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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Smiles in Bloom: 7 Ways to Introduce Gardening to Your Kids

Photo by Lee Ruk (Flickr)

Are you a novice or experienced gardener? Gardening provides numerous physical and emotional benefits for your entire family. From grandparents to toddlers, everyone in your family can experience smiles in bloom while gardening, and here are my top seven ways to introduce your children to this fun and beneficial hobby.

1. Visit Community Gardens or Farms to Spark Ideas

During a field trip to a local community garden or farm, your kids can learn more about which plants grow in your area, how to lay out a typical garden, and which jobs must be done to keep a garden healthy. These lessons spark creativity and help your kids think about what your family garden might look like.

2. Start Small Window Sill Containers

Whether you live in an apartment or wish to start small, consider growing a few herb containers on your kitchen window sill. Your kids can pick out herbs like mint and basil that they enjoy eating or ones like lemon balm and lavender that feature an appealing aroma. As your kids choose, plant, and water your small and manageable container garden, they see plant growth in action on a manageable scale.

3. Assign Individual Plots

Instead of one big garden that everyone works on together, section off your plot into individual areas. Smaller plots are more manageable and fun for your entire family, since each person can choose what to plant and the take responsibility for nurturing their section.

4. Provide the Right Tools

Any task is easier with the right tools, don't you agree? Your kids can safely dig in the dirt, pull weeds, and water plants with tools that are easy for them to handle. I suggest you pile in the car and drive to the gardening center where your kids can hold and carry different-sized tools. Once you're home, teach your children how to use those tools properly to ensure safety and fun.

5. Grow Interesting Plants

Think about all the plants you could choose to grow in your garden. Which ones would appeal the most to your children? Would they like to touch wooly lamb's ears, taste juicy tomatoes, or hear corn rustle in the wind? Maybe bright sunflowers or a fun green bean trellis would capture their attention. By choosing fun plants, you set up your family's garden for success.

6. Assign Chores to Everyone

Most likely, you have one or two kids who aren't very interested in the garden. Get them involved in your new adventure by assigning gardening chores to everyone. Take turns each week watering, weeding and checking for new growth. With age-appropriate chores, all your kids can discover the joy and rewards that come with nurturing the family garden.

7. Start a Small Compost Container

My girls love adding our kitchen scraps, yard waste, and newspaper to our compost bin because they know those items become garden vitamins. Your kids might enjoy composting, too, especially when they see that nutrient-rich material improve plant growth and quality. Use guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency to teach your kids how to start a home compost container and what to put into it.

Introducing your kids to gardening opens up a world of wonder for them, not to mention the delicious produce and beautiful flowers a garden produces. You'll enjoy seeing smiles in bloom when you introduce your kids to gardening with seven easy steps.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Get Out and Play! 9 Ways to Celebrate National Park and Recreation Month

Photo by Diana Robinson (Flickr)

Do you know what month it is? It's National Park and Recreation Month! Whether you head to the park down the street or drive to a park across the country, now's the perfect time to get out and play. I'm excited to celebrate, and here are some fun ways you can celebrate this special month, too.

Promote the Event

National Park and Recreation Month is too important to keep to yourself! From posters to Pinterest, engage your community with promotional tools from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). I know I'll be hanging posters in my neighborhood and sharing activity suggestions on social media.

Try Geocaching

Have you always wanted to go on a real scavenger hunt? Now you can when you go geocaching! Register online, grab your GPS, and find treasures hidden around the park.

Go for a Hike

There's no better way to enjoy National Park and Recreation Month than by simply going to a park and hiking with your family, friends, and pets! Whether you enjoy a familiar trail or find a new one like my girls and I will do, get out there and appreciate nature.

Plan a Picnic at the Park

Pack a lunch and picnic essentials, invite your family, and enjoy a picnic in the nearest park. My girls and I will sit on a blanket in the grass near the play area, but you could challenge your family by hiking to a scenic picnic location before eating your yummy lunch.

Organize a Giant Capture the Flag Game

Remember playing Capture the Flag during elementary-school gym class? This month, dust off your skills, invite everyone you know, and gather in your local park to play this lively game. It can span the entire park and keep you entertained all day.

Participate in the NRPA Throwback Thursday Instagram Video Challenge

What were you doing in 1985? Get ready to bring back your big hairdo and aerobic dance moves as you celebrate the 30th anniversary of National Park and Recreation Month. Join the Throwback Thursday Instagram Video Challenge with your family and friends and have a fun time raising awareness for your local parks!

Clean Up a Park

Litter harms critters and groundwater. It's ugly, too. My girls and I will spend time this month picking up litter and making our neighborhood park a cleaner place for everyone to enjoy. Will you join us by cleaning up your local park?

Go on a Natural Scavenger Hunt

How many local birds, plants, stones, trees, animals, and other natural items can you find in 30 minutes? Find out when you go on a natural scavenger hunt in your local park. Create a list of items and divide into teams or challenge individuals as you explore the park and have fun in nature.

Check Out Local Events

I love celebrating special occasions with my community, and this month is no exception. I'll use the NRPA's website and search my local community's websites, social media, and other resources to find celebratory events in my neighborhood. Join your neighbors, too, as you check out local events.

In case you've missed it, I'm excited to celebrate National Park and Recreation Month. I invite you to join me and invite your family and friends to get out and play in our local parks and recreational areas. How will you have fun and play outdoors this month?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Sing and Swing: 10 Benefits of Music and Movement for Kids

Photo by Lauro Maia (Flickr)

May 23rd is International Jazz Day! Jazz is playful and spontaneous, fueled by emotions and freedom of self-expression. Come to think of it, playtime is a lot like jazz! During play, kids are exploring thoughts and feelings. They learn to improvise and work with the resources at hand. Music as a whole offers a vibrant score of benefits for children. Let's have a listen:

1. Improve Memory

Music stimulates the brain, prepping it to absorb learning and memories. LifeSounds Educational Services founder Chris Brewer states that "students of all ages - that includes adults - generally find that music helps them focus more clearly on the task at hand and puts them in a better mood for learning." Not only that, children can build stronger, more retentive minds by learning instrument notes and dance steps.

2. Higher Academic Achievement

Research shows that music lessons boost children's academic performance. Some of the world's most creative, thriving individuals are trained in an instrument. There are multiple layers to the connection between achievement and music. Learning scales, rhythms, and beats provide building blocks for understanding mathematics. Plucking guitar strings, playing drums, pounding piano keys, and twirling joyously all help refine motor skills. Music also hones listening skills and the ability to connect abstract ideas. Just hearing music enriches the learning environment and improves neural function.

3. Fun and Natural Socialization

My girls love to dance! They swing dance together, they dance with me, and they dance with friends. It's a natural and exciting form of expression that gains momentum in groups. Music or movement classes encourage kids to communicate freely and learn together. Not only does it create a common interest, kids can enjoy a sense of progress as a team as they master a dance sequence or blend music together harmoniously. It's just plain fun - and fun invites friendship!

4. Build Confidence

Kids feel proud when they nail a routine or a tricky song, and that pride fuels their excitement to keep learning, keep practicing, and keep playing. Additionally, I appreciate how music and movement teaches kids to accept feedback, respond to constructive criticism, and let go of perfectionism. The special talent becomes a valued part of their identity that will evolve with them.

5. Enjoy Joyful Exercise!

Dancing is a workout, no doubt about it! Since physical activity is essential for happy, healthy kids, dancing is just perfect! It unites joy and movement, creating a positive correlation that will hopefully last throughout life. Dancing improves flexibility, motor skills, and cardiovascular strength. Plus, the variety of styles and steps can help create balanced growth for kids.

6. Express Yourself

Music is both an empowering and comforting way for children to express themselves. There is endless freeedom in movement and song. Kids can channel their creative whims through the musical skills they develop. Children love to make noise and be heard; music is a fantastic conduit for that spontaneous energy!

7. Release Pent-up Emotions

As adults, we are aware of how toxic supressed emotions can be. Through playing an instrument or dancing, children can discover safe, healthy ways to work through feelings and relieve stress. They can transform confusing thoughts into something audible and tangible. In fact, when infants are exposed to the singsong voice of their parents, it helps develop innate knowledge of emotions early on. Hans Christian Andersen once said "where words fail, music speaks."

8. Foster Creativity

Creativity is the very essence of music and dancing! Activities that invite free expression within a mentally stimulating framework sparks children's creativity. As they commit songs to memory, kids will build up the courage to try improvisation and spinning their own tunes. Billy Holiday once said, "I never sing a song the same way twice."

9. Acquire Work Ethic, Discipline, and Patience

Musical training of any kind requires discipline and commitment. Combine that with passion and joy, and your kids will be playing the tune of success! Consider the exquisite artistry of ballet, the intense rhythms of drumming, and the delicate precision of playing the violin. Even if your kids are just having fun and trying new things, they are still tapping into the wonderful, enriching world of music.

10. Learn About Other Cultures

"Music is the universal language of mankind." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Every culture across the word shares a strong, dazzling thread - music! Children can explore the culturally lush landscape by listening to music of all kinds. Through participation, they will gain appreciation and respect for the global variety of self-expression. This can help your children become open-minded, adaptable individuals.

I hope this post has inspired you to introduce your kids to the brain-building, expressive world of music! Do your children participate in music? We would absolutely love to hear about it!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, July 13, 2015

10 Ways to Nourish Healthy Eating Habits in Your Kids

Photo by woodleywonderworks (Flickr)

Do your kids eat enough fruits and vegetables? Studies show that up to 40 percent of the calories kids consume each day come from sugars and solid fats like those found in soda, desserts, and pizza. Our kids need a healthier diet to support their growing brains and bodies, and these tips can help you nurture healthy eating habits in your kids.

Stop Storing Junk Food in the House

When your kids are hungry, they'll look around and eat the first thing they see. That's why I stockpile fruits on the kitchen counter and veggies in the fridge. By eliminating all junk foods from our home, my kids only have healthy snack and meal options.

Make One Dinner for Everyone

I know plenty of parents who serve as short-order cooks because they're tired of hearing their kids whine about dinner. Pennsylvania State University nutrition scientists report, though, that kids need to be exposed to a new food 10 to 15 times before they are willing to eat it. I suggest you prepare and serve one nutritious meal for the whole family. By exposing your kids to healthy foods, you give them the nutrition they need.

Hide Veggies in Foods

Pumping veggies into your kids' daily diet is easy when you use a few sneaky tricks. My favorites are stuffing meatloaf with carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms, and peppers, and pureeing cauliflower into my mashed potatoes and pasta sauce. You, too, can look for unique ways to sneak veggies into the foods your kids love.

Use Natural Sweetener

A sprinkle of a natural sweetener like honey, brown sugar, or maple syrup makes everything from carrots to apples more appealing. Since natural sweeteners can also contribute to tooth decay and other health problems, use this sweet trick sparingly.

Use Fruit as Dessert

Who says cake and cookies are the only dessert options? Serve chilled fruit salad or frozen berries as sweet endings to your meals.

Take Your Kids to the Farmers' Market

Every week, my kids and I trek to our local farmers' market, where we've found everything from mangoes and avocados to passion fruit and rhubarb. The kids are usually more likely to eat healthy foods when they pick them out themselves.

Cook Together

Cooking together is one of my favorite ways to get my kids to eat healthier. After washing, chopping, and cooking a veggie or fruit dish, my kids are more likely to try their creation, and we've had fun, which means we all win.

Experiment With Healthy Dips

My girls love eating veggies with dips like hummus, salsa, and ranch dressing. Your kids might, too, especially when they get to choose the dips they eat. Enlist your kids' help in finding and making dip recipes for your next snack or meal time.

Carry Veggies to the Car

My kids are always hungry as we run errands, so I've started packing grapes, carrots, and apples. As soon as I get home from the grocery store, I package fruits and veggies into smaller plastic bags or storage containers that are easy to grab as I run out the door.

Be a Good Role Model

Just like with everything else, kids will imitate bad eating habits. They'll also imitate good habits, so we parents should do our best to model the healthy eating habits we want our kids to adapt.

If you're concerned like I am about the foods our kids eat, take action today. Implement one or all of these 10 tips into your daily routine as you nourish healthy eating habits in your kids. Bon appétit!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart