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Thursday, April 18, 2019

8 Benefits of Playing Outside on Rainy Days

Photo by Kate McDonald (Flickr)

When my girls see rain outside, they grab their raincoats, boots, and umbrellas. To them, rainy days are meant for jumping in puddles, waddling like ducks, and collecting earthworms. We parents, teachers, and caregivers should confidently and enthusiastically encourage rainy-day play because it provides our kids with eight important benefits.

Improve Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills affect a child's balance, coordination, reaction time, and body awareness. Our kids develop these important skills as they jump, run, and play outdoors. Rainy days provide even more intense gross motor skill training, since our kids must balance carefully on slippery surfaces, work hard to walk through mud, and navigate the outdoors in their bulky rain boots.

Stay Active

Our kids need to engage in active play every day. Play is important for their physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Even on rainy days, let's encourage our kids to go outside and run, jump, dance, and stay active.

Learn About Science

Rainy weather offers numerous opportunities for our kids to learn about science and record their findings in a nature notebook. For example, my girls might examine the effects of rain on materials like paper, chalk, and golf balls, predict how fast leaves and sticks will float down our sloped driveway, and hypothesize about the depth of mud puddles. And every summer, they track the amount of rain we receive and compare the total to previous years. I encourage these and other rainy-day experiments because I want my girls to stretch their creativity and reinforce science learning as they play.

Respect the Power of Water

Water can produce electricity and cause flash floods. Rainy-day play gives me the opportunity to discuss the power of water and teach my girls to respect nature as we watch puddles widen along the road and see leaves float down the storm drain.

Enjoy a Unique Sensory Experience

Through sensory play, our kids develop cognitive, communication, and social skills. We provide unique experiences that engage their senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch when we encourage our kids to play outside on rainy days. They can:

  • Watch a water toy spin in a puddle.
  • Identify the different sounds of hard and soft rain.
  • Smell wet grass.
  • Taste raindrops.
  • Touch and compare rough earthworms, soggy ground, and hard rain boots.

Make Music

As toddlers, my girls sang "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and "There's a Hole in the Bucket" when they danced in puddles. Now that they're older, though, they listen to the rain's rhythm and create their own songs. One of my girls usually starts clapping to the beat, and her sister improvises song lyrics. The rain sparks their creativity and invites them to make music.

Value Rain

Rain supports life on earth, making it essential to our survival. Let's use rainstorms to help our kids gain an appreciation for water. We can talk about the water cycle, erosion, droughts, and floods as we build dams, fashion mud pies, and watch puddles form. I also challenge my girls to imagine what life would be like without the water that comes from rain. They sure would miss visiting the beach! We depend on rain in so many ways, and playing outside on rainy days increases our respect for this valuable resource.

Bond as a Family

Playing in the rain is good for my girls because they often cooperate as they dance, jump, and sing. I often join in the fun, too, because I value the opportunity to stay active and share bonding experiences with my girls. We still laugh about the time last summer when we danced in the rain all the way to the library. These memories are ones I know I'll cherish forever.

The next time a rainstorm starts, bundle your kids up in the appropriate rain gear and head outside. Rainy-day play provides our kids with eight benefits, and it's fun. What educational, entertaining, and outdoor rainy-day activities do your kids enjoy?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

7 Ways You Can Help Shelter Animals Without Adopting

Photo by Paulann Egelhoff (Flickr)

My girls would love to own a dog. Unfortunately, we're not able to adopt a pet right now. However, my kids can still get their fill of pet care as we help some of the 6.5 million homeless companion animals that enter animal shelters annually. As a family, we've discovered seven ways we can be animal champions in animal shelters and get our pet fix each week. Consider joining us!

Volunteer

At our local animal shelter, my girls and I volunteer to cuddle cats, clean kennels, and stuff envelopes for fundraiser mailings. We work alongside other volunteers who walk, bathe, and groom pets. Together, we provide a better life for pets in the shelter and prepare our favorite furry friends to find their forever homes.

Collect Supplies

Our local animal shelter often needs blankets, towels, and toys, and their website features a suggested donation list that usually includes cleaning supplies, laundry soap, and printer paper. In addition to adding at least one of these items to our regular shopping list, we often browse the animal shelter's Amazon wish list when we shop online. Every donation, whether it's large or small, makes a difference to animals in need.

Offer Specialized Skills

My older daughter likes to photograph pets at the shelter. Some of her photos, posted on the shelter's website, have prompted successful adoptions! We also have friends who use skills like graphic design, bookkeeping, and obedience training to help shelter animals.

Provide Transportation

I follow various rescue shelters on social media and often see requests for transportation help. The organization's members travel up to several hours away to rescue animals in need. Transportation volunteers also deliver foster or adopted pets to their new homes, take shelter animals to the veterinarian, or pick up donations each month from local businesses that participate in corporate fundraisers. With a vehicle and time, we can contribute to one of our favorite causes.

Consider Fostering

Animal foster families nurture, train, and love homeless animals until these pets are adopted into a forever home. If your local shelter allows fostering, consider this opportunity. It gives kids exposure to pet ownership but is temporary, perfect for families like ours that can't commit to adopting a pet right now.

Donate Money

Many animal shelters rely on financial donations. These contributions pay for veterinary care, spaying and neutering, medication, and daily operating expenses. For their birthdays this year, my girls set up a donation page for our local animal shelter. My kids appreciate the opportunity to give back to animals, and I'm grateful for the lessons they learn about selflessness, empathy, and compassion.

Spread the Word

Raising awareness about the pets that live in local animal shelters can promote adoptions. We follow our local shelter on social media and do animal networking with our social media contacts. We also tell as many people as possible about our volunteer work and encourage others to get involved, make donations, and help animals in every possible way.

We may not be ready to adopt a pet right now, but we can help shelter animals in other ways. Whether you're an animal novice or expert, you and your kids could join us. In what other ways could we support shelter animals without adopting?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

7 Playful and Active Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

Photo by woodleywonderworks (Flickr)

As parents, caregivers, and teachers, we must teach our kids to value, respect, and preserve our planet. Earth Day, held annually on April 22, offers an excellent opportunity to have fun and become more eco-friendly. Here's a list of seven playful ways we can celebrate Earth Day this year.

Walk in Nature

Appreciating nature is one of my family's favorite ways to celebrate Earth Day. Not only do we enjoy all of the beautiful sights of nature during our walk, but we also appreciate the opportunity to reconnect with the planet. We pick a local trail to explore, pack a picnic lunch, and plan a fun game. In past years, we've completed scavenger hunts, counted squirrels, and looked for objects in every color of the rainbow. This year, my girls want to illustrate our walk in their nature journal.

Park the Car

One of our neighbors challenged us to park the car for Earth Day this year. He suggested we ride the bus or carpool unless we can bike, skate, or walk where we want to go. My girls are excited about this idea because it's an active, fun, and eco-friendly way to reduce pollution and protect our planet.

Plant Something

Last year, my girls and I participated in a local tree-planting ceremony. This year, my girls decided to stick closer to home with their planting efforts and plan to fill our patio container garden with herbs and vegetables. My girls and I anticipate a tasty harvest and appreciate that the environmental benefits of growing food include reducing our carbon footprint.

Declutter the House

As part of our annual Earth Day celebration, my girls and I make an effort to reduce, reuse, and recycle. We evaluate our purchases over the past year and brainstorm ways to buy less stuff. We also look for ways to repurpose items we already own. For example, scarves can double as belts, and mugs can store pencils, makeup brushes, or silverware. Finally, we donate gently used, unwanted clothing, toys, and household items to charity. Each of these three actions benefits the environment and equips my girls with positive habits that support future conservation.

Complete Recycled Craft Projects

Every April, my girls collect unusual items we might otherwise throw away, such as boxes, string, bread bag ties, and empty cans. They use these items to create unique works of art on Earth Day. This fun project exercises my girls' creativity and reduces the amount of trash we throw away.

Pick Up Litter

Even though our city officials prioritize trash removal, we always find litter on the ground as we walk around town. That's why we grab trash bags, put on gloves, and pick up trash on Earth Day. Our efforts spruce up our neighborhood and remove harmful litter that endangers wildlife, contaminates groundwater, and spreads disease.

Attend a Local Earth Day Event

Many communities, including ours, host Earth Day events that raise awareness for our beautiful environment. In recent years, we've participated in a local wildflower planting ceremony, e-waste recycling demo, and park cleanup project. We enjoy attending these events where we learn new ways to protect our plant and celebrate Earth Day with our neighbors and community.

Earth Day provides parents, caregivers, and teachers with a unique opportunity to teach our kids to appreciate our planet and to establish eco-friendly habits. This year, consider participating in one of these seven activities. What other playful Earth Day activities do you recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Where to Donate Toys and Other Children's Items After Spring Cleaning

Photo by Baltimore County Public Library (Flickr)

Now that spring has arrived, my girls and I are officially in spring cleaning mode. We're cleaning the entire house from top to bottom and getting rid of clutter in each room. I'm especially excited about donating our unwanted kids' items to charity because we own too much stuff. To help my girls become more generous, protect the environment, and support a good cause, I ask them every year to research where we can donate our unwanted stuff. So far, my girls have recommended several places that will accept, use, and appreciate our gently used toys, clothing, and other children's items.

Thrift Stores

Goodwill, Salvation Army, Community Aid, and Volunteers of America are four of many charitable organizations that resell donated items in their thrift stores. These organizations support employees with disabilities, feed the homeless, help at-risk youth, rescue pets, or meet other humanitarian needs in our community.

Collection Centers

Companies like Planet Aid accept used clothing and shoes via collection bins that are placed in store parking lots. Organizations use donated items to support environmental and social progress around the world. In addition to using collection bins, we've also donated shoes to Soles4Souls and winter coats to One Warm Coat, two organizations that serve people in need.

Local Homeless Shelters

In our local area, several homeless shelters provide temporary housing and support for families, including children, in need. I hate the thought of kids living in a homeless shelter, but I'm grateful that our like-new toys, clothing, and other items can give these kids a feeling of normalcy despite their challenging circumstances.

Stuffed Animals for Emergencies

After an accident, illness, house fire, severe storm, or other emergency, displaced families need a lot of support, including toys and clothing. My girls like to support Stuffed Animals for Emergencies because they know their gently used children's clothing, toys, books, and baby items will be loved and appreciated during hard times.

Nurseries and Preschools

Nonprofit nurseries and preschools typically operate on a limited budget and often appreciate donations of gently used children's items, including baby toys, books, and outdoor play toys. When we've donated to a nursery or preschool in the past, we usually ask if we can help out by reading to or playing with the children after we drop off our items.

Hospitals and Doctors' Offices

When my girls were younger, they always looked forward to visiting the doctor because of the toy and book section. Now, they get excited about donating toys to our local pediatric hospital and doctors' offices. Some of our local facilities only accept new items because of germ and infection risks, so we always call first and ask about their donation policy.

Freecycle

We've met dozens of new friends through Freecycle. Members of this online group give or seek almost anything, making it the perfect way to purge our possessions and give kid-related items a new life in someone else's home.

Before You Donate

To ensure that our donations can be used by charities, we take several steps before we donate.

  1. Donate only new or gently used items.
  2. Wash clothing and toys thoroughly.
  3. Inspect items carefully, and throw away or recycle anything with missing pieces, holes, or other blemishes.
  4. Contact the charity to ensure that they can accept your specific donations.
  5. Review recalls and toss any unsafe items.

As my family cleans our home each spring, we look forward to donating our gently used toys, clothing, and other children's items. Consider joining us this year as we support good causes, protect the environment, and teach our kids to become more generous. Where is your favorite place to donate children's items?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

6 Stages of Play and the Importance of Each

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski (Flickr)

Play is fun for kids, but it's also an important learning tool. While playing, my girls have learned skills like holding a pencil, waiting in line, and sharing their toys. Sociologist Mildred Parten Newhall agreed that play is essential for child development, and she discovered that children under five years of age engage in six stages of play. As parents, caregivers, and teachers, we should understand these stages as we help young children develop and grow.

Unoccupied Play

As babies, our kids spend most of their time sleeping, eating, and making dirty diapers. When they are awake, they move their legs, feet, arms, and hands in random ways or stare at a mobile above their crib or floor play mat.

These actions seem insignificant, but they're a form of play that supports a baby's development. Through unoccupied play, babies discover how their bodies work and move, learn more about their surroundings, and prepare for future developmental stages.

Solitary Play

While observing children from birth to age two, we typically don't see them interact much with other kids. Their preference for solitude isn't because they're antisocial. Rather, kids at this age play alone because they simply don't notice other children who are sitting or playing nearby.

Solitary play is normal and developmentally important. Children discover their interests, explore their surroundings, and learn how to work independently as they play alone. Even now, my girls sometimes retreat to separate rooms where they can play alone and regroup, recharge, and rest.

Spectator or Onlooker Play

Around two years of age, children start to notice other children at play. While they're still not ready to join in or participate in the fun, they do watch closely from the sidelines. These kids may even ask the playing children questions about their game or activity.

I used to think that my spectating girls were shy or hesitant. However, the onlooker stage of play teaches our kids more about how life works. They develop self-awareness, empathy, and nonverbal communication skills as they observe others play.

Parallel Play

Children start to play alongside or near other kids after they turn two years old. While kids in this play stage may not interact with, talk to, or share with their playmate, they do sit together and may even pay attention to each other.

This stage of play lays the foundation for more complex play stages and social play activities our kids will explore later in life. I know my girls developed important motor skills, spacial awareness, and language through parallel play.

Associative Play

Our kids begin interacting with each other around age three or four. This play stage normally doesn't include rules or organization. However, children may talk to each other, ask questions, and work toward a common goal during associative play.

During this stage, kids may play with their own individual toys while sitting near each other on the floor. They may also swing and climb on the same piece of playground equipment or build a block tower together as they begin to understand how to get along with peers.

Cooperative or Social Play

When children play the same activity together, they're engaging in cooperative or social play. This stage of play normally begins at age four.

Children may negotiate the game they'll play, take turns suggesting plots, and change roles as they cooperate to achieve a goal. Some of my girls' favorite social play included running a pretend restaurant, playing a game of tag, and completing a puzzle together.

From birth to age five, our children experience six stages of play. Sometimes, they experience one or more stages simultaneously, and they may incorporate elements of earlier play stages as they engage in advanced play stages. The important thing is that we parents, caregivers, and teachers encourage our kids to play and provide plenty of play time as we help them develop and grow. What examples of these stages of play have you observed in your children?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, March 18, 2019

Why Taking Away Recess for Bad Behavior Can Backfire

Photo by unionland (Flickr)

When children misbehave at school, they may lose their recess privileges. I know my girls have both lost recess in the past because they didn't complete classwork or homework on time, fidgeted a lot, or talked during class. While this punishment is easy to administer and can motivate good behavior, let's consider how taking away recess actually backfires in several ways for our children and their teachers.

Recess Releases Pent-Up Energy

Children are naturally energetic. They're going to fidget, get out of their seats, or be unable to sit still during class. Send them outside or to the gym to play, where they release their excess energy, and they return to the classroom more relaxed, focused, and ready to learn.

Recess Cultivates Attentiveness

A 5-year-old child has less than a six-minute attention span for assigned tasks, yet we often require young children to sit still and listen to long lectures or complete worksheets. It's no wonder children misbehave. We need to give our kids recess breaks throughout the day because when they return to class, they'll be alert, focused, and attentive.

Recess Develops School Skills

When our kids play on the jungle gym, swings, and teeter-totter, they do more than have fun. These playground activities also develop the essential skills kids need in the classroom. For example, holding onto jungle gym bars improves the fine motor skills kids use to write, and swinging boosts coordination that leads to reading fluency. We actually equip our kids to succeed in school when we provide recess and encourage play.

Recess Boosts Test Scores

Playing by itself won't help our kids pass tests, but the physical activity is connected to better test scores. Time away from the classroom reboots our kids' brains and promotes creative thinking, two factors that may boost regular and standardized test scores.

Recess Improves Social Skills

One year, my younger daughter lost several recesses because she talked too much during class, and her best friend lost recesses because she spoke rudely to peers. In both cases, play time would have taught and reinforced appropriate social skills. Unstructured play time teaches our kids how to interact with their peers and invites them to solve problems, manage conflict, and take turns. These essential social skills help our kids succeed in and out of the classroom.

Recess Promotes Physical Exercise

Our kids spend at least six hours a day at school, have homework in the evenings, and may turn to video games to unwind. The CDC recommends that our kids get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, though. By providing recess, we give our kids time to run, jump, move, and meet their daily physical exercise quota, so let's promote this fun and beneficial activity.

Recess Combats Obesity

Childhood obesity may lead to heart disease, diabetes, and other health complications later in life. I know kids spend a lot of time sitting down during the school day, but we can also provide recess. It can motivate our kids to move more when they're at home, may reduce obesity, and helps our kids maintain an overall healthier lifestyle.

Alternatives to Taking Away Recess

Taking away recess is an easy punishment, but we can do better. Let's discover why our kids act out during class and take steps to address those challenges in a productive and beneficial way. What we call misbehavior could actually be a skill deficit or a learning disability.

We can also add frequent breaks into the school day and try creative punishments that supplement rather than replace recess. To manage behaviors and equip our kids to learn and succeed in school, we can:

  • Send fidgety kids on an errand to the supply closet or the school office.
  • Jump in place or through tires while practicing spelling words and math problems.
  • Dance to music between classes.
  • Practice yoga before school, after lunch, or at the end of the day.
  • Assign chores like picking up all the playground toys after recess, organizing bookshelves, or sweeping the classroom floor.

Recess is a necessary part of the school day for our kids. They need time to play, move, and unwind. Instead of taking away recess for bad behavior, we must support our children and provide plenty of recess time at school. In what other ways does recess benefit your children?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, March 15, 2019

7 Benefits of Flexible Classrooms That Encourage Movement and Play

Photo by Tom Woodward (Flickr)

My younger daughter came home from school today with exciting news about her classroom. The teacher decided to implement a flexible classroom setting that will include standing tables, sofas, reading rugs, and exercise balls. The students are looking forward to the open and welcoming atmosphere, and I like the idea, too. Flexible classrooms promote movement and play during the day, and these educational environments can offer important benefits to our children.

Empower Students

We want to raise our kids to become independent thinkers and problem-solvers who take ownership of their education. Let's cultivate these important skills in a flexible classroom where our kids can choose where to sit based on their needs. Students experience fewer distractions, more productivity, and more empowerment when they take responsibility for their educational success.

Boost Academic Performance

As a parent, I focus more on learning than grades, but grades are important. I've noticed that a variety of factors, including the classroom environment, subject matter, and educational stimulation, can boost our kids' academic achievement. Flexible classrooms nurture these factors and support our kids' motivation to learn.

Enhance Collaboration

In the real world, our kids must work well with others. We teach them how to collaborate, share, and build a community when we provide flexible classroom environments. Instead of feeling possessive about a desk and their personal space, kids learn to work together as they negotiate seating arrangements and interact with classmates from their standing desks, soft chairs, and floor mats.

Encourage Physical Exercise

Traditional classroom settings include hours of sitting, which can hinder our kids' academic performance and overall health and wellness. We improve alertness, focus, and behavior when we encourage our kids to exercise and move often during the day. Flexible classrooms encourage our kids to rock, bounce, lean, stand, and wiggle. These movements boost mental sharpness and help our kids perform better in school.

Improve Comfort

Uncomfortable classrooms distract students and hinder their ability to listen to the teacher, understand concepts, and retain information. Alternatively, we create a comfortable, calm, and engaging learning environment when we implement flexible seating. Our kids are more likely to listen and learn and less likely to feel anxious or stressed when they feel comfortable in their classroom.

Promote Fun

I know school is a serious endeavor for our kids, and I want my girls to work hard when they're in school. But most of the parents and teachers I know want children to be happy at school, too. Happy and excited kids become enthusiastic learners who engage with the material and retain information more easily. We encourage fun and engagement when we implement flexible classroom environments with exciting, new, and unique seating arrangements and learning opportunities.

Customize Configurations

My teacher friends tell me that the dynamics of every class change based on the students and the subject. Flexible classrooms allow teachers and students to maximize their classroom space and daily lessons based on the students' needs and preferences. This flexibility helps kids succeed.

The flexible classroom my daughter will soon enjoy at school can improve her educational experience. I welcome this change because it promotes movement and play in addition to these seven benefits. How else would your children benefit from flexible classrooms?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Saturday, March 2, 2019

10 Excellent Educational YouTube Channels for Children

Photo by Tony Alter (Flickr)

Watching YouTube is a popular pastime at my house. My girls use it to research interesting topics, like how to dribble a soccer ball faster or how to create funky hairstyles. They also watch videos related to what they learn about in school, such as how the government works or what their body's nervous system does. While I understand the value of YouTube, I also know how important it is to monitor the content our kids watch and make sure they stick to safe, trustworthy sources. That's why I've put together this list of ten excellent educational channels that are appropriate for children.

Baby Einstein

To cultivate curiosity in toddlers, turn on the Baby Einstein channel. Videos of varying length use catchy music, entertaining puppets, and playful imagery to introduce colors, shapes, and language. I even find myself excited to learn when I watch this channel.

HooplaKidz

Preschoolers will sing and dance along with the interactive videos they view on HooplaKidz. The characters introduce kids to nursery rhymes, good conduct, and vocabulary, and all of the content is child-friendly.

PBS Kids

I always feel safe letting my girls watch the positive and non-violent PBS Kids YouTube channel. While introducing kids to different cultures and positive role models, this channel's videos also encourage our kids to think critically, be kind, and exercise their imaginations. Toddlers, preschoolers, and even elementary-aged kids can learn and grow thanks to this educational content.

Nat Geo Wild

While washing dishes last night, my girls and I watched a few birds checking out our backyard bird feeder. My girls then spent an hour learning about birds with this National Geographic YouTube channel. Perfect for animal-lovers, this channel also educates kids about animal behavior and habitats around the world.

What Do We Do All Day?

Our kids discover STEAM activities, including arts, crafts, experiments, and puzzles, on the What Do We Do All Day? channel. The short, creative videos inspire my girls to exercise their creativity and have fun as they learn.

Rock 'N Learn

Several of my teacher friends use the Rock 'N Learn channel in their classrooms because it offers entertaining and educational content. Kids through fifth grade can learn songs in different languages, discover science facts, and review reading and math concepts while having fun.

The Backyard Scientist

Kids can discover really cool science experiments that involve unusual materials like molten aluminum and flaming arrows when they watch The Backyard Scientist. Each short video is truly fascinating to watch.

Flocabulary

My girls like hip-hop music, and that's why Flocabulary is one of their favorite YouTube channels. It uses music and animation to teach kids about academic topics and social skills, including anxiety management. We often watch these videos together and continue singing the information long after the video ends.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a resource my girls use often to boost their understanding of math, science, grammar, history, economics, arts, and humanities. As you can see, this channel includes tons of content! With a mission to provide everyone with free education, Khan Academy videos are accessed each month by 15 million people around the world.

TED-Ed

Sometimes, my girls and I watch a TED-Ed video before dinner and discuss the content as we eat. The majority of the TED-Ed videos introduce quirky ideas or riddles that spark thoughtful conversation and stretch our kids' thinking.

If your kids are into YouTube like mine are, introduce them to these ten excellent educational channels. Entertaining and suitable for kids, each channel helps our children learn and expands their knowledge and worldview. What are your kids' favorite educational YouTube channels?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

10 Ways That Play Strengthens the Community as a Whole

Photo by Dan Keck (Flickr)

When I think of what makes my local community successful, I think of its economic conditions, social interactions, environmental stability, and cultural diversity. Play also contributes to the success of my community. As we promote play, let's consider the ways that play and playgrounds support a community's well-being.

Boost Cognitive Function

Everyone in the community benefits cognitively from play. When children play, they develop important cognitive skills like language, problem-solving, and strategic planning. Playing also improves memory and reduces dementia in adults.

Encourage Creativity

I love watching my girls and their friends make up new games as they play. Creativity is important for our kids' development, but it's also important for adults because it improves innovation, problem-solving, productivity, and positivity.

Develop Social Skills

I'm always looking for ways to prompt my girls to practice friendliness, compassion, and inclusion. They can learn these skills on the playground as they collaborate, cooperate, share, and play fairly with a variety of children. Adults, too, develop social skills and strengthen bonds with family members and neighbors as we play together in our community.

Improve Mental Health

Whenever my girls or I feel stressed, frustrated, or out of sorts, we play. The physical activity and fresh air clear our heads, reduce stress, and improve our moods. These same mental health improvements are available to everyone in our community as we relax, make connections, and play.

Stay Physically Active

To better our physical health and fight obesity, we need exercise, which we get as we play. One study showed that a park improvement project in Chicago resulted in a 37 percent increase in movement and physical activity. Walking, biking, or hiking around the neighborhood, joining a community rec center, or playing basketball, tag, or tennis are all fun, playful activities that encourage our families and neighbors to get more exercise.

Celebrate Diversity

One of my favorite neighborhood playgrounds features an inclusive design. Kids and adults of all ages and abilities can meet for fun and play. In this environment, neighbors learn to demonstrate compassion, celebrate diversity, and value all humankind.

Promote Teamwork

When one of our local playground areas needs a makeover, the entire community pitches in. We band together to pull weeds, repair broken equipment, and paint benches. We can feel proud to be part of a community effort that promotes teamwork and draws us together as neighbors.

Create Healthy Habits

We want our kids to adopt a playful lifestyle now so they can continue to enjoy the benefits of play when they reach adulthood. Let's prioritize play and make it a habit as we empower our kids and communities to transform their health, wellness, and well-being.

Preserve the Environment

While walking the perimeter of a local playground recently, my girls and I spotted squirrels, birds, and dozens of tree and plant varieties. All of these playground features beautify our communities, improve air quality, and preserve the environment for future generations.

Strengthen the Local Economy

Playgrounds and play boost the local economy through reduced environmental cleanup expenses and community health-care costs. Local restaurants, coffee shops, and shopping centers near playgrounds also enjoy higher sales, and properties located next to parks increase in value by as much as five percent. For these reasons, we can support play as we strengthen our local economy.

To help our communities succeed, let's play more. When we support our local playgrounds and encourage our kids to play, everyone wins. How does your community benefit from play?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, February 25, 2019

8 Ways That Play Promotes a Go-Getter Attitude!

Photo by Josh Davis (Flickr)

Some children are naturally focused, independent, and motivated, but other kids need help developing a go-getter attitude. Personally, I want both of my girls to become more confident as they make decisions, take risks, learn from failure, exercise self-control, and develop a winning attitude. If you want the same for your kids, let's use play. It promotes a go-getter attitude in eight ways.

Play Prompts Step-by-Step Learning

Almost every skill our kids develop depends on a step-by-step approach. For example, our kids must learn to hold a shovel and scoop sand before they can build a sand castle. Let's give our children time to play, and they'll learn the importance of mastering the basics and persevering through each level. This understanding equips them to tackle school and work projects in a methodical, step-by-step way.

Play Promotes Desire and Motivation to Master Concepts

My younger daughter is determined to run a half-marathon this summer, so she runs almost every day, follows a strict strength training regimen, and eats a balanced diet. Interestingly, I attribute her desire and motivation to free play. When our kids choose their playtime activities, they usually choose the activities they want to do and are then motivated to succeed. Play allows them to develop inner fortitude that propels them to continue mastering concepts even when playtime is over.

Play Provides Opportunities to Practice

Our children learn by repetition. The hours they spend kicking a ball or drawing sketches eventually leads to improved skills. Play provides the practice time our kids need to master skills and realize that success depends in part on their motivation and commitment to ongoing self-improvement.

Play Improves Executive Functioning

The prefrontal cortex of the brain controls our kids' ability to regulate their emotions, solve problems, and make plans. These and other executive functions develop through play. As kids choose playtime activities, learn to solve problems, and practice emotional regulation, they also develop skills that help them make wise decisions and succeed in their endeavors.

Play Encourages Kids to Weigh Risks and Rewards

When our kids bravely try new play activities like climbing a high jungle gym or learning a new game, they decide that the rewards of the activity are greater than its risks. The commitment to leave their comfort zone, embrace potential failure, and exercise independence will increase their ability and motivation to tackle new ventures and reach their goals in the future.

Play Increases Focus

My girls can stay entertained for hours when they're engaged in a fun, playful activity. Over time, this ability to focus also enables them to stay on track and complete tasks like school homework, band practice, and job responsibilities.

Play Develops Self-Sufficiency

I sometimes hear my girls complain of boredom, but solo play plays an important role in developing a go-getter attitude. Children need to trust themselves and feel confident about their abilities as they tackle projects in their personal lives and their careers. Playing alone gives our children opportunities to take initiative, exercise their imagination, and be responsible for their own success.

Play Enhances Decision-Making Abilities

As our kids play, they make multiple decisions. For example, they select which brush strokes to use, what card game to play, and how to design their indoor fort. These decisions lay the foundation for our kids to trust their instincts or realize they can adapt and make better decisions next time. Overall, our children become more confident, independent, and motivated as their decision-making skills improve through play.

With a go-getter attitude, our children can achieve almost any goal they set their minds to. We can cultivate this important attitude in eight ways as we encourage our kids to play. In what other ways do you promote a go-getter attitude in your kids?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, February 15, 2019

8 Black History Month Resources for Children

Photo by Clotee Pridgen Allochuku (Flickr)

In addition to Valentine's Day and Presidents Day, my girls and I celebrate Black History Month in February. Started in 1926, Black History Month is observed annually in February because Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, two men who supported and influenced African-Americans in our country, were also born during this month.

I know we can celebrate black history all year long, but I like to use this occasion to emphasize and honor the achievements and contributions of African-Americans in our country's history and future. I've found eight resources that can help us to promote learning, understanding, and appreciation among our kids during Black History Month.

  1. Top 15 Children's Books for Black History Month: Celebrate and explore Black History Month with 15 stories that feature African-American themes and famous people. Kids can meet Jackie Robinson, discover jazz music, or learn about segregation. With these books, our kids can also find the courage to overcome adversity, celebrate their unique history, and feel inspired to make their own multicultural mark on the world.
  2. Black History Month Facts: Access the History Channel's Black History Month page to view videos and read articles that share facts and information about black history. Scroll to the end to the page to access all of the valuable information on this resource page. In particular, my girls felt inspired by the photo journal of black female politicians.
  3. About Black History Month: Discover Scholastic resources including a variety of stories and articles that tell kids more about African-American people and the numerous events that have shaped their history and culture. For example, you can read about the first black songwriter to write a country music hit and understand more about Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
  4. African-American Heritage Sites: My girls are using the National Park Service website to plan our next vacation. They want to visit African-American heritage parks and see the sights that commemorate historically significant events. They can also use this resource to find and learn about celebrations around the country that honor African-American heritage.
  5. Black History Month Lessons and Resources: Every time I visit the National Education Association website, I find dozens of lesson plans, worksheets, and games that can help my kids learn more about black history. This resource also equips teachers, parents, and caregivers to share facts and information about arts, science, and history. As a bonus, we can adapt each activity to any grade level.
  6. Black History Month Worksheets: Kids can learn more about black history with games, coloring pages, recipes, crafts, and informational worksheets from Education.com. The resources on this page cover a variety of African-American facts and people. Explore music, politics, writing, and science or make an African musical instrument in the classroom or at home.
  7. All About Black History Month: This PBS video tells us how Black History Month began and includes lots of interesting information about black history and famous black Americans.
  8. Black History Activities: From making a collage to re-enacting a story from history, ideas provided by Kids Activities can keep kids engaged and entertained as they learn. My girls especially like activity eight, which allows them to make their own inventions in honor of African-American innovators.

This February, let's teach our kids about Black History Month. These eight resources can help you promote learning, understanding, and appreciation. What other resources do you recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

10 Tips for a More Playful and Productive New Year!

Photo by Alan Levine (Flickr)

Play time teaches our kids about their world and helps them develop important social, academic, and life skills. Play isn't just for kids, though. It's important for adults, too, since it increases our relaxation, joy, productivity, and fulfillment. This year, we can implement ten tips that enhance our lives, help us play more, and make 2019 a more playful and productive year.

Enroll in a Fun Class

I've always wanted to take a Zumba class because it looks like fun and is good exercise. This year, I'm putting aside all my excuses and have enrolled in a Zumba class at our local YMCA. I might even try my hand at fun classes like woodworking or face-painting as I vow to play more.

Adopt a Pet

Pets fill our lives with play, love, and activity. Consider adopting a pet into your family, and enjoy all of the benefits this new addition brings to your home.

Use a Brain-Training App

Our marvelous brains can change and adapt as we exercise them. I found a few fun brain-training apps like Lumosity, Happify, and Peak that I plan to use this year as I play and learn.

Make Art

Coloring, writing, making music, and engaging in other art activities boost our creativity, dexterity, and mood. Since art offers us a fun way to play and improve productivity, I assembled a craft box filled with supplies I can create with after dinner, on weekends, or whenever I want to unwind.

Learn a New Game or Sport

A new game or sport can jump-start our physical and brain health. I'm excited to start line dancing, go hiking, and learn new card games as I relax and have fun.

Tell Funny Jokes and Stories

Laughter is amazing medicine! It lightens our mood, reduces stress, and improves our heart health. For these reasons, I'm eager to smile, be silly, and laugh more often throughout the day. I've already learned a few new jokes to share with friends and coworkers, and I added more comedians to my social media feeds.

Meet New Friends

I set a goal to meet one new person each day in 2019. New friends teach us things, and meaningful conversations stretch our minds.

Spend Time With Kids

The next time you spend time with children, observe their behavior. Kids accomplish a ton of objectives as they play and have fun. I always feel more relaxed, energized, and calm as I play with my kids, too, which is why I resolve to spend more time around children this year.

Be Grateful

Recording the things we're grateful for can make us more content, happier, and productive. I started a gratitude journal and plan to write at least three things I'm happy for each day. This practice helps me look for blessings, joy, and fun in my life.

Schedule Downtime

It's easy to say that we want to play more, but this goal won't happen unless we intentionally put play on our daily calendar. We have to schedule downtime and plan to daydream, be creative, and play every day. So far, I've scheduled play breaks before work, during my lunch break, and after dinner, and I'm excited to see the results of my intentional play time.

This year can be more playful and productive. I plan to achieve this goal by implementing these ten tips. How will you be more playful and productive in 2019?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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