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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Solar Smarts: 5 Sun Safety Tips for Kids

Photo by Pabak Sarkar (Flickr)

When was the last time you played outside in the sun? Sun exposure boosts your body's vitamin D and melatonin levels. It also improves your mood and emotional health. Kids get the same benefits, which is why I advocate for outside play. We have to make sure the kids in our care stay safe, though. Follow these five tips as you show off your solar smarts.

Play in the Shade

Most days, my girls wake up, eat breakfast, do a few of their daily chores, then run outside to play. That means they're exposed to the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when its UV rays are the strongest. We can protect our kids when we encourage them to play in the shade. Seek out trees or set up a canopy or pop-up tent. Remember that UV rays can be strong on cloudy days, too, since clouds filter but do not eradicate damaging UV rays that can cause sunburn and skin cancer.

Wear a Hat

When my girls were babies, I made them wear big floppy hats that shaded their heads, ears, and faces. Even though they're not babies anymore, they still need to wear protective hats. As your kids enjoy playground excursions, hikes, and organized sports, make sure they wear hats along with their play gear. Remember that baseball hats, popular as they are, do not provide much coverage.

Cover Up

I know it's hot, but flimsy tank tops and shorts provide little protection from the sun. I always insist that my girls wear sun-protection clothing when they'll play outside for longer than a few minutes. They need long sleeves and long pants as an extra layer of protection from harmful UV rays and potential sunburn. Because a dry and dark shirt offers more protection than a wet, light shirt, I stick to blue, black, purple, and red clothing when possible. You can also look for clothing that includes an ultraviolet protection factor.

Apply Sunscreen

Despite being covered, your kids may still have exposed skin. Apply sunscreen generously to your kids' noses, ears, neck, shoulders, hair part, and feet. It should have an SPF rating of 15 or above. I've found that it's best to apply it about 30 minutes before you head outside and reapply every two to three hours, after they get sweaty, or when they get out of the pool. For babies or anyone with sensitive skin, test a small amount of sunscreen on their wrist to see if it reacts badly before you apply it to the rest of their body.

Check Medications

Medications can help your kids be healthy, but certain ones, including acne treatments and antibiotics, can also increase sun sensitivity. When kids take medications, check with a doctor or pharmacist to be sure that the medications do not increase their sun exposure risk. If so, take extra precautions as you protect a child's sensitive skin.

As a caregiver, you need to send your kids outside to play, but you also have to protect them. You can do that with these five sun safety tips for kids. Also, I challenge you to set a good example as you play outside. Cover up, use sunscreen, and be careful about medications you take as you practice solar smarts and protect your skin.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, June 16, 2016

9 Evergreen Benefits of Outdoor Play

Photo by Wellspring Community School (Flickr)

Fresh air, sunshine, and play time are three of my favorite things. That's why I started taking my girls outside to play shortly after they were born. I wanted them to appreciate the evergreen benefits of outdoor play, benefits that kids who enjoy nature from a young age will enjoy throughout their lives. Your children can enjoy these benefits, too. Learn what they are as you encourage outdoor play!

Get Physically Fit

One in three American children is obese, and that's why kids need outdoor play. It boosts physical fitness. They can run, jump, swim, or hike as they get aerobic exercise, strengthen their bodies, and stay fit.

Increase Vitamin D Levels

Vitamin D strengthens bones, helps prevent diabetes, and fights depression and heart disease. Give your kids natural vitamin D when you take them outside to play. They'll be happier and healthier.

Reduce Stress

Within minutes of going outside, stress levels fall for both kids and adults as they relax and escape from their hectic lifestyles. This is one of my favorite reasons to head outside and enjoy green space, fresh air, and play time with my kids! I can feel the stress melt away as we play outdoors.

Cultivate Creativity

Kids who play outside have to use their imaginations and cultivate creativity as they invent playground games, make up nature rhymes, and draw chalk sketches on the sidewalk. With that creativity, kids can think outside the box, solve problems, and have fun even when they're not playing.

Reduce ADHD Symptoms

Exposure to nature can reduce ADHD symptoms including hyperactivity, lack of focus, and difficulty concentrating. No matter how old your kids are, use play therapy as part of their ADHD treatment and watch your children thrive.

Satisfy Natural Curiosity

Exploring nature satisfies a child's curiosity as they discover new things about the world around them and learn how things work. I know my girls can spend hours watching squirrels when we hike, and last week, they discovered what happens when they throw a disk from different angles. What will your kids discover as they play outside?

Develop Physical Skills

When kids play, they learn to run, kick, and climb. Those physical skills help them on the sports field, if they choose to play. I also appreciate watching my girls develop gross motor skills, dexterity, and flexibility that is useful as they move, get dressed, and function in their daily lives.

Boost Self-Confidence

As kids master playground equipment, learn a new swim stroke, or discover how to jump over rocks, their self-confidence grows. They become more eager to try even more activities. Use outdoor play to help your kids be more confident in their bodies, abilities, talents, and skills.

Encourage Social Interactions

Kids learn how to interact with others and their social skills improve when they play, whether their playmates are you, siblings, or new friends. I know my girls have learned how to negotiate, resolve conflict, and share while playing, and I'm grateful that play has taught them to be nicer and more cooperative human beings.

Are your kids getting the evergreen benefits of outdoor play? It's not too late. Head outside and start playing today!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

All Together Now: 7 Ways That Play Builds Social Skills

Photo by Simon Blackley (Flickr)

"Kids who play play well as adults. Kids who play build their confidence and learn the social skills that help them become happy, well-adjusted adults." That quote by KaBOOM! means a great deal to me because as a parent, I want my girls to grow up to be awesome adults. If you agree, consider how play teaches our kids seven social skills that help them get along with others, play nice, and succeed in life.

Play Builds Empathy and Understanding

Children don't try to be selfish, but they truly cannot understand that other people have feelings. They need to learn how to be empathetic and understanding, and play builds this important social skill. While observing their playmates during parallel play, they safely watch how other children act and behave, and they begin to develop empathy and understanding for others.

Play Fosters Emotional Expression

Emotions are difficult for kids to express. A kid might show anger when they're really feeling anxious. Kids often don't even realize what they are feeling and certainly struggle to share how they feel. I've found that play helps my girls express themselves emotionally. They become more in tune with how they feel and learn to express their emotions in an appropriate way.

Play Improves Self-Regulation

When my girls don't get enough play, they pick on each other, get hyper, and can't sit still. Does the same thing happen with your children at home or at school? Kids need recreational time to regulate their bodies, mind, and emotions. Nancy Barrand, senior adviser for program development at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, agrees. She says, "Great recess is an essential building block for healthy school environments that help kids thrive socially, emotionally, and physically." Give your kids time to play and they learn to control their emotions and act appropriately as they self-regulate.

Play Promotes Sharing

When my girls were little, I wondered if they'd ever learn to share and take turns. We kept practicing during play dates and at home, and I've seen great improvements lately. These social skills are important on the playground, at recess, and in real life, so I'm glad that play promotes sharing.

Play Develops Leadership

Most groups have a leader who takes charge and gets things done. I don't want my girls to boss their friends around, but I do want them to become confident in expressing their opinions and stating their wishes and desires. That's why I encourage my girls to speak up about what they want to play or when they see something they don't like. Your kids can develop leadership skills, too, as they exercise their voice, express their opinions, and take an active role in group play.

Play Teaches Negotiation

As a caregiver, you know that kids don't always get along. They may argue about what to play, how to play, and even when to play. They need to learn the art of negotiation as they decide which activity to do first on the playground, share art supplies while drawing, and choose which board game to play together.

Play Strengthens Friendships

One of the kids in our neighborhood was always at the park but never wanted to play with anyone. He always stood on the sidelines and did his own thing. Then, last month, my older daughter befriended him. Now, they always play together, and he's starting to make friends with other kids in our neighborhood. This is only one example that proves that play is powerful for starting, growing, and strengthening friendships.

Joseph Chilton Pearce, an author and college professor, says, "Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold." I agree! Children become better adults when they learn valuable social skills, so let's get all together now and encourage our kids to play!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, June 13, 2016

7 Benefits of Swimming for Kids

Photo by eLLen (Flickr)

Splashing in the pool is one activity my girls look forward to every summer. They can't wait to jump in the pool and swim with friends. This year, I reflected on why my girls love to swim. I think they would say that it's fun, and I agree, but there are also seven important reasons why every child should know how to swim.

Prevent Drowning

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury death. Out of the 10 people who drown every day, two are children younger than 14 years old. It breaks my heart every time I read of a child drowning, and every penny I spend on pool admission, swim lessons, and goggles is worth it as I protect my babies!

Enjoy an Accessible Sport

For kids with physical disabilities or certain medical conditions, traditional sports and physical activity are impossible. But they can benefit from swimming. It provides aerobic exercise, builds muscle strength and endurance, and provides relaxation. No matter what ability level your kids have, they can enjoy swimming and playing in the water.

Boost Physical Health

My girls are active kids, but I'm always looking for ways to challenge them physically. Swimming is a unique activity that improves their lung capacity and stamina while building upper- and lower-body strength. It's also beneficial for improving posture and flexibility. Give your kids the opportunity to improve their physical health when you encourage them to swim.

Decrease Obesity

Three in 10 children are at risk for developing obesity-related illnesses, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, sleep disorders, and hormone imbalances. When you let your kids swim, the regular physical activity can reduce their risk of developing obesity and the illnesses that go with this health challenge.

Reduce Sports-Related Injuries

If your kids play sports like my girls do, they are likely to suffer sports-related injuries, including fractures, sprains, or concussions. Swimming can reduce their injury risk since it improves flexibility, posture, strength, coordination, and stamina. Add swimming to your child's training regimen and you equip them to be safe as they play the sports they love!

Customize the Competition

Swimming can be very competitive as kids push themselves to beat their opponents to the wall. However, I love that my girls can simply swim to learn new skills. For example, my older daughter perfected her dive, and my younger daughter learned the backstroke last year. That skill improvement gave them a huge self-esteem boost, and I love it because they can customize their competition based on their interests.

Learn a Lifetime Activity

Whether you're one or 101, you can enjoy swimming. It's a low-intensity cardio activity that's easy on the joints, fun to enjoy, and impossible to outgrow. Now that my girls know how to swim and feel comfortable and confident in the water, I know they'll be able to enjoy swimming and its benefits for the rest of their lives.

Do your children enjoy swimming? Teach them this valuable skill this summer. They're never too young to learn, and they will gain these seven benefits and many more.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart