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Friday, February 27, 2015

Play to Learn, Learn to Play: 10 Benefits of Recess

Photo by AAA State of Play (Two-Top-Khamun)

"Today's young children are controlled by the expectations, schedules, whims, and rules of adults. Play in the only time they can take control of their world." ~ Sheila G. Flaxman

Clap your hands if you have fond memories of recess! My friends and I would burst outside into the sunshine, clamber up trees, conjure up outlandish games to play, and just have fun. Do our children have the same opportunities to create these sunny, smiling memories? Do they have access to the emotional, cognitive, and physical rewards of ample playtime?

The unfortunate reality is that due to strict testing standards and other factors, recess is being pushed aside. This creates a troubling conundrum; kids are expected to pack more into their brains without any opportunity for reprieve. As adults, we know how strenuous it can be to work through our lunches, rack up long hours, and care for our family. We all need time and space to breathe. The sames goes for children! That is why recess is so essential.

Here are 10 great ways that children can benefit from recess.

  1. Ease Tension: Play is an active release. As kids run around and interact, they are refreshing their minds and prepping the canvas for learning. Instead of the pent-up energy building up and bursting in destructive ways, recess invites them to apply their curiosity and energy towards hands-on growth.
  2. Build Character: When you watch a recess in session, you'll see plenty of kids laughing, communicating, and playing games. The playground is a thriving hub for social development. They learn to take turns, guide each other, and express themselves.
  3. Fruit and Veggie Friendly: Your children will be more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables if they enjoy recess prior to having lunch. There's proof!
  4. Brain Food: It might sound simple, but the brain is activated by play. Being able to run, climb, explore, and swing frees excess energy that would otherwise distract them from absorbing learning material. Plus, play relieves stress, which can be toxic to brain function.
  5. Get Moving: With child obesity on the rise, physical activity is crucial. If children have access to active recess as they grow up, they will develop a natural affinity for movement. A moving child is a learning child, and an active body makes for a happy brain!
  6. Build Confidence: Recess provides a dynamic landscape for kids to express themselves within. Play includes key ingredients that nurture self-esteem, such as learning, action, and freedom. As the move and explore, they will gain trust in their own footing both physically and mentally.
  7. Kindness and Respect: Recess gathers many children and encourages them to grow together. This fun, natural source of interaction nourishes their empathy and builds their communication skills. They can practice the lessons of diversity and compassion they learn in school on the playground. While they need our guidance at times, it is essential for them to have an opportunity to socialize.
  8. Better Behavior: Almost every teacher I know is a firm believer in the power of play, stating that students behave better after recess. Let's face it; everybody feels better after a refreshing break. Kids need to move. They aren't built to be confined for too long. Rather than punishing the symptoms of recess deprivation, why not strive to make recess a reality for every kid?
  9. All Together Now: Recess brings kids with a dazzling rainbow of personalities together. Often, they will unite naturally and strive towards a common goal. If clashes occur, we can help them learn how to work it out and compromise.
  10. Growth Magic: I often say that play is growth magic for kids (and adults)! While it's not truly fairy dust, the proof is in the science. Every aspect of life is enlivened by play. Imagination? Check. Learning? Check. Physical health? Check. Interpersonal skills? Check. As jazz maestro Louis Armstrong said, "What we play is life."

What other benefits of recess can you think of? There are so many! Please Share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comments section below.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, February 19, 2015

It's Easy Being Green: 7 Ways to Empower Your Kids to Recycle

Photo by epSos .de (Flickr)

The world is a lush, vibrant source of wonder and nourishment! It's our duty to sustain it just as it sustains us. I was seeing green since birth; my parents sought to establish eco-oriented values in me from the moment I could breathe. Recycling is a key component to a renewable lifestyable. By recycling, you help reduce the pollution caused by waste. You also cut down on the risks animals face when packaging and byproducts enter their natural habitat. Plus, recycling slashes the need for raw materials that would otherwise be harvested from struggling rainforests and other waning resources.

Recycling starts at home. That's why I have made it my mission to empower my little wildflowers to recycle and grow passionate about the environment. We need to educate our kids on the natural life cycles of our planet and the need to conserve. I hope you'll join me in this effort to live as a happy green family!

Here are seven ways to empower your kids to recycle.

  1. Teach Them Early: Inform them about the importance of recycling from an early age. This means living an eco-friendly life yourself so that it becomes second nature to them. Ease the dialogue of sustainability into your everyday language, teach them the words, and introduce them to animals to nurture empathy and world awareness.
  2. Convenience and Freedom: Some kids are visual learners, so be sure to have marked bins around the house for recycling. By placing a bin in their room and encouraging them to customize it, you are inviting them to become an active and eager participant in recycling. Kids learn through hands-on playtime, so it's essential to make it fun!
  3. The Cycle of Play: Make a game out of reducing, reusing, and recycling! Brightly colored bins with draw their interest and participation. You can challenge them to craft masterpieces out of natural found objects and recycled goods! My girls choose a new animal each week to design this way. And of course, it's so important to provide plenty of outdoor play opportunities for your kids! If they love nature, they'll feel inspired to protect it.
  4. Tour the Works: Sometimes you've got to see it to believe it! Not only are tours a wonderful way to squeeze more walking into your family's day, you can learn so much. Inquire about a tour through your local recycling and waste management facilities. Your children will be able to see what goes into the recycling process beyond what happens at home, and they'll gain a whole new appreciation for it. Plus, what kid doesn't love witnessing the magic of machinery?
  5. Ripen the Mind: Books, glorious books! The more your kids read, the more their curiosity and understanding will blossom. Awareness is a cornerstone for taking action. They can discover what works, what is most harmful, and what needs to be saved. The Sustainability Leadership Institute has provided a list of great children's books.
  6. Wild Child: As I mentioned earlier, this is key for empowering our kiddos to love and respect nature! If they grow up nestled by the beauty and marvel of the outdoors, it will become precious to them. We go on frequent bike rides and hikes to savor as much fresh air as possible. Gardening with the kids can also instill a sense of responsibility and gratitude for the environment.
  7. Give the Gift of Green: There are so many wonderful ways to volunteer. Sometimes, it's best to work from the ground up - literally! Kids can plant trees, join a downtown cleanup team, or volunteer to help at the local recycling facility. No green deed is too small. After all, every giant sequoia tree was once just a tiny acorn!

In what ways have you taught your children the importance of recycling? Not only can you cherish and nurture the planet as a family, you can have fun while doing it! With small steps, we can help our children be more mindful of the environment. We would love to hear your input on this topic and any suggestions you might have! Please drop us a comment in the box below.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

15 Playful Interview Questions to Ask Your Kids

Photo by Lenore Edman (Flickr)

There's no doubt that play matters, but play can go beyond just fun physical movement. In fact, a playful brain becomes resilient and creative! Let's explore how we can integrate play into the art of conversation. Not only will these playful "interview" questions help you learn about your child's unique and blossoming mind, it will hone their communication skills and encourage them to speak their opinion freely.

By asking fun and playful interview questions, you inspire them to exercise their imagination and explore undiscovered areas of thought. Best of all, you'll both have so much fun with this energetic exchange! The possibilities for questions are endless, too, and I'm certain your child's answers will surprise and delight you!

Here are 15 playful interview questions that you can ask your kids.

  1. "What's your favorite time of day?" As parents, we generally have a solid handle on when our children thrive and when they tucker out. Even so, this question can give us insight on their favorite activities or situations that stress them out.
  2. "What five words describe you best?" This question can foster a healthy sense of self-awareness. By agreeing with their assessment, it provides reassurance and a boost of confidence.
  3. "What's something you're really good at?" Complimenting a child on their actions is believed to be more impactful and nurturing than just focusing on their traits. This question gives your child a chance to relish in their successes and feel inspired to keep it up!
  4. "If you could give everyone in the world one gift, what would it be?" Not only does this question help to build empathy, it compels kids to imagine what the world truly needs. They may burst out with a silly answer, but at least it can open their horizons.
  5. "If you could be any animal for a day, what would you choose?" This question invites kids to let their imaginations run wild! It's fun and exhilirating to imagine the world through the senses of another creature.
  6. "Would you cheat on a test if you knew you couldn't get caught?" Either answer to this question can become a teachable moment on the value of honesty, integrity, and trust.
  7. "If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?" We want to give our kids the world. Even if we can't literally do that, we can inspire them to think BIG! If they mention a specific country, we can foster their curiosity by providing books from the local library and exploring various aspects of the culture.
  8. "What's the kindest thing anyone has ever done for you?" Stir up some gratitude and discuss ways that your child can spread the compassion they were given! It's so important to take the time to truly appreciate the heartfelt deeds that unfold all around us.
  9. "What would be your superhero power?" Summon mac n' cheese by just shaking a bowl? Play Frozen on any screen with a point of the finger? I'm sure your kiddos will concoct some brilliant superpowers.
  10. "What meal would you like to share with your idol?" Chocolate chip pancakes with Star-Lord? Cookie dough ice cream with Elsa? This is such a fun question that will spark some whimsical answers!
  11. "What's the hardest thing about being a kid?" While kids don't have to pay the bills, they do have struggles of their own. This question will help foster understanding between you and your child.
  12. "If you could name yourself, what name would you choose?" Bruce Banner? Harry Potter? Mulanderella? Elsa? Once they crown themselves with a new, outlandish name, ask them to rename you and refer to each other that way for a whole day. It's such silly fun!
  13. "If you could invent a piece of playground equipment, what would it be?" Set those engineering cogs in motion! You could even provide a sheet of paper and ask them to draw it. My girls and I play a game where we each take turns drawing one piece of the playground. We've created some zany, delightful playscapes!
  14. "What's the coolest thing you've ever seen?" Be prepared for some wild, incredible answers! The unbridled sense of wonder that kids have is such a blessing. Cultivate it by asking questions and genuinely engaging with their answers.
  15. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" This one is a classic! Maybe your child wants to be an astronaut or iconic sports hero when they grow up. It's a wonderful opportunity to highlight actions they do and traits they have that would be valuable to the role they covet.

Do you have any fun interview questions for kids that you can add to this list? The possibilities could be endless, so let us know about your ideas in the comments section below.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Young Hearts to the Rescue: 9 Ways Kids Benefit From Adopting a Pet

Photo by Mosman Council (Flickr)

Are you a dog person, cat person, or every creature person? If you've had pets, you know how fulfilling it is to love and be loved by an animal. Through their adoration and zany antics, they earn everlasting places in our hearts and families. Whether it's a peppy puppy or a mellow senior cat, there's so much joy to give and receive in pet-human relationships. All of my pets have been rescue animals, and I urge you to consider adopting too. I find that the biggest, warmest souls are just waiting to be freed from those kennels. I know it's trite, but the bumper stickers that say "Who saved who?" are quite accurate!

I had dogs, cats, and even a surly parrot named Bebop while I was growing up. After I had my first daughter, I wanted her to experience the delight and responsibility of having a pet. Currently, we have two small mixed breed pups that are feisty bundles of joy! My girls wildly adore them, but I also make sure that they have a vital role in caretaking and cleaning. We also continue to volunteer at the shelter where we rescued them from. It's been such an enriching experience for everyone.

While I know it's not a decision to be taken lightly, I do hope you consider it with your family. Here are nine ways that kids can benefit from adopting a pet:

  1. Learning Responsibility: Inviting a pet into the home is exciting, but with great love often comes great responsibility. By giving your kids a share of the caretaking duties, they build accountability. Be mindful of your child's actions, and strive to be a shining example of responsibility and compassion!
  2. Teaching Compassion: Onwards to compassion! The friendship between a child and a pet is truly magical and uplifting. They learn to love unconditionally and be loved unconditionally. It opens their heart to non-human creatures and helps them become comfortable with being relied upon. Also, when you rescue a pet, they may be timid or mistrustful at first; this offers a valuable lesson in patience and empathy for your kids.
  3. A Healthy Balance: Some rescue pets, especially senior sweethearts, will be more well-trained and patient, and this can provide a healthy balance for your kids. When they're bouncing off the walls, a warm, mellow pet can coax them to cuddle up and unwind.
  4. Paws-on Learning: Adopting a pet opens a whole new world of questions. Why are dogs different than cats? Why are there so many different breeds of dogs? This gives you an opportunity for fun, playful learning!
  5. Empathy Builds: As much as we might wish for it, pets don't speak our language! However, that doesn't limit their endearing ways of communication. Children build empathy by feeling and responding to these cues, tending to pet's needs, and soothing their anxieties. Through the adoption process, they will also learn how and why dogs end up shelters. When handled tenderly but honestly, this can empower them to strive for change.
  6. Walk the Dog: There are plenty of health benefits to adopting a pet. They lower blood pressure, encourage us to go outside, walk more, and love to play! We go hiking with our little dogs; their excitement puts more pep in our step! Pet owners who are 65 and older will typically have 30% fewer doctor visits than those without a pet. Plus, kids who grow up with pets develop fewer allergies and build stronger immune systems.
  7. Wagging Tails, Happy Hearts: Studies have shown that those who have pets are less likely to suffer from depression than those who don't. A few minutes of petting a pup or watching fish swim lowers cortisol, a hormone that triggers stress. This goes beyond just cats or dogs. If those animals don't tickle your fancy, there's lots of other options. Which pet is right for you?
  8. New Tricks, Old Tricks: Rather than seeking out a purebred pet from a breeder, adopting a rescue pet will help your kids appreciate what they have. They'll fall in love with all the quirks of their newfound friend, cultivating patience as they adapt to their habits and grow into the dynamic.
  9. Let's Play! Pets are playful, curious, and hungry to explore all the scents, sounds, and flavors of life! This effortless enthusiasm is contagious! By having an animal, your children will play more, worry less, and enjoy having a lively companion on all of their adventures!

Have you adopted a pet? What blessings have they bestowed upon you and your kids? We'd love to hear your stories and see pictures, so please drop us a comment in the section below!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart