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Thursday, April 26, 2018

15 Ways to Reduce Your Family's Carbon Footprint

Photo by Chris Potter (Flickr)

On April 22, we celebrate Earth Day. Because I'm passionate about outdoor play, my family and I plan to show our planet a little love by reducing our carbon footprint. Use these ideas to join us.

Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

With a carbon footprint calculator, your family will know if you have to take small or big steps to reduce your negative impact on the environment. Ideally, our carbon footprint should total less than two tons of CO2 per year.

Reduce Trash

Almost every week, we fill our trash bin to nearly overflowing, which is way too much trash. My girls agree that we want to purchase fewer goods and reuse or recycle more items as we reduce waste.

Use Fewer Plastics

While staying hydrated is important, we plan to eliminate plastic bottles in favor of aluminum or stainless steel water bottles. Reusable grocery bags, glass food containers, and metal drinking straws also help us use fewer plastics.

Recycle

My girls love playing games, so I challenged them to see if we can double the amount of stuff we recycle. They already decided to use one-sided school papers in our printer, save packaging material for holiday gift wrap, and use a local low-cost recycling program for large items.

Upcycle Craft Projects

On YouTube, my girls found hundreds of fun, crafty ways to upcycle clothing, containers, and boxes. They're excited to sew old T-shirts into grocery tote bags, transform wooden pallets into bookshelves, and turn magazines into coasters.

Walk or Bike More

By walking or biking to work and consolidating errands, we reduce emissions. My girls agree that they want to walk to school more often, and they want to ride their bikes to the grocery store, too.

Go Paperless

Between school papers, junk mail, and bills, I handle dozens of pieces of paper each day, but that will change this month. I will request digital copies of my bills and bank statements, cancel unread magazine and newspaper subscriptions, and use a memo app to track my grocery list and other notes on my phone.

Buy Sustainable Goods

At a recent home show, I saw beautiful furniture and home goods made from metal, glass, bamboo, and renewable natural fibers, materials that reduce environmental damage. The next time we need any items for our home, my girls and I will buy sustainable goods.

Replace Light Bulbs

I constantly tell my girls to turn off the lights when they leave a room. I'm also replacing our incandescent bulbs with energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) options.

Shop Secondhand

Although my girls love the mall, they are also learning to love consignment and thrift stores. They appreciate reducing waste and saving money while building a cute and functional wardrobe.

Buy Energy-Efficient Appliances

Last week, my washing machine started making a funny noise. While shopping for a replacement, I'm looking for models with the Energy Star label.

Compost

We're frequent salad-eaters, but somehow, we always end up tossing leftover lettuce and tomatoes in the trash. This month, we're starting a compost bin to turn our plant scraps into food for our lawn, flower beds, and herb containers.

Unplug to Reduce Phantom Energy Use

I use my toaster oven, phone charger, and coffee maker each day, but I sometimes forget to unplug these appliances that actually use energy even when they're turned off. I'm setting phone alarms to remind me to unplug these appliances and conserve energy.

Grow Plants

Trees consume CO2 and reduce home heating and cooling costs, so plant a tree. Alternatively, you could join us and plant flowers or a garden in your backyard or rent a plot in the community garden.

Adjust the Thermostat

Increasing the thermostat setting in the summer and turning it down in the winter cuts your family's energy consumption. We also use fans to conserve energy and stay comfortable.

My family will celebrate Earth Day every day by reducing our carbon footprint in 15 ways. I appreciate the opportunity to preserve the planet for my children and to teach my kids to conserve natural resources. Will your family join us?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

9 Reasons Why Gardening is Enriching for Kids and How to Get Them Involved

Photo by Walter (Flickr)

Now that spring has arrived, I'm feeling the need to garden. There's something therapeutic and fun about digging in the dirt, planting vegetables and flowers, and nurturing the plants. Gardening enriches life for kids in many different ways, and as parents, teachers, and caregivers, we can encourage the children we care about to get excited about gardening.

Improves Fine Motor Development

Gardening requires kids to scoop dirt, place seeds, pour water, and pull weeds. These actions improve their fine motor skills, hand strength, and coordination, skills our kids use as they get dressed, write, and eat.

Teaches Responsibility

As kids water plants and pull weeds, they learn the importance of working hard and remembering their responsibilities every day. My girls use a chart to ensure that they complete all of their gardening jobs each day.

Develops Patience

I know kids have a hard time waiting, so help them develop this skill in the garden. Over time, my girls have learned that delayed gratification yields big rewards at the end of the growing season.

Provides Exercise

I always get a workout as I dig dirt, carry water, and nurture my plants. Our kids exercise and benefit from the physical act of gardening, too.

Reinforces Academic Concepts

While gardening, kids practice math, science, and other academic concepts. I challenge my girls to count seeds as you plant them, compare the shapes of different plant leaves, and research how seeds grow.

Nurtures Respect for Nature

Because we're caretakers of the earth, we have to teach the next generation to respect the planet and nature. While gardening, my girls and I often discuss topics like botany, conservation, insects, pollution, pesticides, and recycling.

Promotes Healthier Eating Habits

Kids are more likely to eat a variety of healthy fruits, vegetables, and herbs they plant, nurture, and harvest. This year, my girls plan to grow their own garden salad and agreed to try the snap peas and rosemary we're planting.

Boosts Vitamin D Exposure

Vitamin D helps us maintain strong bones, a healthy immune system, and cardiovascular health. By spending time outside, our kids can get adequate vitamin D and improve their health.

Engages the Senses

In the garden, kids can feel the dirt, see vibrant colors, hear birds chirp, smell flowers, and taste the veggies and herbs. We can also plant sense-friendly plants as we provide kids with an all-encompassing sensory experience.

While our kids can benefit from gardening in these nine ways, you may wonder how to get started. I've found several tips that can simplify gardening for kids of all ages.

Let Your Kids Decide What to Plant

My girls are always more excited about working in the garden when they take ownership and decide which plants to grow.

Select Edibles

Most kids will stay interested in gardening all season if they know they can eat the fruits of their labor!

Start Small

We started our first garden with containers on the deck. Then, as my girls' gardening skills improved, we added more plants and a larger garden area.

Cultivate a Kid-Friendly Plot

Ensure that your kids can easily reach the plants when you create a narrow garden bed with clear paths or create raised beds, something new we're trying this year. Provide kid-sized garden tools, too.

Stagger Planting and the Harvest

My girls stay engaged when we plant the garden in stages and grow plants that mature at different times.

Get Social

We ask friends to help us cultivate our garden, compare plant growth with our family members who live in other states, and invite the neighbors to share our garden produce. These social activities keep my girls engaged in the garden all season.

Wear Protection

Be sure your kids wear sunscreen, gloves, and protective shoes as they play in the dirt.

Keep it Fun

Gardening is hard work, but it's also rewarding, so we try to focus on the fun or play games as we work in the garden. In recent years, we've painted rocks as plant markers, raced to see who could pull the most weeds in five minutes, and read under a green bean teepee.

Gardening is one of our family's favorite spring and summer activities. We have fun, and our garden enriches my girls' lives in nine ways. Will you join us in cultivating a garden with your kids this year?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, April 12, 2018

It's National Craft Month! 7 Benefits of Arts and Crafts for Kids

Photo by San Jose Public Library (Flickr)

Although my girls love to engage in active play, they also enjoy creative art and craft projects. They were especially excited to celebrate National Craft Month in March and used the month to learn how to make origami and bead earrings. We had so much fun that we plan to continue the celebration all year! You can encourage your kids to participate, too, because doing arts and crafts helps kids in seven beneficial ways.

Improve Fine Motor Skills and Coordination

While manipulating crayons, braiding yarn, and spreading glue, children practice finger and hand movements that improve their fine motor skills and coordination. These skills equip kids to tie their shoes, write or use a stylus, feed themselves, and hold a ball successfully.

Develop Executive Functioning

When our kids can focus on an activity, control their impulses, and direct themselves, they exhibit executive functioning skills. Use art and craft time to help your child develop these essential life and social skills. As they color mandalas, wait for paint to dry, or choose from a variety of possible artistic or crafty projects and activities, they practice the executive functioning skills that equip them to succeed in school, with friends, and in life.

Boost Confidence and Self-Esteem

After trying for days to master folding a complicated paper bird, my younger daughter finally succeeded. I loved seeing the joy on her face, and the confidence she felt boosted her self-esteem. Your kids will develop confidence and self-esteem, too, as they find projects they enjoy, practice their creativity, make mistakes, and achieve goals.

Hone Creativity

Our kids seem to have an unlimited imagination, and I love that! Let's put their creativity to good use and encourage them to draw chalk designs on the sidewalk or deck, design elaborate hats from paper, and mix homemade play dough. These fun and interesting activities hone their creativity and innovation, skills they need to solve problems, adapt to change, and handle diverse challenges successfully.

Learn Self-Expression

Kids may not always have the words to express themselves, but arts and crafts can give them a voice. Watch your child's artwork and the objects they choose to manipulate for clues to their emotional health. I've also seen parents, caregivers, and teachers introduce creative projects that draw out a shy or reserved child, help a child deal with trauma, or encourage children to express their emotions, ideas, thoughts, and opinions.

Discover Beauty

Our world is filled with color, patterns, and texture. As our kids work on arts and crafts projects like photo collages, flower-arranging, and soap-making, they create their own works of art and learn to look for and appreciate beauty around them.

Enjoy Free Play

My girls spend the majority of their day at school and in organized activities, but free play is essential. It helps them discover skills and talents, prompts their imaginations, and gives them space and time to relax. Consider stocking art and craft projects and supplies, giving your kids space to work on projects they enjoy, participating in the creative process with them, and pulling out the art and craft supplies during play dates. These free play opportunities help our kids learn and grow as they have fun.

Our kids gain seven important benefits when they do arts and crafts. At my house, we're excited to continue celebrating National Craft Month all year, and we invite you to join us. What project or activity will you and your kids enjoy first?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

15 Tips for Being a More Eco-Friendly New Parent

Photo by LoJoLu Photography (Flickr)

Parents always want the best for our children, and I think that includes taking care of our planet so we can leave them a world that's in the best shape possible. Here are 15 eco-friendly suggestions new parents can implement to care for your kids now and protect the environment for the future.

Use Cloth Diapers

Reusable cloth diapers reduce landfill waste and can save you big bucks in the long run. I know washing those diapers can be a pain, though, so you might want to use a diaper service. Barring that, choose an eco-friendly disposable brand to reduce waste and simplify your life.

Buy Biodegradable Wipes

Baby wipes remain useful long after our babies grow up. However, I always buy a biodegradable brand, cut the wipes in half, and think twice before using a wipe. You can also reduce waste with homemade fabric wipes.

Make Homemade Hygiene Products

Babies typically need diaper cream and lotion, but these products can dry a baby's skin and come in plastic packaging. Make your own homemade hygiene products with ingredients that protect your baby's skin and the environment.

Purchase Gently Used Clothing

Aren't baby clothes the cutest thing ever? Instead of buying new outfits, though, consider hand-me-downs. Organize a clothing swap or check out the baby section at consignment and thrift stores as you clothe your child in cute duds while protecting the environment.

Fight Stains Naturally

All babies spit up and make other messes. Stain fighters may contain artificial fragrances and other dangerous ingredients, though, so turn to lemons, vinegar, salt, rubbing alcohol, sunshine, and other natural products to remove stains.

Run Full Loads of Laundry

When my girls were babies, I spent tons of time washing onesies and pajamas! To conserve water, energy, and the fabric, I only washed full loads in cold water. I also line-dried our laundry whenever possible.

Reuse Items

Instead of tossing formula containers and stained onesies, reuse these and other items. Store toys in diaper boxes, turn formula canisters into flower planters, and stash crayons in an empty wipes container.

Make Your Own Baby Food

After my girls graduated to solid foods, I processed fresh fruits and veggies or the foods we ate for dinner. Homemade baby food reduces waste and conserves natural resources.

Borrow Furniture and Accessories

Your baby will need a crib, changing table, and stroller, but you'll save money and the environment when you borrow these furniture items and accessories from a friend. For safety, check the Consumer Product Safety Commission website for recalls.

Use Nontoxic Cleaners

To keep your house clean for your baby, you'll need to disinfect surfaces and vacuum the floors often. Use natural cleaners and disinfectants like baking soda, lemon, and vinegar to protect the environment and your child.

Buy Eco-Friendly Toys

Keep your baby entertained and teach your child valuable developmental skills with toys made from natural materials, organic fibers, or smooth wood. As my girls outgrew toys, we donated them to a local hospital or children's shelter and arranged toy swaps with neighborhood parents.

Unplug Power Vampires

Your cellphone charger, baby monitor, and coffee maker suck power whenever they're plugged in, even in standby mode. Develop the habit of unplugging all of your electronic devices and small appliances to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Bring Your Own Bags

Plastic bags decompose in 1,000 years. Yikes! I pack a few reusable bags in the car and use them at the grocery store and the mall.

Minimize Errands

You may have purchased an eco-friendly van, but try to consolidate errands into one trip whenever possible. You can also buy formula, diapers, and other supplies in bulk to save money and packaging or bike or walk to the store.

Enjoy Nature

I'm a big fan of nature. Kids and adults need fresh air, we use less energy when we unplug, and spending time outside gives our kids a greater appreciation of our natural resources and environment. Enjoy an outdoor picnic, spend tummy time on a blanket in the backyard, or go for a walk as you enjoy nature with your child.

To become a more eco-friendly parent, you may try all 15 of these tips or choose a few that work best for your family. What other eco-friendly tips do you recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

9 Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Nutrition and Physical Activity

Photo by Bruce Tuten (Flickr)

As a play advocate, I'm always on the lookout for ways to help kids and families stay healthy. In March, we celebrated National Nutrition Month, and now's the perfect time to help our kids understand the importance of good nutrition and physical activity. Here are nine ways we parents, caregivers, and educators can talk to kids and motivate them to make smart food and activity choices now and for the rest of their lives.

Be a Good Role Model

Kids learn from observation, so let's fill our plates with healthy foods, prioritize physical movement, and invite our children to join our efforts to get and stay healthy. When my kids see me embracing healthy choices, they're more likely to make wise choices, too.

Take the Focus off of Weight Loss

Of course, when we make healthy nutrition and activity choices, we may lose weight. But that's not the sole reason to take care of our bodies. Instead of saying, "Let's stop drinking soda and drink only water so we lose weight," try "Drinking water hydrates your body so it functions properly." With this mindset, our kids will want to make healthy choices to protect their bodies, not just to weigh less.

Engage in Fun Activities

My girls like playing at our local playground because they have fun. Encourage your kids to move each day, too, as they engage in fun activities like biking, hiking, and dancing.

Cook Together

This year, my girls and I vowed to cook together more often, and we're having so much fun in the kitchen! As we plan the menu, shop, and cook, we try new foods, talk about nutrition, and improve our health.

Provide Visual Aids

Hands-on demos and visual aids help kids see and understand concepts like serving sizes and sugar content. For example, demonstrate that a serving size of fruit equals one tennis ball, and show your kids that their favorite soda or cereal may contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar.

Read Nutrition Labels

The next time you visit the grocery store, introduce your kids to nutrition labels. They can learn to identify serving sizes, compare calories and sodium levels, and read the ingredients. With this knowledge, we teach our kids how to make thoughtful food choices.

Eat the Rainbow

While watching my older daughter prepare chicken, cauliflower, and rice for dinner the other night, I reminded her about the importance of eating a rainbow of colors. This guideline helps kids eat a balanced diet, consume a variety of nutrients, and try new foods. Plus, it's fun!

Understand How the Body Uses Food

Explain to kids that like their family car needs fuel and regular maintenance, their body needs a balanced diet to fuel it and exercise to help it function properly. This analogy can prompt our kids to make wise food choices and exercise regularly.

Stop Dieting

There's nothing wrong with reducing sugar, sodium, and caffeine in our daily diet, but dieting can damage our kids' health and view of food. We can instead promote balanced nutrition, eating in moderation, and daily physical activity as we equip our kids to embrace a healthy view of food and exercise that will last them a lifetime.

During National Nutrition Month and every month, we can teach our kids the importance of good nutrition and exercise. Try these nine tips year-round as you help your kids get and stay healthier.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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