Use

I use my toaster oven, phone charger, and coffee maker each day, but I sometimes forget to unplug these appliances that actually use energy even when they're turned off. I'm setting phone alarms to remind me to unplug these appliances and conserve energy.

Grow Plants

Trees consume CO2 and reduce home heating and cooling costs, so plant a tree. Alternatively, you could join us and plant flowers or a garden in your backyard or rent a plot in the community garden.

Adjust the Thermostat

Increasing the thermostat setting in the summer and turning it down in the winter cuts your family's energy consumption. We also use fans to conserve energy and stay comfortable.

My family will celebrate Earth Day every day by reducing our carbon footprint in 15 ways. I appreciate the opportunity to preserve the planet for my children and to teach my kids to conserve natural resources. Will your family join us?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

9 Reasons Why Gardening is Enriching for Kids and How to Get Them Involved

Photo by Walter (Flickr)

Now that spring has arrived, I'm feeling the need to garden. There's something therapeutic and fun about digging in the dirt, planting vegetables and flowers, and nurturing the plants. Gardening enriches life for kids in many different ways, and as parents, teachers, and caregivers, we can encourage the children we care about to get excited about gardening.

Improves Fine Motor Development

Gardening requires kids to scoop dirt, place seeds, pour water, and pull weeds. These actions improve their fine motor skills, hand strength, and coordination, skills our kids use as they get dressed, write, and eat.

Teaches Responsibility

As kids water plants and pull weeds, they learn the importance of working hard and remembering their responsibilities every day. My girls use a chart to ensure that they complete all of their gardening jobs each day.

Develops Patience

I know kids have a hard time waiting, so help them develop this skill in the garden. Over time, my girls have learned that delayed gratification yields big rewards at the end of the growing season.

Provides Exercise

I always get a workout as I dig dirt, carry water, and nurture my plants. Our kids exercise and benefit from the physical act of gardening, too.

Reinforces Academic Concepts

While gardening, kids practice math, science, and other academic concepts. I challenge my girls to count seeds as you plant them, compare the shapes of different plant leaves, and research how seeds grow.

Nurtures Respect for Nature

Because we're caretakers of the earth, we have to teach the next generation to respect the planet and nature. While gardening, my girls and I often discuss topics like botany, conservation, insects, pollution, pesticides, and recycling.

Promotes Healthier Eating Habits

Kids are more likely to eat a variety of healthy fruits, vegetables, and herbs they plant, nurture, and harvest. This year, my girls plan to grow their own garden salad and agreed to try the snap peas and rosemary we're planting.

Boosts Vitamin D Exposure

Vitamin D helps us maintain strong bones, a healthy immune system, and cardiovascular health. By spending time outside, our kids can get adequate vitamin D and improve their health.

Engages the Senses

In the garden, kids can feel the dirt, see vibrant colors, hear birds chirp, smell flowers, and taste the veggies and herbs. We can also plant sense-friendly plants as we provide kids with an all-encompassing sensory experience.

While our kids can benefit from gardening in these nine ways, you may wonder how to get started. I've found several tips that can simplify gardening for kids of all ages.

Let Your Kids Decide What to Plant

My girls are always more excited about working in the garden when they take ownership and decide which plants to grow.

Select Edibles

Most kids will stay interested in gardening all season if they know they can eat the fruits of their labor!

Start Small

We started our first garden with containers on the deck. Then, as my girls' gardening skills improved, we added more plants and a larger garden area.

Cultivate a Kid-Friendly Plot

Ensure that your kids can easily reach the plants when you create a narrow garden bed with clear paths or create raised beds, something new we're trying this year. Provide kid-sized garden tools, too.

Stagger Planting and the Harvest

My girls stay engaged when we plant the garden in stages and grow plants that mature at different times.

Get Social

We ask friends to help us cultivate our garden, compare plant growth with our family members who live in other states, and invite the neighbors to share our garden produce. These social activities keep my girls engaged in the garden all season.

Wear Protection

Be sure your kids wear sunscreen, gloves, and protective shoes as they play in the dirt.

Keep it Fun

Gardening is hard work, but it's also rewarding, so we try to focus on the fun or play games as we work in the garden. In recent years, we've painted rocks as plant markers, raced to see who could pull the most weeds in five minutes, and read under a green bean teepee.

Gardening is one of our family's favorite spring and summer activities. We have fun, and our garden enriches my girls' lives in nine ways. Will you join us in cultivating a garden with your kids this year?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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