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Monday, December 22, 2014

Dash Through the Snow: 15 Ways to Play in a Winter Wonderland

Photo by: Heather Sunderland (Flickr)

Ahh, let's just curl up and hibernate until Spring gently rouses us from our slumber... hold your reindeers, parents! Winter weather doesn't have to freeze playtime. It's magical and lovely out there, so why not bundle up and enjoy it with the kiddos? There's oodles of family fun to be had around the holidays and a winter wonderland of play possibilities awaits outside! If you're blessed (or cursed, depending on your outlook) to live in an area blanketed with snow, I've got some kid-approved ideas on how to have flurries of fun!

There are tried and true rosy-cheeked adventures such as building a snowfamily or catapulting snowballs, but let's get creative! Play is a fantastic way to banish the winter blues, bond as a family, and discover the joy in all seasons. Plus, who doesn't love coming in from the cold to a steamy mug of hot chocolate?

Here are 15 ways to play in a Winter Wonderland.

  1. Hula Hooping: Hula hooping is lively fun no matter the weather. Now imagine the extra challenge of keeping it floating while all bundled up! Cue laughter! Plus, you can lay them down for an impromptu game of snowball toss.
  2. Get Artistic: How about some snow graffiti? Fill spray bottles with water and food coloring and let the kids work magic on the fluffy white canvas! My girls absolutely adore this and were delighted by their first attempt. If you try it, pictures please!
  3. Snow Castles: Do you miss the beach? Me too! As we long for sunny sand, let's break out the sandcastle molds. Your kids can nurture their inner architect by building from hard and packable snow.
  4. Build a Fort: If your family is to ever stand a chance against the neighborhood onslaught of snowball warfare, you need to build a snow fort. The more snow, the more gloriously cavernous it can be. Snow forts are also perfect for hide-and-seek!
  5. Pin the Carrot on the... Snowman?: I LOVE this idea! Borrow Mr. Snowman's scarf for a blindfold and ready your carrot for this twist on the classic game. Just be warned that your beloved snowman may end up with a big orange growth anywhere BUT his face!
  6. Go Sledding: This is a winter rite of passage! Soar down the slopes, conduct races for your kids, or arrange obstacle cources with cones. If your kids are a bit older, you can help construct jumps out of snow to achieve some air. After all, excitement and healthy risk benefits kids in several key ways.
  7. Snowball Fights: Warm up those pitching arms! There are intricate gizmos and gadgets that formulate the perfect snowball, but our hands do just fine. Just be sure to remind your kids to never throw ice or aim at the face.
  8. Artic Hunt: Scavenger hunts in the snow? Now that's dashing! Your kiddos will adore the challenge of digging through the snow in search of treasure. You could even provide those sand excavation toys I mentioned earlier. I love puns, so I use "warmer, colder" clues to guide my snow angels.
  9. Crazy Footprint Tag: When playing tag in the snow, it's crucial to follow in the footsteps of the greats. Really! Declare a new rule: when chasing a target, you may only step in the footprints they leave behind. The hopping, tiptoeing, swerving, rolling, and leaping over obstacles make for a thrilling game! The more movement, the merrier!
  10. Exotic Snow Creations: The snow is your muse! Break beyond the mold of a simple snowman. You can make animals, objects, self-portraits, and the next world wonder! Found objects make dazzling decorations, too.
  11. Snow Angels: Who doesn't love making snow angels? So whimscal and relaxing! Spice it up by painting on dresses with the food coloring spray paint.
  12. Channel Elsa: Spritz a piece of black construction paper with water and pop it in the freezer until it's frozen. A thin layer of ice crystals will blossom across it like magic! Offer your kids magnifying glasses so they can marvel at the crystalline landscape. You can also catch freshly fallen snowflakes and encourage your kids to try identifying them with a handy chart.
  13. Ice Bubbles: Did you know that if you blow bubbles when it's below 32 degrees out, the bubbles can freeze in the wind? My girls just love the irredescient baubles!
  14. Take Decorating Further: Parade the festivities outside! Do your kids have a beloved playhouse, playground piece, or background area? Invite them to decorate with lights, homemade decorations, and whatever else they dream up. Let it be their project!
  15. Stick-Stack-Snow: Simple and classic! Carve a square board out of the snow and use twigs as X's and rocks as O's. To encourage more playful movement, you can make the board HUGE!

I hope you enjoy these 15 ways to get out there and play with the fam! Do you have any more suggestions? I'd LOVE to hear them! Let us know in the comments section!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Playful New World: 10 Ideas to Innovate Cities for Playability

Photo by Matthias Ripp (Flickr)

The word "playability" is joyously abuzz in the play world right now. Play is a natural, boundless way to learn and grow, so it's no wonder that families are seeking more playable places. Playability is about building environments that are fun and spontaneous. These innovations brighten life in a flash and invite everyone to let loose and play. So, how exactly does playability unfold?

It begins with us! Parents, children and educators are putting their imaginations to work. Play advocates from all over the world are building playgrounds, rallying for recess, and promoting play. We need playability now; the constant lure of devices threatens the health of generations to come. With environments that encourage whimsy and exploration, kids and adults will be more in tune with their surroundings and each other. This benefits the health of the society as a whole! Where do we begin? Well, some cities have already leaped into it!

Here are 10 current and hopeful ideas for playability in cities:

  1. Dancing Street Lights: Would you ignore the do-not-walk symbol at crosswalks if it busted out slick dance moves? With dance lessons from passing pedestrians, the red light figure promoted safety with sashaying hips. How could you not giggle at that? In fact, the developers reported that 81 percent more people obeyed the dancing dude and stopped. Plus, the "dance instructors" enjoyed a burst of playful exercise.
  2. Bristol Brilliance: Bristol, England is bursting with playability! From 300ft water slides over main shopping streets to talking street objects to play-friendly street closures, residents are rediscovering their city and the joy it offers! The minds behind these efforts seek to connect rushed families with playfulness. They believe "people, hospitality and openness" are the key to a Playable City.
  3. Sensational Subways: The morning commute doesn't have to be so brutal and drab! There's so much potential for playability here. What if there were slides next to some stairs in subway stations to zip you to your connection faster? How about a game of hopscotch for the kids as you wait for your ride? I do so love the smörgåsbord of artwork in the NYC subways; it's literally buried treasure!
  4. Enhance it With Art: Enough gray! Banish the blues with color and culture. Just like a home is the canvas to the family's imagination, a city's visuals should blossom from the creativity of its inhabitants. Public art (PDF) can spark conversation, encourage smiles, and ease tension. In essence, it makes the city seem truly alive. I love the idea of kids being involved in creating murals that expand each year!
  5. Swing and Wait: Nothing announces bus stop like a big, climbable "BUS" structure! It provides shelter and an easygoing sense of novelty. Let's explore this route further. What about swings under awnings? Monkey bars? As long as everything is a safe distance from the road, these ideas could transform a passive waiting space into a playable experience!
  6. Rainbow Brick Road: I've been toying with this idea forever! What about bright, educational pathways from the schools to local playgrounds? Quotes, maps, animals, alphabets, languages, literature, hopscotch, puzzles - so many delightful possibilities! Even better, students can play an active role in creating the walkable murals. Anything that unites play, learning, culture, exercise, and art is a win-win-win!
  7. Spice Up the Center of Town: How much do you know about your local history? I believe that every town should have a freely accessible cultural hub of some sort. This third place can also serve as a community builder, play-maker, fitness maker, and farmer's market! Murals can grace the walls, offering insight into local heritage. Does your town have such a place?
  8. Maximize Space: Lack of space dominates most big cities, but that just means we need to think outside of the box. Check out this pink and orange pool noodle alleyway. I want to leap like a majestic gazelle through that! This project breathed life and cheer into a unsavory space. What about transforming an alley into a ping pong court? Imagine the wild ricochets!
  9. More Playgrounds: Of course! Do your kids have a fun, safe place to play? Where there's a will to play, there's a way! Organizations like KaBOOM! offer grants to build and enhance play spaces.
  10. Playful Public Seating: Phew, I'm pooped from all that playing! Why don't we have a seat? Let's skip the mundane bench. Playful public seating is the way to go, don't you think? Hammocks, swings, planter benches, and funky shapes add all visual quirkiness.

I know that many of these ideas are easier said than done, but they ARE happening! It all begins with a dream and a go-getter attitude. What ideas do you have? Please share in the comments. Let's talk play!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Happy House: 11 Ways to Boost the Playability of Your Entire Home

Photo by Jeff Kubina (Flickr)

If you're a regular visitor to my blog playground (I hope you are!), you know my kiddos and I LOVE the grand outdoors. Whether it's having a picnic outside on a dazzling day or taking a bike ride around the neighborhood, we treat the open air like a member of the family. There are countless benefits to playing outside, but sometimes, circumstances like weather befuddle our nature-bound adventures! But worry not, because...

Play can unfold gloriously indoors, too! A playful house is a happy house. After all, having fun is essential ingredient to happy and healthy mindsets in kids! All it takes is a splash of creativity inside the home and you'll be able to unlock a playful new world for you and your ducklings to enjoy. We call it playability; this literal movers and shakers movement is creating environments that enable and encourage play. You can take part right at your doorstep.

Here are 11 ways to boost the playability of your entire home:

  1. Shoot Some Hoops: Laundry baskets double as hoops! Swoosh your way to smiles by challenging your kids to some basketball. Sort clothes into color coordinated baskets or assign a basket per family member. Invite your kids to arrange them about the room, creating imaginative challenges.
  2. Hopscotch Indoors: This idea is simple and super affordable! Tape some quirky hopscotch designs on the floor of a heavily traversed hallway. These small bursts of movement add up to plenty of playful exercise throughout the day!
  3. Swinging Around the House: Ready for a daring and ambitious playful home idea? Install a rope swing in the house. You can do this in an open area like a den or living space. Just be mindful of the surroundings; you wouldn't want family fun time to hit a brick wall... literally. This a wonderful idea for the living room since it makes watching TV a more kinetic, engaging experience!
  4. Active Cleaning: Washing dishes. You feel icky just thinking about it, don't you? Let's ban boring chores! Try doing the dishes on a step climber. It'll entertain onlookers and provide a quirky leg workout. How about hula hooping while dusting? Skateboarding while sweeping? Okay, those might be a tad extreme, but I hope it gets the creative juices flowing.
  5. Dive Into the Ball Pit: Isn't it every child's (and adult's) dream to leap into a ball pit right at home? It's not such a far-fetched idea! Google DIY ball pits and you'll discover a creative medley of ways to make it happen. Animal pens filled with balls can also provide an impromptu dream come true.
  6. Play With Extra Space: Do you have a room that you're not quite sure what to do with? Fill it with play! A small room can transform into a playability paradise with bean bag chairs, balls, bouncing balls, cushioned flooring, and yoga mats. This colorful space would be ideal for kids to productively release energy!
  7. Fold-Up Games: Board games, hopscotch, indoor horseshoes, puzzles, and hallway bowling are just a handful of ways your family can play on a rainy day! Play banishes the cloudy blues and gathers us together as a family. What's your favorite way to indulge on a rainy day?
  8. Build Something Special: Building objects builds brawn and brains. Announce an eco-friendly building contest! Participants can gather natural objects and recycled goods to construct the next world wonder! It's great imagination food and provides entertainment in a frugal, engaging way.
  9. Hot Lava: Fire up this high-stakes game by playing epic tunes or decreeing absolute silence. My girls like to transform the entire house into Middle Earth, using skateboards to glide across areas with no furniture.
  10. Treasure Hunt: Treasure hunts are rich with potential! You can propose themes, such as 10 objects that are green (granted they return them to their rightful places afterwards). You can also make them productive, like cleaning 10 objects in dire need of TLC!
  11. Don't Forget About the Yard: I've witnessed too many neglected yards! A patch of land, no matter how humble or grand, can be a playful wonderland. Consider playground equipment or a little garden. No matter what you do, know that kiddos are capable of imagining any place into a playful place.

We don't need outrageous sums of money or time to create playful opportunities for our little ones. What have you done to make your home more play-friendly? I'd absolutely love to hear your ideas!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thankful Family: 11 Ways to Foster Gratitude in Your Kids

Photo by BK (Flickr)

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, enticing us with the sweet aroma of pumpkin pie! Now, as always, I try my best to dedicate some time to count my blessings. Why don't we do that now, together? I'm thankful for my zany, playful life, made deliciously whole by my two daughters. They bring joy to my life each and every day, even if they drive me bonkers. After all, what parent isn't at least a dollop of bonkers?

Gratitude is a wonderful trait we can nurture in our kiddos from the moment the bless our lives. After all, a thankful heart yields more happiness, enthusiasm, and motivation! I'm not claiming that we are 100% able to meltdown-proof our children when the Elsa doll is out of stock, but gratitude for what they DO have will help them "let it go". So without further ado...

Here are 11 ways to foster gratitude in your kids!

  1. Pass the Tea, Please: Sometimes it's not that they're being rude; often, they are just genuinely too shy to whisper 'Thank you"! To ease this anxiety, practice gratitude in a playful environment. Encourage your wallflowers to say "please" and "thank you" to their favorite stuffed animals. Join in and set an example!
  2. Dine on Grace: Make it a dinnertime ritual to have each family member express one thing they are grateful for that day. To spice it up, discuss one thing everyone has learned and what they are hopeful for tomorrow.
  3. Handwritten Gratitude: Foster this habit early on. Join your precious little ones in writing/doodling handwritten 'thank you' notes. Gift them to anyone who is a positive influence on your kid's life, such as teachers, family, and bus drivers! Don't forget your partner or spouse too - after all, gratitude starts at home!
  4. Be Patient: Simply demanding that your kids be more grateful will backfire. Gently commend them when they express gratitude, but don't force them beyond their comfort zone. Living as an example will help foster a gracious mindset naturally.
  5. Volunteer: I imagine the heart like a bowl - compassionate deeds such as volunteering deepen and widen it, making it more receptive to love, gratitude, and happiness. Make helping others an active element in your family life. It lifts everybody up!
  6. Global Awareness: The vibrant tapestry of cultures in our world is something I am awed by and grateful for. Seek to cultivate a curiosity and respect for our world in your kids. This will help them appreciate experiences and knowledge over material possession. It will also provide prospective on the abundance of their lives.
  7. Tell Them Stories: Tell stories to your children, especially ones that center around gratitude. Provide both personal tales and a variety of enriching books. Even sad stories serve a purpose if you focus on the silver lining. These heartfelt narratives have a lasting impact.
  8. Thanksgiving Hunt: Why not try a gratitude scavenger hunt this Thanksgiving? Compile a list of thankful things to find, such as "someone who made me smile lots this year". Snap pictures and make an album to share next Thanksgiving.
  9. Emphasize What's Around: Want to surround your family with lush treasures? Venture into the great outdoors! I've relished in nature with my girls since they were bouncing babes. The wide open air and the kaleidoscope of sensory delights feels so whole. No object can match that feeling!
  10. Don't Take Playtime For Granted: Play makes everything feel good! It eases stress, encourages experiential learning, and builds empathy. A mind refreshed by frequent play is more apt to discover plenty to be grateful for. This applies to adults too!
  11. Be a Role Model: This is perhaps the most essential point on this list. Be a role model to your children and radiate gratitude in everything that you do. Show them (and tell them!) how grateful you are for your life, for your family, and for them! This isn't always easy, but we can all vow to TRY to count our blessings, right?

As parents, we want nothing more than happy and healthy children. Gratitude is an key ingredient to this! How have you been able to foster gratitude in your children? I'd love to hear your tips and stories in the comments below!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, November 14, 2014

Interview with Playworks Founder Jill Vialet

Photo by Dan Harrelson (Flickr)

I am honored and delighted to share with you my interview with Playworks founder and CEO Jill Vialet. Playworks is a non-profit organization that strives to establish a playful culture where every child in America can explore, learn, connect, and have fun. Jill's passion for providing play opportunities for all children truly shines in her book Recess Rules. So without further ado, let's leap right into this conversation!

Kim: Let's start off with a big, golden question! In your TED talk, you mentioned a city worker named Clarence who encouraged you to participate in playful activities no matter what. Through Playworks, you've sought to invite a play-advocating "Clarence" into every child's life. Why does play matter so much to you?

Jill: Play matters because it creates an opportunity to bring out the best in every kid - and it's an opportunity for kids to really see the best in themselves. Not sure if you had a chance to watch it, but I gave a more recent talk at TEDMED that just came out a couple of weeks ago that's all about why play matters.

Kim: On the wonderful topic of Playworks, what would you say are the organization's three main goals?

Jill: To make it possible for every child in America to play every day. To fundamentally shift the education system to include an awareness of play as an essential developmental experience. And to make training universally available to grown-ups that work with kids to support them in infusing play into every interaction.

Kim: Once again drawing from your uplifting talk, you state that play-fortified learning can "solve the education crisis" and "raise a generation with the vision and collective will to make all the other changes we need." What do you think makes play so powerful?

Jill: There's a lot to play that makes it powerful, but one significant aspect is that it is an experiential way of teaching and learning empathy. The experience of playing together creates a very real opportunity to really see another person, and to be truly seen - and this, in turn, creates an opening for understanding other people - for authentically coming to believe that another person's inner life is as complex as one's own.

Kim: You also say that play is the "fundamental sign of our inner drive and ambition." What are 3 things we as parents and caregivers can do to help banish the stigma that play is frivolous and secondary?

Jill: As the grown-ups who care about kids, I think the first thing we can do is to be curious about the things our kids care about. The second thing is to play with them and spend time with them. And third, to create consistent boundaries - whether that's around sleep, homework or screen time.

Kim: If you wanted one message to reach every single child in the world, what would it be? What about every single adult?

Jill: Same message to both: I believe in the best in you and I know that, as a society, if we are to achieve all that we are capable of, we need you to tap into that part of you.

Kim: Let's wrap this up with a whimsical question! Please gift us with a haiku all about play!

Jill: OK, I'm going with more relaxed rules: 5-7-5, but no mandatory reference to the seasons...

Play is to the child

What oxygen is to life

You simply need it.

Wow, what an empowering interview! Jill truly conveys the power of play and why we should strive to build a more play-friendly world. To keep in touch with Jill, you can follow her on Twitter and Google+. You can also find Playworks on Twitter. See you on the playground!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Join These 9 Play Advocates on the Playground of Social Media!

by Wikipedia Commons

We all need to play. Leisure time, exploration, creative endeavors, and just freely being ourselves are all key ingredients to a happy, wholesome life. For children, play is essential for development. It helps kids discover themselves and rejoice in the humanity of others. It also provides them a landscape to practice what they've learned. For adults, it eases stress, invites creative expansion, and keeps our souls youthful! All across the Web, there are many play advocates that are definitely worth following and engaging with! They provide resources, inspiration, and volunteer opportunities all in the name of play.

Here are nine of my favorite play advocates that I encourage you to connect with on the playground known as social media!

  1. @KaBOOM: It's only fitting that we kick off this list with one of the most influential, empowering play advocates out there. KaBOOM! is a nonprofit organization that is passionate about helping incorporate play into the lives of children on a national scale. They're so interactive and uplifting that I make it a priority to explore their profiles daily. I love following them because they showcase joy-sparking photos, share information from a variety of playful sources, and all around lead the way to a more spontaneous, play-powered world!
  2. @Playworks: Every child has a place on the playground, and Playworks really delivers that truth with flying colors. I 100% believe in their solid motto of "play works for every kid". You can relish in their playful influence nationwide; they actively serve 23 communities that have separate Twitter profiles for maximum fun! Playworks also offers training opportunities to shape individuals into positive, empowering playmakers on and off the playground. Need to revamp or implement a recess program? They can help with that too!
  3. @balmeras: Bethe Almeras is known as the "Grass Stain Guru" and is a fervent believer in the power of play and nature. She's a renowned speaker that voices the spirit of the Play Movement. This quote captures her gloriousness quite aptly: "I also believe that childhood was meant to be messy. Muddy. Slimy. Silly. And most of all, joyful. Steeped in awe and wonder, childhood should be spent outdoors as much as possible, and should rely on imagination and whimsy as much as it does on rules and regulations." Check out her website, read the lively interview we did with her, and reach out to her in the Twitter birdhouse!
  4. @LetsPlay: The name really says it all, doesn't it? Let's Play is wonderful because they represent the group effort of Dr. Pepper and Snapple to help spur more active lifestyles in families across America. One of the big benefits of following them on Twitter is that they share a lot of creative play ideas that really leap outside of the box!
  5. @VinceGowmon: Play advocate Vince Gowmon won't let you forget to play! His endeavors delight both kids and adults alike. I adore his Tweets because of the variety; he offers original quotes and resources about bullying, communication, empathy, healing, play, and family. Vince truly makes us feel like a vital part of his mission. Did I mention that he runs playshops around the country? I've yet to attend one, but it is on my to-play list!
  6. @JillVialet: As the founder of Playworks, Jill believes that play can and will bring out the best in every child. Her enthusiasm is contagious and she's so down-to-earth; she engages heartily with her followers and finds an abundance of play resources to share. Give her TED talks a listen; she champions for play in a refreshing, grounded way that is sure to resonate with you.
  7. @MovingSmartNow: "A moving child is a learning child". Such a wise, uplifting motto! They provide move-to-learn resources, quotes, play ideas, pictures, and plenty of smile-worthy moments. Gill Connell also has a glorious book and blog all in the name of mobile growing. this A moving child is a healthy child and happy child, too!
  8. @DarellHammond: Earlier, I celebrated about how awesome KaBOOM! is as a play advocate. Darell is the founder of KaBOOM! and the author of KaBOOM! A Movement to Save Play. It's an outstanding book that I highly recommend. He actively shares play, education, and movement insights from all corners of the social playground. He also guides followers towards volunteer opportunities that are worth wholehearted support.
  9. @PPS_Placemaking: Last but certainly not least is the Project for Public Spaces. They seek to design a world that is play-friendly, sustainable, and morale-boosting. The movement of placemaking is compelling and unique; I urge you to explore how we can help put our limited resources and land to more fulfilling uses. Human connection and imagination are cornerstones to this effort. There is SO much potential out there!

Are you connected with any of these influencers of play on social media? I'd love to hear your recommendations in the comments below! Together, we can build a world enriched by the power of play!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, October 31, 2014

11 Wholesome Ingredients for Happy Children

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik (Flickr)

As a parent, keeping your child happy comes along with the territory. We all want our children to grow up feeling happy and loved, but it doesn't always exactly come easy. There will be struggles, plenty of them, and at times, we won't be able to control whether they're happy or not. However, with that said, we can do the best we can to ensure that they are happy. That's part of the job of being a parent, right?

With my children now, I've realized over the years the things that can be done to help make them happy. Some of these are things that you may not have necessarily thought of at first, but it's important to realize what it takes to accomplish this.

Here are 11 wholesome ingredients for happy children.

  1. Allow Playtime: After the stresses of things like school, always ensure that you allow your children to have some playtime. Whether it's giving them some alone time to play some games or playing games with the family, give them that time. They're young, so let them enjoy themselves.
  2. Consistent Sleep is Key: It's important that from a young age you work to get your child on a good sleep schedule. If they don't get enough sleep, they'll be exhausted, which will only lead to them being unhappy. It's not rocket science: Better sleep leads to better and happier moods.
  3. Yelling Doesn't Work: Do you know what doesn't accomplish anything? Yelling. Yelling is a waste of time and will only stress both you and your child out, and it's no secret that stress doesn't equate to happiness.
  4. Offer Praise: When it's deserved, praise your child for something outstanding that they've done. It could be chores around the house or a good grade on their homework, but by praising them, they'll be happy to know that their hard work and dedication is definitely paying off.
  5. It's OK to Fail: Pressure can really get to children, so let them know that they don't always need to be perfect. Teach them that while they should always try their hardest at everything they do, it's OK to fail at times.
  6. One Thing at a Time: When people get overwhelmed, they become unhappy, and it's the same with children. From a young age, teach your child to always take things "one thing at a time."
  7. Have Family Dinners: Turn off the television at dinner time, and make sure that everyone puts their smartphones away. Have a family dinner: Talk, discuss your days, and everyone will be a whole lot happier.
  8. Be a Role Model: You're the biggest influencer on your child, so it's important to be happy yourself. If you're not happy with yourself, your negative energy will rub off on your child, and it will become difficult for them to be truly happy.
  9. Teach Responsibility: Children want to feel both happy and independent, and one way to accomplish this as a parent is to give them some responsibility to handle. Who wants to do some chores?
  10. Always Listen: In the digital age that we're living in, it's easy to get distracted by things like our smartphones and laptops, but put those things down and listen to your children. Let them be heard, and let them feel heard. Show them that you care, and they'll be happier as a result to know that you're there.
  11. Let Them Decide: Allow your children to make their own choices. During their childhood, it's you that makes the majority of the decisions, so when the opportunities arise for them to make their own, let them do just that. They'll feel more independent and thus happier at the same time.

In what ways do you try to make your children happy? Also, do you practice any of the above tips in regard to keeping your child's mood on the up? Let us and our other readers know by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Brain Loves to Play, and Here's Why!

Photo by JE Theriot (Flickr)

The brain loves to play! Just like it performs miraculous magic tricks as you sleep and age-defying somersaults when you exercise, the brain blossoms during play. Recreation serves our brains in a juicy variety of ways: for children, it is key for neurological development, and for adults, it eases stress and anxiety. I think it's safe to say that playtime is one of life's most fun, exciting choices of brain food!

Let's dive a bit deeper into why a child's budding brain needs to play freely and frequently. We all want our children to learn. If school is a delicious buffet of knowledge, recess is the sitting area where kids can enjoy, digest, reflect, and engage upon what they've learned. Active play energizes the cognitive mind and optimizes information absorption. On top of the glorious benefits of play, physical activity alone does wonders for a kid's brain and body health!

No matter how old you are, who doesn't love to play? While providing more playful opportunities to our children, we should join them to boost our own brainpower! Here are 7 reasons why the brain is built and nourished by play.

  1. Creativity Ensues: Did you know that LEGO comes from the Danish words "leg godt"? This translates to "play well". It's fitting that one of the most creative toys has such a clever name. That's because play supercharges creativity. It invites children and adults to explore new connections and discover the power of their hands. Ideas spring naturally from a brain that is fluid and free thanks to play.
  2. Keep on Learning: Play is a brain's absolute favorite way to learn. It's how we've been learning all along - experimentation, mixing, tinkering, adventuring, and imagining. A child or adult at play is also learning about themselves. Trial and error in the safe, soothing environment of play reveals strengths, weaknesses, cognitive styles, and more.
  3. Challenge Yourself: A playful attitude can make challenges seem less overwhelming and more fun. For example, imagine a group of children pretending to be firemen. Their objective is to slide UP the playground pole because the "stairs" back to home base are out of order. It's no easy feat, but the pretend play scenario fuels their dedication to the activity. They communicate, brainstorm ideas, and work together, all while having a merry time!
  4. Relieve Stress: Chronic stress is bad news for your brain. Adults and children are affected by it. Play is an essential reprieve to the bombardment of information we receive daily. Not only does it help us process it, play encourages us to uncoil any emotions that have bottled up. This is especially crucial for kids as they become familiar with healthy ways to express themselves. Overall, play waters and weeds the garden of our minds.
  5. Improve Relationships With Others: Confidence and communication are big building blocks for healthy relationships. In the pretend play firemen scenario, those kids were bouncing ideas around with each other, working as a team to surmount the pole. As adults play a board game, they learn about each other in a lively, stress-free setting. In solo play, we find our inner voice and nourish talents we are proud of.
  6. Learn About Teamwork: Researchers have discovered a connection between frequent cooperation and neuron complexity. With that in mind, imagine a spirited sports game, an intense volleyball tournament, or those firemen on the playground again. They are all at play, cooperating heartily. Play helps their brains become more open, pliant, and adaptive.
  7. Just Have Fun: Science aside, just having fun is healthy for your brain. We all need to unwind and socialize, kids and adults alike. Life is meant to be lived. Play is personal and unique to every individual, so I encourage you and your children to find your flavors!

Why does your brain love to play? What has ample playtime done for your kiddos? We want to hear from your side of the playful spectrum, so please drop a comment below. Play on, my friends!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

9 Ways Parenting is Scarier Than All Horror Movies Ever

Photo by Howard Lake (Flickr)

Disclaimer: I mean all of this in a fun-loving, affectionate manner! After all, parenthood is wonderful in all its squishy, panicky splendor. But let's be blunt; it can be downright horrifying. Why else would children's toys be so instinctively ominous to us in horror movies? It's burned into our psyches! Parenthood is scary. Unidentifiable liquids, otherworldly screams and creepily profound questions, oh my! Kids even transform our homes into ramshackle ruins haunted by clutter and monstrous science experiments. But of course, despite all this, we brave the uncharted territory of parenthood, guided by the light of our love. Right?

Despite our wisdom on how to survive an actual horror movie, we'll always come running when we hear strange noises from their chambers. We'll intentionally lock ourselves in closed quarters (like planes) with the (cute) beasts. And yes, we'll taste the fiendish concoctions that they brew up as they cackle over their Easy- Bake ovens. With Halloween lurking just around the corner, let's have fun and draw playful parallels between parenthood and horror flicks. After all, both are spooky and both thrill us!

Here are nine ways that parenting is scarier than a horror film.

  1. Night Terrors: You wake up, heart galloping at a sickening pace. Dread chills your spine. You know it's there. You know it's watching you. That silhouette at the foot of your bed... The shadowy form of your sleepless child! Or if they're crib-bound - the screaming, oh, the screaming! The sleep deprivation alone can turn your waking moments into a psychological thriller. My horror flick survival tip? Do what you can to tame the "little monsters" by building up to a solid sleep schedule for the whole family.
  2. Who's Hungry? Sometimes kids hide food. We shudder to think of the reasons; Strange rituals, feeding pet monsters in the closet, crafting grotesque effigies, hoarding to prepare for a zombie apocalypse, and tossing scraps to the imprisoned babysitter under the bed are just a whisper of the chilling possibilities. In all seriousness, hoarding can be a symptom of food anxieties. This article offers many wonderful tips on how to help heal this emotional difficulty.
  3. Let's Play a Game: Play is an intense ordeal for children. They are learning, exploring, interacting, and defining themselves. What happens if they lose a game? Will the pendulum of their mood swing to catastrophic or carefree? Your fate, or the fate of the offending sibling, hangs in the balance. In reality, play is a wonderful way for children to discover their place in the world (even if that place happens to be atop a throne of BONES).
  4. The 'H' Word: Utter the forbidden 'H' word, if you dare. Just a whisper will unleash banshee shrieks that pierce your very soul. Is this an exorcism, or is it time for homework? To subdue this ghastly rampage, perform the rituals of "Ample Playtime" and "Proper Sleep". But really, there are natural ways to help your kids focus on schoolwork!
  5. Cat and Mouse: No matter where you hide, your children will find you. They can smell your fear. No amount of coffee can mask your scent. Clothing racks seem to be their preferred dwelling. Eek, they've got my ankles! Oh no, now they're attacking an innocent stranger!
  6. Talk in Tongues: Kids babble like scary wind-up dolls. Their wild exploration into the shape and sound of their own voice raises a spine-tingling question. Are they just being cute, or are they communicating with an extraterrestrial race bent on domination? Are they relaying our secrets? Did they tell the aliens that we hide in the bathroom!? The truth (and our sanity) is out there.
  7. Strange Noises: Was that the fuming rumble of an ancient deep sea behemoth stirred awake by global warming, or your child screaming for you to put on Frozen "RIGHT NOW"? Add "having to determine whether my kid is possessed by a demon or communicating via plate tectonics" to the list of things nobody told you about parenting.
  8. Stunt Double: Turn your back for just a moment and horror of horrors, your kid scampers up a tree with unearthly vigor and leaps off like screeching bat! Talk about swallowing your pounding heart. Or how about when they hurl themselves down an enclosed slide backwards, flailing their limbs, bumping and banging? Your blood turns to queasy ice. But lo and behold, they emerge with sparkling laughter! How do they do it? No matter how many booboos, their enthusiasm never dampens! Do they feed off of your terror? Quite possibly. On a more positive note, a bit of healthy risk during playtime can be beneficial!
  9. Who Am I? Parenting uncovers your dark, down-in-the-trenches side. You do things you never imagined you were capable of. You touch freakish sludge without even a grimace. You read the same bedtime book over and over until insanity convinces you that you enjoy it. You stare at walls (covered in cryptic crayon inscriptions). You traverse no-man's-land, AKA the living room armed with Lego land mines. You have nightmares of chasing Dora through the jungle after she stole your coffee pot. But you know what? You love it! You wouldn't exchange parenthood for anything.

As a parent, what "horror stories" do you have to share? I'd absolutely love to hear them in the comments! Even though this blog post is all in good fun, there's a ring of truth. Just like movies of any kind, our children thrill, entertain, frustrate, terrify, excite, and delight us! So we'll take the mini heart attacks and the worrying; parenthood makes us paranormally happy!

For the record: Nothing is more terrifying to me than an abandoned playground. You can imagine why. Play matters!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Inside Voice: 7 Ways to Yell Less and Communicate More

Photo by Donnie Ray Jones (Flickr)

Sometimes the coveted "inside voice" seems like an elusive fairy that wisps away whenever kids are involved. Parenthood can create a concoction of wild emotions that induce shouting: sleep deprivation, financial worries, safety concerns, sudden schoolwork "surprises", lack of listening, and so much more. But we all know that yelling does so much more harm than good. It exhibits poor behavior that kids will imitate, and it's usually met with nothing more than backlash!

So how can we communicate more effectively? Parental life is a whirlwind, so we need to learn how to roll with the punches and diffuse anger before it explodes. Healthy communication is an essential life skill that should be fostered early on, so why not make a conscious effort as a family? Here are my 7 ideas for yelling less and communicating more.

  1. Stress Management for Everyone's Sake: Are you being kind to yourself? Burnout is a surefire way to bust open the dams of yelling. You don't need to do everything, all at once, all the time. I know it's natural instinct to suppress our needs in favor of our children, but we're in no condition to help them if WE feel helpless! There's so much joy and serenity to be discovered if we honor ourselves as a high priority. Plus, self-care is something we want to nurture in our children.
  2. What's the Problem? Sometimes we get so tangled up in frustration that we forget the root of the problem. Take a breath and examine the nature of the issue. Is your child refusing to do their homework? Is there an underlying issue that you haven't discovered? Since yelling accomplishes nothing, try a different approach. Ask them why they won't do it. Get down to eye level and truly engage with them.
  3. Read My Lips: Yelling doesn't even work. It only ramps up stress for all involved, and the collateral damage is striking. So why not flip the coin? Try lowering your voice close to a whisper. It's a common technique in conflict resolution. At the very least, it will intrigue your kids into listening! It may help to establish a family signal for when a heated conversation must drop to soft voices. Sure, it may seem silly, but laughter is wonderful medicine for stress and tension!
  4. Strategy is Key: Do you find yourself scrambling to get your kids ready to board the bus? That dreaded morning hurricane. Emotions run rampant when we're faced with deadlines. Planning ahead can do wonders for easing stress. Prepare lunches the night before, choose outfits, and rise just 5-10 minutes earlier. Is grocery shopping with the kids in tow your Achilles' heel? Find time to go without them, like after bedtime or while they're at school.
  5. Breathe! Ah, breathing. So simple, so sweet, but so neglected. Our fight-or-flight response (and subsequent yelling) during stressful situations can be diffused with some deep breathing. Encourage your kids to do the same! It can be a fun, healthy bonding activity to all tune into breathing exercises. Along those lines, exercise is a fantastic way to banish stress too. Even just jogging in place when tempers flare can work miracles! Find proactive ways to release all of that fiery energy.
  6. Grab Your Toys: Play it away! Sometimes all it takes to feel like ourselves again is some playtime. Do you love reading? How about video games? Perhaps a stroll through nature is your idea of bliss. This compliments #1 quite nicely; do things that make you feel good! Both you and your children deserve leisure time to play, explore, and grow, so don't overload schedules!
  7. Laugh It Off: As parents, every word we say and every action we take shapes our young children's perception of the world. So, if you strive to handle life with grace and levity, they will hopefully adopt this approach. If your child screams out impossible demands, ask them to deliver you a unicorn in return (or another lighthearted item of fancy). It won't always work, but a touch of humor can really put our frustrations into perspective.

Yelling won't really get anyone anywhere. Not only that, but the less yelling you do, the happier you'll be. As a parent, which tactics have you tried to ease your anger and help your kids cope with theirs? I'd love to hear your feedback!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Easy Does It: 11 Stress Busters for Kids

Photo by Katy Warner (Flickr)

As adults, it's all too easy to get swept up in the tides of our own stress. Oh, how we long to be carefree kids again! Is that really a wise wish? While kids don't have bills hanging over their cute little heads, they do deal with other stressors. The school year has just kicked off, so that means homework, extracurricular activities, friendships, crushes, and anxiety. What can we do to help our kids build strong, healthy coping mechanisms?

One of the most essential elements in learning and easing stress is to partake in ample, unscheduled playtime. It builds the self-esteem and independence needed to sail through stressful times. Not only that, it's just good for the soul to have fun!

Here are 11 more stress busters you can consider integrating into your children's lives:

  1. Expression Through Art: A blank canvas can diffuse just about anything: pent-up anger, complicated sadness, unsung creative urges, and stressful triggers! Art helps kids discover themselves, find their voices, and process feelings. Encourage them to play with different mediums. Better yet, join in!
  2. Partake in Peaceful Activities: We all know what happens when we go too long without a chance to relax and unwind. Children are very in tune with our emotions, so make sure you devote time to self-care! Breathe! Phew! One of our favorite activities is to pack a healthy picnic and sprawl out with my kiddos at the local park. Not only is a picnic a great bonding experience, it's just a wonderful time to read, savor the fresh air, and rest easy.
  3. Go to the Playground: You know I am a playground enthusiast! Your kids can let their imaginations run wild in these interactive landscapes. Play is just like meditation for kids, and meditation is a top-notch stress soother! You can even squeeze a workout in as your kids enjoy it!
  4. Play Games Indoors: Winter is coming, but that doesn't mean playtime should hibernate! Detach everyone from their devices and dive into an indoor game. The possibilities are endless: Hot lava living room? Go Fish? Apples to Apples? Wii Fit? Scrabble? So many ways to lighten up!
  5. Read More Books: Reading is a classic stress-buster, isn't it? So many sweet memories of escaping into a good book. Take a trip to the library with the kids! Not only will it ease and elevate their spirits, it a fantastic learning experience.
  6. Extracurricular Activities: To help beat stress, encourage your children to explore extracurricular activities that they might enjoy. This breaks up the routine of school and opens the door to new friendships. My girls always feel cheery and supercharged after a bout of karate! Just don't overload your kid's schedule too much; this can backfire and overwhelm them.
  7. Lessons Learned: Sometimes easing stress is all about the mindset we have. Are we demanding too much from ourselves? Teach your children early and often that effort is golden and perfection isn't real! This will help them gain a healthy perspective on progress and self-growth.
  8. Breathe, Breathe, Breathe: So simple, but so perfect. Show your children stress-relieving breath techniques. When emotions bubble out of control, gently urge them to be mindful of their breath. Inhale calm, exhale stress. They will emulate you, so try to do this yourself!
  9. Reward Their Hard Work: Life can be overwhelming, even at a young age, and especially with the stress of studying and school. When your darlings are giving it their all, treat them ever now and then. Be mindful that it doesn't turn into a bribe, though!
  10. Have a Solid Sleep Schedule: Sleep is the magic ingredient for banishing stress. Without it, we're at a big disadvantage. Help get your kids on a regular, healthy sleep schedule (there are plenty of great ways to do that).
  11. Don't Overwhelm Them: We want the best for our kids. Our instincts to build fulfilling lives for them can backfire if we're too insistent. Suggest activities for them to do, but don't force things on them. Sports may just not be their thing. Perhaps art just isn't appealing to them! Help guide them in the right direction, but let them discover on their own what it is they're passionate about!

In what ways do you help your children to manage their stress? How do you handle stress yourself? The more we share our methods, the more we can help others!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart