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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

11 Playful Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

Photo by: woodleywonderworks (Flickr)

Our planet is gorgeous and generous! What kind of planet do you want to bestow upon your grandchildren in the future? Every action matters. Celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd with your family and take a stand to protect the Earth. Here are 11 playful activities that are sure to sustain the Earth and the laughter!

Go for a Long Bike Ride

Conquer carbon emissions while torching calories and enjoying fresh air! As a family, we try to bike everywhere we can to reduce driving time. Around the neighborhood, the local farmer's market, the playground, the museum downtown, and quaint little cafes are among our favorite places to peddle to. Where will your family bike to this Earth Day?

Plant a Tree

More than just shade givers, trees are champions for clean air and healthy water! I was delighted to learn that a single tree produces enough oxygen to meet one family's annual needs, absorbs up to 330 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, and reduces erosion. So do your family and the planet a favor by planting a tree for Earth Day! Your kids will love picking out their leafy friend, caring for it, and observing the growth each month. You can also venture beyond your backyard and help beautify the neighborhood by planting in a park.

Create a Milk Carton Bird Feeder

With a milk carton, household items, and an afternoon, your family can craft a cute and functional bird feeder. Not only does it nourish those lovely feathered creatures, it provides delight and wonder to your family when they come to visit. My girls love to try drawing them when they stop by!

Clean Up Litter

Do you loathe to see litter as much as I do? Grab gloves, recycled trash bags, and a scavenger hunt list. Challenge your family to find both wacky and common items like a blue shirt, red can, and black candy wrapper as you clean up your neighborhood streets. You can also gather cans to raise change for local animal shelters!

Visit a Farmers' Market

I've found everything from apples and yams to homemade beauty products at my local farmers' market. Not only do you uplift the local economy and reward the vendor's hard work, you stock your family's fridge with fresh produce! You can give your kids a grocery list so they can hunt down items. I also encourage mine to pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try each week. I hope to see you there!

Turn Off the Lights

Most of us use electricity frequently, but I'm willing to turn off the lights on Earth Day. Why not make a game day out of it? Play flashlight tag, roast marshmallows and smores over a campfire, and tell bedtime stories by candlelight. You can also take your family stargazing and revel in the dazzling gems of the sky.

Cut Water Usage

Water conservation is one of the most essential steps you can take to protect our planet. Drop by drop, you can make it a lifestyle! Play in a local stream, design and set up a backyard rain barrel, or race to see who can take the shortest shower. These games all cut your family's water usage and conserve this precious resource.

Donate Unused Items

Many kids cling to beloved toys with an iron grip. They may be more eager to downsize if you make it fun! Offer perks for each item they donate, such as credit towards a new toy. Clothes, books, and sports equipment can also find a new life and home through donations. Not only does this save items from the landfill, it creates a cycle of compassion and sensibility.

Plant a Garden

We're not all blessed with a sprawling garden or outdoor space, but that's OK! Maximize your deck and windowsills by using clay pots (never plastic!) to plant produce and blossoms. Not only will your kids love to sink their hands into the soil, they will be able to cultivate patience and nurturing skills as they tend to the cycle of growth.

Discourage Food Waste

Americans throw away a third of the food they buy every year. While a bit of waste is inevitable, try to cut back and get the most bang for your buck! Challenge your kids to discover a recipe that will utilize leftovers in the fridge. You could also try composting, which will yield nourishment for that garden we discussed earlier!

Go Birdwatching

How many birds can you spot in your backyard or local park? Play I Spy to find a variety of birds. Snap pictures, read up at the local library (after biking there), and relish in the sweet songs of Springtime!

Are you ready to celebrate Earth Day as a family this year? I hope you explore some of these fun and educational ways to help the planet thrive for generations to come. Every little step matters!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Go Team! 7 Ways to Be an Empowering Sports Coach for Kids

Photo by: Michael Coghlan (Flickr)

21 million kids who participate regularly on an organized sport team. Are you one of their coaches? If so, you are gifted with a wonderful opportunity to enhance and uplift their lives! However, 8 out of 10 parents blame a coach's poor behavior as a reason for withdrawing their kids from sports. Here are seven tips to help you be a beloved and empowering coach that will steer your team towards success and fun!

1. Never Yell At, Embarrass, or Threaten Players

Kids might run harder or play tougher if you yell at them, but it's out of fear, not respect. Not only is this behavior disrespectful and rude, you are creating a hostile environment that will limit their growth and enthusiasm. Encouragement, cheering, and praise will motivate your players both on and off the field. There are times when you'll need to speak firmly, but it is crucial to do so in a respectful and productive manner. As a role model, you set the standard for communication in your team.

2. Don't Only Focus on Winning

We all want our team to win, of course! But only pursuing victory is not the formula for success and fulfillment in sports. Think about all the other benefits sports provides, like boosts in academic performance, physical health, and social growth. Since sports can help kids learn to handle disappointment, exercise sportsmanship, and work as a team, stay focused on character building rather than trophy collecting.

3. Understand That Kids are Still Learning and Developing

In an effort to get the best out of their players, I've seen coaches push kids to act like adults. Remember that your kids won't play like professionals because they're not professionals; they're still learning the game. Also, pushing kids too hard can cause injuries, cut into the recommended 10 hours of sleep, or lead to unhealthy eating habits. Protect your players by giving them room to grow, explore, and have fun! Sports should help them be more engaged and versatile in ALL aspects of their lives.

4. Don't Focus on One All-Star Player

It's easy to get wrapped up in that one stellar player who soars across the field or makes every shot, but every team member deserves attention and dedication. A poll about coaches reports that 60 percent of boys and girls believe that giving everyone a chance to play should be more important to coaches than winning. Kids want to have fun; they don't want to sit on the bench while the star player does all the work. By letting everyone play, you'll help create an exciting, team-oriented dynamic that nurtures and empowers each child.

5. Model Gracious Sportsmanship

I know you've seen kids throw temper tantrums when they don't win; it's not pretty. Kids will be kids, but that's not an excuse to toss sportsmanship aside! I challenge you to be mindful of your behavior before, during and after games. Resist bad mouthing the opposing team or arguing with the umpire. Lead your team in shaking hands with all the members and coaches of the opposing team, too. Your team is watching you, listening to you, and imitating you, so do your best to be gracious and kind! High-fives and smiles go a long way.

6. Remember That Players Have Lives

It's essential for all players to have a life outside of sports. Give your players time to complete academic requirements, socialize with friends and family, and explore other hobbies. As a coach, you want the best for your players. That means encouraging them to discover their passions, rest thoroughly, and make connections beyond the team. Sports have the power to help kids grow and transform, but only if it's a part of a well-rounded lifestyle!

7. Consider Coach Training

Whether you're an expert in the sport or coaching volunteer, everybody wins through coach training! Hone your sport skills, become CPR certified, or learn how to prevent injuries through several training organizations, including the National Alliance for Youth Sports and Playworks training. You can extend the passion and expertise you earn through these programs to your kids.

As a coach, you're an invaluable asset to the kids on your team. I want to thank you for your service and encourage you to implement these seven tips. With them, you can become an empowering coach your players and their parents will appreciate.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Fun is Blooming: 9 Playful Ways to Leap into Spring

Photo by: SLO County Bicycle Coalition (Flickr)

Is your family as eager as mine to shrug off winter and embrace Spring? Now's a great time to head outdoors and enjoy the new season. Here are nine ideas that help you get into the Spring spirit together.

1. Hunt for Spring

When I walk outside, signs of Spring stimulate my senses. Challenge your kids to record all the visual, auditory, and olfactory signs of the season they can find. With a digital camera and notebook, they can draw pictures of emerging grass blades, describe the smell of a flower, and record a bird fetching a worm. Not only will they have fun, but your kids will also exercise their powers of observation as they hunt for Spring.

2. Fly a Kite

Rather than lament the wind as it tossles your hairstyle, why not harness it for fun? Launch a kite into the fresh, dewy Spring air! Buy colorful kites or gather white plastic bags, dowel rods, and string to make your own. My girls love to compete under the welcoming sun, eagerly unravelling their dowels as the wind teases the kites higher and higher.

3. Clean the Playground

Backyards and playgrounds need a little TLC after their winter rest. As a family, spend an afternoon picking up trash, spreading mulch, and inspecting the equipment for wear and tear. Once the grounds are fresh and renewed, it's playtime! My daughters adore the feeling of returning to a beloved play spot after winter hibernation.

4. Plant a Garden

Mmm, fresh produce! Springtime is the ideal time to uncover the ground, churn the moist soil, and plant future deliciousness. Whether you raise an abundant garden in your backyard, plant tomatoes in window containers, or conjure up a fairy garden in the living room, gardening teaches kids of all ages about the science of plant growth, introduces a healthy hobby, and cultivates an Earth-friendly mindset.

5. Paint the Pavement

Spring and rain go together like peanut butter and jelly! Use buckets to collect the rain. The next day, grab paintbrushes, plastic cups, and food coloring bottles. Let your kids mix the harvested rain with food coloring to create paint! They will make a tapestry of colorful splatters on the pavement. A wonderful perk of this activity is that it will clean itself up! While you're painting together, talk about the color wheel and encourage them to mix and experiment.

6. Feed the Birds

Which birds call your backyard home? Join 65 million American bird watching fans by helping sustain those fluttery, singing Spring heralds. Gather bird books from the library and identify what birds reside in your area. Get crafty as a family by creating DIY birdfeeders and buying the right seeds to fill them. Before long, your kids will enjoy watching the frequent feathered guests!

7. Plan a Block Party

Since we all hibernate during the winter, we don't see much of our kind neighbors. Reconnect with the block by throwing a Spring welcoming party! Gather in your backyard or the neighborhood park for a refreshing fête complete with tea, fruit desserts, and games! Alternatively, you can meet to pick up debris, plant flowers, and complete additional spring projects that promote safety and beauty in your neighborhood.

8. Ride Your Bikes

Dust off your bikes, pump up the tires, and head out for a ride around the block or around town. Look for blooming flowers, new tree growth, and playful animals. The fresh air will boost your family's health, and the ride will energize you for all the Spring cleaning you want to do at home.

9. Try Geocaching

With a GPS, sense of adventure, and keen eye, your family can try geocaching. You'll find hidden treasures as you explore your hometown or a nearby city. You'll discover new places to revisit during the balmy summer months, uncover the history of your area, and relish in a treasure hunt that is sure to spark enthusiasm in your whole family!

Which one of these nine ideas will you try today? They all encourage your entire family to get into the Spring spirit. Whatever you decide to do, have fun together!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

7 Ways That Play is the Work of a Child

Photo by: Ian D. Keating (Flickr)

"Play is the work of the child." - Maria Montessori

Do you ever wish you could stay home and play all day like your kids? Gosh, that sounds delightful! But just like we are earning and growing through our efforts at work, kids are developing through their efforts at play. The fabulous Fred Rogers summed up this comparision perfectly: "Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood." Let's dive into 7 facts that support Mr. Roger's quote.

1. Discover Personal Fulfillment

Just like adults cultivate talents and passions through hard work, children discover what appeals to them through exploratory play. A playful environment invites kids to figure out what they excel at, what challenges them, and what they love to do. As they build with blocks, illustrate their world, and sharpen their football toss, kids are finding sources of joy. We all need something to be passionate about. Ample play can help kids grow into ambitious adults that set goals they love.

2. Hone Creativity and Imagination

A bold, active imagination is a resource that enhances every aspect of life. Just like a muscle, creativity is strengthened and stretched through regular use. Playtime serves as a "jungle gym" where kids can exercise their inner artists, tinkerers, adventurers, and scientists. They experiment with their five senses, marvel at color, and explore cause and effect. Sure, they might be making a big mess, but with that freedom is where the magic happens! They are making connections.

3. Learn Teamwork

Basketball legend Michael Jordan once said, "Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships." Success at work is about working well with others. It's about uniting talents and balancing weaknesses. As children play together, they are cultivating this essential skill. Play creates a safe, natural environment where they attune with non-verbal cues, learn to share, resolve conflicts, embrace diversity, and assert their own emotions.

4. Improve Physical Fitness

Exercise. Some of us dread it, some of us eagerly leap into it ready to sweat! Could our attitude towards fitness stem from how actively we played as kids? Possibly! Children need to move, explore, and experience the world around them. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends that kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. While playing fetch, climbing the jungle gym, and jumping rope, kids are building a foundation for a lifetime of health.

5. Cultivate Character

All leaders were once children running amok, conjuring up games to play. All artists were once kids breaking crayons as they ventured outside of the lines. Even if play doesn't look like work, they are working on themselves! Creativity, compromise, leadership, compassion, motivation, determination - play plants the seeds for these traits. It all starts with being captain of the T-ball team!

6. Practice Self-Expression

As adults, we know the price of stress and suppressing our emotions. It can be a struggle to convey how we feel in a healthy manner. Dramatic play provides children a safe space to act out emotions and learn about each other. It also relieves stress and builds mental health. They will discover what feels right and what works for them to ease frustration.

7. Adapt Socially

Have you ever felt anxious in social situations or wonder if you'll fit in at a new job, social club, or yoga studio? Kids sometimes feel anxiety in social arenas, too, but play can help. During a neighborhood Capture the Flag game or while preparing dolls for a tea party, kids practice social skills that help them adapt to different people and situations.

Kids at play are hard at work growing into confident, well-adjusted adults. Help your kids by respecting the full value of playtime! Adults can keep growing through play too, so why not join them?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart