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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Free to Be: The Benefits of Healthy Risk in Play

(CREDIT: youflavio (Flickr))

The word risk is bouncing around the play world as of late. Some parents go pale just at the thought of it while others are eager to implement it into their children's daily play. We're talking responsible risk; striking that balance is tricky but quite possible. I'm all for the healthy union of freedom, risk and playtime; it brings play closer to its natural, exploratory state. Children delve into the invaluable, lifelong lesson of cause and effect. With less rules, they can discover a freestyle joy made by them and just for them.

All in all, risk prepares children for life. It prepares them for what's to come in the real world. It urges them to believe in themselves. Please keep in mind that in this context, risky doesn't mean dangerous or unsafe. It simply means more freedom, more exploration and less rules in play. I'd like to share with you some of the many benefits to playtime served with a light dollop of risk!

  1. Risk teaches your children about challenges – If the element of risk is present during play, it can teach your children to not shy away from challenges. Take tree climbing, for example. It certainly isn't easy, but it is rewarding and fun. Same goes for hiking; the trail may be rigorous and long, but the view is breathtaking! This will foster a healthy relationship between hard work and your child that will be infinitely beneficial as they grow.

  2. Challenges build up confidence – Self-esteem is essential to peace of mind and happiness. The freedom to interact with the world is a great, wonderful responsibility; your child's confidence will blossom if they feel you trust them in their play choices. It will also give them the chance to conquer their fears, such as that colossal slide or wobbly tire swing. They will feel more in charge of their own lives and in turn more comfortable with leadership and independence.

  3. Let the kids have fun – Free play invites your children to discover the joy of adventure and simply have fun! It can be hard to truly let loose, burn off energy and relish playtime when there's a rigid set of rules looming overhead. I think risking a skinned knee is worth the bursting happiness of running wild and free and I have a feeling your children would agree! Not only that, less rules means more experimentation; this expands their horizons and refines their tastes in play and life.

  4. Enhance their decision-making skills – Simple 'yes' or 'no' answers do not compel the child to explore deeper or make connections. Letting your child choose exactly what piece of playground equipment they wish to play on urges them to weigh the risks and rewards of each. Honing this discerning skill will be so worthwhile now and as they grow up. Life is rarely smooth sailing, but knowing how to make wise, gratifying choices makes for fine sailors.

  5. Real world experience can't be matched – Perhaps the most important aspect of all of this is that by having a little risk involved in their play, your children will experience what the real world is all about. They'll learn that there won't be constant hand-holding or a watchful eye. There won't always be some sort of assistance to get you through every situation, and they'll learn that most times, it will be up to them to make the decisions. Hopefully, they will grow fond of this independence and believe in themselves. They will love the world in all its risky, beautiful splendor and not be afraid to carve their places in it.

Throughout a child's development and growth, it's no secret that risk plays an important part. The right balance will bolster their self-confidence, tune their decision-making skills, prep them for the wonder and excitement of the world and encourage them to truly believe that they have the power to seek their wildest dreams!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Traditions Around the World

(CREDIT: aussiegall (Flickr))

It's that time of the year again: Spring is finally here, and that means that Easter is coming up. It's one of my favorite times of the year because my children and I always have a great time coloring eggs, enjoying creative Easter baskets, attending our local church, and just having fun with everything! Coloring the eggs can get a little messy, but it's worth it in the end when I can see my children have glowing smiles on their faces.

As is the case with other holidays and special events, they're not always celebrated in the same fashion around the globe. Different cultures from around the world have always fascinated me, and it's something that I've read about quite a bit. In the past, we took a look at how games differ around the world, and here are some ways that Easter differs from place to place, in comparison to here in the United States.

  1. Italy: In Rome, the Easter tradition is very different than what we're used to. For example, on Good Friday, the pope conducts a Via Crucis ("Way of the Cross") ceremony at the Colosseum. On this day, a huge cross covered in burning torches lights up the sky, and the 14 Stations of the Cross are described in many different languages. This isn't just a one-day affair, either, as Mass takes place on Holy Saturday, followed by Easter Sunday, when thousands of people gather in St. Peter's Square to witness the pope's blessing.

  2. Sicily: The celebration of Easter in Sicily is perhaps the most unique in the entire world. It's an event that tourists especially love, which sees people carrying sculptures on their backs that date back as far as the 17th century. With these sculptures on their backs, they set out on a ten-hour journey through the city of Trapani.

  3. Norway: Much like with Sicily, Norway's celebration of Easter would certainly be considered to be very unique. Surprisingly enough, crime novels are synonymous with Easter in Norway. Around Easter each year, book publishers in Norway release what they call "paaskekrimmen," which are Easter thrillers. This tradition dates all the way back to 1923 and is, at least in my opinion, the most unique Easter tradition out there!

  4. Scotland: Who wants to roll some eggs? In Scotland, they don't just go to church and have a great dinner. Easter is an extremely fun event in Scotland, especially for the children. Not only do they boil and paint eggs in different designs like we do in the United States, but they roll them down park hills to symbolize the rolling away of the stone from Jesus' tomb.

  5. France: If you really enjoy a great omelet, then you might want to celebrate Easter in Haux, France, one year: On the Monday following Easter, a giant omelet is served in the town's main square. Consisting of more than 4,500 eggs, this massive omelet typically can feed about 1,000 people. The reasoning for this dates back a long time, back to Napoleon. He was traveling through a small town with his army and stopped to eat omelets. Apparently, as the story goes, Napoleon himself enjoyed his so much that ordered a giant omelet to be cooked up for his entire army the following day. With all of that said, who's hungry?

It's certainly unique how countries apart from ours celebrate the tradition of Easter. What are your upcoming plans for Easter this year?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hello, Spring! 11 Ways to Welcome This Lovely Season

(CREDIT: promanex (Flickr))

Spring is finally here and I am wildly thrilled about it! I'm eager to wish winter a not-so-teary goodbye. The blossoming weather always gives everyone a pep to their step; for my girls, as I'm sure you can relate, it gives them an entirely new set of wings! There's always so much to do outside with the kids, so we are so ready to burst out of our bear caves!

It's go time! Let's leap into the new season, the great weather, and all of the fun that comes along with it. If you're looking for ideas for how to welcome in the spring, then I've got you covered. Here are 11 great ways to envelop it in a big, grand bear hug! Get outside and enjoy it!

  1. Fire up the grill: One of my favorite parts about this time of year is being able to cook up some great food outside. There are so many great recipes that you can find out there, too. Portabella mushrooms are at peak shape come spring, and they are an absolute dream to BBQ and enjoy between burger buns. What are your favorite dishes to sizzle up?

  2. Get organized: When the weather outside is frightful, our motivation tends to slack, especially in the cleaning and organization department. Who wants to go on a cleaning frenzy when being bundled up on the couch is an option? But now that it's nicer out, it's a great time to organize all parts of your home. It's a wonderful way to feel as fresh and alive as spring itself.

  3. Grow some flowers: Now is the best time to plant some blooms. Not only will it be delightful when they sprout and flower, it's a great bonding opportunity for the family. Plus, your children will learn about the natural cycle and relish in nature's gifts.

  4. Exercise with the family: How about exercising outside? Now is a prime time to get started, and it's a great, fun thing to do with the family because you can motivate each other to keep doing your best! Bicycling, hiking and walking are my family favorites.

  5. Enjoy a picnic: Who doesn't love a good picnic? The fresh grass, cheery sunlight and friendly vibes! You can pack some homemade great food, enjoy the fabulous weather, and be surrounded by family. It's relatively inexpensive, and it's more fun, in my opinion, than eating out.

  6. Let your pets enjoy nature: If your pets are like ours, then you know how much they love being outside. Take your dogs out for a walk in a park! They can enjoy the nice, new, fresh weather just as much as you.

  7. Do some spring cleaning: Spring means out with the old and in with the new! Purge what you don't want or need and anything that blocks the flow of positive energy in the home. You could hold a garage sale; it promotes community and fun! Another great option is to donate to local charities, especially clean clothes and shoes your children have outgrown.

  8. Check out a local sporting event: With the spring season comes baseball, soccer and more. Go rally or even join a local team! Friendly competition really shakes us loose from winter's grasp. It's just fun to get out there and enjoy the game, classic atmosphere, sunshine and longer days with friends and family.

  9. Go to the playground: Of course I had to include this! Playgrounds bursting with laughter and children are one of spring's finest trademarks. My kids and I love to give local playgrounds some TLC after winter by cleaning them up and ensuring safety.

  10. Sit by the fire: One of my favorite spring activities from when I was younger would be to sit around a fire at night, swapping stories and toasting some marshmallows. Set up a fire pit in the backyard; the family will love it.

  11. Run a race: This one goes back to the delight of physical, outdoor fun! I remember being so nervous before running my first 5K in the spring a few years back, but I felt so great and accomplished afterward. Check out some local races in your area and give it a shot!

I'm just so glad that spring is finally here. In what ways are you welcoming in the new season?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Say Cheese! 13 Ways to Make Your Kid Smile Today

Photo by the_moment (Flickr)

As parents, there is an essential, joyous goal that unites us: We wish for our kids to be as happy and healthy as they can be! If what we do for our precious children can be affordable and eco-friendly, all the better. Not only does this show them that the best things in life are free, but it fosters a deep adoration for all that nature has to offer. My list of 13 smile-inducing activities respects both the great outdoors AND your savings!

  1. Start a vegetable garden. Tending to a vegetable garden nurtures both the earth and your family. Give your kids a personal plant or patch to grow; this will encourage responsibility and caring instincts. Imagine the contentment and pride they'll feel as their hard work manifests in plant growth. Plus, picture the smile on their face when they bite into the healthy fruits of their labors at dinner!

  2. Go to the local playground and help clean it up. Now that spring is here, local playgrounds are in need of some TLC. Bag up dead leaves, touch up paint, and check for potential hazards. Kids will enjoy this special playtime volunteering and the chance to spill out pent-up energy.

  3. Spring clean with a garage sale and donations. Send your children on a scavenger hunt around the house for objects and clothes to sell or donate. They will love the thrill of finding potential hit items! Not only that, but you'll enjoy a fresh and clutter-free home while teaching your kids the bliss of giving.

  4. Open an all-natural lemonade stand. Urge your budding entrepreneurs to open up a nonprofit lemonade stand! Construct the shop with leftover cardboard boxes and other recycled embellishments. Garnish drinks with mint from the garden. Let your kids choose the charity they wish to donate proceeds to. The gratification of helping others will have them grinning ear to ear!

  5. Bring the pets for a walk. This one is easy and sure to sprout smiles of both the kid and furry kind! If the family pet isn't big enough to overwhelm your little one, pass the reins to them. Exercise, love, and play are best enjoyed together!

  6. Go bird-watching. Borrow a bird-watching book from the library and cast your gaze to the skies and trees. This one takes a bit of patience, but your kids are sure to be delighted when they spot a bird they recognize. Throw in some bird calls and you've got yourself a lively, educational party full of laughter!

  7. Volunteer at an animal shelter. My girls absolutely relish our frequent trips to the animal shelter. They are positively brimming with joy as they walk the giddy dogs and play with them. It makes me smile, too; the way they love all of the world's creatures is a dazzling gem to behold.

  8. Go wild with sidewalk chalk. Okay, so this one is not totally free. But it is possible to make sidewalk chalk at home! The pavement is a sprawling canvas just begging to be filled. Kids can often look very serious when at play like this; don't worry - their souls are smiling!

  9. Go to the library. There's just something about the library that is so grand and so cozy at the same time. I am always so enraptured by that swashbuckling glow in my girls' eyes as they are swept away by another literary adventure. Not only that, but the library teaches children the sheer joy that can be discovered in a quiet, solitary moment. As parents, we can definitely appreciate that!

  10. Tidy up a local trail. Once again, this is a wonderful way to burst into spring and put all of that bottled energy to work! Bring your kids to the local trail with rakes, bags, and gloves. The dead leaves you gather would be perfect for the compost, too.

  11. Explore on bikes. This is something of a family tradition of ours! On Saturdays when the weather finally welcomes us, we hop on our bikes and just choose a direction to go. We've discovered so many places, sights, and adventures this way!

  12. Smile at them. Life can sometimes feel like it's caught in a rapid, monotonous loop. It can be easy to forget to smile when we're hauling through our daily to-do list like pack mules. But we're blessed, aren't we? We have children; we have ourselves. So let's all vow to smile at our little ones more for no reason at all. Let's proudly wear the crazy joy they give us on our sleeves.

  13. Just be. Play is play, so just play! That's a bit of a mouthful, but it's completely true. Play is organic, lively, and free. So let it blossom! Abandon schedules, activity books, and time limits. Let your children explore play on their own terms. They deserve it, and they need to. Would you keep clipping a rose bush before it blooms? There are no smiles like the ones they get to make for themselves.

I hope you enjoyed the list! What do you do to bring smiles to your children's faces? I'd love to hear all about it!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart