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Monday, September 26, 2016

Happy Harvest: 9 Playful Ways to Savor Autumn

Photo by Dominic Rivard (Flickr)

Autumn is one of my favorite seasons! I can smell the apple dumplings, hear the leaves crunching under my feet, and see the vibrant autumn colors everywhere. It's truly a season for the senses and is perfect for play. My girls and I enjoy savoring the happy harvest season in many playful ways.

Go for a Hike

Gorgeous leaf colors are a highlight of autumn, so we always plan a few hikes through wooded areas. I often use a fall scavenger hunt checklist that helps my girls observe nature, enjoy the colors, and spot wildlife enjoying the abundant harvest, too.

Pick Apples

Local orchards in our area encourage customers to pick their own apples. I appreciate the opportunity to show my girls where our favorite autumn fruit comes from, support small businesses, and have fun.

Play in a Pile of Leaves

We have a big tree in our backyard, and every year, we rake the leaves into a pile and spend hours jumping into it. When my girls were young, I'd toss a toy into the pile and challenge them to find it. They get so much exercise playing in the leaf pile!

Carve Pumpkins

Pumpkin-carving is a tradition in our home. We even hold a contest to see who can carve the most unique design. Need ideas? Let your kids carve their favorite cartoon character or the family pet. They can also color, paint, or apply stickers to the pumpkins. And don't forget to save the seeds and toast a tasty and healthy treat!

Preserve Leaves

Collecting and preserving leaves inspires creativity, hones fine motor skills, and encourages your kids to appreciate nature's beauty. We've pressed leaves and made homemade wrapping paper, hanging mobiles, and leaf wreaths. What projects might you make with your preserved leaf collection?

Bob for Apples

I didn't bob for apples until I was in college, and I was determined that my kids would enjoy this fun activity before they reach adulthood. Every year, we bob for apples. It's a fun activity that always leaves us laughing and provides a crisp, tasty, and healthy snack.

Mold Leaf Clay Bowls

Molding clay or play dough is a fun activity my girls enjoy year-round. When autumn comes, we head outside and mold leaf bowls. They learn more about the science of leaves, symmetry, and art, and we have fun.

Enjoy a Campfire

Cooler evening temperatures invite your family to start a campfire and enjoy an evening in nature. You can roast marshmallows, tell scary stories, or chat about your favorite autumn activities as you laugh, talk, and bond.

Host a Harvest Party

Last year, my girls asked if they could host a small harvest party for a few neighborhood friends. It turned into a big block party with seasonal dishes, games, and crafts, and we're already planning this year's celebration. Go meet your neighbors and have fun with your own neighborhood harvest party.

Autumn is one of my favorite seasons. In our home, we savor autumn with these playful activities. What does your family do to enjoy a happy harvest?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, September 19, 2016

5 Refreshing Nature Play Gurus on Twitter

Photo by Tom Woodward (Flickr)

Playing outside refreshes, invigorates, and entertains kids. I know my kids and I have fun and feel less stressed after we spend time playing outside. Because nature's so beneficial, I follow several outdoor and nature play advocates on Twitter. They encourage kids and families to play outdoors more often and enjoy the numerous benefits of nature. You may wish to follow them, too!

Children & Nature Network @ChildrenNature

The Children & Nature Network believes that nature play is important for kids around the globe. That's why their Twitter feed provides fantastic resources for parents, educators, and kids about why everyone should play more outdoors. Access this resource as you connect with nature and other families and play more!

National Wildlife Federation @NWF

The National Wildlife Federation focuses primarily on nature and animals. However, when you read its Twitter feed, you'll find a variety of information about hiking, camping, outdoor play safety, and other nature activities. Its tweets also inspire educators to incorporate nature and outdoor activities into the curriculum and teach kids about conservation.

Debi Huang @GoExploreNature

Read engaging info about play for kids and parents when you follow Debi Huang. You'll also get travel tips that help you play more as you explore local and not-so-local destinations. While her tweets are designed to introduce families in the Los Angeles area to the great outdoors, they're useful no matter where you live.

Maman on the Trail @mamanonthetrail

Canadian mom Monica is passionate about the outdoors and believes that every person should combat "nature deficit disorder" by spending time each day outside. Her Twitter feed includes tips, tricks, anecdotes, and reviews about hiking with her baby, husband, and dog. You'll discover something new and be motivated to play more outside as you follow her adventures.

Bluearth @Movemoreaust

The Australian health initiative started by Bluearth strives to get people moving. It offers tips and activities that promote physical literacy and combat the negative health effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Get inspired to move more and have fun when you follow Bluearth.

National Park Service @NatlParkService

Find a nearby park, plan your next family vacation, or explore the great outdoors when you follow the National Park Service. Its feed includes useful information for families, educators, and anyone interested in connecting with nature, including details about the Every Kid in a Park pass that gives fourth-grade students free access to parks.

Early Play @earlyplay

Early childhood is a time when kids are developing quickly. They're also filled with energy. Enter the early play blog. Here, you'll find educational and entertaining activities for young kids, families, and parents as well as encouragement to get outside and play more.

Bethe Almeras @balmeras

Also known as the Grass Stain Guru, Bethe writes primarily about the power of play, nature, and laughter. Check out the interview she did with us, and learn more about the importance of unplugged play and other outdoor childhood fun.

U.S. Forest Service @forestservice

The U.S. Forest Service protects and manages national forests and grasslands. It uses Twitter to discuss outdoor education topics, ways to improve wildlife and urban areas, and conservation tips. Your family can learn how to enjoy nature and keep it accessible for generations thanks to the Forest Service.

These nine voices for outdoor and nature play use Twitter to encourage play. I appreciate their contributions and am privileged to share them with you as you incorporate more outdoor play in your regular routine!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

7 Ways to Make More Time for Play During the School Year

Photo by Scott & Elaine van der Chijs (Flickr)

The new school year has started, and that means busy evenings eating dinner, doing homework, and driving to activities. If you're like us, your schedule is packed. Do your kids have time to play? Our children spend six to eight hours a day in class, and they need more opportunities to unwind, relax, and play. Add several or all of these seven activities to make more time for play during the school year.

Walk to School and Play

We live close enough to school that we can walk there most days, and my girls know our mornings will include walking games like Follow the Leader, I Spy, or hopscotch. The other kids who walk with us like playing, too, as I prompt my girls to get more exercise and play before they hit the books.

Visit the Playground After School

Last year, I noticed that my daughters came home after school and bounced off the walls. Because their energy was intense, I started making a daily detour to the local playground for 15 to 20 minutes of free play. They burn off their extra energy, decompress, and have fun and are then ready to focus on homework or chores. Our evenings go a lot more smoothly because we make time for play after school.

Turn Homework Into Game Time

My younger daughter usually has a long list of spelling words to memorize, which is a big struggle for her. I decided to use games to make homework time fun. In our playroom, I post big letters made out of card stock and give her a word. She has to run around the room and find the letters that spell the word. She has fun, learns her spelling words, and is encouraged to play more.

Consider Adopting a Pet

Not all families are able to commit to owning a pet. However, if your family is ready for this responsibility, consider adopting a cat, dog, or other animal. Pets can improve your health as they reduce stress, and they promote physical activity.

Play Word Games During Dinner

In our home, we try our best to eat dinner together. I like hearing about my girls' day at school as we discuss their classes, friends, current events, and other topics. I also recently discovered another fun activity we can enjoy during dinner: word games! Hangman, Scrabble, Jumble, and crossword puzzles are fun, and as a bonus, my girls get to practice their spelling and vocabulary words while we eat.

Enroll in a Sport

Many schools offer sports clubs after school. If yours does, enroll your kids and let them play football, basketball, or soccer. You can also sign them up to play in an intramural league in your town or buy a gym membership. The exercise after school reduces stress and the risk of obesity and gives your kids more opportunities to play.

Play Often on the Weekends

Play may take a backseat during the busy school week, but you have two whole days on the weekends to make up for it. Plan hikes, visit playgrounds, host play dates with friends, organize neighborhood soccer games, or volunteer to play with dogs at your local animal shelter as you enjoy playful weekends.

My girls love school, but they also need to play. We all enjoy these seven ways to make more time for play during the school year. What other play activities could your kids enjoy?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart