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Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Unspoken Guide to Playground Etiquette

(CREDIT: phalinn (Flickr))

IMG LINK: CREDIT: phalinn (Flickr)

Manners and etiquette are important in any walk of life, whether it's at the office, any sort of event, or a family gathering, for example. However, manners and etiquette also apply to the playground. That's right - even on the playground, there needs to be some order in place, and while some of these rules may be unspoken and unwritten, they still apply.

On the playground, you will come across children from all walks of life. There will be the adventurers, daredevils, leaders and artists. These unwritten rules apply to everyone, no matter how eager they are to let loose and play!

  1. Everyone Gets A Turn: As a parent, you may find yourself in the situation where you're pushing your child on the swing and soon enough, a line will form to use it. It's important to remember that everyone should get a turn. This doesn't necessarily mean to pull your child off of the swing immediately, but be considerate of others. This will also give you and your child the opportunity to explore what else the playground has to offer. Maybe you'll find one of my favorite childhood games, Funnel Ball.

  2. Put the Electronics Away: While your children are joyously at play may seem like great time to check your email and social networks, it's not really the most appropriate time to do so. Instead, keep an eye on your kids, but be careful not to verge on being a "helicopter" parent, which may stifle their creative energy. Plus, your attention will make them feel special, like superstars of the playground!

  3. Sharing Is Fine… With Permission: You might have brought snacks for your children to enjoy after a bout of rambunctious play. Imagine that another child is intrigued by your kid's snack and requests to have some. Naturally, you may be inclined to agree without hesitation, but think again. Ask that child's parent if it's alright! This is so essential because they could have allergies or diet restrictions that you are not aware of and the child cannot identify on their own just yet. It is always better to be safe than sorry!

  4. Never, Ever Litter: This rule may be explicitly posted on site, but I want to take a moment to drive this point home. The playground is a shrine of fun, fitness and creativity! Play has so much to offer children and adults alike! The last thing we want is for litter to dampen the joy of running free and playing hard. It is unsightly, unhygienic and just plain rude! There are almost always garbage cans available. Not only is leaving behind a clean environment the right thing to do, it will also set a great example for your children.

By playing outside, our kids can learn a lot of things. By playing smart, we can ensure every child gets to enjoy it. Are there any unspoken rules of playground etiquette that come to mind for you that didn't make it onto this list? If so, let us know!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, March 14, 2014

The 5 Kids You Meet on the Playground

(CREDIT: phalinn (Flickr))

Who didn't love playing on the playground in their youth? There were so many great games to play and so many different children to interact with. Perhaps the best part about being out on the playground, especially during recess, was that we had a chance to get creative with our bountiful energy. Creativity is important, and when creativity and playtime unite, wonderful and exciting opportunities blossom! The playground is more than just a fun landscape: it is a mixing bowl of curiosity, innovation and fun! It brings out unique qualities in every child and encourages self-discovery.

Here are some of the children you likely met on the playground back when you were a kid. Maybe you'll think to yourself, "That was totally me!" Or perhaps you'll recognize these traits in your own children!

1. The Adventurer: The playground is a magical land of grand quests, adventures and heroism for this child. I think that we've all been the Adventurer, pretending that the ground is boiling hot lava and the slide is the tongue of a fire-breathing dragon. They leap from one platform to another to avoid falling into the depths of the fiery inferno. Or perhaps they are swashbuckling pirates and they are sailing through a sea of wood chips in search of treasure. There is never a dull moment for the Adventurer!

2. The Artist: This child will often be found deeply absorbed in the sandbox, ever the budding architect as they sculpt beauty into the chaotic mess of sand. If not there, this child could be found out on the pavement, spilling forth a colorful masterpiece with a medley of chalk and wonder. When I was younger, I loved drawing hopscotch boards with my friends. The flurry of dancing feet as we skipped across them is also an art form!

3. The Daredevil: Wild and crazy stunts by these fearless musketeers drive parents and teachers into a panic! This child might be found going down the slide head-first or trying to hang from their legs on the monkey bars. I think we've all dared to try this signature Daredevil stunt at least once: hop onto the swing, propel as high as possible and then launch into the sky! Keep a watchful eye on this spontaneous thrill-seeker.

4. The Leader: This child is a trend-setter and a go-getter, also known as the president of the playground. They bravely lead their entourage of followers through the land of playful opportunity. They keep the peace as they guide a line of taking turns down the slide. Not afraid to stand up to a bully, they inspire their peers to be true to themselves. Children will try to emulate this kid on the playground. We've all seen it!

5. The Ray of Sunshine: I always call my two girls "little rays of sunshine." The Ray of Sunshine is the child who just loves fresh air and fun times! It doesn't matter what activity or event is taking place - they're just glad to be there because they can enjoy the outdoors and let loose all of that dazzling energy! They've got spunk, charm and a contagious giggle that will brighten your day.

I think it's safe to say that we've all been one or more of these kids on the playground. As a child, were you more of an adventurer on the playground, weaving epic tales as you ducked through the "dragon's den"? Or were you more of a daredevil, making the playground into a circus of wild stunts that had the adults squealing in fear? What about your kiddos? The games that children play around the world might be different, but the adventurous, creative nature of kids is the same all over.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bright Green: 5 Things The Great Outdoors Can Teach Our Kids

(CREDIT: kevygee (Flickr))

I consider it a priceless fortune that I had the chance to grow up with a bountiful love of nature. As a child, I loved to be outside so much that grass stains became a badge of honor and worth. I was always on the playground, deep in the woods or just playing games outside with my siblings and friends. My mother has often said that my "experimenting with mommy's makeup phase" was replaced by dressing up in layers of dirt! I favored twigs to bows and my favorite accessories were free hands to climb with! It gives me such joy to behold such a giddy love of nature blossoming in my own daughters.

The bubbly enthusiasm my fearless wildflowers have for nature has been so rewarding for them. They have grown up resourceful, resilient and hungry for adventure. Perhaps best of all, nature's ever-flowing source of wonder has nurtured a lively, playful curiosity that I know adulthood won't ever conquer. Nature has so much to show us and give us, especially for children. As parents, we can be nature's advocates every step of the way.

Here are five things that I believe the wonderful outdoors has to offer our children:

  1. Nature provides inspiration and reassurance: Nature provides an endless canvas and plenty of tools to instill creativity in your children. While of course I have a begrudging respect for all the fun to be had in a pile of paint, glitter and glue, there is just something so fresh and liberating about harvesting materials from outside. Crafting from nature's relics is a puzzle that unites art, growth and respect. Nature's beauty is a dance of perfect and imperfect, and I want my daughters to realize that everything in life can be cherished through the gritty flaws.

  2. Become more eco-friendly: My girls are blooming gardeners, ever eager to dig their hands in the soil and mother tiny seeds into big plants. I always urge them to treat the planet like family, and gardening is a delightful way to nurture this bond. Children can gain so much from this physical, emotional and mental hobby. Responsibility, curiosity, dedication and compassion are ripe for the picking! To be able to take part in the natural cycle and enjoy the fruits of their labor will spur within them respect for the earth and for themselves.

  3. There's more to life that the silver screen: It's completely undeniable - playing outside is much better for your children than sitting locked to electronics. The great outdoors beckons children to embark on adventures that delight and deepen all of their senses. Obstacles and scraped knees build character. They can invent their own fun while gaining awareness from nature's unrelenting cause and effect. Open air and sunlight will lift their imaginations like a kite!

  4. The joys of being active and free: We all know that the perks of exercise are plentiful. I earnestly believe that children should be swaddled by nature from the very beginning. The fresh air, warm sunshine, crisp rain, rolling fields and lively forests; these are all essential ingredients for a happy, energetic child! Everything about nature is an invitation to let loose and be active. With the freedom to play and explore, kids can grow into themselves strong and confident.

  5. Everything in the world is interconnected: Nature has infinite lessons to provide our children. One of the most profound is that everything and everyone is tightly and gloriously woven together. To acknowledge and embrace this connection is to become more compassionate and open-minded. We can show our children this infinite web through nature's ways; the cycle of rain, how bees and flowers need each other and how a squirrel's spacey memory gives birth to trees are just a few precious examples. This awareness can deepen and illuminate all of the relationships our children develop.

How has nature gifted your youth and adulthood? How can we ensure that our children enjoy all of the lush delights that nature has to offer? As parents, we can guide them and meet their curiosity and energy with enthusiasm.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Interview with Mary Alice Long, PhD

(CREDIT: niXerKG (Flickr))

I had the delightful opportunity to interview Mary Alice Long, Ph.D. She is a play-based psychotherapist and artist who created Play = Peace, an organization that promotes a more playful, conscious life through coaching, writing, art, performance and nature.

Kim: How have you played today?

Mary: This weekend, I've been playing by taking a walk with my husband Michael and our basset hound, Mic (Dynamic). I start my days meditating and writing in my journal, which are also part of my everyday play. I completed a new E series, "Jung and Play: For Your Creative Soul."

I also did a bit of play in the kitchen. Whipped up my favorite kale lemonade and tried something new, cauliflower spread; it turned out to be quite yummy. I had some for lunch.

I'm also working on completing my memoir, so I played with archival images and with my manuscript.

I love visual journaling, which is where I keep an archive of images, paintings, drawings, writings, projects...

Kim: Why are you such a strong advocate for the powers of play? How has play enriched your life?

Mary: When I was a child, I played outdoors a lot! I walked for miles and spent hours and hours imagining. All of the parents in our neighborhood had to call the kids at the end of the day. When I was indoors, I spent time in my room reading, writing in my journal, and dreaming.

When I started school, I got the message that I was supposed to be serious about my studies and that I was supposed to achieve. So I went about the business of doing just that, earning my nursing degree and a master's in social work. In 1987, I was a surrogate mother for a couple, and by 1997, I was rewarded with a Ph.D in clinical psychology with an emphasis in depth psychology.

After I gave birth to my surrogate son and he went home with his dad and adoptive mother, I realized that what I wanted to give birth to was my playful, creative self.

My doctoral study included a dance video that reflects my story and a woman's need to reclaim what is hers - what gives her life... in my case, that is imagination, play, and creativity.

Since reclaiming play in my life, I find joy in playing with the everyday and helping those I am privileged to work with to play, laugh, and create - while dreaming, working, creating, and loving.

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

Mary: Play from wherever you are, play in the everyday of your life, and create a life of service to yourself and others.

Kim: What are some ways we can all invite play into our daily lives?

Mary: We all have many relationships - our relationship with self, with our children and family, with our friends, animals, and with the natural world. We can bring play into each and every relationship:

With self, we can play and increase self-care and love of ourselves.

With our children, we can value and support play in their lives, knowing that play is our children's birthright (ours, too, as adults!); we can mentor playful living by being playful parents.

We can invite play into our lives by spending time with friends/family in ways that are nourishing.

We can spend time outdoors playing in our neighborhoods and natural settings. Nature helps us to slow down and be the observer. Nature invites us to play through metaphor and seasons of change.

We can play with our night and waking dreams. We can invite our children and grandchildren to share their dreams and ask questions about their dreams and show interest in their dreams. As adults, we can pay attention to our dreams, which come to us as gifts. We can honor our dreams by taking playful action and spending time with our dreams so that we can understand their healing messages.

We can choose ways to play while we work at home, in our studio, office, or outdoors - wherever our work takes us, we can choose to integrate play into the mundane, the everyday, and hopefully, the passionate moments of our work lives. We can begin our Monday morning by playing with the start of our day rather than driving ourselves into the work week.

We can play and create in our lives by being curious about the people, places, and events that present themselves. Research, exploring, and travel can be part of our playful lives on a daily basis when we open up to the unexpected and play into the challenges of our lives so we can move forward in a positive, heartfelt way. We can create lives that come from the heart.

Kim: Let's try a fun, playful question! Please write us a haiku about the wonders of play:


Joyfully playing

I find my way to water

Stomping in the mud!

Kim: Who do you think needs play the most?

Mary: Oh, that's a good question... I don't think there is any one group or person who needs play the most. Play is our birthright as humans.

I hope that this interview has inspired you to invite more play into your lives. You can connect with Mary on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. Feel free to check out her website to discover more about playful retreats and her dazzling blog!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Interview with The Grass Stain Guru

I had the wonderful opportunity to interview the lively and playful Grass Stain Guru, Bethe Almeras. Bethe is a passionate advocate of nature and play. She believes that it is essential for both adults and children to reunite with their roots and let their bodies and imaginations run wild.

Kim: So, you are the Grass Stain Guru! What are you goals as such? What influenced you to take on such a wonderful, much needed role?

Bethe: My goal really is to be a public voice for play and especially outdoor, unplugged play. I want to raise awareness and be a change agent for parents, caregivers, educators and communities – and whoever else I can reach!

Ultimately it's about behavior change. How do we get parents to make the decision not over-structure their kids? To kick them out of the house and let them play outdoors with a level of freedom that is lacking in today's childhood? How do we get school districts to reinstate recess and let communities use play spaces during out of school time? How do we get communities to create walking-friendly (play-friendly!) spaces where children and families can engage in play, utilize their parks and trails, and connect again?

Laying that ground work about the importance of outdoor play and making people take notice that it is missing and there are consequences if we don't bring it back. It reaches every sector – public health, education, transportation, life satisfaction, etc. Clearly I could go on and on.

As far as what influenced me to start The Grass Stain Guru, that would be frustration and sadness, mainly. I take a look at childhood today, society today, and I do not like much of what I see. Kids not being allowed to be kids; they are stressed-out, plugged-in almost all the time, over-tested and way over-scheduled. On the flipside, I see what happens to these kids as they grow up. Young adults with insufficient coping skills, with the ability to connect with masses of people online, but lacking the capacity to connect one-on-one or intimately. I see anti-depressants and anxiety medications being prescribed to preschoolers. I see parents being taxi-drivers as they shuttle children from one adult-led program to another, and summer camps hiring concierges to deal with demanding parents who want to coddle their children from afar.

And truly, I could talk about this for ages. Anyway, I decided I had a voice and there was certainly room in the space. I have been working in education and outreach for almost twenty years, so I thought it was time to use my voice and not speak through the lens of one of my employers.

Kim: "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." I absolutely adore this and I had to share! Why do you think it's so important for children to grow up with lots of playtime, close to their inner "wild thing"?

Bethe: Look, childhood is a brief period, and we need to let them squeeze every minute out of it that is possible. They have their whole lives to be adults, so we need to stop pushing them to be mini-adults. Children learn through doing – play is how they explore their world, learn how to assess risk, try things out, and get to know themselves. It's also how we can learn about them if we bother to get out of the way and let them do it. My motto is let kids be kids. And the lifeblood of childhood is play.

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

Bethe: ONE?! Yikes. I guess for adults it would be not to beat the joy out of life. Don't get so caught up in making money and pursuing goals and doing the "daily grind" that you forget to put life into living.

For kids, well…one is harder. I think if anything it would be fall on your face and don't be afraid to take risks. You can get back up again, I promise. I actually wrote a post I would love to share on this very topic: 10 Wishes for Today's Kids.

Kim: What are three playful achievements or landmarks you've made as the Grass Stain Guru?

Bethe: Hmmm, well I have been all over the country and even to other countries to share my Pro Play Outdoors Platform, so that's one! I have been the ring leader of the #playoutdoors movement for years on Twitter and have made connections and playful friends all over the globe. There are so many voices out there and we are all stronger when we share information and support each other's work. I LOVE the community I am a part of.

And lastly I think that just creating and launching The Grass Stain Guru is a landmark for me. I was able to make a space for my voice and help be part of a movement to restore childhood. After years of working for others (which I still do, of course), having my own voice and having that voice embraced is an amazing feeling.

Kim: On your blog, you've said that "children are born to play." I completely agree, of course! What are some tips you have for parents and children to get back to their playful roots?

Bethe: Here are a few ideas or tips:

  • UNPLUG. Put down the cell phone, etc.

  • Get barefoot. Life is just better when you kick your shoes off and let your hair down. It's so freeing.

  • Lighten up. Give yourself a perspective check – are you overthinking a lot or making life a lot more complicated than it needs to be? And why? As I like to say, Busy is not the new black.


  • Teach your kids some of the games you used to play as a kid.

  • Start a family game night! Plan some day trips – get out and explore all the green spaces your community has to offer. Let the kids plan.

  • Buy less stuff. Focus on fun time together vs. stuff. Even toys! How many are really needed and what kind? I am a big believer that toys should be 90% kid and 10% toy. If the toy does all the work or drives the play vs. the child's imagination, who's having the fun? In my book, simple is always better.

  • Let yourself be a dork and let your kids see it. Dance. Sing into a hairbrush. Break out a hula hoop and don't be afraid to get muddy, messy, and not look mall-ready.

Kim: You're very much a creative and playful soul, so how about a poem about the wonders of play?


Cool mud between toes,

Skinned knees and elbows.

Play's crowning glories earned.

Today's rocket ship,

tomorrow's castle and slide.

Genius unleashed through cardboard.

Rosy cheeks and grass stains.

Unbridle joy and warmth.

Childhood without spoil or limits.

Running, spinning, laughing.

Inside voices long forgotten.

Mother Nature's satisfied smile.

I hope you enjoyed this wonderful interview. Please be sure to check out Bethe's blog and tweet with her @balmeras!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

10 Surefire Ways to Foster Creativity in Your Children

(CREDIT: Photo by humbert15 (Flickr))

For children, creativity can be everything. As a parent, I always found it to be important to give my children the opportunity to be creative. To do that, sometimes it takes work on your part to inspire them. Children can certainly be imaginative enough on their own, but sometimes, it can take your guidance to get them on the right track with whatever idea they may have. Encourage your children to think creatively!

If you're stuck for ideas on how to foster creativity in your children, I'm here to help. Based on some of my past experiences as a mother, here are some ways that you can help get that creativity flowing in the right direction for your children!

  1. Give an "A" for Effort: It's important to applaud the efforts of your children over the outcomes. Sometimes, your children may struggle when working on a project of some sort, all while using their imagination. With that said, sometimes whatever project they're working on may not come out and be completed as they originally planned, and that's fine. Always be sure to applaud their effort. This will encourage them to keep going with what they're doing, and once they realize that they can do it, there won't be any turning back.

  2. Be Creative Together: To help instill creativity in your child, it's important to be there with them. Your children will be asking questions, so instead of giving answers such as "I don't know," it's important to sit there with your children and work together. Even if you're not sure about something that your child may ask, find the answer together. Not only will working together help to foster creativity in your child in finding the answer, but it will also help to grow the bond that you have with your children.

  3. Put Away the Electronics: Say "goodbye" to the electronics, and say "hello" to creativity. I'm sure you can all relate, but I can remember back to when I was a child and we expressed our creativity through activities like drawing, building things, and playing outside, for example. Today, we're living in a digital age where video games and other electronics hold prominence. However, remember that they don't have to. Television is fine in small doses, but don't let it consume your child's life. Let them get creative in more fun, natural ways.

  4. Take a Step Back: While it's important to be creative together, it's also important that you give your child their own space. We discussed how it's important to be creative together, and it is, but let your children come up with their own ideas as well. It's important to steer them and their creativity in the right direction every once in a while, but let them have their fun and enter a world of imagination.

Albert Einstein once said, "Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions." This is true, so from an early age, it's important to help instill creativity in your children. How do you help to instill creativity in your children? Share your story below with myself and other readers!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart