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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

7 Ideas for Finding More Local Play Opportunities

Photo by Mark Turner (Flickr)

Are you and your kids playing enough? Government physical fitness guidelines recommend that kids ages six to 17 get 60 minutes of aerobic exercise every day and adults should get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day. It's easy to stay active when you play: Try out these ideas for local activities that can keep your family moving and having fun!

Join the Local YMCA

Founded in 1844 as a safe refuge for local tenement boys, the YMCA continues its tradition of caring for communities even today. You'll find exercise, nutrition, and parenting classes as well as a variety of activities and meet-up opportunities for adults and kids that promote safe and healthy communities. Thanks to the YMCA, your entire family stays active, and you'll meet people like you who are committed to play.

Look for Other Parents on Facebook

Facebook offers more than an online tool to stay connected with family members and friends or play games. A few years ago, I organized a local parents group on Facebook, and we arranged play dates, organized game nights, and shared outing ideas. The friendships I've built in our Facebook group enrich my life and help me play more! I highly recommend you find or start one today.

Adopt a Playground

In my area, local municipalities are in charge of public playground maintenance, but that doesn't prevent people from littering. My girls and I decided last year to adopt a playground near our house. It's fun and rewarding to keep our playground clean, since we and other families can enjoy it after we're done. Is there a playground near your home that you and your kids could adopt?

Visit Dog Parks

Some dogs like to make friends with everyone they meet, so head to your local dog park as a family. Your furry friend will get exercise, and you'll meet fellow dog owners who also love to play. Are you like us and don't have a dog? My girls and I always make new furry and human friends during our regular dog park visits.

Participate in Library Activities

When my girls were little, we attended preschool story time at our local library. They enjoyed the story and activities that promoted play. Today, our library offers even more programs for families, including a summer drama program and children's craft hours. You can also create a scavenger hunt that requires your kids to search the library for different books, pictures, or information, offer to teach a playful class on weekends, or form a kids' or adults' game club as you play at the library.

Check Out the Community Center

When I was a kid, our local community center hosted fundraising dinners for the fire department and other social events. We're privileged in our current community to have a center that also offers after-school tutoring, senior activities, and family game nights. If you don't have a community center near you, check out your local senior living centers, housing developments, or churches to meet new people to play with!

Introduce More Playability in Your Area

Many local communities offer a variety of play opportunities, but what if yours doesn't? I challenge you to take action and introduce more playability in your area. Research organizations like Kaboom! that are dedicated to community play, then engage with community leaders as you discuss ways to offer more play options in your area. Be the change you want to see when you take action to introduce playability in your community.

Play is important for your kids and you. Are you getting enough play? These seven ideas can help you find more local play opportunities as you stay active and have fun together.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, August 29, 2016

7 Ways That Play and Imagination Help a Child Thrive

Photo by [kajsa] (Flickr)

As a child, I remember dressing up in my mom's clothes and high heels and pretending I was a grown-up. I'd sit at my desk and "work," then drive home on my sofa car to make dinner in my play kitchen. Those moments of imaginative play kept me busy and sparked my creativity. Now that I have kids of my own, I do all I can to encourage them to play because their creativity and imagination can help them grow and thrive in many ways.

Connect With the World

The other day, my girls pretended they were on a safari to Africa. They used an old box as a Jeep, drew zebras and giraffes on poster board, and even took turns pretending that they were the animals. Their activities that day reminded me that play does connect our kids to our world and teaches them about diversity. Through make-believe, singing, acting, and crafts, our kids learn about different continents, cultures, and people, and they become more empathetic and understanding. Maybe my girls will never travel in real life to Africa, but they sure did make the continent come to life in our living room last week.

Improve Communication Skills

Interactive songs with motions were some of the first imaginary games I played with my girls. They loved rolling their arms like the wheels on the bus, and we made dozens of patty-cakes every day.

These creative games and other fun play activities laid the foundation for improved communication skills. Not only did my girls learn to talk as we played, but they also learned to express their thoughts, emotions, needs, and wants. Even today, they continue to learn to use their words in a variety of situations as they develop their communication skills.

Learn to Express Emotions Properly

Kids aren't born with the ability to identify, discuss, or regulate their emotions. I use creative and imaginary play to help my girls learn more about their emotions and to learn how to express them properly.

For example, we used dolls, especially when my girls were younger, to talk about feelings and learn to empathize with others. And I've found that bracelet-making, drawing, and building defuses anxiety and stress. Whether they're happy, sad, excited, shocked, or angry, kids can use creative and imaginary play to learn, express, and manage their emotions in a healthy way.

Improve Social Skills

It can be challenging for kids to navigate social situations. Play has helped my girls learn to meet new people, build friendships, and handle conflict.

As they choose a game they both enjoy, they learn to negotiate, and make-believe play allows them to act out social scenes. My girls have expanded their social skills and their social circle as they play.

Learn to Repurpose

During imaginative play, my girls get creative with common objects around the house. Towels become superhero capes, stuffed animals act as hospital patients, and cardboard tubes turn into binoculars. For extra fun, I keep a prop box and change the contents every few weeks to keep my girls' imaginations active as they play.

I appreciate watching my kids repurpose common objects. This ability helps them think creatively and problem-solve, a valuable life skill, and it reduces waste and protects the earth.

Improve Problem-Solving Skills

When my girls were toddlers, I bought them a huge box of building blocks. They had fun building castles, roads, and rockets, and they learned to solve problems as they maneuvered the blocks to stack them on top of each other.

Problem-solving is an important skill for kids to develop, and they learn this skill as they put puzzles together, create clay objects, and act out scenarios where the princess escapes from the dragon and lives happily ever after. The problem-solving skills they learn now will help them succeed in all areas of life.

Become Independent

I realized when my girls were babies that my main focus as a mom was to teach my kids independence that would help them thrive as adults. I'm grateful that imaginative and creative play teaches them this skill.

Give your kids control over the books they read, stories they make up, and fantasy worlds they create. This autonomy during play equips them to be independent later in life and prepares them for future success.

Our kids thrive in seven areas when they play and use their imagination. How will you encourage your kids to play and thrive today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Experts Love Play! 5 Exciting Scholarly Studies on the Benefits of Play

Photo by Angela Vincent (Flickr)

Play is important for kids. It's so important, in fact, that I've spent my career advocating for play. And I'm not the only person who thinks play is necessary and beneficial. Hundreds of experts love play, too. Read more about some scholarly studies that prove the benefits of play and learn why play is so important for the children we know and love.

The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development

Kids thrive when their caregivers play with them. I know my girls tell me that they feel more secure and loved when we play together, and scientists agree. They performed a study that explores how play gives parents and kids an ideal venue for engagement, and the study's results also discuss the importance of solo play and self-guided play. I encourage caregivers to use this research to discover tips for how to interact and play more with your kids.

The Crucial Role of Recess in Schools

In my opinion, kids need recess. Without it, they have trouble focusing and concentrating, and behavioral problems increase. One study revealed several benefits of recess. It explored numerous articles and concluded that recess gives kids a necessary break from the academic rigors they face. Unstructured recess is especially beneficial since it boosts children's creative, emotional, and social development. My girls and all of the students, teachers, and caregivers we know appreciate that this research supports recess in schools.

Effects of "Greenness" on Children's Cognitive Functioning

Nature has a powerful effect on kids. When my girls get bored, feel upset, or start arguing, we head outside, where they almost immediately feel calmer and more relaxed. Kids need nature, and one study examined the role nature plays in a child's well-being. Researchers found that kids whose homes included greenness showed increased levels of cognitive functioning. If you want your kids to be smarter, send them outside into nature where they can play, explore, and learn.

A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

As many as one in 10 kids have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These children have trouble concentrating and focusing in and out of school, which inhibits their ability to learn and achieve. Play can ease their symptoms and help them succeed in life. In one study, kids who played after school and on weekends experienced fewer ADHD symptoms. If a child you care for has ADHD, provide plenty of play time.

Health Benefits From Free Play Confirmed by Research

If your kids are like mine, they enjoy transforming craft supplies, cardboard, and other trinkets into toys. It turns out that there's a scientific reason for this behavior. Inexpensive items, including crates and buckets, are effective at encouraging children to be active and creative. Kids who play with simple, everyday objects become more active, experience creativity boosts, and enjoy improved problem-solving abilities. There's nothing wrong with expensive toys, but your kids will learn and develop as they play with cheap everyday items, too.

Experts love play, and these five scholarly studies outline the benefits of play and prove that play is important. As caregivers, we should agree and let our kids play and explore. What will you do to encourage play today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Little Feet, Big Adventure: 9 Tips for Hiking With Kids

Photo by Loren Kerns (Flickr)

Hiking is one of those outdoor activities that is perfect, fun exercise for almost everyone. Hikers can enjoy many different settings and the benefits of fresh air, natural wonders, and physical activity. My girls and I started hiking when they were babies, and these tips ensure every hike is a big adventure for little feet.

1. Choose a Scenic Hike

When there is nothing to see except trees or rocks, your kids will get bored. I recommend you choose a scenic hike with a pond, creek, or waterfall, or select a spot that's known for wildlife sightings. Bring your binoculars, camera, and magnifying glass and engage with natural wonders to keep kids excited.

2. Dress for the Weather

One time, my girls and I didn't check the weather forecast before our hike and ended up soaking wet and very upset. I learned that day to always plan for the worst and dress for the weather. We take hats, gloves, and a rain coat if necessary, and wear sturdy shoes, cotton socks, and layered clothing. I suggest packing extra sock, just in case.

3. Pack Safety Essentials

The one time I didn't pack bug spray, we encountered dozens of mosquitoes! Now, I never leave home without a small bag of safety essentials. It includes bug spray, of course, and first aid supplies like pain reliever, bandages, tweezers, and antihistamine. I also pack sunscreen, anti-bacterial wipes, and a whistle.

4. Rotate Leaders

I admit that I like to be in charge, but I also want my girls to develop leadership skills, exercise independence, and gain a sense of responsibility. That's why we rotate leaders during hikes. We take turns setting the pace and acting as a tour guide as we have fun.

5. Plan a Scavenger Hunt

Even though we rarely hike the same trail twice, my girls do sometimes get bored on the trail. That's why I usually plan a scavenger hunt. It keeps them focused, engaged, and it's educational. You can customize your list based on your children's ages and interests, and the area that you're hiking in. My list typically includes different flowers, leaves, and animals, as well as a variety of colors, textures, and shapes.

6. Take Energy Breaks and Stay Hydrated

The last time I checked, hungry or thirsty kids are cranky kids! Energy breaks help your kids stay motivated and happy. I pack granola bars, peanuts, and jerky, along with plenty of water. Feel free to vary your hiking snacks based on your kids' preferences and any allergens.

7. Prepare for Anything

During one of our hikes, my youngest daughter accidentally fell into a mud puddle. I was glad I had an extra change of clothes in the trunk! Another time, one of my girls got distracted by a butterfly, walked off the trail in hot pursuit, and panicked when she finally stopped and realized she couldn't see us. Now, we all carry whistles. Your family hikes will be more successful when you prepare for anything.

8. Be Patient

For every one step you take, your small kids have to take three steps. Plus, they have less stamina and may tire before you're even winded, and you know they'll want to stop every time they see or hear something interesting. Patience is essential when you hike with kids! Try slowing down, using a carrier if you have small kids, and focusing on exploration rather than reaching a destination as you enjoy nature. Relax and take the time to experience the hike together.

9. Leave No Trace

Our kids will one day be Earth's caretakers, and it's our duty to make sure they know how to be good stewards. My girls know that we collect all our trash as we leave no trace. They've even made a game of finding trash on the trails we hike because we want to leave the trails cleaner than we found them. I carry an extra garbage bag to make this much easier can hygienic.

My family loves to hike. It's big adventure for little feet. Start having fun with your family when you follow these nine family hiking tips. And if you have other hiking tips for kids, share them with us!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart