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Monday, June 23, 2014

Good Human: 11 Dog Park Manners to Obey

Photo by Tim-Hoggarth (Flickr)

I'm one of those wildly enthusiastic pet lovers, especially when it comes to dogs. When I was younger, I was always surrounded by precious pooches, and I simply can't deny that we didn't completely spoil them. With animals, they're more than just pets. They're family, and if you're an animal lover too, then you know exactly how this feels.

Now, we have two dogs in the family that my children and I absolutely love. They're rescue pups named Patrick and Joy, and they're truly like two more kids that just happen to smile with their exuberant tails. With summer in full swing, we enjoy playing with them outside, bringing them along for our family picnics, and taking them to their favorite place, the local dog park.

However, when visiting the dog park, it's important to remember that you're not alone. There are rules and etiquette that you should follow - this way, everyone can safely and happily enjoy this wonderful haven for our furry angels.

  • Don't smoke: Not only is this common courtesy for the people around you, but it's important to not smoke around the dogs. Secondhand smoke has been linked to certain cancers, skin diseases and respiratory problems for pets. They may also be tempted to eat discarded butts, which is extremely harmful and potentially deadly.
  1. Always close the gate: Be considerate of others. When entering the dog park, always close the gate behind you, because let's face it - animals are curious. They're going to wander. They are unpredictable and may suddenly chase something that may put them in danger. So always err on the side of caution and give yourself and other owners peace of mind by securing the gate every time.
  • Be up to date on shots: This one might sound obvious, but it can't be stressed enough. Make sure that your dog is caught up on all of their shots. In this setting, the dogs will be playing and interacting physically, so vaccines ensure healthy, happy play dates for all involved.
  • Keep your dog leashed until it's time: Keep your pup leashed until they're safely contained in the fence of the dog park. This safeguards them and respects pedestrians that may be wary of dogs. When you leave, leash your pet back up. If your dog is aggressive, it may be best to not let them loose at all. Consider equipping them with a yellow ribbon to relay to others that your dog should only be approached with caution. This goes for any dog that may have a reason to need personal space, aggressive or not.
  • Pick up after your dog: Dogs don't share our bathroom decorum, so if you're going to take yours to the local dog park, be sure to pick up after them! Do your part to avoid the spread of disease.
  • Keep an eye on your dog: In today's digital age, people are glued to their smartphones. However, the dog park is not the place for it. Keep an eye on your dog at all times. If a fight involving your dog breaks out, you want to be ready to step in. Plus, most dogs thrive on their beloved pack leader's attention!
  • Be friendly to those around you: The dogs aren't the only ones who get to play and socialize. Be friendly to the other owners around you because it will make the experience much more enjoyable. Plus, you never know who you will meet! I find that "dog people" often get along swimmingly.
  • Speak with your vet: Before bringing your dog to the local dog park, consult with your vet to ensure if your dog is healthy enough to play with others. Also, think of the temperature and breed of dog before vigorous exercise. Brachycephalic (short-nosed) dogs such as Pugs and Boston Terriers may struggle to breathe and stay cool if it's too hot.
  • Watch your children: Your kids may want to accompany you to the dog park. In this case, just be sure to watch them and keep them near you. Not all dogs are kid-friendly, so you don't want them getting too close to animals that they're unfamiliar with. Inform your little ones of dog park rules and etiquette too.
  • Don't scold another dog: If there's a dog in the park that is being unruly, don't scold it. There may be issues you're unaware of. Instead, let the owner take care of that. You wouldn't want someone to do this to your dog, right? The best you can do is politely avoid the dog in question. If you witness animal abuse, however, I urge you to report the situation to the authorities.
  • Follow the rules: There will likely be rules posted outside of the dog park, some of which may not be mentioned here. Either way, read them carefully and follow them!

Have you ever taken your dog to one of these parks? If so, I'd love to read and share any comments or tips you may have! These parks are a wonderful blessing, and as long as we respect each other and the rules, we can all enjoy them fully and safely.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How to Create a Sensory Play Wonderland

Photo by: Carl Wycoff (Flickr)

What type of learning style best suits you? For children, this is very important in the early stages of their development, as it shows the best way that particular child can learn most effectively as they grow up. On the playground, learning styles are definitely related, as sensory-rich playgrounds can offer many different experiences for the kids. By having more sensory experiences available, your children will learn and gain more during their formative years.

For a playground to have maximum benefit for the growth and development of children, it should include five specific sensory areas - visual, vestibular, tactile, kinesthetic, and auditory. A child who is a visual learner would benefit the most from a playground full of vibrant colors, as it offers the most stimulation and will help form their perception of different things. Sensory activities are great because they help your children explore the world. Kids develop their senses the most when they're actively participating in something, and a great playground can offer all of that.

Here are a few different types of sensory areas, and how you can create a great playground for the children.

  1. Tactile - There are many different ways that you can create the proverbial 'Sensory Play Wonderland' for the kids. One way to do this is to make it feel "earthy." This helps with the tactile sensory area, where children will want to explore different textures, which are particularly prevalent in nature. This would refer to things like the grass, dirt, and more. With that said, including something like Garden Arches in your sensory play wonderland could be especially useful in this regard.
  2. Vestibular - This sensory area in your child's growth and development has a heavy emphasis on their sense of balance, as a result of small, liquid-filled tubes in their inner ears that help contribute to this. Not only that, but vestibular activities help children orient themselves in space. When going down a slide, for example, they're feeling themselves move through space; both their body and mind adjust to this type of situation, and that's where balance comes back in. When becoming comfortable with balance, a child can adjust their vision and speed. One great addition to a playground that would cover this sensory area is a balance beam.
  3. Kinesthetic- Another important aspect of sensory learning is kinesthetic, which correlates a child's position, weight, and movement with their muscles and joints. The kinesthetic sense helps develop spatial awareness and influences a child's eye-foot and eye-hand coordination. One way to incorporate this type of sensory activity into a play area for your children is to include a See Saw; this piece of equipment will allow children to not only develop these sensory skills, but to help increase them. With a See Saw, eye-foot coordination is everything, as the child will learn when to use their feet to burst from the ground. Not only that, but a See Saw is great for learning about teamwork.

What learning style best suits your child? Do you have any suggestions to share on great sensory activities?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Saturday, June 14, 2014

It's Finally Here! 9 Ways to Savor Summer

Photo by: Zach Dischner (Flickr)

It's finally here! The trees are bursting with lush green and the birds are tweeting with aplomb! My girls are giddy with that heavenly mix of sunshine and laughter. We've waited so long for summer, so let's make the most of it! There's always so much to do, and staying active outside is much better for your physical and mental health than staying inside.

Here are nine great ways to help you savor summer and enjoy all that it has to offer.

  1. Hop on your Bike – Hop on two wheels and go! My two wildflower gals and I are blessed with a medley of trails to explore close by. We also love to run errands and fill up our baskets with fresh produce from the farmer's market. Even if you just bike through the neighborhood, it's a fun, relaxing activity. Not only that, there are many perks to biking more and driving less. Strong legs and an eager heart will make your world go 'round!
  2. Embrace Nature through Camping – Camping is a one-of-a-kind summer experience. Swim, dance, sing, climb, hike, explore – it's an all-you-can-play buffet under the sun and stars! The outdoors wakes us up to the essentials and refreshes us on how precious life and family are. So whip up some hearty snacks, spin stories, melt away your worries by the fire, and of course, relish this time with family and friends. If you can't actually go to a camp site, it's no problem – set up a tent in the backyard!
  3. Have a Picnic – Nothing says summer like a blanket sprawled on warm grass. Cozy up to the earth, enjoy finger foods galore, soak up the scenery and just be. Breezy smiles and laughter are sure to greet the open sky! Isn't that the spirit of summer? There are ways to be 'green' when you're out for a picnic, too!

    Head to the Playground – This one is a given! The playground is a summer wonderland; kids can exercise, interact, learn and just play! Also, it invites them to express their creativity, which is just one way playgrounds build strong, smart children. Make sure to bring plenty of water!

  4. Read in the Sun – Swimming, hiking, gardening, lounging in the hammock – just get outdoors! My girls love to belly flop onto the hammock with books. Those long, languid summer afternoons make it so easy to slip into new worlds, don't they? Or you could let the sway of the hammock lull you into a blissful nap. Either way, sunscreen is a must!
  5. Who's Hungry? – Mmm. Grilled food. I can't get enough of grilled salmon, zucchini, avocado and mushrooms! What are your delicious, smoky favorites? I urge you to try to get your grub from sustainable, ethical and local sources such as the farmer's market. The earth and global community will thank you!
  6. Outdoor Games – Good riddance, snow! The summertime air and plush grass invite you to get adventurous about playtime. Bond with your little ones by playing frisbee, kickball, softball or volleyball with them. Spontaneous, independent play is wonderful for kids too, so be sure to give them lots of freedom.
  7. Soak up some Vitamin D – After months of being imprisoned indoors, our bodies and minds are thirsty for sunshine. So while your family is joyously at play in the sun, you'll be pleased to know you're soaking up this much-needed nutrient. But make sure you slather on the sunscreen first!
  8. Do some gardening – Gardening is a great activity to introduce to your children. It fosters a deep love and appreciation for nature and hard work. When I was younger, my mother was passionate about gardening, and I received that gift. Plus, the conversations I enjoy with my daughters as we tend to our patches are some of the most lively and enriching!

I hope you're as ready to leap into this summer as I am! What are your favorite summer activities?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart