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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

7 Reasons Recess Rocks!

(CREDIT: Photo by wsilver (Flickr))

Recess has become a topic of debate as schools are finding ways to cram more academics, typically test preparation, into the school day. Many researchers, educators, doctors, and parents - including me - believe recess is crucial for the cognitive, emotional, physical, and social development of the child. Reasons abound as to the benefits of unstructured play, and I have highlighted a few below. As the mother of two active daughters, I encourage other parents to examine the important role recess plays in their child's development and to protect and defend unstructured play in their school districts.

Improved cognitive performance

Children need a break between classes. Dr. Robert Murray, pediatrician and professor at Ohio State University, states that children are less likely to process information without a break between tasks. Everyone benefits from a break to keep their mind sharp, even adults.

Fostering social skills

Children need to learn how to act in the unstructured environment that recess provides, especially because the rest of their school day is highly structured. Unstructured play equips children with necessary real life skills such as problem-solving, cooperation, sharing, and conflict resolution. Recess is also an ideal time for teachers to observe student behavior outside the classroom, allowing them to intervene when witnessing situations involving aggression or social isolation before these issues escalate into larger problems.

Better classroom behavior

Children who have had time to blow off steam are less likely to use the classroom as an outlet for relieving stress. Banning recess as a punitive measure for unruly behavior is especially harmful because these students are likely to benefit from unstructured physical activity the most.

Improved focused in class

When students are deprived of a respite from the classroom, they will appear fidgety and will have difficulty concentrating. Children are more alert and productive when vigorous academic activity is interrupted with a break. Physical development decreases restlessness that can also contribute to diminished academic performance.

Lower risk of childhood obesity

As many are already aware, childhood obesity is a problem in American schools. Studies show that spikes in childhood obesity rates have correlated with diminished recess time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend children have 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day.

Room to explore

Unstructured play time allows children to explore non-academic interests that they may not otherwise have exposure to in their communities. This holds especially true for kids in disadvantaged communities. Kids learn which physical activities they enjoy and those they particularly excel at, leading to healthier and happier children.

Better academic performance

Despite efforts to diminish or remove recess in order to squeeze in more test prep time, these measures have proven to be counterproductive. Physical and emotional health is paramount to academic achievement, and these can be developed during recess.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, February 13, 2014

9 Playground Exercises You Can Do While Your Children Play

(CREDIT: Matt From London (Flickr))

If your children are anything like mine, you know that they absolutely love being outside. My kids love the playground, whether it's at school during recess, or after school during their free time. It's one of our favorite things to do together, as I just love seeing them enjoy themselves and staying active by running around and just having a great time!

Physical activity is important in staying healthy, and while your children are playing on the playground, put down the cell phone and get some activity in yourself. When taking my children to the playground, I try to get some exercise in as well, and you would be really surprised at the amount of different exercises that you can do, just by using the surrounding playground equipment.

Here are nine of my personal favorite exercises to do at the playground while my children are enjoying themselves on the monkey bars, swings, and slides.

  1. Step-Ups Make use of the playground slides by doing step-ups. When facing the slide, step one foot up onto the bottom of the slide, followed by the other foot, and come back down. Repeat this process multiple times, before switching which foot hits the slide first. It's good to challenge yourself too – see how fast you can go!

  2. Light Pull-upsIf you're not confident doing full pull-ups, there are a variety of exercises you can do to work yourself up to them. Playground equipment is often the perfect height for adults to practice these exercises. Grab some vertical bars and lean back at an angle, or you can lean further back for more of a burn, then pull yourself up.

  3. Be Inventive – Playing with your children on the playground can be more physically active than you would think. Try being imaginative and inventive by creating games with your children on the playground. For example, challenge your child to see who can hang from the monkey bars the longest before letting go. Hang there for a bit – it's great for your upper body strength.

  4. Jogging – While your children are having a blast, go for a light jog around the perimeter of the playground. This is a good way to get your cardio workout in.

  5. Swing Crouch – This is one that I picked up from a friend of mine, and it's a great way to give your legs a workout! Right after pushing your child on the swing, squat down to give your legs a bit of a burn.

  6. Balance Beam Walk – A great way to improve your focus in general is to walk the balance beam. I loved this as a child, but back then it was for fun. While it can still be fun, now the focus for me is on strengthening my core muscles. See how you do when it comes to keeping your balance. If you haven't done it in a long time, it may take a few tries, but you'll get it!

  7. Sprints – Always a great way to improve your cardio and burn some calories, sprinting is one way to effectively utilize your exercising time at the playground. Try sprinting back and forth across the playground, for one full lap. I recommend a one minute rest between laps, but try getting a few laps in! It's not easy, but it sure does feel rewarding when you're done!

  8. Inchworm Pushup – While you don't necessarily need to utilize any of the playground equipment for this exercise, the Inchworm Pushup is a good exercise to take advantage of on the grass or ground nearby. To do an Inchworm Pushup, begin in a plank position, and walk yourself back to your feet, forming an upside-down "V" shape. From there, walk yourself back out until you're back into a full plank position, and do a pushup. From there, walk yourself back in and continue to repeat the process. This is a great exercise to do in sets of five!

  9. Monkey Bar Chin-Ups – Head to the monkey bars and grab hold of one of the bars with both hands. Just like the chin-ups that you would do back in gym class, pull yourself up with all of your strength until your chin meets the bar, and then slowly lower yourself. Repeat this process until you need to rest! Push yourself!

The next time you take your children to the playground, don't be afraid to change your routine. You can take the time to be physically active, all while being a great mom.

Have you ever exercised at the playground? What other exercises can you think of? Also, before and after doing any of this, don't forget to stretch!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

11 Refreshing Ways to Banish the Winter Blues

(CREDIT: twicepix (Flickr))

Fighting the Winter Blues

The winter weather can not only make the roads a bit dangerous to drive on at times, but it can also bring down peoples' moods. Not everyone is a fan of the winter weather, and that's understandable, but that doesn't mean that you can't find ways to enjoy it. Sure, there might not be anything that you can do about the weather, but you can still keep your spirits up!

Personally, I've always loved the winter weather. Having grown up in Indiana, I've never been a stranger the snow and cold weather, but I've seen how it can bring down the moods of others. I have a friend who moved up years ago with her family from the sunny state of Florida, and still hasn't fully adjusted to her liking yet. Again, it's not for everyone, but there are ways to enjoy it.

11 Things To Do in Winter

  1. Get involved in winter activities – Whether you're a beginner or very experienced, it doesn't matter, it's fun to get out there and enjoy winter activities like sledding, skiing, ice skating, or playing hockey, for example. If you're new to any of these activities, then try going with a friend who can help to show you the ropes. Also, if you're a beginner you should ease into it by heading to an area that won't be crowded, that way you're not intimidated by those who are experienced, and can just learn and enjoy yourself!

  2. Have fun with the kids – Who didn't love building a snowman when they were a child? If you're like me and you have children of your own now, this is a very fun opportunity to engage with your children and have a great amount of fun during this winter weather. Building a snowman is perhaps one of the best parts about the winter weather, and it isn't something you can do year-round in most parts of the world, so take advantage of it!

  3. Spend time exercising – We've all seen it, the New Year's Resolution's based around dieting better and exercising more. With snow on the ground, it's the perfect time to join a fitness club, or even do exercises at home. Just be careful running outside – it can be icy out there and your safety is extremely important.

  4. Read some books or watch some movies – In my opinion, nothing is more relaxing than staying inside on a snowy or rainy day and reading a book or watching a movie. Both of these can be very relaxing (depending on the movie genre!) and can help raise your spirits in the cold weather.

  5. Show your artistic side– Personally, I love to draw. It allows me to think and entrench myself in a world of creativity. While I might not be the best artist out there as I would be the first to admit, it's a great way to pass the time and to beat those winter blues.

  6. Keep the house clean and tidy – With the winter weather in full swing, you likely won't be spending as much time outside as you would during the summer, so you'll have more time to dedicate to keeping your house top-notch in terms of being clean. Keep that house of yours clean and tidy, because I don't know about you, but there isn't much more that can bring my mood down than having a mess in the house.

  7. Get Some Sleep – This doesn't apply to just winter, but it applies to life in general. A lack of sleep can bring down anyone's mood, so it's important to get at least eight hours of sleep each night. Do yourself a favor and get on a good sleep schedule; the last thing you want is to feel tired, groggy, and grumpy, because this won't just bring down your own mood, but it will bring down the moods of those around you.

  8. Learn Something New – Is there anything that always fascinated you and you always wanted to learn more about it? Surely there is, so why not look into it more? With the internet there is so much to learn, so pick up a new hobby or interest, learn more about it, and get more involved. An activity can also consist of taking up new classes somewhere!

  9. Cut out the Caffeine – Past studies have linked high intakes of caffeine to depression, and with the proverbial winter blues already being a factor, you don't need anything else bringing down your mood. With that said, cut out excessive cups of coffee, soda, or other caffeinated drinks. Any caffeinated beverage should be consumed in moderation only.

  10. Stay Socializing – It's good to see your friends and family whenever you get the chance. Seeing those that you care about, and those that really care about you can be a great mood and energy booster, so why not organize a dinner with those closest to you?

  11. Take a Walk – This goes back to exercising, but it doesn't hurt to get out there and take a walk. To me, it's extremely relaxing and helps me relieve stress, especially when I go with my family.

Winter isn't so bad! Sure, it might get cold and the driving can get a bit rough, but there are many ways to take advantage of the snow and have some fun with it. How do you and your family enjoy the snow and winter weather? I would love to hear from you!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart