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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

7 Tips for Peachy Playdates

Photo by guilherme jofili (Flickr)

The other day, my girls asked if they could invite a few friends over for a playdate. I thought it sounded like a good idea, but the day didn't go as expected. One of my daughters had a meltdown because she didn't want to share a favorite toy, and one of our guests spent the whole hour watching videos on her cellphone. Can you relate? If so, learn from my experience and implement a few playdate guidelines that will help future dates be peachy and fun for your kids and their friends.

Keep it Simple

Elaborate invitations and gourmet snacks are fun additions to a birthday party or baby shower, but they're not necessary for playdates. Keep the details simple so you can focus on helping your kids enjoy the fun. Simplifying saves you time and money, too.

Go Easy on the Invites

One time, I got excited and invited almost 10 kids to our house for a playdate. My girls were overwhelmed, some kids were left out of the game time, and I ran out of snacks. From that experience, I learned to only invite one or two kids at a time. While this strategy doesn't completely resolve conflicts or ensure I have enough food, it does increase the opportunities for everyone to have fun and reduces stress on the kids and me.

Be Aware of Special Needs

When my girls invite new friends over, I always check in with the parents first. I want to know if the kids have food allergies, environmental sensitivities, or activity preferences. With this knowledge, I can prep my girls and our home or playdate location to ensure that everyone's safe and comfortable.

Let the Kids Plan the Agenda

I have a confession to make. Sometimes, I micromanage playdates. Do you ever do that? If so, we need to remember that playdates teach our kids to make decisions, compromise, and interact naturally. Instead of us setting up the schedule, we can set out a few different toys or games ahead of time or let our kids and their friends choose a few games after the playdate starts.

Hide Favorite Toys

Most kids have one or two favorite toys they hate to share, and that's OK. Go ahead and hide those toys in a box on a high shelf. Pull out toys your kids don't mind sharing or ones that several kids can play with together as you respect your child's favorite toys and promote cooperative play.

Turn Off the Devices

I let my kids occasionally watch TV and play on their tablets, but I don't let them use electronic devices during playdates. They should use that time to engage with their friends and improve communication and socialization skills, not be glued to a screen. To make the "no devices" rule work, tell your kids' friends and their parents in advance so they know what to expect.

Don't Force Your Kids to Play

Playdates offer kids opportunities to socialize outside of school, and they should be fun, not forced. I know my girls are sometimes exhausted and want to rest instead of run around the playground, and sometimes kids have an off day and just don't get along. In those situations, I give my girls permission to hang out on the sidelines or head home early to relax.

My girls and I are big fans of playdates. I've learned, though, that these seven tips make play time go smoother and be more fun for everyone. What other tips make playdates peachy?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Heartfelt Summer: 7 Ways That Kids Grow Through Volunteering

Photo by Rikki's Refuge (Flickr)

With the season in full swing, there is more time to enjoy together as a family! We hike, we swim, we trek, we cook new meals, we garden, and we relax! Not only do my girls dive into many playful adventures, I volunteer at the local summer camp. Volunteering unites my passion for play and my dedication to helping out however I can. Volunteering is so enriching for kids, too! Let's explore the benefits.

Volunteering Deepens Compassion and Understanding

As parents, we instinctively shelter our kiddos from pain and suffering, but families working together can a dazzling difference. Volunteering helps children develop a deep, realistic understanding of the they world live in. As they collect towels for the animal shelter, serve meals at the soup kitchen, or play games at a veterans' hospital, kids cultivate gratitude for their blessings and become more compassionate, empathetic, and understanding individuals.

Volunteering Improves Social Skills

Many children struggle with communication and self-expression. Volunteering provides a proactive platform where they can interact with others and learn to use their voices for good. As they meet individuals from a medley of backgrounds, they will foster positive connections and discover just how vital sharing can be to the livelihood of the community. Plus, it will boost their confidence to play a role in uplifting others!

Volunteering Builds a Strong Work and Personal Ethic

As they pack food boxes for deployed soldiers, walk eager pups at the local shelter, pick up litter from the local park, or hand out water bottles at an outdoor fundraiser, kids are learning the value of hard work. They discover that putting in effort and making a difference towards a cause they believe in is fulfilling in ways beyond profit. This will compel them to seek out wholesome careers sparked by their individual passions in the future.

Volunteering Can Become a Lifelong Habit

If you want your kids to grow up and become lifelong volunteers, introduce them to volunteering now and make it a regular addition to your family's schedule. A new habit can take up to 66 days to form, reports University College London, so repeat exposure is beneficial. As your kids foster homeless dogs, help neighbors with weekly lawn care, and teach crafts with preschoolers after school, they establish a lifelong habit and love for volunteering.

Volunteering Introduces Passions or Hobbies

Adam Werbach began volunteering with the Sierra Club when he was in second grade. In middle and high school, he founded the forerunner of the Sierra Student Coalition. By age 23, Adam became the youngest president of the Sierra Club. Your kids may discover fulfilling and empowering passions and hobbies through volunteering, too! Maybe they'll cultivate a love for teaching as they supervise preschoolers after school or develop a penchant for politics as they campaign for a local candidate. By inviting your kids to explore different avenues of volunteering, they can find what inspires them while helping others.

Volunteering Grows a Strong Moral Compass

As parents, we want to guide our children towards compassionate decisions and ethical attitudes. Volunteering can help establish a strong, active moral compass within children. It opens their eyes to the realities and wonders of the world. By providing aid to people, animals, and causes, your kids learn to value all life and treat every living creature with dignity and respect. They will understand that positive change is worth the effort, and that we can move mountains if we work together. There is an endless variety of ways to make a difference; find a cause that resonates with you as a family!

Volunteering Connects Communities

It's awfully easy to get caught up in the hectic momentum of daily life, especially with kids on board. By dedicating just a bit of time to volunteering, you can reconnect with the community and meet like-hearted people. My daughters have met some fantastic friends through weekly dog-walking at the local shelter! Build a house together with Habitat for Humanity, bake cookies for a neighbor's fundraiser, or knit blankets for newborns in your local hospital.

These are just a few benefits to volunteering for kids! Ready to get started? Here is a helpful guide to getting the whole family involved. Already an avid volunteer? Tweet me some pictures and stories! I'd love to hear all about it!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, September 21, 2015

6 Playful Ways to Beat Back-to-School Blues

Photo by woodleywonderworks (Flickr)

It's almost here! School is set to start soon, which means it's time to set a consistent bedtime routine and think about homework. Are they ready? I know my girls have enjoyed the relaxed summer schedule, and they're feeling a little sad about restarting the school routine. That's why I've come up with six fun ways to beat the back-to-school blues. Maybe some of these tips will help your kids feel better about starting school, too!

Arrange a Play Date With School Friends

Every summer, I schedule a back-to-school play date with my girls' favorite friends and any new kids who moved into the neighborhood. We meet at a local park where the kids talk about their summers, eat healthy school-themed snacks, and plan for the new school year. This fun day gives them a chance to rekindle old friendships and make new friends before the busy school year starts.

Create a Summer Bucket List

My girls each have their own idea of the ideal summer, so we create a summer bucket list. This year, they wanted to visit the zoo and our favorite ice cream shop. When summer comes to a close, we check our bucket list and each choose one last thing to do. It's always fun to end the summer with a bang, and the bucket list helps my girls feel like they enjoyed summer to the fullest.

Conduct an "Interview"

A week ago, I thought my girls were excited to return to school. But while we ate lunch one day, they mentioned that they've really enjoyed summer and felt a little anxious about restarting the school routine. That's when I got the idea to interview them. I made up a questionnaire that gave me a better idea of how to prepare them. Some of the questions I asked include:

  • What do you want to wear on the first day?
  • Who do you hope to sit beside in class?
  • Who do you hope you don't have any classes with?
  • What's scary about school?
  • Which teacher do you want/not want?
  • What are your thoughts about homework?
  • Do you want to join any activities or clubs?
  • What's the one thing you're most excited about?
  • What breakfast and dinner do you want me to make you on the first day of school?

Create an Action Plan

Because bullying, hard classes, or a disinterest in school do affect kids, I found that creating an action plan before school starts helps. For instance, one of my daughters struggled in math last year and cried every time she did homework. This year, I emailed the teacher before school started and asked about available support. My daughter knows that she'll have a study buddy this year, and that automatically helps her feel less stressed and nervous about the first day. If your child struggles with something, take action before school starts.

Tour the School

New classrooms, teachers, and buildings can be intimidating to some kids. That's why I like scheduling a "meet the teacher" day. We also take a test walk to school and look for playful landmarks like colorful murals, unique buildings, or fun playgrounds. When we can't visit the school before the first day, I at least review the schedule with my girls. We set up a mock classroom, and the girls take turns being the teacher. Doing all of this prep work helps them know what to expect and reduces first-day jitters. Plus, it's a fun way to play school without doing any homework!

Go Back-to-School Shopping

It sounds strange, but shopping helps to build excitement for the new school year. Last year, my girls couldn't wait to show off their new outfits and backpacks. Even though they don't need much this year, I'll at least let them buy a few supplies and new shoes as we prepare for a successful year.

Are your kids ready for school to start? They can be when you do one or more of these six back-to-school activities. Feel free to put your own spin on it and modify it to meet your kids' needs. Which one will you do today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Reach for the Sky: 9 Benefits of Hiking for Kids

Photo by Jeff Turner (Flickr)

When my girls were little, they loved taking nature walks around the block. They'd look at flowers, try to find bugs, and enjoy the fresh air. Now that they're older, we hike local trails and get a workout as we look for wildlife and identify trees. Whether your kids are ready to tackle Mount McKinley or have never been on a hike, now's a great time to start enjoying this fun and beneficial activity. Hiking can have plenty of benefits for the whole family, especially the kids.

Exercise Your Body

If you're looking for a fun way to exercise, take a hike. Walking on flat trails or up hills gives your whole body a physical workout as you tone your legs, strengthen your core, and get your heart pumping. It's fun, too!

Connect With Nature

Your kids connect with nature when they explore the outdoors. I challenge my kids to use their five senses and make hiking a truly sensory experience as they gain an even bigger connection with the natural world around them.

Hone Survival Skills

You don't have to be a hardcore survivalist to hike, but you will need to make basic preparations. Packing gear like a map or compass, flashlight, rain poncho, charged cellphone, first aid kit, matches, water, and food could end up saving your life if you get lost or injured, and these precautions teach your kids how to survive and be prepared.

Enjoy Family Time

If your family is like mine, you're busy and could use more time together. Why not reconnect and laugh as you hike? My girls and I often play "I Spy" as we look for colorful plants and wildlife, or we'll ask each other questions about our week as we enjoy family time.

Refine Motor Skills

As kids climb, walk, jump, and explore, they also refine their motor skills and learn their body's capabilities and limits. This benefit makes hiking an ideal activity for kids of all ages.

Improve Mood

Are your kids angry, frustrated, or bored? Tell them to strap on their hiking boots and take a walk through the woods, in a park, or along a river. The fresh air and exercise will improve their mood in no time. It definitely works for my girls!

Learn About Nature

For the ultimate educational experience, walk in nature and interact with trees, plants, and animals. My girls often take pictures of interesting plants or bugs to research later.

Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Social pressures, home tension, or world events create stress or anxiety that's tough for kids to handle. Hiking and time in nature can reduce these emotions. I know I feel calmer and more centered after a hike, and this activity can help your kids be mentally healthy, too.

Inspire Creativity

Are your kids struggling with a troublesome social situation or a big test? Hiking provides an escape from the daily routine and inspires creative problem-solving. You'll appreciate this benefit, too.

When was the last time your family took a hike? Today's a great day to go on a nature adventure. With these nine benefits, you'll enjoy a healthier and happier life. See you on the trail!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart