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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

10 Unique and Fun Writing Prompts for Kids to Celebrate NaNoWriMo!

Photo by David Kessler (Flickr)

Started in 1999, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) gives writers the encouragement to pen 50,000 words during the month of November. I admire the novelists who participate in NaNoWriMo, and this year, I decided to get my girls involved. Here are ten unique and fun writing prompts we can use to help our kids celebrate NaNoWriMo, whether or not they're up for the challenge of trying to write a full novel.

A talking cat and dog visit a farm. What do they see, think, experience, and say?

My girls often imagine what animals would say if they could talk. Now, they can put their imaginative thoughts onto paper with a prompt that also encourages them to consider animal behavior and develop empathy.

What would your day be like if you were a snowflake?

Our kids can tap into their creativity and explore science, geography, and weather as they complete this adventurous and fun writing prompt.

Write a story, poem, or song about three random objects you see in the room right now.

It's easy to connect related items like pizza, a plate, and cheese, but our kids get to think outside of the box when they connect random objects like paper, shoes, and a trumpet. In addition to creativity, this prompt helps kids explore different types of writing styles, since they can write a story, poem, or song about their chosen objects.

What would you do if you could become invisible whenever you wanted?

Our kids can explore their interests, values, and imagination as they reply to this writing prompt. As a twist, we could challenge kids to write about how other people would respond to their ability to become invisible.

If you could do anything you wanted for an entire day, what would you do and why?

Sometimes, when my girls feel discouraged, sad, or upset, I ask them to think about their dream day. They have fun thinking about all of their favorite things, and in no time, they feel better. This prompt also helps my girls examine the interests that make them unique.

Write an ad for your favorite food, book, or game.

When writing an ad, our kids practice summarizing and persuading. Writing ads also helps our kids recognize the elements of sales pitches and become more discerning shoppers.

Pretend you're the king or queen of an underwater world and write about your day.

Our kids can research ocean life and learn more about the animals and plants that live in the water when they plan their day as an underwater ruler. As a bonus, we can use this prompt to help our kids discern what kind of leader they would want to be and what values they appreciate in the teachers, parents, coaches, and leaders in their life.

Rewrite the ending of your favorite movie. What would you change and why?

My girls each have a favorite movie they can recite by heart. I like this prompt because it challenges them to rethink the ending and choose a different path for their favorite characters as they tell a story. It also invites "what/if" conversations that help them think through consequences of actions, an important life skill.

What would you think, feel, and experience if you looked up and saw ice pops raining from the sky?

In addition to creativity, our kids can express their imaginations and think about their feelings when they face unexpected circumstances. This exercise also expands their writing talents and their emotional expression.

Write a letter to your future self to read in ten years.

Despite their biological age, my girls often show wisdom beyond their years. Writing a letter to their future selves gives our kids an opportunity to express their thoughts, feelings, and dreams, and it's good letter-writing practice.

Our kids need to know how to write. Let's encourage them to develop this skill with these ten writing prompts. As a bonus, they can celebrate NaNoWriMo and gather a greater appreciation for writing. What other prompts would you suggest?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, November 2, 2018

10 Tips for Preparing Your Child to Hike Their First Mountain!

Photo by Vasile Cotovanu (Flickr)

After months of prep, my girls and I are finally ready for a big adventure. We're planning our first mountain hike! We're all excited about reaching this milestone, but we've had to work really hard. I used these ten tips to prepare my girls to reach their first mountain summit successfully and happily.

Build Your Endurance

I know we can't just wake up one day and easily walk to the top of a mountain. Instead, we have to build endurance. We did that by walking every day until we successfully completed several day hikes. I now know that my girls are ready to persevere during our mountain hike.

Choose an Entertaining Trail

My girls typically get more enjoyment from hikes that feature lots of scenery. They want to enjoy the journey and see waterfalls, streams, and wildlife on the way to their destination. For this reason, I let them research possible mountain trails and choose the one that will be the most entertaining.

Dress in Layers

Temperatures can drop quickly as we reach higher altitudes, so we plan to dress in layers. With non-cotton layers close to our skin and water-resistant outer layers, we'll stay dry and warm. I also insist that my girls try on all of their hiking clothes before our adventure to make sure everything fits and feels comfortable.

Break in Your Hiking Shoes

We know that our hiking boots can make or break our mountain adventure. That's why we picked out shoes that feature sturdy soles and ankle support. Also, we wore them hiking several times to prevent blisters and other discomforts when we hit the mountain.

Pack Healthy, Nutritious Snacks

Hiking is hard work! To keep up our energy, we will pack trail mix, dried fruit, and granola. As a bonus, these snacks are easy to carry.

Carry Enough Water

Our bodies need about one liter of water for every two hours of hiking. My girls and I already use hydration packs, and we'll each carry flexible water bottles so we can stay hydrated throughout our adventure.

Take the Right Pack

During our day hikes, I make my girls carry a pack that's the right size for their body height. They only carry 10 percent of their body weight, and we evenly distribute those items so all of the weight's not at the top, bottom, or one of the sides. I also ensure that my girls each have food and protective gear in their bags in case we get separated.

Protect Yourself in Any Weather

Even though I check the weather forecast multiple times before each hike, I pack enough protection for any weather. It's especially common for the weather to change rapidly on a mountain, so my girls know that we'll pack water-repellent clothing, sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, gloves, and a lightweight jacket for protection.

Stay Motivated

Hiking a mountain can be very different and harder than hiking a flat trail. My girls have built up their endurance, but I'll also bring several games and activities so my girls stay motivated to push through hard hills or rough terrain. We might look for different colors, identify bird calls, or practice walking like animals as we reach the summit and have fun.

Prepare for Anything

An unexpected storm, wrong turn, or medical event can affect the outcome of any hike, but it's especially important to be prepared while climbing a mountain. We picked out safety gear like a compass, map, whistle, and first aid kit, and I taught my girls how to use each item just in case.

Before my girls and I tackle our first mountain hike, we want to make sure we're prepared. So far, we've implemented these tips to ensure we remain happy as we succeed on our first mountain hiking adventure. What other training or preparation ideas do you suggest?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

15 Trick-Or-Treating Safety Tips for a Happy, Healthy Halloween

Photo by Tzuhsun Hsu (Flickr)

Trick-or-treat night is an event my girls anticipate all year. They spend months crafting the perfect DIY costumes and dream about all the candy they'll get. Halloween can be dangerous for kids, though. That's why my family implements 15 safety tips as we enjoy a happy and healthy evening.

Wear a Costume That Fits

One year, my daughter wore a princess gown that was too long. She tripped several times, and we learned a valuable lesson. Now, we try on costumes and make any alterations before trick-or-treat night.

Choose Safe Accessories

Some costumes need accessories like flowing wigs, long swords, or oversized shoes. We can keep our kids safe with accessories that fit properly, are flame-resistant, don't have sharp points, and are free of other hazards.

Ensure Visibility

I'm a big fan of masks. This costume element can make or break trick-or-treating! However, we always pick masks with enlarged eye, nose, and mouth openings so my girls can see clearly as they walk around town.

Apply Safe Face Paint and Makeup

Face paint and makeup can be a safe alternative to masks, since they don't hinder visibility. I always look for nontoxic face paint and makeup and test a small amount on my girls' wrists to ensure they aren't allergic. We also remove all face paint and makeup before bed.

Wear Reflective Elements

Reflective tape makes our kids more visible to other Halloween celebrants and drivers during nighttime trick-or-treating. For this reason, we add reflectors to our costumes, shoes, and candy pails.

Carry a Flashlight

A flashlight is a mandatory costume accessory for my girls. They rely on their flashlights any time they can't see clearly.

Be Smart When Using Electronic Devices

My kids carry a cellphone for emergencies or to take cute pictures with their friends. But they know that their phones stay in their pockets as they walk so they don't get distracted and trip or fall.

Visit Well-Lit Houses

To make sure my kids can see where they're walking and are seen by others, I instruct them to only visit houses with well-lit sidewalks, paths, stairs, and porches.

Remain on the Sidewalk

Every year, I see excited trick-or-treaters walk on private lawns or even dart into the street. I tell my girls to stay on the sidewalk where they'll be safe.

Pay Attention

Instead of checking out their candy baskets or looking around, I encourage my girls to pay attention to their surroundings. I want them to avoid obstacles and hazards throughout the evening.

Cross the Street Properly

To maximize their candy haul, my girls sometimes zigzag across the street. Before Halloween, we practice using crosswalks. My girls know they should wait for the walk signal and look both ways before they cross the street.

Avoid Strangers

I know my girls will encounter strangers as they celebrate Halloween, but they also exercise caution. They only walk with kids or adults they know and never go into anyone's home or accept rides from strangers.

Stay Alert for Cars

The excitement of trick-or-treating can cause kids to act in unpredictable ways. They must remain alert and watch out for cars as they navigate busy neighborhoods on Halloween.

Provide Adequate Supervision

For years, my girls begged me to let them trick-or-treat with friends instead of with me. I insisted that they wait for group trick-or-treating until they turned 12 and then stay in well-lit and familiar areas to improve safety as they have fun.

Check Candy Carefully

I'm usually a trusting person, but I know the realities of our day and age. That's why I instruct my girls to let me inspect their candy before they eat even one piece. I toss anything that's homemade, unwrapped, or unsealed and remove any candy that's a choking hazard.

This year, my girls are as excited as ever about trick-or-treating. We'll follow these 15 safety tips to ensure the evening is happy and safe. How do you keep Halloween safe for your kids?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, October 26, 2018

10 Reasons to Reduce Meat During National Vegetarian Month

Photo by Kinshuk Kashyap (Flickr)

Although my girls and I like to eat meat, we're participating in National Vegetarian Month this October. We did a bit of research and found ten compelling reasons to go vegetarian and reduce our meat consumption this month. This list might motivate your family to embrace a vegetarian diet in October, too.

Live Longer

Vegetarians outlive meat-eaters and are less likely to die from chronic diseases. The antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other healthy nutrients in plants contribute to longevity. By eating more plants, we can slow the aging process, reverse some chronic diseases, and strengthen our immune systems.

Reduce Heart Disease Risk

By consuming a vegetarian diet, we could reverse coronary heart disease and lower our risk of dying from heart disease. That's because plants are low in saturated fat and cholesterol, the major contributors to heart disease.

Prevent Certain Cancers

Eating a vegetarian diet may not reduce every cancer risk. However, we can reduce our risk of developing certain cancers when we boost the amount of plants and vegetables we eat.

Lose Weight

In general, vegetarians have a lower BMI than people who consume meat. Plants and vegetables are rich in fiber, which can help us lose weight. Also, I notice that my girls and I tend to eat less junk or processed foods when we load our meal and snack plates with fruits and vegetables.

Help Fight Global Warming

The carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide generated by livestock contribute more greenhouse gases to the environment than all the vehicles in the world, according to a 2006 United Nations report. As parents, caregivers, and teachers, we can encourage our kids to reduce meat consumption and eat more plants and vegetables as we cut global warming and preserve the environment for our benefit and to help future generations.

Protect Animals

Overfished oceans, penned livestock, and other insensitivities affect the animals we eat. When my girls realized this fact, they decided to exercise compassion to animals through vegetarianism.

Stop World Hunger

Every 3.6 seconds, a human dies from starvation. Eating meat contributes to this concern because cattle consume grain that could be used to feed up to four billion humans. Let's eat more plants and boost the amount of grain available to our fellow men, women, and children.

Save Money

If you're like me and try to save money, go vegetarian. We can reduce our doctor visits and medical bills, enjoy a healthier lifestyle, and even boost our energy levels and productivity at work when we eat a healthier diet.

Grow Your Own Food

My girls and I read labels on the foods we buy at the grocery store because we want to know the origins of our food and ensure that we don't consume contaminants, hormones, and pesticides. We can take this interest a step further by growing our own fruits and vegetables. Gardening is fun, and we can bond as a family as we plant, nurture, and harvest our snacks and meals. Plus, we can guarantee that the food we grow is safe to eat when we follow it from seed to table.

Embark on a Family Adventure

I've cooked a few vegetarian dishes for my family over the years, but eating this diet every day in October is a new adventure. My girls and I are all excited to experiment in the kitchen together and engage our taste buds with new fruits and vegetables.

This October, my family is eating like vegetarians for ten compelling reasons. We invite your family to join us! Even if you can't embrace vegetarianism for a whole month, consider reducing meat and boosting fruits and veggies on your plate as much as possible. Will you join us in celebrating National Vegetarian Month?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

It's National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month! Top 10 Reasons to Adopt a Dog

Photo by Thomas Lillis IV (Flickr)

Every October, you'll find my girls and me celebrating Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. We visit animal shelters to play with dogs, share the event on social media, and encourage our friends to adopt. If your family has thought about adding a dog to your home, consider 10 reasons you should adopt a dog from a shelter rather than purchase a puppy this month.

Save a Life

Every year, 670,000 shelter dogs are euthanized. You can save one of those dogs and make a big difference in its life when you adopt.

Break the Cycle of Pet Overpopulation

Overpopulation occurs when the number of available pets surpasses the number of pet owners. Adoption can reduce this concern. Also, remember to spay or neuter your new dog and the pets you already own to keep the pet population safe and healthy.

Choose the Right Dog for You

Although my girls really want a dog, we don't have the time or room for a pet right now. However, if you've evaluated your lifestyle and are ready to choose a new pet with a complementary temperament, personality, and needs, visit a shelter. While it's difficult to know how a puppy will act as it grows, shelter staff can often get to know a mature dog's demeanor and help you find a good match for your family.

Add a Healthy Dog to Your Family

Puppies sold by puppy mills or online sellers may be sick or malnourished. Alternatively, dogs cared for in shelters receive medical exams, disease screenings, vaccinations, and a balanced diet. You can adopt a dog from a shelter and have confidence that it will be healthy.

Reduce Adoption Costs

To adopt a puppy, you'll have to pay for its vaccinations, spaying or neutering, and microchipping, which is essential to help you find your dog if it ever gets lost. You may also need to purchase obedience and house-training classes. Mature dogs typically have received these services and are already trained. Not only will you save money, but the adoption fees you pay will support the shelter's ongoing rescue efforts.

Adopt a Trained Dog

Many shelter dogs are strays or are surrendered by owners who can no longer care for their pet. They probably are already house-trained and know basic obedience skills, and they may be comfortable around kids and other animals, too. Based on these probabilities, you will generally experience less frustration and save time and money when you adopt an adult dog rather than a puppy.

Improve Your Emotional and Physical Health

Research shows that dog owners gain a variety of health benefits. For example, you and your family can experience less stress and loneliness, lower blood pressure, and improved cardiovascular health thanks to your new pet.

Play and Exercise More

Play and exercise are important for the health and well-being of both you and your dog. I love how your entire family can play more while you take walks, play fetch, and run laps with your new furry friend.

Keep Kids Safer

We want to protect our kids, which is a great reason to adopt a mature dog. Now that they're past the excitable puppy stage, they're probably less likely to jump, claw, or yip and can form healthy and protective bonds with your children.

Encourage Others to Adopt

Post selfies with your new pet, introduce your new dog to everyone you meet, and tell your friends about life with your dog. Your excitement and enthusiasm might encourage others to add an adopted dog to their home, too.

This month, consider adopting a shelter dog instead of a puppy. You'll gain many important benefits as you enhance your family life. What other reasons can you think of to add a shelter dog to your home?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Play-Based Learning Sets Children Up for Academic and Personal Success!

Photo by woodleywonderworks (Flickr)

After a long day at school, my girls love to come home and play. They shoot hoops in the driveway, run around the playground, or find a fun activity to enjoy in our playroom. Rather than a waste of time, all this after-school playtime helps them focus better on their homework. Research also shows that play-based learning is important for child development, and it can pave the way for their academic and personal success. Let's advocate for more play in and out of school as we help our kids succeed.

What Is Play-Based Learning?

In most classrooms, our kids experience an academic setting. They sit at a desk, listen to the teacher, then complete worksheets, reading assignments, or other tasks. This setting is valuable for our kids' education, but besides recess, kids in academic environments receive very few opportunities to play.

Play-based learning takes advantage of a child's natural curiosity, creativity, and playful attitude. In a relaxed environment, kids learn as they have fun. With games, music, art, books, activities, objects, materials, and hands-on activities, kids experiment, explore, imagine, and solve problems.

Play-based learning can occur during free play and guided play.

  • Free Play: Kids decide which spontaneous activities they'll engage in. They use their imaginations and creativity to choose games and other play activities that may but don't have to incorporate academic topics like math, reading, and science.
  • Guided Play: Also child-directed, guided play includes intentional guidance from the teacher. For example, the teacher may ask kids to explore a theme from the day's lesson, solve a problem, or hypothesize an outcome as they play with blocks, jump rope, or pretend they're jungle animals. Or teachers may encourage kids to work together as they play, which allows them to develop social skills such as sharing, teamwork, conflict resolution, and negotiation.

Research That Supports Play-Based Learning

You can probably tell by now that I'm a big play-based learning advocate. Part of my passion is supported by documented studies. Research results compiled by the National Association of Elementary School Principals reveal the benefits of play-based learning.

  1. Kids often spontaneously choose to include mathematical concepts as they play. A study conducted by Herb Ginsburg and Kyoung-Hye Seo found that up to half of a preschooler's playtime activities included patterns, shapes, quantities, and other math activities.
  2. Young children who use language during play experience better literacy outcomes in middle school. The connection between play and literacy is proven in a study conducted by the Home-School Study of Language and Literacy Development.
  3. Play-based learning programs improve long-term outcomes for children. The HighScope Preschool Curriculum Comparison Study (PCCS) followed children into young adulthood and found that kids who participated in play-based learning programs performed better academically and committed fewer crimes than kids who were enrolled in rigid instructional programs.
  4. Kids score higher in creativity, industry, and oral expression when they participate in play-based kindergarten classes. A study conducted in Germany followed children until age 10 and helped convince the government to implement more play-based classes.
  5. Engaging in dramatic pretend play with other kids can give children greater comprehension skills and a stronger understanding of written texts. Sara Smilansky discovered this connection as she studied young children.

How to Increase Play-Based Learning Opportunities

While play-based learning is especially important for young children, older kids also benefit. I know both of my girls appreciate opportunities to play in and out of the classroom as they learn.

Here are a few ways we can add more play-based learning opportunities to our kids' academic experiences.

  1. Provide access to a variety of objects and materials.
  2. Encourage kids to experiment.
  3. Incorporate playful, hands-on exercises in the classroom.
  4. Give children opportunities to move around during class.
  5. Increase recess time.
  6. Provide kids with time to unwind and enjoy free play after school.

Our children need play time: It's important for their academic and personal success. Let's encourage our schools to provide additional play opportunities during the day, and let's give our kids time to play at home after school. In what ways do you provide play-based learning opportunities for your kids?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, September 27, 2018

It's International Literacy Day! How Play Promotes Literacy From an Early Age

Photo by Elizabeth (Flickr)

When we talk about literacy, we broadly describe our ability to read and write. I know I'm grateful for this ability, and I do what I can to help my girls develop literacy skills, too. In fact, we celebrated International Literacy Day on Sept. 8 by playing.

If you're wondering what play has to do with literacy, consider how play activities help our kids learn about sounds, words, language, and stories. With these skills, our kids build a foundation for the development of reading and writing abilities. For these reasons, let's encourage our kids to play more so they can become more literate. Here are several ways play promotes literacy from an early age.

Play Prompts the Use of Oral Language

From babbling at the mobile above the crib to singing along with their favorite kids' music, children use sounds and words as they play. All of this oral communication paves the way for literacy skill development. Through play, our kids listen, speak, discuss roles, describe objects, give directions, learn new vocabulary and word meanings, and constantly reinforce their communication and oral language skills. They then use these skills to read, write, and comprehend language better.

Play Develops Complex Cognitive Abilities

Reading and writing require numerous cognitive skills, such as categorizing, imaging, and problem-solving. Our kids develop these abilities as they play. I know that when my girls play make-believe, use trial and error in their artwork, and create their own game rules, they're honing essential cognitive abilities that support their literacy achievements.

Play Teaches Symbolic Representation

Written words represent spoken words, and children prepare to make this and other literary associations as they play. As they use props, act out new themes, take on pretend roles, and work with visual arts, they learn more about symbolism and expand their vocabulary and use of language. For example, my girls sometimes form pretend food from play dough, use paper tubes as binoculars for a spy mission, or improvise dialogue for their make-believe characters. Their symbolic use of objects prepares them to accept that written letters have sounds and that we can put letters together in a string to make words, essential skills for literacy development.

Play Cultivates Social Skills

The social interactions our kids enjoy as they play help them construct spoken language skills that form the foundation for literacy development. They gain an understanding of human interaction, how language works, and word meanings as they communicate with peers and adults during play. Those skills allow our kids to then connect spoken language with written language as they read and write.

Play Supports Self-Regulation

Academic learning and literacy development depend in part on a child's ability to self-regulate. Over the years, I've observed how delayed gratification, patience, and perseverance have helped my girls complete challenging reading and writing tasks. In part, they learned these self-regulation tools as they played. Stacking blocks, sharing toys, and practicing throwing a ball are examples of play activities that support literacy success.

Play Includes Literacy-Enriched Settings

Our playroom at home is a literacy-enriched environment. My girls have access to drawing materials, board games, and books. I also encourage them to write signs and menus for their pretend restaurant and label their toy bins with the names of the items inside. This play setting reinforces their writing and reading functions while associating literacy with fun. As adults, we can provide the necessary tools for this setting and surround our kids with literacy-enriched props.

To celebrate International Literacy Day and every day, let's encourage our kids to play. They can have fun as they learn basic skills that support literacy development. In what ways does play help your kids learn to read and write?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Today is the International Day of Peace! 9 Ways to Teach Children About Diversity

Photo by James Doyle (Flickr)

On Friday, Sept. 21, we celebrate the International Day of Peace. This celebration is especially important as our kids increasingly encounter people of varying ages, from numerous cultures, and with unique physical abilities in their classrooms, on the playground, and around town. As parents, caregivers, and teachers, consider joining me this month as we teach our children to respect and embrace diversity in nine ways.

Get Out of Our Comfort Zone

It's natural for us to surround ourselves with people who look, talk, and think like us, but we owe it to our kids and ourselves to step outside of our comfort zone. Let's make a conscious choice to interact with people who are different than us and encourage our kids to do the same. For example, we can buy groceries at the international store across town or send our kids to a more diverse school.

See and Discuss Differences

In an effort to prevent racism, we may ignore the visual and other differences we see in people. However, even babies can identify gender and racial differences. Seeing and discussing differences with our kids can remove fear and help our kids learn to appreciate and respect people who aren't the same.

Attend Local Cultural Events

Many local communities host heritage festivals, diversity celebrations, and international musical events that celebrate the strengths and uniquenesses of other cultures. I attend and explore as many of these events as possible with my kids. I encourage them to interact with the performers, ask questions, and eat the unique foods. Through these events, we broaden our kids' worldview and increase their understanding and appreciation for other heritages and cultures.

Read Books About Diversity

Use story time to introduce your kids to the ways they can accept, embrace, and celebrate differences. Here are a few books about diversity that my kids and I have read together.

  • It's Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr celebrates the value of diversity.
  • My Granny Went to Market by Stella Blackstone follows Granny through diverse marketplaces around the world.
  • One World, One Day by Barbara Kerley shows pictures of children from around the world participating in daily activities.
  • The Colors of Us by Karen Katz explores the fact that all people are simply different shades of the same color.
  • The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss demonstrates that different types of people are not superior and can become friends.
  • Why Am I Different? by Norma Simon outlines differences such as family, size, language, and hair color.

Meet Your Neighbors

We can weave diversity awareness and appreciation into our everyday lives when we meet our neighbors. That means we need to say hello at the bus stop or park. Additionally, we can share meals, play games, and help with home repairs. By interacting and building relationships with our diverse neighbors, we help our kids understand, value, and accept our rich world.

Play Games From Around the World

Like other kids around the world, my girls enjoy playing soccer and tag. We also sometimes play different games that are popular in other countries. Play gives our kids an opportunity to connect with and appreciate kids from all cultures.

Celebrate Cultural Holidays

When my girls' classmates or our neighbors celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or Chinese New Year, we celebrate, too. It's educational and fun to make traditional foods and dress up in cultural clothing. We also gain firsthand insight into the values and uniqueness of other cultures through our holiday celebrations.

Listen to International Music

Music is an international language. Even if we don't understand the words, we can dance to the beat, make instruments that are unique to other countries, and enjoy the sounds of music from around the world. As my girls and I have listened to international music on satellite radio or CDs we borrow from the library, we've discovered dozens of new artists and have gained an appreciation for people from around the world.

Be an Example

As adults, we set the example for our kids in all areas, including diversity. That means we need to watch our words, attitudes, and behavior. I caught myself the other day feeling annoyed with one of our older neighbors who has a disability and takes a long time to cross the street. I had to remember that even my unspoken disrespect can cause my kids to think negatively about others.

Helping kids respect and embrace diversity is a big job for parents, caregivers, and teachers. We can use these nine ways to get us started, especially as we celebrate the International Day of Peace. In what other ways do you help your kids accept others?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, September 13, 2018

10 Ways to Make More Time to Play With Your Kids

Photo by Matthew Hurst (Flickr)

If your life is as busy as mine, you may not always know if you're coming or going! My girls are almost as busy, and finding time to play together is almost impossible some days. We need play time with our kids, though, because play helps us bond, improves communication, and builds trust. Consider joining me in making more time to play with our kids in these ten ways.

Turn Errands Into Game Time

My girls used to dislike visiting the grocery store, pharmacy, or post office with me, but we now turn almost every errand into a play opportunity. We might play I Spy, complete grocery store bingo cards, or compete to find the best deal of the day. These and other games can make essential errands fun and add more playful bonding time to our routine.

Share Household Chores

Someone has to wash dishes, dust furniture, fold laundry, and do dozens of other household chores, and I often ask my girls to help me. We sometimes race to see who can fold the most laundry in two minutes or dance as we dust. The work gets done faster and is a lot more fun when we play. As a bonus, my girls learn how to do household chores properly as we work together.

Cook Special Dinners

I admit that cooking with helpers takes more time. My girls and I share many fun moments in the kitchen, though. As we prep and cook tacos, pizza, sushi, or breakfast together, we chat, laugh, and learn. Our meals even taste better, I think, because my girls and I have invested time cooking these special dinners as a team.

Establish Playful Traditions

Each year, my girls get to pick the agenda for their birthday celebration. We might go hiking, visit a local museum, or enjoy a special meal at a favorite restaurant. Additionally, we've established other playful traditions throughout the year. On the last day of school, we visit a local water park, and Friday nights are reserved for pizza and active video games. These special moments give us time to play together as we create memories that my girls will remember for a long time.

Take Pajama Walks

As toddlers, my girls sometimes fought sleep and did almost everything they could think of to postpone bedtime. One night, I told them to brush their teeth, comb their hair, and put on their pajamas, and then we strolled leisurely around the block. The pause gave us time to connect, and the fresh air helped them relax. A great alternative to pre-bedtime fights or TV, this fun idea is still one we all enjoy occasionally.

Play Games

A few years ago, my younger daughter became obsessed with Candy Land. I quickly grew tired of that board game, but you can bet I played with her every time she asked. I knew that I needed to enter her world so we could better connect with each other and build trust. Plus, we had tons of fun laughing our way to the candy castle every day. Whether your kids are into soccer, robotics, or chess, consider playing often as you invest in your kids, prove that you value them, and make time to play.

Drive Less Often

I often rush the kids to the car when we have errands or they want to visit a friend. However, my neighbor challenged me last month to walk with my girls instead. Sure, walking takes extra time, but we use those minutes to chat and connect. Walking is good exercise for our bodies and minds, too. For these reasons, I've decided to drive less and walk more with my girls. So far, it's been a great decision for all of us!

Be Spontaneous

Our job as parents and caregivers never ends, and it's easy to feel overwhelmed with responsibilities. However, our kids need us and are only small once. Instead of pushing our kids away when they ask us to play or invite us to interact with them, we can consider embracing all of those precious and engaging opportunities to play. Our adult tasks can wait as we toss a ball, inspect new artistic creations, build block castles, and otherwise invest in our children.

Perform Home Repairs as a Team

Ever since they could hold their toy screwdrivers, my girls have enjoyed being my assistants during home repair projects. They pass me tools and even help me with the jobs now as we change light bulbs, clean the furnace filter, and repair leaky faucets. I appreciate the time we spend together, and we have fun as I teach my girls important life skills.

Check in Each Day

My girls know that I will make time each day to check in with them. We might shoot hoops, play a game of Wii bowling, or have a pillow fight as we chat about the day, discuss any concerns, and connect. Even if we only spend a few minutes together, we have fun and make memories as we bond.

Play time is essential for our kids and for us. Although life is busy, we can make more time to play with our kids. In addition to these ten suggestions, in what other ways do you add play time to your routine with your kids?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Sunday, September 2, 2018

7 Ways That Balancing Equipment and Games Help Child Development

Photo by Robert Murphy (Flickr)

I took my girls bike-riding last night, and we had quite the adventure. Both of my girls attempted to ride over a narrow rail and fell off of their bikes. They're both OK, but that experience reminded me of the importance of balance.

Balance is the ability to control our body's position, and it's important whether we stand still (static) or move (dynamic). We can use balance equipment, such as balance beams, wobbly pebbles, and stepping stools, and play balance games like hopscotch and freeze tag with our kids so they can develop balance and their bodies in seven important ways.

Balance Develops Coordination

With coordination skills, our kids can perform complicated movements with mobility and flexibility. For example, they can step up onto a curb without tripping, run around the playground and not collide with other kids or the equipment, and catch or throw a ball with ease. These and other actions are possible because our kids have practiced their balance and developed coordination.

Balance Improves Core Strength

Kids of all ages use balance to develop their core strength. That strength ultimately enables babies to roll over, toddlers to walk, and big kids to run. Additionally, core strength equips our kids to function during the day and play as they sit properly in a chair, stand tall in line, climb a ladder, and jump rope.

Balance Enables Sports Participation

When our kids play sports and games with their peers, they get physical exercise, build important social relationships, and develop confidence. Kids need balance to run, jump, or throw, though, since balance is what gives them the ability to make the fluid movements they use as they play sports.

Balance Reduces Injuries

Even though my girls fell off their bikes last night, they were able to put their hands out, stop their falls, and prevent themselves from suffering a serious injury. I attribute this skill to their balance and know that proper balance has helped them avoid injuries as they navigate stairs, walk through crowded hallways, and jump over obstacles, too.

Balance Builds Concentration

I admit that I didn't realize the connection between balance and concentration until I did some research and discovered that our kids often focus more efficiently and faster when their bodies are stable. Instead of thinking about how to sit in the chair without falling over, for instance, they can use their mental energy to focus on the task at hand, whether they're coloring, taking a test, or listening to the teacher.

Balance Supports Fine Motor Skills

The next time your kids write a letter, button their shirt, or cut paper dolls with scissors, watch their balance, posture, and core. Our kids can perform these and other fine motor skills with confidence thanks to proper balance.

Balance Enhances Table Activities

My girls usually eat, draw, and take tests at a desk or table. They can sit properly to perform these tasks because they've developed balance while playing hopscotch, walking on narrow beams at the park, and standing on a balance board.

The next time our kids play balance games and on balance equipment, we can remember that these activities support their development in seven important ways. I know my girls and I will head outside tonight to ride our bikes. What activities will you and your kids do to improve their balance?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, August 30, 2018

10 Ways That Children Benefit from Boredom and Free Time

Photo by Bernard Yeo (Flickr)

While my girls kept themselves fairly busy this summer, they did experience moments of boredom. The week when all their friends went on vacation and the time we lost electricity during a storm were especially difficult for them. Like most kids, my girls don't always enjoy downtime, but I like it. Free time without constant stimulation, scheduled activities, or devices gives our kids ten benefits that help them learn, grow, and function better in life.

Boredom Stimulates Physical Health

When my girls are overscheduled, they get physically tired, and their risk for illness increases. I have to be careful to include downtime in their schedule every day as we protect their physical health. As a bonus, my kids sleep better when they relax and experience a bit of boredom rather than stimulating activities before bed.

Boredom Protects Mental Health

Our kids might say that being bored causes them to feel stress, anxiety, and depression, but these mental health challenges actually stem from overstimulation. Too much activity can make kids feel overwhelmed, anxious, and unable to cope with everything on their schedule. We protect our kids' mental health when we let them be bored and enjoy free time to relax, unwind, and play.

Boredom Provides Emotional Security

I don't want my girls to need an activity, friend, or device to make them happy or to affirm their worth. Instead, I want them to find happiness, fulfillment, and confidence in themselves. Spending time alone prompts our kids to develop the emotional security they need to navigate peer pressure, friend challenges, and other life situations.

Boredom Encourages Creativity

Give our kids free time and they can imagine, experiment, and dream to their heart's content. And as they play, they develop creativity that helps them innovate and think outside of the box, skills they could use to transform our world.

Boredom Develops Personal Interests

As a kid, I spent many long hours inventing games during my free time. To this day, I remain grateful for those hours of self-directed play because they helped me choose my current career. I definitely want to give my own girls the gift of free time so they can discover their interests, talents, and abilities, too.

Boredom Trains Kids to Patiently Persevere

We want our kids to exercise patience as they wait in line or sit in class, and they must learn to persevere through tough tasks and hardships. Let's train our kids to cope with downtime so they can successfully handle non-stimulating life situations with patience and perseverance.

Boredom Improves Concentration and Focus

A packed schedule that's filled with activities, devices, and action forces our kids to multitask and think about dozens of things at once. That busyness can sabotage their concentration and focus. When it's time to complete a homework assignment, read a book, or take an exam, they may struggle to sit still and think because they're so used to moving, thinking, and doing all at once.

Boredom Equips Kids to Be Kids

I'm all for giving kids access to summer camps, educational classes, and stimulating social adventures, but they're only young once. Kids need time to enjoy childhood, including the freedom of unstructured play.

Boredom Frees Kids to Think

I get some of my best ideas when I'm doing nothing, tinkering, or doodling. Downtime gives our brains the opportunity to reboot and think.

Boredom Teaches Contentment

My girls know we limit our time on electronics, but that rule doesn't stop them from whining and complaining when their time's up. The other day, I realized that downtime and boredom can help my girls learn contentment and how to be satisfied with and grateful for all of their blessings rather than continually wishing they had more.

The next time your kids say that they're bored, resist the urge to fill their time with activities, stimulation, or devices. Boredom and free time give our kids ten benefits that prepare them for success in life. How do your kids benefit from downtime?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, August 17, 2018

Lead the Pack: 10 Benefits of Hiking as a Family

Photo by cherublisa (Flickr)

After much discussion, we decided to spend our last vacation of the summer on a family hike. My girls and I appreciate the opportunity to get up close and personal with nature as we relax. We also like hiking because it provides 10 benefits for the whole family, a great reason to lead the pack and enjoy a family hike today.

Hiking Promotes Learning

When my girls were younger, I pointed out colorful plants, unique smells, and wildlife noises during our hikes. Now, they research the trails we plan to hike, pack their own magnifying glasses and nature journals, and teach me about the natural wonders we encounter on our hiking adventures.

Hiking Provides Physical Activity

My girls and I enjoy an active lifestyle, and we definitely appreciate the health benefits we gain during hikes. Hiking gives us a cardiovascular workout, improves agility, and builds muscle strength. Plus, it's a fun way to burn calories, tone our bodies, and reach our daily fitness goals.

Hiking Reduces Reliance on Digital Distractions

If your kids are like mine, they love their digital devices, and I admit that I spend a lot of time on my phone, too. There's something about hiking, though, that helps us reset our brains and want to spend less time online. We pack one cellphone for emergency purposes and then spend our device-free hike talking and enjoying the peace, quiet, and tranquil energy of the great outdoors.

Hiking Sharpens Concentration and Focus

Spending time in nature helps our kids reboot their concentration and focus. The physical activity of hiking also gives kids an outlet for their energy, which helps them sit still and think more clearly when they return to the classroom or another task.

Hiking Builds Self-Confidence

With every hike we take, I give my girls more responsibilities. They now feel confident enough to choose our trails, persevere on long hikes and on trails with many obstacles, and pack their own hiking and survival gear. While their self-confidence ensures that my girls can hike successfully, it also equips them to succeed in tough academic classes, push through sports practices, and say no to peer pressure.

Hiking Develops Problem-Solving Skills

Last year, we took a wrong turn and got lost while hiking on an unfamiliar trail. Instead of panicking, my girls figured out how to find our way back to the car. They even discovered how to walk around huge boulders on the trail and cross a stream without getting wet. These and other challenges helped my girls develop problem-solving skills they can use in everyday life.

Hiking Boosts Communication Skills

To pass the time while hiking, my girls and I practice conversational skills, such as asking questions, active listening, and taking turns. We also take advantage of the undistracted time to talk about life goals, work through personal problems they may be experiencing at home or school, and practice respectful debate and negotiation, all important communication tools.

Hiking Improves Mental Health

Hiking is good for our mental health. Studies show that a walk in natural environments releases serotonin and adrenaline in our bodies, allowing us to feel good. We also ruminate less, relieve tension and stress, and fight depression as we hike outdoors.

Hiking Prompts Environmental Protection

My girls are more receptive to learning about ecology and ways they can protect the environment as we walk in nature. They also know that we'll talk often about conservation, practice the "leave no trace" principle, and volunteer regularly to remove litter from our local trails so that we can continue one of our favorite family activities.

Hiking Enhances Family Bonding

One of my favorite hiking benefits is the opportunity to escape real life and truly connect and bond with my girls. Not only do we talk about all sorts of topics as we walk, but we can reminisce for years about the shared memories we make during our hikes.

When we lead the pack and take our family hiking, the entire family can enjoy better health, communication, happiness, and well-being. In addition to these 10 hiking benefits, what does your family gain from hiking?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart