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Thursday, December 22, 2016

New Year's Playvolution: 10 Ways to Jumpstart a Playful, Creative 2017

Photo by "G" jewels g is for grandma (Flickr)

As I reflect on 2016, I marvel at all the fun play times my girls and I have shared. I'm also looking forward to making a New Year's "playvolution" and enjoying even more play this next year. Here are 10 activities, resolutions, and ideas that will jump-start our playful, creative 2017. Will you join us?

Buy a YMCA Membership

Our entire family will have an easier time staying active year-round when we join the YMCA. It offers a variety of community play and fitness opportunities for all age groups and fitness levels.

Give Active Gifts

It should come as no surprise that my favorite holiday gifts promote play and activity. Bicycles, snowshoes, jump ropes, and other fitness-oriented gifts can motivate everyone on your gift list to play and explore.

Babysit Other Kids

Whenever I spend time playing with kids, I find myself relaxing and having fun. I also learn new games and love how kids have a different perspective on life. Volunteer to babysit at local community activities or offer your services to your neighbors to add more play to your life.

Take a Group Class

I love my yoga class! This year, I'm also committed to taking a Zumba class, and my older daughter wants to learn how to line-dance. What type of group class would you like to try? Check your local rec or community center for affordable classes that interest you.

Make Art

There's something about art that brings out the kid in me! We always have a stocked art supply box with crayons, clay, and other supplies, and it sparks our creativity. As you and your family finger-paint self-portraits, create collages of your favorite things, and draw unique animals, remember to have fun and not worry about coloring outside of the lines as you create.

Learn a New Game

My dad was the jacks champion in his childhood class, and he was thrilled when my girls asked him to teach them how to play. What new games could your family learn to play this year? Ask grandparents and friends for suggestions and find new games at your local toy store.

Set up a Neighborhood Sports League

What games do your neighbors enjoy playing? Start a neighborhood football, basketball, soccer, or hockey league and meet regularly to practice and play. You'll have fun, build community relationships, and stay active as a family.

Train for a 5K

Several charities in our community host 5K races to raise funds. We decided as a family to train for these races and get active as we support good causes.

Adopt a Shelter Animal

If your family is ready to adopt a pet, visit the local animal shelter and find a new furry friend. Caring for and loving a pet encourages physical activity, relieves stress, and builds responsibility.

Schedule More Play Time With Your Kids

On New Year's Eve, I sit down with a glass of sparkling cider and my planner and record birthdays and other important events. I also schedule time to play with my girls every day. Prioritizing play is important to me, and I'm more likely to make sure it happens when I see it printed on my daily schedule.

This year is going to be the biggest play year ever for my family! I'm so excited about my New Year's playvolutions. Which of these 10 ideas will you use to jump-start your playful and creative 2017?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, December 19, 2016

Wonderland Walk: 9 Tips for Safe and Fun Winter Hiking

Photo by Francesco Doglio (Flickr)

There's something magical about winter hiking. The white snow, fresh air, and invigorating exercise excite and motivate my girls and me! We started enjoying wonderland walks when my girls were babies, and you can, too, with these tips to keep your entire family safe and comfortable.

Start Winter Hiking When Your Kids Are Small

Hiking with kids is more challenging in cold weather. I remember how long it took to get my girls bundled in their snowsuits and boots! The effort pays off, though, when you see their wonder at finding animal tracks in the snow or seeing a colorful bird along the trail. I'm glad we started hiking when my girls were young. Now, they've built their endurance and can tackle harder trails and see even more winter wonders.

Protect Your Baby

I'm convinced that my girls love hiking today in part because I took them when they were babies. We took three important precautions, though. First, they always wore a dry diaper and layers, and I covered their exposed skin with clothing or a blanket. Second, we used a baby carrier that kept them warm and allowed both of us to enjoy the sights. Third, we stopped every 20 minutes to make sure they were still warm and dry.

Pick a Route Carefully

One of our favorite summer trails crosses a stream and features several steep inclines. That trail is definitely unsafe and off-limits when it's covered in snow and ice. Instead, we choose trials that are safe for our entire family. I consider my kids' stamina, whether the trail is accessible to emergency personnel, and how much time we have to hike.

Tell Someone Where You're Hiking

Thankfully, we've never been stranded on a winter hike, but people get lost, take a wrong path, or suffer an injury while hiking every year. Plan for this possibility by telling someone where you'll be hiking, who's with you, and when you expect to return.

Check the Weather

Last year, my girls and I didn't check the weather outlook and had to finish a hike in a freezing rain storm. We learned our lesson! Now, I always check the forecast for expected weather changes, precipitation, wind speeds, and daylight hours. Remember to check how the altitude may affect conditions, too. It's totally OK to postpone your hike because of unsafe weather conditions.

Carry Life-Saving Gear

Be prepared! Assemble essential life-saving gear and have everyone carry a few items in their backpack.

Here's our list. You can adjust it to meet your needs.

  • Trail map and compass
  • Fire-starter and flares
  • Multi-purpose tool
  • Extra clothing
  • Flashlight or headlamp with lithium batteries
  • Food and water
  • Rope
  • First aid supplies including sunscreen, pain reliever, and bandages
  • Emergency shelter

Dress in Layers

My girls and I have learned over the years that layers and covering exposed skin are the keys to staying warm during cold winter hikes. We always wear these five layers to help us stay dry and prevent hypothermia:

  • Nylon or polyester wicking layer next to your skin pulls away moisture
  • Warming layer of wool, polyester, or nylon provides insulation
  • Waterproof layer protects you from rain, snow, and wind
  • Hat and gloves or mittens conserve body heat
  • Goggles or sunglasses prevent eye strain from sun and wind

Wear the Right Shoes

I learned a valuable footwear lesson the first year I hiked in the winter. My feet got cold because I wore only one pair of socks, and I kept slipping in the wet snow in my traditional hiking shoes. Now, I always wear two pairs of socks. The first layer pulls moisture away from the skin, and the second pair insulates your feet. Then, I wear boots that are designed for the trail and weather conditions. They should be broken in, too, so you don't get blisters.

Include Your Pet

Dogs love winter hiking as much as kids. I have friends who even take their dog on overnight winter hikes! If you decide to take your pet hiking, confirm that it's capable of a vigorous winter hike, and follow these etiquette and safety rules.

Verify that your dog is allowed on the trail, since some public parks do not allow dogs. Then, keep your dog on a leash and under control so your dog doesn't chase other hikers or wild animals. Carry water and food for your pet, too. You may also invest in a dog vest, coat, and boots that protect your dog from the elements.

Winter hiking offers your family an amazing opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors. With these nine tips, you can stay safe and comfortable and have fun. What other wonderland walk tips do you suggest?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, December 12, 2016

7 Ways That Laughter Fuels the Mind, Body, and Soul

Photo by Ben Francis (Flickr)

Have you ever listened to kids laugh? It's hysterical! Hearing my girls laugh always makes me laugh, and their laughter prompted me to study the topic this week. I found seven ways laughter fuels our minds, bodies, and souls, helps children develop, and leads to grown-up happiness and success. Let's examine these seven ways together.

Laughter Reduces Stress

My stress level was through the roof last Wednesday as I juggled a large work project, a school conference, and a sick child. I felt miserable until a co-worker told a funny joke during lunch. I started laughing and instantly felt less stressed.

There's a reason I felt that way. Laughter is clinically recognized to affect four stress-related hormones: cortisol, dopamine, epinephrine, and growth hormone. Ultimately, it relieves tension and reduces stress. A good belly laugh does wonders for helping kids and adults manage stress successfully. I know it works for me!

Laughter Decreases Pain

As toddlers, my daughters fell often, which meant plenty of skinned knees and tears. To calm them, I told funny jokes and stories. Their laughter didn't completely erase their pain, but science shows that laughter does decrease pain. My girls were able to endure all of those skinned knees and even handle aches they feel today when they laugh.

Laughter Improves Respiration

One of my daughter's friends suffers from chronic asthma. Her mom frequently invites my daughter over for play dates because the girls always end up laughing. She knows that laughter stimulates our lungs and supporting muscles. As we breathe in oxygen-rich air during a fit of the giggles, our lungs expand, and respiration improves. My daughter's friend and anyone with breathing challenges can be healthier because of laughter.

Laughter Strengthens Relationships

According to researchers, we're 30 times more likely to laugh when we're in a group. I know I always laugh more at funny stories when I'm with other people. Laughter is infectious. It also erases age, culture, and demographic boundaries and helps us bond with friends, family, and strangers. I love how laughter strengthens interpersonal relationships, whether we're kids or adults.

Laughter Improves Coping Skills

Life is tough for kids and adults. Maybe your family is facing a challenge like difficult homework, family drama, or chronic illness. Laughter may be the key you need to cope. Humor helps us see things from a positive perspective and encourages us to stop taking ourselves so seriously. Laughter improves our ability to cope with challenges and be successful in life, so watch videos of animal antics, read the comics pages in the newspaper, and tell funny jokes every day.

Laughter Reduces Blood Pressure

At every doctor appointment, the nurse checks my girls' blood pressure. The numbers are usually pretty good, possibly because we laugh so much! Frequent laughter improves blood flow as it dilates blood vessels, increases oxygen intake, and improves blood circulation. Our risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack decreases when our blood pressure drops, and that's a compelling reason to laugh more often.

Laughter Boosts Immunity

My uncle experienced a health scare last year, and laughter was a tool that helped him recover. His doctors always told jokes and encouraged him to watch funny movies. Laughter played a role in healing my uncle because it boosts our immune systems. We get and stay healthier thanks to laughter.

Have you laughed yet today? For kids and adults, laughter provides many benefits as it fuels our mind, body, and soul, helps kids' development, and increases adult happiness and success. I encourage you to make laughter a regular part of your daily routine and see the ways it helps you and your family!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart