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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

9 Ways That Play Helps Children Develop Empathy for Others

Photo by dadblunders (Flickr)

My girls recently discovered a new passion: volunteering at the animal shelter. They love cuddling, feeding, and playing with the animals, and I love watching them show empathy. Empathy, the ability to identify what others think and feel and put yourself in their shoes, improves our kids' understanding of and respect for their peers, adults, and animals. Although our kids aren't born with the ability to empathize, I found nine ways that play helps our kids develop this essential skill and become more compassionate human beings.

Imagine Life as Someone Else

Pretend play and role play introduce kids to someone else's world. As they pretend they're teachers, veterinarians, or a classmate, they step into a different persona and must act, feel, and think like that character. Through play, kids see life from someone else's viewpoint and improve their understanding of the people around them.

Cooperate With Others

On the playground, in the classroom, and on the sports field, our kids must work with others. Teamwork can be challenging, though, particularly when our kids don't understand or agree with their peers or the adult in charge. Fun games and activities like scavenger hunts, relay races, and cooking prompt our kids to listen to others and cooperate, compromise, and share.

Understand That Others Have Feelings and Emotions

As a toddler, my younger daughter often pulled our cat's tail and then wondered why the cat avoided her. I used puppets to act out stories that demonstrated how animals and people have feelings. We also observed people, wildlife, and insects during our daily walks and talked about emotions they may feel. As we played, my daughter realized that others have feelings and emotions, and she learned to respect those feelings and emotions.

Consider What Others Think

I admit that sometimes, I wish I could read minds! Because that will never happen, I encourage my girls to play checkers and chess. These two strategy games challenge our kids to think like their opponent, understand their viewpoint, and become more empathetic to how others think.

Learn a Vocabulary for Feelings

By the time they turn two, most kids use 50 words regularly. They don't yet know words to describe all of the emotions they and others experience, though. That's where play comes in. Play "Simon Says" and ask your kids to show you their happy, angry, and sad faces, talk about what two dolls may feel as they get dressed for a party, and discuss what taking turns feels like during family game night. With these play activities, we equip our kids with the words they need to describe feelings.

Respect Unique Play Choices

One of my daughters prefers to play with trucks, and the other loves dolls. I encourage them both to disregard gender norms and respect the choices others make during play. When kids feel accepted and learn to respect and encourage their peers, they develop and show empathy to others who may make different choices on the playground and in life.

Achieve Common Goals

Some days, my girls fight like cats and dogs, usually because they focus on all of the ways they're different. But when they work together to complete a puzzle, build a blanket fort, or create a musical show for their grandparents, they focus on each other's strengths and talents. Let's provide opportunities for our kids to build block creations, make art, and play other games and activities that encourage them to focus on their similarities and appreciate others as they work together to achieve a common goal.

Expand Their Worldview

A boy in my daughter's class has autism, and he sometimes stims. She didn't really understand him until we read a few children's books that describe autism. Now, she understands him better and plays with him every day. I often use books and stories to expand our kids' worldview and improve their understanding of the people and animals around them.

Recognize Facial Expressions and Body Language

A person's facial expressions and body language often demonstrate how they feel or what they're thinking, but kids don't always identify these signs. My girls and I often make faces in front of a mirror. I call out an emotion like joy, anger, or excitement, and they show a matching face and body language. As they mature, I've added more complicated emotions like shock, anxiety, or discouragement so they can recognize and understand the full range of what others may feel.

I love watching my girls show empathy to their peers, adults, and animals. Through play, we help our kids develop compassion and understanding for others. What additional play activities do you recommend as we help our kids learn empathy?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

10 Benefits of Puzzles for Early Child Development

Photo by Abigail Batchelder (Flickr)

In our playroom, we have a table set up just for puzzles. My girls both enjoy complicated jigsaw puzzles now, and I attribute their passion to all of the puzzles they put together as toddlers. Those simple puzzles featured shapes, knobs, or interlocking pieces that were the perfect size for my girls' toddler hands. In addition to providing hours of fun, those puzzles aided my girls' early development and provided 10 benefits.

Develop Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills are movements kids make when they use their arms and legs. With these skills, our kids roll over, crawl, walk, and run. Completing stacking puzzles and manipulating large puzzle pieces improve a child's gross motor skills.

Hone Fine Motor Skills

When kids learn to hold a spoon, fasten buttons, or pick up objects from the floor, they use fine motor skills. These skills require small, precise movements our kids hone as they fiddle with puzzle pieces and put those pieces into their assigned spots.

Establish Cognitive Skills

The brain uses cognitive skills to think, learn, remember, read, pay attention, and solve problems. Let your kids play with puzzles and they will establish these essential skills. With puzzles, they process information, learn about cause and effect, evaluate and organize ideas, apply knowledge, and discover how ideas relate.

Expand Memory

Kids need both short-term, working memory and long-term, semantic memory to remember what happened moments ago and create a basis of their identity. Puzzles are one tool I used to improve my girls' memories. As they remember which pieces they've tried in certain slots and which piece worked last time, they develop working and semantic memory to aid them in all areas of life.

Enhance Problem-Solving Skills

When kids put puzzles together, they use their mind and logic, think critically, and solve problems. Plus, as they look at a piece and guess where it might go, they ask questions, narrow down their options, and eventually make a decision. This same process helps them solve problems they face in real life, such as what to wear on a snowy day or which book to read.

Teach Shape Recognition

My older daughter's first puzzle featured shapes. I'm glad she spent hours learning the difference between circles, triangles, and rectangles. Not only do we see shapes all around us, but our kids use shapes in their math, reading, science, and other academic classes.

Improve Hand-Eye Coordination

To brush their teeth, tie their shoes, and color with crayons, kids use hand-eye coordination. They develop this skill as they turn, flip, place, and remove puzzle pieces. Their eyes see the piece, their hands feel it, and their brain tells their hands where it belongs.

Evolve Goal-Setting and Achievement Skills

When school starts each year, I ask my girls to list the activities, grades, and achievements they wish to enjoy, earn, or gain that year. This discussion prompts them to set goals and work hard to achieve their dreams, and I taught them this skill through puzzles. Kids know they want to finish a puzzle, but first they have to sort the pieces, check the board, and then assemble the puzzle one piece at a time. That's how goal-setting and achievement work, and our kids learn this skill through puzzles.

Encourage Patience, Persistence, and Determination

As a toddler, my younger daughter always tried to complete jigsaw puzzles that were too advanced for her. Sometimes, she grew frustrated, but the patience, persistence, and determination she developed help her succeed in school, with friends, and on the sports field.

Promote World Awareness

One of my older daughter's favorite puzzles included a dozen farm animals. She would make animal noises as she played with each piece, and that puzzle prepared her for her second birthday party at a farmyard petting zoo. Your kids will explore the world, too, as they play with animal, geography, alphabet, and space puzzles.

Thanks to puzzles, our kids have fun and receive 10 important benefits that aid their development. In what ways have puzzles helped your child?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How to Cultivate Budgeting Skills in Children Early On

Photo by Carissa Rogers (Flickr)

A University of Cambridge study found that kids know how money works and form the basis of their future money habits by age seven. I find this fact fascinating. While I did know that kids must learn about money and budgeting, I didn't realize that we can and should start teaching them when they're young. As parents, caregivers, or teachers, these six tips can help us cultivate budgeting skills in our young kids.

Identify the Purpose of Money

We found a few pretend money bills and coins last week as we cleaned out the toy box. My girls spent hours playing with this money when they were little as they "purchased" toys from each other and learned the names of the coins and how many coins make up a dollar. More importantly, they learned that we use money to buy stuff, a fact that forms the foundation for all of their financial transactions, habits, and values.

Discuss How Much Stuff Costs

Kids sometimes think that food, clothing, and housing are free, but it's important for them to understand that everything around them costs money and that we have to work to make money. From the time my girls were little, I've tried to explain how many hours of work it takes for me to pay for things like their swim lessons, electricity, and ice cream cones. Now that they're older, they help me compare prices of different cereal brands at the grocery store and browse different stores online to find the best deal on their favorite jeans. They understand that certain items cost more than others, which equips them to use their money more wisely.

Explain the Importance of Savings and Show How Money Accumulates

Of course it's easier to spend money than save it, but I want my girls to spend less than they earn and create emergency funds, education accounts, and retirement accounts. To establish their savings habits early, we started a vacation fund. They drop spare change into a clear jar on our kitchen counter and watch their savings accumulate over time. Older kids can learn to save as they make their own deposits into a savings account and keep a ledger. Watching savings grow encourages kids to prioritize saving money instead of spending everything they get.

Distinguish Between Needs and Wants

Every time my younger daughter sees a toy commercial on TV, she asks me to buy her that toy. I know, though, that she doesn't need that particular toy right now. I help her distinguish the difference between needs and wants with a few questions:

  • Do you really need this toy right now?
  • How is it different than the other toys in your playroom?
  • Which two toys in your playroom will you donate to make room for this one?
  • Can we add it to your birthday wish list?
  • What else could we use that money to buy?

Distinguishing the difference between a need and a want is challenging, but we can start early as we help our kids learn this valuable budgeting skill.

Delay Gratification

In my home, we wait 48 hours before making purchases that exceed $25. Waiting gives us time to decide if we really need the item and research better prices online. Understanding the value of delayed gratification also improves a child's school performance and can lead to higher income later in life. Waiting in line for their favorite playground fixture, eating dessert after a healthy dinner, and saving for something they really want instead of buying with credit are all ways we teach our kids this valuable budgeting skill and help them become wise consumers.

Understand Invisible Money

Kids certainly need to understand how cash works, but most of my transactions involve credit or online transactions. Even though no cash changes hands, our kids need to understand how invisible money works. That's why I gave my girls a prepaid card that we load with their allowance each month. They decide what they want to buy and know that once the money's spent, they won't get more. They've learned the value of making a list, comparing prices, and choosing purchases carefully as they work with invisible money.

Budgeting skills help our kids spend money wisely now and into the future. What other strategies and tips have you used to teach kids budgeting skills?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, December 4, 2017

World Hello Day: How Play Can Help Children Overcome Shyness and Build Confidence

Photo by Maessive (Flickr)

At the park this week, we met a family who recently moved into our neighborhood. My younger daughter immediately introduced herself and started playing with the kids, but my older daughter stayed to herself. I was a shy kid, too, and I understand how hard it can be to interact with people you don't know very well. That's one reason why I was excited to celebrate World Hello Day with my girls. On World Hello Day and every day, you can play with kids and help them to build confidence in seven key ways.

Talk to People

Talking to other kids can be excruciating for shy kids. I roleplay social scenarios and conversations as I help my girls learn how to talk to others. We also read social skills books and stories about friendship as I show my girls how to introduce themselves, start a conversation, and be confident while they interact with other kids and adults.

Become Friendlier

I'm amazed almost every day at how a friendly smile and kind word can open professional and personal doors of opportunity. Our kids can learn this essential life skill as they play. Playing games, coloring together, and sharing playground toys with other kids teaches them to share, show kindness, and cooperate. In addition to playing during recess, you can also host one-on-one play dates and help your kids become friendlier human beings.

Reduce Anxiety

Shy kids don't all struggle with anxiety, but this challenge can inhibit our kids' confidence. Playing with other kids and learning new games or trying new activities helps kids can overcome their anxiety. They realize that they can learn and master new skills, and they gain courage to try new activities in the future.

Embrace Change

It's normal for kids to like routine. I know my older daughter in particular feels more secure when things stay the same. However, shy kids can stay stuck in a routine that prevents them from engaging in new activities. Play encourages kids to try new games, introduce themselves to other kids, and embrace change. They can then use these skills to cope better with changes in daily life.

Develop Empathy

I often use roleplaying and pretend or dramatic play to help my girls understand what it's like to live in someone else's shoes. With empathy, kids can understand what others think and feel, and it encourages them to stretch out of their comfort zone and talk to others. After all, we're all humans.

Learn Teamwork

Both of my girls have played team sports. While they have fun, they also learn to communicate better with others, overcome shyness, and develop confidence in their abilities.

Resolve Conflict

One of my daughters hates conflict. She would rather hide in her bedroom than confront an interpersonal challenge. Conflict is part of life, though, so I encourage her to play board and group games. While playing, she learns to express her opinion and compromise in a fun environment, and she gains confidence to use these skills in other areas of life, too.

Through play, shy kids can gain confidence. How do you help your shy kids gain the confidence they need for success in life?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

7 Reasons Why Boredom is Beneficial for Children

Photo by Shinichi Sugiyama (Flickr)

When my girls tell me that they're bored, I smile. I know they want me to entertain them or give them an electronic device, but I usually send them off to play with no direction or assistance. Why don't I solve their boredom? I believe boredom serves an important role in child development and gives kids seven benefits.

Learn to Entertain Themselves

While I love to play with my kids, I also want them to be comfortable, confident, and capable of entertaining themselves. This skill teaches them how to make decisions for themselves. It also develops their self-reliance and shows them that they can find happiness alone, which can help them say no to peer pressure and feel comfortable in a variety of circumstances.

Become More Independent

One of my parenting goals is raising strong, confident, and empowered young women who are prepared to take on the world. As my girls decide what to do during their free time and engage in solo activities they enjoy, they become more confident and independent.

Nurture Creativity and Imagination

Give kids plenty of unstructured time and they can explore, build, and create without feeling rushed. This gift of time opens creative doors in their minds that may otherwise remain locked. Our kids could invent a cure for cancer, end poverty, or become world leaders one day because they experienced boredom and had time to nurture creativity and imagination.

Discover New Passions

After one too many boring car rides, my older daughter decided to learn how to knit. I enjoy watching her discover and develop a new passion that sprang out of boredom. Our kids can use boredom as a springboard to stretch their wings, think outside the norm, and discover new interests and passions.

Work Through Emotions

Our kids can feel stress, anger, grief, or guilt, but they don't always have the ability to process or express these strong emotions and feelings. I've watched too many kids self-destruct because they hid their emotions and feelings behind an activity, screen, or distraction. Let's give our kids unstructured play time: As they relax and unwind, they may acknowledge, address, and work through the emotions and feelings they carry and become healthier and happier kids.

Improve Their Inner Lives

Time alone, without noise, distractions, or people, gives kids space to improve their inner lives. They hear themselves think, embrace their uniqueness, and discover deep truths about their beliefs, values, and interests. Of course, I love play dates and time with friends, but our kids must learn to appreciate solitude, too. It's essential for their sanity, self-esteem, and health.

Learn Gratitude

If your kids are like mine and have a playroom full of toys but still say they're bored, they may need a boredom break. Boredom forces kids to slow down, turn off the volume around them, and realize that they're surrounded by blessings. My girls become more grateful human beings every time they experience boredom.

As parents and caregivers, we often feel obligated to entertain our kids all of the time. I encourage you to help your kids embrace boredom, though. It gives them a lot of benefits and helps them become more well-rounded individuals. What other boredom benefits have you discovered?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, November 20, 2017

10 Tips and Activities for a Healthy, Happy Thanksgiving Day

Photo by JBLM MWR (Flickr)

Every Thanksgiving, I eagerly prepare a big feast and anticipate chatting, laughing, and eating with our extended family. People can consume up to 4,500 calories during this feast, though, and I don't like that statistic. This year, I rallied my family, and we decided to try out some tips and activities to make our Thanksgiving healthier and happier.

Enter a 5K

My family agreed to participate in our local turkey trot, a 5K race held on Thanksgiving morning. We're excited about the opportunity to exercise and enjoy quality family time together before our big celebration.

Eat a Healthy Breakfast

I'm a big breakfast fan because starting the day with a healthy meal can curb cravings and overeating later in the day. This year, I'll prepare an egg casserole and serve fresh fruit as we set the tone for a healthy holiday celebration.

Exercise During Parade Commercials

The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is an important tradition in our family. Personally, I love the balloons, performers, and music! While watching the parade this year, we'll also exercise during the commercials as we enjoy this tradition and stay active.

Take a Hike

Because I spend Thanksgiving Day cooking, baking, and entertaining, I usually skip my daily workout and then regret that decision the next day. We're planning to go on a short hike before dinner this year. The exercise will work off a few calories, and we'll get to enjoy family bonding and the great outdoors together.

Snack Smart

Because my family loves munching on snacks while we wait for the turkey to bake, we usually serve hot crab dip, crackers, and candy. These snacks are loaded with extra calories, though. Smart snack alternatives like fresh veggies, fruit, and single-serve bags of nuts will satisfy our hunger and decrease our overall caloric intake. Everyone wins!

Make Heart-Healthy Dishes

Our Thanksgiving meal includes dozen of delicious dishes, but I've got to admit that they're not all heart-healthy. We're changing the menu a bit this year and will prepare our favorite dishes with low-sodium broth, Greek yogurt, and whole grains. Plus, we'll serve mashed cauliflower and add kale to the stuffing. These heart-healthy changes are good for our waistlines and will taste great, too.

Eat Mindfully

I know Thanksgiving dinner only happens once a year, and I typically overindulge. This year, I'm challenging my family to eat mindfully and choose small portions, chew slowly, savor each bite, and stop eating when we start to feel full. Mindful eating is a great tool that prevents overeating and improves our health.

Choose Desserts Wisely

Our dessert table usually overflows with rich, sugar-laden goodies. Rather than fill a plate with desserts, I've already decided to choose small portions of one or two favorites. As I savor their flavor and texture, I'll indulge my sweet tooth without compromising my commitment to health and wellness.

Dance During Cleanup

While discussing ways to add healthy activities to our Thanksgiving festivities, my girls suggested a dance party. They've already created a playlist and anticipate dancing with their grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins as we clear the table, wash dishes, and sweep the floor after our meal.

Play Flag Football

If your family is like mine, you watch football on Thanksgiving. We're giving this tradition a twist this year and playing flag or touch football after dinner. I'm excited to get my family off of the sofa and have fun playing together!

Thanksgiving remains one of my favorite holidays because I love spending time with family around our bountiful dinner table. I also want to make the holiday healthy and happy, though, which is why I'll try out these tips and activities during our upcoming celebration. What other healthy tips and fun activities do you recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, November 13, 2017

9 Tips For Keeping Your Child Safe On the Internet

Photo by Lucélia Ribeiro (Flickr)

October 29 is Internet Day, but personally, my girls and I can't imagine life on any day without this technology that gives us access to information, friends, and the world. The Internet can open doors to scary and dangerous things, though, including identity theft, predators, pornography, and fake news. Consider these nine tips as we teach our kids to stay safe and be responsible while using the Internet.

Place Devices in a Common Area

My older daughter often asks for a computer in her bedroom, but I insist that it remains in a common area. This way, I can answer questions, talk about information, and successfully guide my kids as they use the Internet.

Know What They're Looking at

Now that my girls are a bit older, I don't stand over their shoulders as they go online. I do, however, frequently check their devices' browsing histories and monitor their social media and email accounts. With this information, I can initiate conversations about why they visit certain sites and ways they can protect themselves.

Teach Them to Protect Personal Information

An identity thief or sexual predator can use your child's name or photo to find them in real life. I often emphasize that my girls cannot publicly share personal information online, including their name, phone number, address, email, passwords, school, or photos. Also, they may only communicate online with people they know.

Block Explicit Material

While researching the history of her favorite toys for a school project, my daughter typed "legs" instead of "Legos." The results? Several porn sites popped up. That one misspelling prompted me to turn on the computer's parental controls, use Google SafeSearch, and check out the blocking options provided by CyberPatrol and other security sites.

Respond Properly to Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is defined as threatening behavior that occurs online and can include intimidation, name-calling, and body-shaming. I tell my girls not to respond to any cyberbullying messages and to report any bullying incidents to me.

Recognize Unsafe Websites

Unsafe websites can lead your kids to harmful content or install spyware, malware, or viruses on their device. In general, websites that end in .edu, .org, or .gov are the most reputable and safest. Check the color of the address bar, too, since it can turn yellow or red in some browsers if the site is unsafe. Consider bookmarking your children's favorite sites to promote safe browsing.

Learn to Spot Fake News

At dinner the other night, my younger daughter shared that the queen of England had died. She saw the story online and thought it was true. Our conversation opened the door to a discussion about how to spot fake news, and I reminded my girls to ask themselves a few questions as they evaluate what they read online.

  • Are other news sites reporting the same story?
  • Does it link to real news or reputable websites?
  • Is the news current?
  • Is the source itself reputable?
  • Is the writing mostly error-free?
  • Is the article satirical, a joke, or an opinion?

Invite Conversations About Internet Use

My girls know they can talk to me about anything, including their internet usage. If they ever feel uncomfortable online, see a friend being bullied, or wonder about the safety of certain websites, they know I will listen and not immediately overreact or suspend their online privileges.

Sign an Internet Usage Contract

An Internet usage contract gives your kids another layer of protection and shows them how to use the Internet responsibly. It includes details like how much time your kids can spend online, what sites they can use, and consequences for breaking the rules.

The Internet offers our kids nearly limitless access to information. Let's use these nine tips as we teach our kids how to be responsible online and use the Internet safely. In what other ways can we teach online safety?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, October 27, 2017

9 Ways to Embrace and Encourage Your Children's Individuality

Photo by Sergey Ivanov (Flickr)

While chaperoning a class field trip to an art museum recently, I noticed so many different personalities. Some of the kids asked dozens of questions, some joked around, and others chatted with friends. The variety of different and unique personalities made me think of how important it is for us as parents, teachers, and caregivers to embrace and encourage our children's individuality. We can do this important task in nine ways.

Encourage Free Play

Have you ever turned a group of kids loose in a game room? Each kid tends to gravitate to the toys, activities, and games that interest them. During playtime, kids show off their individuality, so let's encourage our kids to play in ways that interest them.

Compliment and Appreciate Quirks

One of our young neighbors likes to tell jokes and always makes me laugh. Even though he sometimes chooses inappropriate times to clown around, I try to compliment his uniqueness often. Life's definitely more fun because he and all of our kids choose to be themselves, quirks and all.

Ignite Curiosity

According to a U.K. study, kids ask an average of 300 questions a day. That's a lot of curiosity! As caregivers, it's sometimes tempting to ask our kids to stop being so curious, but they learn, grow, and develop unique opinions and interests partially because they ask questions. That thought motivates me to answer all of those questions and share resources that help my growing kids discover answers on their own.

Respect Differences

I admit that I'm one of those parents who dressed their toddlers in similar outfits. It didn't take long to figure out, though, that they each have their own sense of style, which doesn't always mesh with my preferences. And that's OK. We can respect our kids' differences and encourage them to be themselves even when they don't agree with us. They have the right to be unique.

Talk About Life

Every evening at the dinner table, our family discusses daily life. My girls know that I always appreciate hearing their views and opinions. By valuing our kids' viewpoints, we value our kids, tell them that they're interesting, and encourage them to continue thinking for themselves.

Promote Hobbies

My girls each enjoy vastly different hobbies, and I appreciate that they both express themselves through different outlets. Whether our children are into art, sports, or reading, we must give them time to explore the activities that inspire, motivate, and fulfill them as they express their individuality.

Promote Pretend Play

As they build block cities, ride cardboard ships into space, or rule kingdoms as kings and queens, our kids use pretend play to develop their unique voices. I also find that pretend play helps my girls discern the type of person they are now and want to become in the future.

Prevent Peer Pressure

When we denounce peer pressure, we equip our kids to be themselves. I often remind my girls that while they must be kind to other kids and look for ways to get along, they can be unique individuals. They don't have to think or do the same things as their siblings, classmates, or friends.

Resist Comparisons

My younger daughter sometimes struggles academically, but she excels on the soccer field. I try to affirm her strengths, talents, and skills rather than compare her to her sister, classmates, neighbors, or friends, and I politely ask others to do the same. Comparison only teaches our kids to conform rather than stand out and be themselves.

Even though they're young, kids are designed to be unique. We can embrace and encourage our children's individuality as we help them grow and develop. In addition to these nine tips, how else do you help your kids develop their own individuality?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

7 Ways That Play Helps Develop Good Behavior

Photo by tanitta (Flickr)

When I was a kid, recess was a favorite part of my school day, and my girls have fun playing with friends and taking a break from schoolwork, too. However, many schools are shortening recess in favor of additional instructional time. I suggest that we follow the example of Finland schools and advocate for more daytime free play and recess. These two activities help kids in seven ways to develop and reinforce good behavior.

Boost Focus

A child's attention span is roughly one minute per year of age. Most classroom instructional time and activities last longer than a few minutes, though, which can challenge a child's ability to focus and engage in the lesson. Breaks for recess and play stimulate a child's brain and boost their ability to focus. When they return to the classroom, they are ready to listen and learn.

Stay on Task

My older daughter used to daydream her way through the school day, and her teachers had to work constantly to keep her on task. One day, we realized that she had no trouble staying on task after recess. She needed that play break to reboot her brain and body. Because of play, she was able to follow directions, transition quickly between activities, and finish tasks.

Reduce Fidgeting

One energetic student who plays with their hair, rocks in their chair, or taps a pencil against the desk can distract the entire classroom and disrupt learning. While classroom-friendly fidget toys can reduce fidgeting, play is also an important and helpful tool. As kids run, jump, and play during their recess time, they burn off excess energy and return to the classroom ready to sit mostly still and learn.

Improve Compliance

Sometimes, kids who disobey the teacher, make noise during class, or otherwise don't comply with classroom rules are not trying to be difficult on purpose. Rather, they may be filled with extra energy that exhibits itself in non-compliance. When my girls begin to show signs of defiance, I consider their free time. They may need a play break to burn off energy and improve compliance.

Relieve Stress

The demands of school and other challenges at home or with friends can create stress for our children. Recess and free play give kids an escape from the demands of daily life. On the playground, they can simply be active kids who enjoy each other and have fun without worrying about stressors.

Process Emotions

Kids don't always express their emotions in productive ways. In fact, they may act silly, create drama, start fights, cry, and otherwise display their emotions in inappropriate ways while at school. They need play and recess. As they create, imagine, and exercise, they begin to process emotions in a healthy way, which allows them to behave better in the classroom.

Improve Communication

Last year, my daughter struggled with friendship drama at school. It took several months for her to connect with other kids in her class, and part of that transition happened because of recess. During this time, my daughter and two of her classmates created healthy bonds as they played together. Play definitely can influence communication and help our kids learn to understand each other better.

We all know that recess and free play are fun and give kids numerous benefits. I particularly appreciate that these activities help kids in seven ways to develop and reinforce good behavior. Because of play, our kids can learn better in the classroom. Will you join me in advocating for more play opportunities at school and throughout the day?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, October 23, 2017

6 Resources For Finding Parks and Trails in Your Area

Photo by Carl Mueller (Flickr)

After my girls and I visit a local playground or hiking trail, we always feel better. The fresh air clears away emotional and mental clutter, and we feel stronger physically and more connected socially as we spend time exercising with friends. Because we like to play and hike often, I use different resources to find new outdoor play spaces for my family to explore. These resources can help your family stay active and have fun with your community, too.

National Park Service

Experience your America when you visit the National Park Service website. This resource allows you to search for a variety of parks and trails almost anywhere in the United States. The site also includes information about local events, making it easy for my family and yours to connect with the community at home or while traveling.

Map of Play

When my girls need to run off steam, get fresh air, or connect with old or new friends, I visit Map of Play. Created by play experts Kaboom!, it includes photos and ratings of thousands of local playgrounds, parks, and play spaces. I also appreciate that Map of Play promotes community activity. You can share unique play spaces with friends and add new play spaces to the site as you encourage others to play. You can also join a playground cleanup crew or plan a play date with this helpful resource.

Find Your Park

With a user-friendly design, Find Your Park invites you to search for parks by ZIP code, state, park name, or activity. When you find a park you want to visit, share it with friends on social media. This resource also features a Google map of each park so you know exactly where it's located and what it looks like. You can discover details about nearby activities, too. My girls appreciate that we can find local historical tours, art and culture centers, and shopping opportunities to enjoy after we play.


Sometimes, we're in the mood for an easy trail, and other times, we want a challenge. I use to search 50,000 trails by difficulty, length, or rating. I also appreciate the trail pictures, reviews, and maps shared on this site by actual hikers. We learn firsthand how others liked the trail, and we can share a map with friends and set up hiking dates. You can uUse the site to save trails, too. With this feature, it's easy to track how many trails you've visited or easily find interesting trails for future hikes!

Playground Buddy

Use this free app to find a local playground. The worldwide directory includes more than 200,000 playgrounds, which is especially useful when we travel because it helps my girls and me stay active anywhere! This website also shows details about the playground, including its play equipment, and you can share the playground's location with a friend. With this information, you can set up a fun and engaging play date for your family or connect with locals and make new friends.

I expect to find trails in rural areas, but shows urban trails, too. Browse by state or activity, and check out topographical maps of each trail before you head outdoors. For example, when my older daughter wanted to try trail-running with a friend, we used this resource to find a nearby trail that was ideal for their excursion.

Outdoor playtime is essential for our kids and communities. It improves our physical, mental, and emotional states, provides socialization opportunities, and connects people. I use these six resources to find local parks and trails. What other resources do you use to find local play spaces?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, October 2, 2017

10 Benefits of Reading Aloud to Babies and Toddlers

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski (Flickr)

Last night before bed, my younger daughter picked out a book, snuggled close on the sofa, and asked me to read to her. My heart melted as I fondly recalled hundreds of similar moments from her early childhood years. Those memories are precious to me because they were great bonding experiences and also because reading aloud to my girls gave them these 10 important benefits.

1. Grow Vocabulary

When my girls started talking, they knew so many words! I attributed their vocabulary to all the books we read together, and experts agree; kids who hear a variety of words are more likely to speak a variety of words.

2. Develop Basic Speech Skills

By reading to our kids, we teach them basic speech skills. Kids learn how to properly pronounce words and enunciate sounds when they hear the words spoken. Even the jabbering sounds they make as they look through books and read to themselves contribute to their fundamental speech.

3. Build Reading Skills

As young children hear books, they develop the tools they need to become confident and successful readers. They learn how to hold and read a book from front to back, associate letters with sounds, and understand the basic concepts of sentence and plot structures.

4. Improve Concentration

The act of listening to a story requires concentration. My girls didn't sit still for very long when they were babies, but their concentration levels and attention spans improved as they grew older. By the time they were toddlers, they could sit still through an entire book and sometimes even remember what I read.

5. Boost Academic Performance

Children who are exposed to reading from a young age perform better in school. Hearing books read out loud helps them communicate better, understand concepts, and confidently read textbooks, homework, and tests. Plus, books expand their ability to problem solve, think outside the box, and ask questions.

6. Discover Empathy

Bear Feels Sick was a book my girls loved to read. They liked the pictures, and the story helped them understand friendship and how to help someone who is sick. This book is one of many books that introduce young children to the concepts of compassion and empathy.

7. Learn About the World

Books open our kids' minds to the world around them. They can travel to other countries, learn about other people's experiences, celebrations, and activities, and explore diverse cultures around the world or in their neighborhood.

8. Exercise Imagination

Think about your child's favorite book. Whether it features orangutans, oceans, or outer space, it transports your child to unique locations and exercises their imagination, which can improve their problem solving, creativity, and emotional processing skills.

9. Strengthen Bonds

Reading to my girls was definitely a bonding experience as we picked out books at the library, snuggled on the sofa, and read together. Reading can also bond kids with other family members and caregivers as they spend special nurturing time together with a good book.

10. Enjoy Fun

Many babies and toddlers genuinely enjoy story time. They have fun and are entertained as they look at the bright colors and engaging pictures, hear interesting stories, and snuggle with their caregiver.

I'm a big fan of reading aloud to babies and toddlers. Why do you like reading aloud to your kids?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, September 22, 2017

Little by Little: 6 Tips for Raising Patient Kids

Photo by jess2284 (Flickr)

As our kids wait for their turn on the slide or wait for a painting they've made to dry, they need to use patience and perseverance. Most kids aren't born with these essential character traits, though. I know my girls have had to learn these skills little by little. Here are six tips that help me raise patient kids.

Encourage Delayed Gratification

When my girls were toddlers, we frequently ate fast food because it was easy and quick. I soon realized, though, that we had to eat smarter meals, and we started cooking more often at home together. It was hard at first to wait longer than two minutes for dinner, but that delayed gratification paid off because my girls are both skilled cooks now. Over the years, we have also planted gardens, learned new hobbies, and hiked together, all slow activities that bring great rewards in the end.

Practice Mindful Breathing and Yoga

I discovered mindful breathing and yoga in college. These two tools do wonders to relax the mind and body and restore a sense of control. That's why I shared these tools with my girls. We breathe in through our noses, count to five, and slowly exhale through our mouths, and we do at least 10 minutes of yoga every day. When we start to feel impatient, agitated, or frustrated, we can draw on these tools as we relax.

Offer More Free Play

Free play is a big part of my girls' lives because it's very beneficial. I especially appreciate that it helps my girls become more patient. Play time is a natural training ground for patience and perseverance as they enjoy their favorite activities and have fun.

Prep for Challenging Moments

Long lines have always challenged my older daughter. In fact, she developed a bad habit in her preschool years of pinching me if we had to wait in line at the grocery store, movies, or amusement park. I finally began prepping her in advance for this challenge. At home, we pretended that we were waiting in line. I showed her how I expected her to behave and taught her how to keep her hands to herself, breathe mindfully, and wait patiently. With this prep and positive reinforcement, she learned to wait her turn and develop patience.

Review Impulsive Moments

During impatient moments, my girls aren't usually receptive to hearing about how they should be patient. I learned to wait until after the incident to review what happened. We talk about how their actions made them and others feel, and we review what they could have done differently. Over time, my girls have gotten better at impulse control.

Slow Down

We live in a fast-paced society, and I confess that I sometimes get in a hurry and rush my girls. Then we're all agitated! I'm learning to slow down and be more intentional about exercising patience and perseverance in my own life. When I am calm, tranquil, and relaxed, my girls see how they should act and follow my example.

Patience and perseverance are two skills kids can learn little by little. I use these six tips to help my girls become patient kids. What other tips can we use to help our kids develop these essential traits?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart