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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