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Monday, September 9, 2019

Why It is Healthy and Normal for Children to Play Alone

Socialization is an important aspect of childhood, but equally important is learning how to play alone. It can be very tempting to encourage our kids to play with their peers whenever the opportunity presents itself, but let's remember, too, that there are important lessons to be learned from solo play. Decision-making, creativity, imagination, and independence are all important traits that can be developed through time spent playing alone.

Many of us parents can vividly remember the days when our small toddlers needed and wanted every moment of our attention. "Play with me, Mommy" are words that many of us love to hear, but they can also wear us thin as we try to balance our children, chores, careers, and so much more. But those days went by all too quickly, and pretty soon those toddlers were confidently exploring their own spaces, making their own decisions on play, and becoming the strong and engaged individuals we'd hoped they would be.

Challenging our little kids to make their own fun is so important. Through solo play, especially play that does not include an element of technology, children can learn how to entertain themselves and find their own joy in activities. There is value in boredom because it forces children to think harder about the options available to them. Whether inside or outside, children can surprise us with their creativity and ingenuity when challenged to create their own entertainment.

Imagination can also be strengthened through ingenuity. So many of the activities children engage in today are created in a way that allows a child not to be required to think too hard. But thinking hard and stretching one's imagination is just like stretching any other muscle; it gets stronger. The ability to use one's imagination and really taking the opportunity to flex that muscle is something that can also serve them well in life and empower them to think creatively as they grow, explore, and learn.

Confidence is also gained by playing alone. Children can gain confidence in their ability to problem-solve and create when they don't have another person there to actively steer them in one direction or the other. Playing alone, children are responsible for making their own decisions, and while that may feel daunting to some children, once they practice their decision-making skills through play, they will be better equipped to make decisions within a group and outside of play.

New hobbies and interests can also be born out of playing alone. Without the influence of others and peer pressure to like or dislike specific activities, children may be more willing to try something new and find that they really enjoy it. There is so much to be said about "dancing when no one is watching", and lifting the social obligations felt by many, both children and adults, in a group setting. Playing alone, children can try new activities unfettered by public opinion.

So, as your little ones grow and social pressures push socialization and group play, don't forget the value in playing alone. Build up their independence and confidence through solo play and those skills will serve them very well in so many different ways.

Psychology Today on the Benefits of Alone Time

Playing Alone Promotes Creativity and Self-Esteem

School-age Play Options

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, September 2, 2019

9 Ways That Play Preps Children for Healthy Self-Expression

Raising my two kiddos, I have dealt with a wide spectrum of behaviors. I've handled the happiest of moments with a heart full of love and the terrible temper tantrums that make every parent want to pull their hair out. And through it all, I have come to find that as children learn how to express themselves in a healthy, productive way, the extreme emotions and extreme expressions become less. My kids are not toddlers anymore, but I remember it well and I would like to share with you all what I've learned about the importance of healthy self-expression and how to encourage it in children in the hopes that something will click with you and your toddler or preschooler.

Dynamic/Pretend Play

Dynamic play is a type of play in which children accept and apply roles and act out scenes and scenarios, either realistic or unrealistic. Playing out scenarios offers children the opportunity to explore different possibilities while feeling in control. That control may make the scenario feel safe and encourage self-expression. Through dynamic play children can explore different "what ifs" and the emotions that go along with them. For example, a group of children playing out a scenario involving a firefighter, all assume different roles and react how they feel their character would act. One child might explore the feeling of being brave as a firefighter, while another child playing a parent might explore the feeling of being worried, and another child playing a child in the scenario may explore the feeling of being scared. All are opportunities for the children to use their self-expression to convey emotion. Dynamic play is important because it encourages emotional exploration that can be applied to real life. It also helps to develop social skills, such as empathy and offers children the opportunity to apply their emotional knowledge to different situations.

Challenge Children through Trial and Error

It is tough for any parent to watch their child fail and become frustrated. We naturally want to help them, to make it easier, less frustrating. But, and I say this having made my fair share of parenting mistakes; failure is something we as parents and they as children need to learn to be more comfortable with. Failure is an incredible learning tool and the emotions that come along with failure can be strong. Practice and patience in learning to express disappointment, sadness, and anger are important. Next time your preschooler is learning something new, resist the urge to repeatedly step in or divert attention to a different activity. Allow the failure and subsequent growth to happen. Developing the ability to express disappointment and negative emotions can be especially helpful for children interested in playing competitive sports.

Encouraging the Arts

Art in all of its forms offers the opportunity for self-expression and emotional growth in children. Whether your child is interested in reading, painting, dance, or music, encourage their involvement in the arts as a way to explore and express their emotions. For example, dance offers children a safe way to explore movement and their body as a tool to express emotions. The may lead to greater awareness of one's body.

Promoting Self Expression in Children

Self Expression Through Art

Sesame Street on Self Expression

Preschool-Appropriate Play Equipment

Musical Play for Kids

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, August 26, 2019

10 Infant Safety Risks New Parents Often Overlook

"Becoming a parent is exciting and terrifying."

"It's the best decision you can make."

Both of the above are statements I have heard about new parenthood and both of those statements are true. It's the best, happiest, most exciting, and especially terrifying experience in the world. In order to curb the terrifying nature of parenthood, many parents go into baby-proofing overdrive, others might choose to embrace a laid-back approach to parenthood, and that works for them and it's fine. But no matter one's approach to parenting, the responsibility to keep our children safe is the heaviest responsibility of all.

We hear heart-wrenching stories on the news all the time of childhood injuries and accidental deaths, and it is so frightening to think that those stories, those nightmares, could happen in any home. Those stories are the reasons we take infant safety so seriously. September is National Baby Safety Month. So, for all of you terrified and excited new parents out there, I feel your fear and self-doubt. I'm sharing with you the following infant safety tips as a way to offer support in one of the most intense seasons of life.

  1. Infant Cosleeping - Cosleeping, sleeping with your new baby in the bed with you, may seem convenient or feel very necessary, depending on your child's sleep schedule. It is important to understand the risks of cosleeping with a new baby. Parents in this season of life are exceptionally exhausted. They may accidentally roll onto their sleeping infant, causing them to suffocate. Likewise, pillows and blankets on the bed may also cause asphyxiation.
  2. Baby Gates - Baby gates are a household staple for many families, with some choosing to install semi-permanent gates and leaving them installed well through their child's toddler years. Baby gates are a tried and true way of keeping kids in safe areas and away from potential dangers. But, in order for these gates to be as safe as possible, it is important that they are properly and securely installed. With specific gates designed to be used to block off staircases, parents should resist the urge to skimp on the baby gates in their home by only using the traditional position and lock tension gates, rather than their walk-through counterparts. It is also important to install the proper gate hardware when installing gates blocking off stairs with banisters. Gates should always be secured to their fullest extent and parents should still be wary of their children pulling on the gates in a way that would cause them to loosen them.
  3. Baby-Proofing Furniture - You might think that a baby can't possibly be strong enough to pull over a bookcase or television, but you would be wrong. Babies learning to pull themselves up and learning to climb can be fatally injured when they tug and pull on unsecured furniture. To avoid heavy furniture from toppling over, secure to the wall with an L bracket. Dressers and bookcases can be easily secured. Television sets may be trickier and many choose to install a wall mount for their television, keeping it out of toddlers' reach and securing it to avoid accidents.
  4. Avoid Putting Car Seats and Bouncers on Countertops - It can be very tempting to come home with your infant still in their car seat, content, maybe sleeping. And why rock the boat by getting them out. Instead, you place them in their car seat on the countertop or on the couch. But doing this can be dangerous as the infant wakes up or rocks themselves while playing in their seat, toppling off the counter or couch. That's a scary experience for both parent and child and one that can cause injury even when a child is properly strapped in. The safest place for a child's car seat or bouncer is always on a level floor.
  5. Always Strap Baby In - Regardless of your infant's wiggliness or mobility, it is important to always use the child restraints and buckles on all car seats, booster seats, high chairs, swings, and bouncers. When strapping in a child, the straps should be adjusted to fit snugly across the child's lap and/or shoulders.
  6. Cut the Cords - Our homes are wrought with wires and cords. They power many of baby's devices, like monitors, sound machines, and swings. They charge our phones and home computers. But these cords may cause infant injuries, as babies love to pull and chew on them. Exposed cords should be kept to a minimum and when not being used, they should be stored away. Cords should be secured with covers whenever possible and should never be left dangling when plugged in or unplugged.
  7. Proper Babywearing - If babywearing is something you and your infant enjoy, make sure your carriers and wraps are adjusted properly and are correct for the size and weight of the infant. Ill-fitting carriers may be a smothering hazard.
  8. Don't Let Things Dangle - When you are in the kitchen preparing dinner, you may not notice the end of a tea towel hanging off of the countertop, but your baby certainly might. Curious children may be unaware of what they are doing when they reach for the edge of a towel or even the handle of a pot or pan positioned over the edge of the stove. Accidents like this may be the cause of severe cuts and burns. Never leave things dangling off of countertops and always turn the handles of pots and pans inward and out of reach.
  9. Baby Proof Door Latches are Not Only for the Kitchen - Baby-proof all cupboards and drawers within reach, not just in the kitchen but throughout the house. This is especially true for cupboards that contain hazardous items, such as cleaners or other chemicals. Likewise, drawers containing sharp object or wires can be dangerous when not properly secured. As you initially and continuously baby-proof your home, take note of your child's behaviors and areas of interest. If there is a cupboard that they keep going back to, whether or not it is secured, make sure that there's nothing in that cupboard that could cause injury. This may mean that you move your bathroom cleaning products to the top shelf of a hall closet, instead of more conveniently under the bathroom sink.
  10. Stay Aware of Your Surroundings - Regardless of how safe you make your home for your baby, you cannot control the other places they'll be exploring. When coming into a new space, be it a public place or a private home, take stock of your baby's surroundings and be aware of the risks. It's unrealistic to expect the world to be baby-proof and it is important that parents stay vigilant when out and about with their new babies. Being especially aware of small choking hazards on the ground, such as coins, bottle caps, and rocks, is important in protecting your child's wellbeing and safety.

Infant Safety Resources:

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, August 16, 2019

It's National Dance Day! Here are 10 Benefits of Dancing for Kids

Get your dancing shoes on, people! National Dance Day is just around the corner. Celebrated on the third Saturday of every September, it lands on September 21st this year and I'm all ready to boogie down. Now, my kids have never really been dancers, but I am excited to take this opportunity to share with them the world of dance and the benefits of moving their bodies to the beat.

I loved dance as a kid. The buns, the costumes, the pride I felt as I mastered new skills and combinations. Sadly, this mama lost a little bit of her grove with age and I'm pretty rusty. But that hasn't dampened my love of the art. Maybe it's the music, or the endorphins, or the feeling of muscles stretching and strengthening. Whatever it is, dance feels good to me. It has a ton of other important benefits, too, that can benefit our kiddos.

Dance to Improve Health

Dancing improves physical health, stamina, coordination and balance, flexibility, and posture. It also strengthens muscles and increases flexibility. Whether your kids are jete-ing in ballet class or poppin' and lockin' in a hip hop class, they're getting their heart pumping and having fun doing it. It's exercise that doesn't necessarily feel like exercise and sometimes that's all that's needed to engage kids and encourage them to be active.

Dance for Personal Development

Dancing can be a solo or group activity, depending on the type. Square dancing, ballroom dancing, and sometimes ballet, for example, require a dance partner. This forced socialization helps our kids to practice interacting in close proximity with their peers. Dance styles that may not require a partner are still typically taught in a group setting, encouraging interaction and offering kids the opportunity to build friendships. Teamwork is also a big part of dance, especially when practicing for recitals or competitions. Likewise, trust and cooperation can be cultivated through dance.

Dance to Develop Character

Dance can help our kids develop character, in a similar way that organized sports can. Dancing requires commitment, focus, and discipline. The time and energy required to learn and master new moves can pay off with applause when kids put in the time and commit to giving their dance routines their all. Kids with the drive and commitment to developing their craft might even earn the opportunity to try out for competition teams and professional dance companies at both the local and national level.

Dance to Shine with Confidence

The learning, growth, and development involved in dance can give tiny dancers the confidence they need to succeed in many different capacities. Be it on stage or in the classroom, dancing is a great way to instill in our children that they can do anything, as long as they are willing to put in the time and practice to reach their goals. It takes courage for kids to step onto a stage and showcase what they've learned and practiced to near perfection. Digging deep and finding that courage may give them the skills needed to do other hard or intimidating things with confidence.

What is National Dance Day?

Celebration National Dance Day Your Way

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, August 9, 2019

10 Summer Safety Tips for Dogs

How many of you have experienced a heat wave this summer? They seem to be happening worldwide this year. Whenever there's a hot weather advisory, it's important to take care to hydrate and limit time in the direct sun. Children and the elderly are especially at risk, and many of us step up to keep an eye on them, but there's another vulnerable population you should remember if you're a dog owner. Dogs are also at risk in high temperatures, and they also might find potential hazards at popular summer events and festivals. I've gathered up a list of some important tips to remember in the heat to keep your dog healthy and comfortable all summer long.

  1. Make fresh clean water available at all times. It's easy for dogs to get dehydrated in the heat, and dehydration is associated with some serious risks. Change out the water often to keep it appealing and cool for dogs so they remember to drink regularly. Check often to make sure they have enough, since they'll increase their water intake when it's hot out.
  2. Never leave your dog in a hot car. Even a few minutes can be deadly for dogs. In the shade, a car can reach 90 degrees after a few minutes, and it can get up to 160 degrees in the direct sun! It's best not to take your dog out in the car at all in the hot weather, but if you do, bring along a water dish and don't leave them unattended.
  3. Make sure your dog has a shady spot to hang out in the yard or stays inside where there's air conditioning. A dog house is not good shelter on a hot day: They can trap heat.
  4. Get your dog a kiddie pool! It's a fun way for dogs to play while staying cool (and even clean off a little).
  5. Speaking of exercise, it's best to limit it on very hot days. Skip playing fetch if there's a high heat warning, and limit walks to just enough time for your dog to do its business.
  6. Be careful of your dog's feet in hot weather. The asphalt heats up and can easily burn the pads on your dog's paws. If you can't avoid your dog walking on asphalt, you can protect their feet with special boots for dogs.
  7. Be aware of your dog's breed and their susceptibility to heat. Breeds with flat noses, like pugs and Pekingeses, are more prone to overheating because they can't pant as effectively. You should also be extra cautious of elderly dogs or dogs with heart disease.
  8. Make yourself aware of the symptoms of overheating. These can include excessive panting, a high heart rate, bloody stool, vomiting, and collapse.
  9. Apart from the heat, you should avoid dangerous foods at barbecues and other typical summer events. Dogs should stay away from onions, chocolate, and grapes.
  10. The other big summer features to avoid with pets are events that have fireworks. Most dogs are really afraid of them, and they may run away in a panic.
Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, July 25, 2019

10 Tips for Your Dog's First Overnight Camping Trip

Photo by Zain A.B (Flickr)
Summer is a great time to go camping and many families have a four-legged friend they'd like to bring along. Talking to a few friends who bring their dogs camping made me realize that while it's really fun to bring your pet along on a family trip, it can present some unique challenges. I decided to ask my friends for advice and dig up a few other tips for taking your dog on a successful camping trip. I'd love to hear how these worked out for you, and if I missed anything important, please let me know!
  1. Research the Campground Before Booking: Not every campground is dog-friendly. Make sure to choose you a campground that will accommodate your canine. It's important to first and foremost follow the rules and regulations of the place you're visiting, whether it's a national park, state park, or other local site. Parks may have restrictions on dogs, so make sure you abide by them and pay attention to leash laws, too.
  2. Keep Your Dog Leashed at the Campsite: The outdoors is full of tempting sights and smells for dogs. From wildlife to other dogs to stray food, there are a lot of things that might send your dog off running. You don't want to lose sight of your dog or have them barge in on a campsite where pooches aren't welcome, so it's best to keep your dog on a leash while at the campsite. It lowers the risk of a lost dog and makes for happier campers.
  3. Visit the Vet Before You Leave: Bring your dog to the veterinarian for a checkup before setting out on a camping trip, especially if you plan to do any strenuous hikes. You'll want to make sure that your dog is up for the task. You'll also want to make sure your pet is up to date with vaccinations and taking necessary medication to prevent heartworm and ticks.
  4. Refresh Your Dog's Training: Before heading out, make sure your dog is brushed up on some important commands for a camping trip. For instance, "leave it" is pretty important to use while camping, in case the dog comes across a wild animal or something they shouldn't eat.
  5. Consider Your Dog's Personality: Choose your accommodations with your dog's personality in mind. A shy dog would like a quieter setting, while a social dog is probably more flexible unless you find that the dog gets too excitable around other people and other dogs.
  6. Use Waste Bags Wherever You Go: Make sure you've packed baggies to clean up your dog's mess. Most parks have a leave-no-trace policy, which means that you must leave things the way you found them. Cleaning up your dog's mess keeps things clean for other visitors and limits the spread of illness to wildlife.
  7. Bring a Doggy Bed or Pad: After a long day of camping, you and your dog will both want a good night's sleep. Bring along some kind of bed or pad to make your dog's sleep more secure and comfortable, or else your dog may keep you awake through the night.
  8. Pack a Doggy First Aid Kit: Just like humans, dogs should have a first aid kit when they go camping. The kit should include a blanket, tweezers, a bandanna, dog booties, a tick spoon, and emergency vet information.
  9. Consider Buying a Collar Light: A glowing light on your dog's collar will make them much easier to locate at night. Dog owners do worry about losing track of their dog in wooded areas, and this can really put their minds at ease.
  10. Bring a Portable Crate: If you're worried that you might not have the most well-behaved dog at the campsite, a portable crate can help keep your dog contained and calm.
Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Importance of Unstructured Summer Playtime for Kids

July is a time for beautiful weather and long summer days. For most of us, our kids are home from school on summer vacation. Some have gone to overnight camps, day camps, summer sports, or summer arts clubs. Some are taking over their backyard, taking trips to the library, or hitting the local playground. No matter where they are, kids should be using this free time to play and explore. There's been a lot of talk about whether summer vacation from school is a bad idea, but I'm of the opinion that the unstructured time and break from school schedules is really important for children. I'm sure my girls agree! I've collected a few reasons why this unstructured time is important.

Play Benefits All Aspects of Development

I've spoken many times on this blog about why play is beneficial to a child's physical, emotional, and intellectual development. These important and proven reasons are at the foundation of why a few weeks break from school to add more freedom and playtime to a child's life is beneficial in the long run. Of course education is important, but we need to make sure our kids don't forget how to play and aren't deprived of opportunities to explore and experience the unique ways play allows children to develop.

Summer Play Promotes Non-Traditional Learning

Children don't have to be in a classroom to learn: There are plenty of play experiences that can be made educational. Children playing outside can discover new plants, animals, and bugs while exploring the world around them. Summer also gives kids time to learn more skills and explore new hobbies. It's the perfect season to learn how to swim or ride a bike! Your child might also take part in a camp that provides traditional learning as well as opportunities for socialization and team-building.

Kids Need to Learn to Handle Boredom

Kids getting bored over summer break may not sound like something positive, but boredom is a part of life, and it's beneficial for kids to learn how to deal with it. We know that kids can get into trouble when they're bored, but with a little guidance from you, they can learn how to create their own play and make boredom more constructive. Getting bored prompts kids to get creative and use their imagination. The boundless free time summer offers creates the situation, and kids have to rise to the occasion and make the most of their free time.

Play Provides an Emotional Reset

Kids have a lot of new experiences as they're growing up, and these experiences can take a while to process. The free time offered by summer vacation is a chance for children to relax, deal with their emotions, and process memories. Summer cues children to be relaxed, at ease, and content. They have much more space and capacity to deal with negative emotions during this time.

To take away summer vacation and replace it with year-long schooling might sound educationally responsible, but I believe that depriving children of their summer reset would be detrimental to their development. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, July 12, 2019

How the Playground Benefits Every Aspect of Child Development

Photo by dadblunders (Flickr)

Is there a nice playground in your neighborhood? I hope so, since they have absolutely incredible benefits for child development and the community at large. My girls and I love to visit the local playground, whether it's to use the equipment, play on the grass, or meet up with friends. Playgrounds have a ton of benefits: Take a look at these and see if any of them surprise you. Did I leave anything out? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Increased Motor Skills

Most play equipment is designed to help children improve their physical fitness and their motor skills. Running, sliding, jumping, and swinging all help children increase their coordination, balance, and strength. Best of all, couch potato kids usually don't complain about exercise when they're playing. They're too busy having fun! So if you have a little one reluctant to play in gym class, a trip to the playground might be a great solution to improving their motor skills.

Taking in Fresh Air

Most playgrounds are outdoors, so kids on the playground are soaking in all of the benefits of fresh air. Kids get much-needed vitamin D when they're out in the sunlight as well as a chance to breathe fresh air and feel invigorated. This is why recess is such a needed break from the school day. Being outside has positive effects on physical health as well as overall mood. (Just don't forget the sunblock!) And extra time outside playing can also help tucker out your over-energized young ones who aren't a fan of bedtime.

Improved Social Skills

For young children, so many friendships are formed on the playground. It gives children a space for freedom to interact and play cooperatively with each other. Whether they're out on the playground during the school day or visiting the local public playground, there are often new faces and a chance to meet new friends. Children feel that they can interact with each other more freely on the playground, giving them a chance to work on their social skills, share with others, and teach each other new games.

Braver Kids

This might give the supervising adults gray hairs, but children taking risks on the playground can be a good thing. Shy children might come out of their shell in interactions with others. Children can feel encouraged to take on challenges that their friends are doing, like using the monkey bars or climbing higher on the jungle gym. Kids can practice deciding what risks are OK to take when they're on the playground, and although its nerve-wracking for us to watch, it's an important life skill for them to learn.

Imaginations Run Wild

The playground sparks the imagination. Ask your kids what game they were playing on the playground and you might get some elaborate answers. They might tell you the slide was a castle, the merry-go-round was over a lava pit, or the swing set was a space station. Play equipment can be simple, but it can form a wild imaginative landscape in the eyes of children. That's always a mental muscle I'll encourage my girls to flex.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

What is Associative Play and Why It Matters

Photo by photobom (Flickr)

I thought we ought to take a deep dive into a stage of play.

When I first heard the term "associative play," I had no idea what it meant, but once I found out, I realized that I had seen my girls engaging in it many times. Once you learn more about this type of play and why it's important, I think that like me, you'll also want to encourage the kids in your care to do it more often.

What Is Associative Play?

Associative play is all about social interaction. It refers to any instance when children begin playing together as a group doing a similar or identical activity to one another. Associative play has no formal organization, goal, or direction. Children riding tricycles together, building sand castles together, or building their own separate Lego projects as a group are all participating in associative play.

How Associative Play Differs From Other Play

Associative play is similar to other stages of play, like parallel play. Parallel play occurs when children play together in the same space but separately. While children doing associative play might also be doing separate activities, they still have a level of involvement and curiosity in what others are doing. Children doing associative play are not quite ready to use skills like teamwork, cooperation, and leadership to play together with a goal in mind, or they're taking a break from that type of activity. Doing associative play helps them practice more organized activities that call on children to work as a team.

The stages of play theory suggests that the way children play transforms and becomes more sophisticated as they grow. Each stage builds on those that came before. Associative play is a stop on the way to developing the ability to work cooperatively and socialize in positive ways.

Benefits of Associative Play

There are many reasons why this stage of play is important:

  • It encourages cooperation among children.
  • It increases problem-solving abilities. Children often ask why, when, and how while doing associative play.
  • Socialization is improved through work with others.
  • Associative play can improve language as children chat together.

Encouraging Associative Play

The most obvious way to encourage more associative play for your kids is to set up more play dates with friends and family: Associative play can't happen when the child is alone. Of course, adults can join in, too! Take a break and play some games with your kids. You might find yourself having fun, too. Some great ideas for this type of play are to color pictures or do separate art projects together. You could also break out Legos or clay or search for something together, like sea shells. Since this stage of play is so social, it's also a great idea to ask questions. Take an interest in what the children are doing, and ask them what they're doing and why. Sharing is also an important part of associative play. Encourage sharing as much as possible, and make sure there are many items around that can be shared among the group.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, July 5, 2019

7 Reasons Why Road Trips Can Spark Growth and Learning in Children!

Photo by Nicholas Cole (Flickr)

The summer holidays mean vacation time for many families. My own family loves a good road trip. Whether we're talking a day trip or a week-long journey, road trips can be great fun for everyone. Depending on the age of your kids, you may want to limit the length of the car journey and break up your itinerary with kid-friendly stops. No matter what your trip looks like, your whole family is sure to get a lot out of it because there are some surprising benefits to taking a road trip with kids. Take a look at my top seven reasons why road trips help kids to learn and grow. Then, feel free to share your road trip memories, or let me know where you plan on road-tripping this summer: I'd love to hear your recommendations!

Build Character

I know, "road trips build character" sounds like something Grandpa might say to get the kids to simmer down. You might find yourself tempted to say it to your kids as again and again throughout the car ride, they ask you, "Are we there yet?" But that's where a road trip can be a growth moment. It can teach children patience. You can't get there any faster (without risking a speeding ticket and your lives), and sooner or later, your kids will tire of asking as they get the picture. Just make sure you've got a fun destination in mind so you can help your kids reflect on how their patience and perseverance paid off.

Learn Some Geography

A road trip is a great chance for kids to test out reading a map. Let them mark your progress. They can even try out making a map of their own! Have them identify features like mountains and rivers and mark them on their map. You can also take the chance to help them identify different habitats and ecosystems. Bring along a book that might discuss what birds, animals, and plants live where you're traveling.

Develop a Spirit of Exploration

Travel brings out the adventurous and curious side of everyone. Show enthusiasm to help your kids take interest in the sites, sounds, and experiences all around them. Trying new things is a good thing for kids. It makes them more confident, more knowledgeable, and more engaged with the world.

Bond as a Family

Think about leaving the tablet loaded with movies and games at home. This might seem like a terrifying concept when faced with long hours in the car, but if you do, you'll make sure you don't miss out on some quality family time to reconnect and chat with one another.

Practice State Memorization

Do you remember playing little games during long car journeys? I sure do. If you're traveling in the United States, try playing the license plate game: See how many different states' plates you can spot along the way, and talk about the different state landmarks, animals, and other features that appear on many license plate designs.

Try Some Photography

Let your kids take the lead on taking some family photos along your journey. My girls love doing this. They get a real sense of pride out of their best photos. If possible, be a little flexible and pull over if your kids spot a great opportunity.

Learn Art, History, and Science

Road trips present a lot of educational opportunities no matter where you're traveling. Urban areas will have art museums and theaters. More rural areas will have lots of natural beauty to learn more about, and they may have homestead or living history areas to explore.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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