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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

25 Simple Acts of Kindness That Kids Can Do

Photo by Angie Muldowney (Flickr)

As parents and caregivers, we want our kids to practice kindness and compassion. It's the right thing to do, and research proves that showing kindness helps us feel good, be happier, and live longer. While my girls are usually kind, they do have their moments of selfishness. There is hope for them, though! According to Barbara Fredrickson, a leading positive psychology author, people become kinder as they count the number of times they show kindness during the day. I'm excited that I can train my girls to be kind! Here's my list of 25 simple, accessible acts of kindness that my kids can do every day as they practice and learn this important life skill.

  1. Help a senior citizen or mom load groceries into their car and then return the cart to the corral.
  2. Volunteer to play with a neighbor's kids for an hour or two while the parent takes a nap, does chores, or goes on a date.
  3. Carry your neighbor's empty trash cans in from the street on trash day.
  4. Invite someone who is sitting alone at the table to eat lunch or play with you.
  5. Show your grandparents how to use their computer or cell phone.
  6. Compliment someone every day.
  7. Do a sibling's chores for them.
  8. Give cold water bottles to the mail carrier, road workers, or sanitation crew.
  9. Pick up litter around your neighborhood, park, or school and throw it away.
  10. Write a thank-you letter to your parents, another relative, or one of your friends.
  11. Smile and say hi to someone.
  12. Buy bottles of bubbles and hand them out to kids in your neighborhood.
  13. Use part of your allowance to pay the bill for the car behind you at the drive-through or buy someone's dinner.
  14. Visit a cemetery and pull weeds or grass away from the overgrown headstones.
  15. Put a small note and popcorn money into the case of a rented movie before you return it.
  16. High-five a classmate who answers a question correctly at school.
  17. Dry the slides, swings, and other equipment at the park after it rains.
  18. Volunteer at a local pet shelter, where you can play with the animals or organize a pet food or blanket collection.
  19. Clear the table and wash, dry, and put away the dishes after dinner without being asked.
  20. Write a kind or inspiring note on a piece of paper and leave it in your favorite library book.
  21. Donate gently used clothing you've outgrown to a local family shelter. Ask your friends to donate, too.
  22. Pack your favorite dessert in your lunch box, then share it with someone who didn't bring a dessert in their lunch.
  23. Give your teacher an appreciation gift just because you want to.
  24. Let one of your siblings go first as you get on the school bus or when you go out for ice cream.
  25. Hold the door open for your family members, classmates, and other shoppers at stores.

Kindness is a trait I want my girls to show, and I can train them to be kind as we practice simple acts of kindness every day. In addition to these 25 ideas, what other kind acts could you and your children do for others?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

7 Ways That Play Builds Problem-Solving Skills

Photo by J Aaron Farr (Flickr)

As adults, we face dozens of problems every day. Will we have time to buy milk today? How do I tell my coworker that she talks too loudly? What's the fastest thing to make for dinner? Where will we go this weekend as a family to play? Solving problems is a skill every human should have, and it's one we all cultivate in childhood when we play. I watch my girls build problem-solving skills every day in seven ways.

Think Independently

I don't often tell my girls what to play because they need to make those decisions on their own. My plan is to raise girls who can think and solve problems independently.

They learn this skill as they enjoy free play and decide what playtime activities to enjoy and how to do those activities. That independence during play helps them become independent thinkers as they grow into adulthood.

Learn to Improvise

Sometimes, we only have seconds to solve a problem. In those instances, the ability to improvise comes in handy.

Kids can learn to improvise during dramatic play. The other day, I watched my girls play doctors. They didn't have their doctor kit nearby but quickly used a jump rope as a stethoscope and a scarf as a tourniquet. These improv skills will help them in the future when they have to make quick decisions.

Solve Interpersonal Problems

Almost every day, our kids face interpersonal problems as they interact with friends, siblings, and classmates. Through social play, they develop the interpersonal skills they need to solve these problems.

My girls have learned during play time to communicate, share, and compromise. They take turns being the star of the show, ask friends which game they want to play, and don't hog the swing. These skills will help them as they navigate friendships, succeed at work, and have families of their own.

Become Self-Confident

As adults, we can't ask everyone else's opinion before we solve a problem. We have to be confident that we're making the right decisions without constantly second-guessing ourselves.

I'm glad that our kids build this self-confidence as they play. They learn more about their likes, interests, values, and talents as they play games and sports. Give your kids opportunities to play and they will gain the self-confidence they need to make their own decisions.

Appreciate Other Viewpoints

Problem-solving often requires me to think about someone else. I can't decide where to eat dinner, what game to play, or when to run errands without considering my family's needs.

Play helps our kids appreciate other viewpoints. Not only do they learn to appreciate the interests, feelings, and desires of their playmates, but they also they learn about diversity and other cultures, traditions, and religions as they play. They will need to appreciate the viewpoints other people have as they solve problems in the future.

Consider the Outcomes

One of my daughters enjoys books that allow the reader to choose from several endings. There are no wrong answers, and it's like reading a different book every day!

I thought about those books today as I reflected on how play can teach our kids to be better problem-solvers. They may ask questions like, "How far will the water from this squirter reach? How many blocks can I stack before the wall falls down? If I wear sandals to hike, will my feet hurt?" Considering the outcomes as they play prepares them to question, examine, and think critically as they make decisions in their everyday life.

Learn to Make Mistakes

Sometimes, we won't make the right decision, and that's OK. Learning to make mistakes and dealing with the consequences is part of life. That's why I allow my girls to make mistakes as they play. For instance, one time, they pretended they worked in a hair salon and cut their dolls' hair. They learned a hard lesson that day, but I would rather they make mistakes and learn than not play or take any action at all.

Play is important for childhood. I appreciate that it helps my girls become build problem-solving skills in seven key ways. How does play help your kids become better at solving problems?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, October 14, 2016

Wearable Wonders: 5 Benefits of Dress-Up Play for Children

Photo by The Wu's Photo Land (Flickr)

Ever since they were young, my girls have enjoyed playing dress-up. Sure, they like wearing costumes at Halloween, but they also dive into our dress-up bin during the year. One day, they pretend they're firefighters, and the next day, they're princesses. While they have fun transforming into different characters, they also gain five important benefits as they play.

Dress-Up Fosters Imagination

When kids dress up, they can be anyone and live anywhere as they create characters, scenarios, and storylines. Their play time allows them to explore other realities and take on unique roles. And it doesn't matter if their stories make sense because they're being creative.

Encourage your kids to imagine when you provide them with costumes and props. You can even give them story ideas or let them create their own scenarios as you foster their imaginations.

Dress-Up Builds Empathy

It's important to me that my girls understand other people. I want them to be sympathetic and kind as well as supportive of other lifestyles and cultures. This empathy helps them to be successful in school, friendships, and life, and they learn this lesson while playing dress-up.

In costumes, kids can be people or animals from different countries. They also explore a variety of social situations and emotions that help them empathize with others and practice patience, tolerance, and kindness. I'm grateful that with a few costumes, my girls can become more compassionate people.

Dress-Up Develops Communication Skills

As doctors, Martians, or dancers, kids have to think about what their character will say and effectively communicate the character's mindset, values, and wants. I've even heard my girls deliver their dialogues in an accent and say phrases and words they don't normally use.

Communication happens when kids play dress-up solo, too, since they typically act out stories with their stuffed animals or imaginary friends. Thanks to dress-up play, our kids develop better communication skills and are more prepared for success in everyday life.

Dress-Up Improves Creative Thinking

My girls take dress-up very seriously. They outline detailed stories and scenes that really stretch their creative thinking skills. In fact, last weekend, they imagined that they were doctors and created an entire hospital in our playroom.

It's fun for me to watch them problem-solve, negotiate, and become confident expressing themselves. The creative thinking skills they learn now will assist them in life as they think outside of the box to solve problems and find solutions quickly.

Dress-Up Encourages Self-Discovery

Kids who pretend they are someone else actually learn more about themselves and their identity. They can figure out their emotions, values, and self-worth as they play. For example, while playing a teacher, they may learn that they like helping others learn, and while playing a villain, they may see how selfishness hurts others.

Dress-up also helps kids become confident in who they are. It allows them to take charge, make mistakes, and develop a unique style. I appreciate that dress-up encourages self-discovery and helps my girls develop a stronger sense of self-esteem and self-identity.

Playing dress-up is a fun activity that gives kids five key benefits. I know I love hearing my girls giggle, talk, and cooperate with each other as they wear costumes. What other things could dress-up play help your kids learn this Halloween and every day?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, October 3, 2016

10 Simple Ways to Thank a Teacher

Photo by US Department of Education (Flickr)

Teachers work long hours as they teach, counsel, and inspire our children to succeed. I know I rely on my girls' teachers a great deal! Whether your kids are in elementary school, junior high, or high school, say "thank you" to their teachers in 10 simple ways.

Buy a Book

Book fairs are popular school fundraisers, so ask your teacher to create a wish list and buy a book or two from it as a thank-you gift. Include a handmade bookmark saying, "In my book, you're the best!"

Choose a Gift Card

Does your child's teacher like coffee, movies, or clothing? Give them a gift card to a restaurant, store, or mall. Teachers also appreciate gift cards to craft, office supply, and educational supply stores.

Volunteer in the Classroom

Most teachers appreciate extra help in the classroom. When possible, I try to volunteer for class parties, field trips, and other events. It's a small gesture many teachers appreciate.

Write an Appreciative and Honest Note

Years ago, my daughter's kindergarten teacher showed me a box of notes and drawings he had received over the years. They reminded him of why he teaches and prompted us to start a family tradition of writing a personalized letter to each teacher. It includes what my girls liked best about the class, what they learned, and other special memories from the year.

Give a Plant

Thank your child's teacher for helping them bloom when you give flowers. This token of appreciation can be a live bouquet, bulbs, herbs, or a potted plant in a personalized container.

Buy Classroom Supplies

At the beginning of the school year, my girls sometimes bring home a list of classroom supplies their teacher needs. I'm happy to fill a bag with pencils, tissues, and hard candy as I support the teachers and give a small gift that shows my appreciation.

Supply Healthy Snacks

According to my teacher friends, they sometimes are so busy that they don't eat lunch. Fuel your kids' teachers with a supply of healthy snacks. Granola, dried fruit, nuts, whole-grain crackers, and bottled water are a few suggestions.

Create a Handmade Gift

Do you or your child have a special talent? Knit a blanket, paint a picture frame, or build a birdhouse as you use your talents to create a handmade, one-of-a-kind thank-you gift.

Give to Charity in the Teacher's Name

My older daughter's phys ed teacher ran a half marathon this year to raise awareness for breast cancer. We made a donation in her name to thank her for being a positive role model. You, too, can donate to a charity in your teacher's name and support their favorite cause.

Just Say "Thank You"

Never underestimate the act of a heartfelt verbal "thank you." I encourage my girls to say "thank you" often, and I end every email I send to my daughter's teachers with those two words. I hope they convey my sincere gratitude and appreciation for the positive effect teachers have on my girls.

Teachers give our kids the educational tools they need to succeed. Saying "thank you" in these 10 simple ways demonstrates our appreciation. What other teacher appreciation ideas do you have?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart