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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

7 Ways That Play Cultivates a Grateful, Optimistic Spirit in Children

Photo by ArtsyBee (pixabay)

In this season of gratitude and thanksgiving, I'd like to take the opportunity to bring some focus to what I've learned about raising children that are filled with gratitude and optimism. I believe that by cultivating these attributes in our children, we position them well to maintain a healthy outlook into their teen years and adulthood. But being grateful and thankful isn't something that children inherently understand; they need to be taught and shown thankfulness and given the opportunities to practice gratitude all year long.

Dramatic play builds understanding

Dramatic play or pretend play allows children to expand their understanding of the "other". By playing out a scene as a person other than themselves, they are challenged to experience the emotions of their character. This type of play helps children to access emotional awareness that can contribute to empathy and gratitude towards others.

Bring the focus of the day to the good

One of the principles that my house lives by is that attitude is a choice. We have the power to choose how we approach situations, both good and bad, and we can choose to have a good day and a positive experience. Making many choices throughout the day, we believe it is also important to recap the highlights of the day, focusing on the good and facilitating the opportunity for children to share the good they have experienced. This recap shines a new light on good things and can help bring attention to our good fortune.

Share your own appropriate personal experiences

When recapping the good experiences and opportunities for gratitude, it is also important to acknowledge things that you are grateful for. Children will follow the lead of their parents and by showing your own gratitude, you are encouraging them to do the same. Likewise, when the situation calls for it, sharing your past experiences of receiving kindness from others may encourage children to go out of their way to share with and care for others.

Facilitate opportunities to give back

Children learn well when they can experience first-hand how their actions impact others and help them to recognize the importance of kindness and gratitude. When teaching children about empathy and gratitude, consider offering them first-hand experiences, such as volunteer work, that would allow them to experience gratefulness on a deeper level.

Say thank you and heap praise yourself

From a young age, we teach children to say 'please' and 'thank you', but in many cases, it is more about manners than a sincere display of gratitude. Of course, manners are important, but sincerity is paramount. When you say thank you around your children, make sure that you are clear about what it is exactly, you are thankful for. Be it someone's time, skill, attention, etc. be clear and specific, rather than a blanket 'thank you'.

Gift experiences rather than material goods

Receiving gifts is certainly fun and exciting for children of all ages, but over-receiving may negatively impact a child and cause material gifts to become expected, rather than appreciated. Gifting experiences is one way to mitigate over-gifting and offers children the opportunity to enjoy an experience that lasts as a memory, adding to its unique value.

Children should contribute to the household

We've found that making chores a regular part of our children's days helps them to have a better grasp on the fact that a family is a community and it is important that we all work to make it a community we can to participate in. Chores encourage an appreciation for parents that can help shape the spouse and parent they grow up to be.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, November 18, 2019

10 Ways to Help Shelter Animals This Holiday Season

Photo by KatinkavomWolfenmond (pixabay)

During the holiday season, there are so many opportunities to give back to those in need. Organizations see an influx of new volunteers eager to share in the spirit of giving and make a difference in their communities. Whether one chooses to donate time or items to a local food pantry, provide much-needed items to a local homeless or women's shelter, or to families in need, there is a nearby charitable cause that would certainly welcome another helping hand to meet the needs of those they serve. When considering which organization to contribute to this holiday season, please consider supporting your local animal shelter. Our furry friends are in great need of donations and volunteer time and here are some ideas for how you can help:

Volunteer your time

Volunteering your time is a very valuable way to help your community animal shelter. If doing so is something you are interested in, it is important to contact your local shelter as early as possible. Spots may be limited so you may need to be creative in how you choose to volunteer. Consider your unique skills and how they might be beneficial to your community.

Replace gifts with donated items

Rather than asking for gifts this season, consider asking friends and family to donate in your name to an animal shelter or animal organization you would like to support. Gifts of food or much-needed items also make wonderful gifts.

Support spay and neuter awareness

Spread the word about the importance of spaying and neutering cats and dogs. Addressing over-populations and avoiding increased instances of unwanted cats and dogs can help shelters better manage any overcrowding.

Transport animals in your community

Shelters in rural areas with low foot traffic often need to relocate animals to other shelters where the animals may have a higher likelihood of being adopted. Volunteers are needed to transport shelter animals, sometimes over several different states.

Create and donate toys and comfort items

If you have a passion for crafting, put your skills to good use and make handmade toys, blankets, and beds for shelter animals. Using pet-safe materials are a must and you may consider asking your local shelter what types of items they are in need of the most before getting started.

Offer pet owner's unique services and donate the proceeds

People love their pets and offering pet parents unique, pet-focused services is a great way to raise money for worthwhile causes.

Speak up for animals and speak out against mistreatment

As with the "see something say something" mantra against community violence, it is important to speak up when you see any type of animal mistreatment or neglect.

Walk shelter dogs in your spare time

Exercise is so important for animals, but sometimes it can be difficult for those in shelters to get the amount of fresh air and exercise they need to remain healthy and happy. Contact your local animal shelter to see if they have a need for a volunteer to take out their animals out for a walk in the dog park.

Foster homeless animals

Taking homeless animals into your home as an alternative to them living in a shelter is a noble act. Temporarily housing animals until they find their forever home helps to ensure that they are properly socialized, cared for, and connected to people.

Adopt a pet from a local shelter

Pet adoption is a wonderful act. Inviting a new animal into your family is also a big step. Carefully consider before adopting and make sure that you understand fully the commitment being made. Following the holidays, shelters may experience an influx of new animals to care for when families realize that adopting or purchasing a pet as a gift may not have been a good choice.

Help Your Kids Help Animals

How You Can Help the Humane Society

GoFundMe - Animals in Need

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Happy National Hiking Day! 10 Benefits of Hiking With Children

Photo by free-photos (pixabay)

November 17th is National hiking day and there's no better time to gather the family and hit the trails for a family hike. And, apart from being fun, there are so many benefits to taking the kids out into nature for some fresh air.

Stay Fit

Hiking is a wonderful way to stay fit and active, and for some it is more enjoyable than heading to the gym or a fitness class. Children and parents alike can stretch their legs and get a full-body workout, trekking over various terrain, be it flat or steep, there's still a good workout to be had.

Exposure to Sunshine and Vitamin D

In addition to exercise, hikers can benefit from a good dose of vitamin D. Vitamin D is important to our bodies and helps our bodies improve kidney function and aids in the absorption of calcium. It also helps to boost one's mood; making for a happy hiker and a healthy hiker.

Perform Better Academically

Growing evidence suggests that exercise can help students perform better academically. Hiking is an excellent way to clear the mind. Taking a needed break to recharge with fresh air, can aid in concentration once called back to their academic studies.

Build Self-esteem

Hiking can be a great way to build children's self-esteem. By taking the lead on a nature walk or hike, children can learn how to lead others. Learning the appropriate trail symbols can also allow them to put their learned skills into practice.

Exposure to Wildlife

Exploring nature and experiencing wildlife is a great way to open a child's eyes to the world around them. Learning to identify the plants and animals around them, and how they impact their ecosystem can help them to develop an appreciation for how all nature work in harmony. With guidance, children may also begin to grasp the concepts of interconnectivity in their own ecosystems and communities.

Cultivating Curiosity

Developing a curiosity for nature from a young age can help students develop a love of the sciences and reinforce concepts learned in the classroom. A family hike also gives young students the opportunity to teach their family about what they've been learning in school. The act of teaching empowers the students and helps them to build on and develop connections between the classroom and the real world.


Hiking is also a good way to teach environmentalism. The next time your family is out enjoying a hike, bring along an empty trash bag to be filled with trash picked up along the trail. This act of community service teaches children the important concept of "leave no trace" and respecting the natural environment. This is also something that can be done on a smaller scale and with younger children at a local park.

Encourage Low-Tech Bonding

Hiking is largely low-tech. And while hikers might carry a GPS, there's no need to have phones and tablets out. By taking the screens out of the way, children are empowered to make real connections in real-time. Enjoy some one-on-one time with the family and reconnect in nature.

Teaches Life Skills

Hiking can teach us many things, including life skills that can translate into different aspects of life, including leadership skills, a good sense of direction, the importance of being observant. Problem-solving is also tested out on the trails as hikers may need to troubleshoot problems along the way.

Meeting New People

When out hiking, you never know what connections you might make. Hikers may be inclined to be friendly and start up conversations trailside, creating the opportunity to make new friends and meet people who share a passion for nature and the outdoors.

Five More Reasons to Hike with Your Kids

Hiking with Kids

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

9 Ways That Play Helps Children Deal With Scary Things

Photo by jennyfriedrichs (pixabay)

Learning to handle difficult or scary situations is an integral part of a child's growth and development. It is important to explore different coping mechanisms and ways of handling difficult situations. Be it through play, pre-planning, or personal development, find things that resonate with your child and empower them to be confident in themselves and their emotions during times of stress, such as the start of a new school year, a move, or a trauma.

Play therapy

Play therapy uses a child's natural inclination to play as a vehicle for the processing of tricky or uncomfortable emotions. Therapists understand that children may be more likely to open up and communicate indirectly while playing because the act of play feels like a safe barrier between themselves and something scary they may have experienced.

Dynamic Play

Dynamic play may be helpful to children experiencing complex emotions. By taking on alternative roles, children are able to explore another perspective and the emotions of another. Dynamic play also helps to build on children's' vocabulary, which may also be helpful in the expression of their own emotions.

Obstacle Play

Obstacle play is a great way for children to practice problem-solving. These activities can teach resilience and perseverance.

Play to Build Confidence

Play can help build confidence in children and encourage them to feel comfortable in their decision-making in play and in other circumstances.

Find New Friends

Getting out and meeting a new group of friends can be helpful in expanding a child's circle to include new perspectives, which may also be helpful in processing difficult experiences. New friends also offer a new start and that can be a refreshing experience for children that may be carrying trauma.

Develop Communication Skills

Working with children to develop their communication skills from an early age has lasting benefits as they come up against different challenges. Being able to communicate emotions clearly and confidently is also a skill that can help them navigate stressful situations such as public speaking.

Make a Plan

When a stressful or scary situation is upcoming, it can be helpful to talk to children before had and create a plan on how to best handle the scary thing. Exploring the options of how to handle something unpleasant can empower a child to make a calm decision on how to best approach the problem and walk through different "what-if" scenarios. It is important to note though that this technique doesn't work for all.

Be Patience and Offer Praise

When dealing with a child in turmoil, patience is key. Allow them space and time to work through complicated emotions in ways that are the healthiest and most accessible to them. Facilitate the processing of events and the emotions it raises in a safe and encouraging way, offering praise for the child's courage and self-awareness.

Model Calmness

In stressful times and times of uncertainty, model calmness for your child. Children take queues from those around them to learn about appropriate responses to stress, discomfort, and fear. By mastering your own emotions, you set an example for your child. A calm demeanor may also position you as a person that the child can come to as a source of strength.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, October 28, 2019

10 Tips for Encouraging Healthy Dental Habits in Children

Photo by jennyfriedrichs (pixabay)

Brushing teeth is an important part of any morning and evening routine. Adults and children alike need to take the time to properly care for their teeth in order to keep them strong and healthy. Baby teeth are no exceptions and teaching proper dental care should start from a young age in order to build a lifelong habit.

Choose the right kind of toothbrush

There are different kinds of toothbrushes and each has an important purpose. For infants and toddlers, look for a toothbrush that is specifically designed for little mouths; these brushes are often smaller than adult toothbrushes and may have differently shaped handles that may help children learn how to properly hold the toothbrush. These brushes should also have soft bristles.

Don't overload the toothbrush

The more toothpaste, the cleaner the teeth - this is not true. When teaching children to brush, don't worry about filling their tiny toothbrushes with fluoride toothpaste. You only need a small amount, as much as a grain of rice or about as big as a pea, depending on the age of your child.

Choose the right toothpaste

Use a children's toothpaste with fluoride in it. It may help to let the child choose their toothpaste, offering them a little control over something like that may make them feel more comfortable with their brushing routine.

Take the time to teach with patience

As with anything that must be taught to children, it is important to teach with patience. Brush your own teeth with your child, this is a good way to show them proper brushing techniques and shows them that this is really something that everyone must be doing. If necessary, brush your child's teeth, then hand them the brush to replicate your movements themselves. Regardless of the movements, the most important part is that the teeth are thoroughly cleaned.

Teaching Proper Dental Care to Kids

Position your child properly

Make sure your child is comfortable and has everything needed to complete the task at hand. If they are a little too tiny to reach the sink comfortably, get a small step stool so that they can reach the sink. Make sure their rinse cup is also within reach.

Use a timer

Brushing for the recommended two full minutes can be trick. Using a timer can ensure that the teeth are thoroughly brushed and shows an antsy child that there is a definitive end to their task.

Make it a game

Making toothbrushing a game is also a good way to help children embrace proper dental hygiene. Earning a small reward for completing the game and task may also be effective for goal-oriented children.

Avoid "sticky sugars"

Some foods are more detrimental to children's children than others. Sticky sugars, like caramel, gum, dried fruit, and toffee should be avoided, as the sugars they contain can sit on the teeth for hours.

Make it an important part of the morning and night time routine

As with any routine, consistency is important to establishing habits. Make time for tooth brushing every morning and every evening. This may mean reconfiguring an existing routine, maybe starting the routine a little earlier. Do not skip brushing, as a break in the routine may disrupt a child's willingness to complete the task the following day(s).

Don't rely on brushing alone

In addition to brushing, make sure you and your child are also flossing. Whether with traditional floss, floss picks, or a water pick, flossing is an important part of good dental care.

Toothbrushing Tips

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, October 25, 2019

Happy National Vegetarian Month! 11 Tips for Eating Less Meat as a Family

Photo by congerdesign (pixabay)

Animal proteins, including beef, chicken, lamb, and fish are mealtime staples for many families, but some are choosing to refocus their diets to reduce the amount of meat consumed. With so many benefits of going vegetarian, it's often a shift worth exploring. Trying a vegetarian diet is a great way to expand your recipe repertoire and can help to stretch your grocery budget just a little further. Below are some ideas to help your family to eat a little more green and a little less red (meat).

Start with one designated day: Meatless Monday

Making the decision to eat a vegetarian diet can be a shock. Starting slow and designating one day for vegetarian eating may be a good way to quell the uprising from those in your household who might need a bit more convincing. A designated day like Meatless Monday can also be helpful when planning out your weekly meals; plan ahead to make sure that you don't overbuy meats and plan on a delicious veggie-forward dish.

Supplement with supplements

Animal proteins provide us with specific nutrients, including B12, D3, Omega 3s, and iron. To make sure that all nutrients are still received, many vegetarians choose to supplement with a multivitamin. It may also be advisable to speak with your doctor is a vegetarian lifestyle is something you are considering on a more consistent scale. They would be able to recommend supplements to ensure you remain healthy and strong.

Shop local markets

Shopping local farmer's markets offers you a chance to connect with the farmers and purveyors who know the most about their produce and can help point you in the right direction as far as the preparation of new vegetables. Many are more than happy to offer suggestions to help you enjoy their selection.

Make beans your new BFFs

Beans and lentils are popular staples of a vegetarian diet. They are a filling and nutritious way to build out a vegetarian menu. Beans come in countless varieties and are very versatile.

Mock "Meat"

Sometimes "tricking" our brains can be a good way to expand the palate and transform vegetables into something familiar. Many of us are familiar with the idea of bean burgers and similar vegetarian options that have found their way onto the menus of many casual dining chains. Similar dishes can be prepared at home. Try black bean burgers or a lentil loaf as ways to reduce the amount of meat on the menu.

Mix things up with marinades

Marinades can work miracles on meats, and they can do the same for vegetarian alternatives. Marinating "meaty" alternatives, especially mushrooms, can impart a ton of flavor.

Classic comforts revamped

Replacing the meats in favorite dishes can help ease the transition into a vegetarian diet. Vegetarianism isn't about cutting out your favorite dinner dishes; it's about finding healthy, delicious, and sustainable alternatives to animal products. Finding new ways to recreate family favorites can be fun and offer a sense of familiarity that may be beneficial if you are dealing with selective eaters.

Go nuts

Adding nuts into a dish is another great way to beef up a vegetarian dish. Cashews, for example, are very meat and offer a firmness to dishes. They can also be used in a variety of vegan dishes as a way to remove cheeses and creams from select dishes.

Cook up a new cuisine

Some global cuisines lend themselves very well to vegetarian diets simply because meat is not a staple of the cultural cuisine. Indian food, for example, includes a variety of flavorful vegetarian dishes, as does Israeli, Taiwanese, and even Italian cuisines.

Don't call it meat (the opposite of #5)

Embrace the change. Rather than faking meat, calling things "steaks", and so on, just embrace the idea. Instead of trying to find the best ground beef replacement, try to find the best way to use the red lentils in your pantry; make a lentil loaf and just call it lentil loaf, not meatloaf.

Trying something new can be nice

Seek out new vegetables you have never cooked with before. Never had Romanesque cauliflower? Try it. There are so many beautiful and delicious vegetables that offer us something new. Pick up some new produce, then search for recipes that feature it and go from there. You never know what you might come across.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Playground Pumpkins

Here at AAA State of Play, we’re excited for Halloween! To get into the festive spirit, we visited Anderson Orchard near Mooresville, Indiana to see how the kids liked the playground we installed there. The children enjoyed spending time on our “Augusta” structure, as well as picking pumpkins for Halloween and enjoying apple cider made from Anderson Orchard’s own apples! Although, there did seem to be a problem with sharing on the kid’s swing set.
Need some other ideas of things to do with the kiddos this fall? Here’s a list of some of our favorite activities:

  1. Go Apple Picking
  2. Turn those apples into something yummy!
  3. Visit a pumpkin patch
  4. Paint those pumpkins!
  5. Visit a local playground-- or find a new playground you’ve never been to before
  6. Jump into a pile of leaves
  7. Do a corn maze
  8. Take a hayride
  9. Make hot cocoa, or warm up some apple cider you might’ve gotten from the orchard
  10. Make s’mores
  11. Watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
  12. Make a hand print turkey
  13. Go for a bike ride
  14. Bob for apples
  15. Turn each other into mummies using toilet paper

Want even more ideas? Check out’s 101 Fun Fall Activities for Kids!
Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, October 11, 2019

9 Benefits of Playing Dress Up for Children

Image by Annalise Batista from Pixabay

In the month of October, we see dress-up clothes all over the place. Princesses, pirates, firefighters, and ballerinas galore! But beyond Halloween fun and the sugar rush our kids will inevitably get, the benefits of dressing up and dramatic play are many.

Memory Retention

Dressing up and dramatic play encourage children to exercise their brains and pull accumulated knowledge into a specific scenario. Children are observant and dramatic play allows them to use the skills and knowledge they see every day. Be it playing house, taking care of a baby doll, or acting out a fairy tale, dramatic play is a workout for their brain as it recalls information before play-acting.


Through dress-up play, children take on the persona of their costume. They may explore different vocabulary they believe is appropriate for their character and, eventually, children can learn how to apply language to different situations and eventually apply it to their everyday activities and communications.

Problem-Solving Skills

Before dress-up play can begin, children need to solve a few different problems, including decisions regarding what scenarios to act out/play, who gets to act out which role, and what is needed to outfit the roles involved. Solving these problems as a group or as individuals forces the children to navigate problems and arrive at solutions that will move the play forward.

Empathy Towards Others

We've heard the phrase "...walk a mile in their shoes…" Through dramatic play, children are able to put this phrase into action and better understand the perspectives and experiences of others. They may exercise their ability to soothe and feel nurturing when playing with a baby, or brave as they pretend to be a firefighter or soldier.

Emotional Development

The processing of difficult situations through play is a safe way for children who may have seen or experienced trauma or acts of violence. It can help them overcome feelings of helplessness and regain a sense of wellbeing.

Fine Motor Skills Development

A less obvious benefit of dress-up play is the development of fine motor skills. Be it buttons, zippers, or ties, the different pieces of play clothes challenge children to practice their fine motor skills. Large motor skills, such as jumping, running, and spinning are also used in dramatic play.

Gender Identity and Exploration

We may find little girls playing as princesses or fairies more often than boys, who may be more likely to pretend play as firefighters and pirates. Exploring differently gendered roles through play allows children to experience a different perspective.

Social Skills

Dramatic group play offers children the opportunity to practice cooperating with others, building on the story being played and negotiating the rules of the scenario. The concept of sharing and taking turns is also practiced during group play.

Creativity and Imagination

Dramatic play allows children to stretch the constraints of reality. By using their imagination, children are engaged in creative thinking that can serve them well in real life.
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Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

15 Awesome Quotes on Play From Experts You Can Follow on Twitter

Play is important but, goodness knows, some days we need a bit more motivation to get off of our couches with our kids. It can certainly be tempting to spend a Saturday or Sunday morning hunkered down watching cartoons or a movie as a family, but it can be so much more satisfying to get up and move our bodies together. Whether you are a family who enjoys playing team sports or hiking in the wilderness, those first few steps to get up, ready, and out the door can be hard. To make it a little easier to stay motivated to move, I've collected the following inspirational quotes and tweets from people who understand and champion the importance of movement and play. Print these out, hang them up, and come back to them when the thought of a lazy, sedentary weekend sounds extra alluring.

1. "Free play gives children an outlet to express their emotions and feelings and helps them develop a sense of who they are."
- KaBOOM! @kaboom!

2. "Children learn through doing - play is how they explore the world, learn to assess risk, try things out, and get to know themselves."
- Bethe Almeras @balmeras

3. "You don't remember the times your dad held your handle bars. You remember the day he let go."
- Lenore Skenazy @FreeRangeKids

4. "Think of playtime like an innovation lab where tomorrow's civilization is being actively designed."
- Jordan Shapiro @jordosh

5. "We should be simply providing fields of free action for them to become, through playing, the resilient, adaptive, creative, emotionally intelligent, and socially confident young people that we all, in truth, want them to be."
- Adrian Voce, OBE @adevoce

6. "Play is our brain's favorite way of learning."
- Diane Ackerman @DianeSAckerman

7. "I shouldn't have to defend play for children any more than I should have to defend their eating, sleeping, and breathing."
- Rae Pica @raepica1

8. "Supporting children to play requires us to remember what life is all about. It's not about getting from A-Z, but rather dreaming beyond both."
- Vince Gowmon @VinceGowmon

9. "Kids who play, play well as adults. Kids who play build their confidence and learn the social skills that help them become happy, well-adjusted adults."
- KaBOOM! @kaboom!

10. "Let's stop differentiating between children's play and children's work. In early childhood play IS the work." - Tonya Satchell @LiteracyCounts

11. "...Kids don't run home excited to share all the procedures they learned day one. Make time for fun day one, week one and all year." - Matt Gomez @mattBgomez

12. "I believe we should call children writers and artists because children ARE writers and artists.
- Mo Willems' Pigeon @The_Pigeon

13. "Technology should be used to capture and amplify learning, not to keep children "busy."
- Karen Lireman @KLireman

14. "As educators, we live in a world of S.M.A.R.T. goals which help us focus our efforts to achieve results. But shouldn't we leave some room for D.U.M.B goals, too?

D ream-Driven

U plifting

M ethod-Friendly

B ehavior-Triggered

- Bevin Reinen @TeachTrainLove

15. "If you insist on readiness tests for children entering school, I'd suggest putting them on the playground with a bunch of other kids for an hour and determine if they act like a child. Anything less than what a kid would do means you should ramp up playtime."
- Dean Shareski @shareski

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, September 30, 2019

7 Ways That Children Use Play to Express Their Emotions

Learning to handle big emotions is something that children will learn and relearn as they grow. Positive expression of emotions can help that learning process go a little more smoothly and using play as an opportunity to express emotion can be a good, non-threatening way for a child to open up and explore their feelings in a constructive way.

Messy play helps children explore their emotions. Messy play might not sound like the most emotionally in-tune option, but when dealing with strong feelings, especially feelings of anger and frustration, messy play allows children to convert some of those feelings into mess and releases some of their energy in a way that does not negatively impact them or others around them.

Role-play offers kids a safe way to express emotions. Emotions can be confusing, overwhelming, and scary. So much so that children may shy away from situations that trigger those emotions. This may be especially true for introverts and people-pleasers who have a difficult time standing up for themselves when faced with conflict. Role-playing allows children to experience emotions in a safe environment and allows that to practice their reactions to specific scenarios. That practice may serve them well in real life and help them to gain confidence and control over their own reactions.

Get outside and play in big spaces. It is just as simple as it sounds: Let children play outside and let them run in the open. Physical activity, especially running, is a great way for children to take to reflect and process emotions and scenarios. Teaching children to use exercise as an outlet from an early age may also encourage them to stay active and enjoy peak physical and mental health throughout their lives.

Use art as an emotional expression. Art, while not physical exercise, exercises different parts of our brain and allows us to create visual representations of our emotions. Actually seeing that emotion can help in the identification and processing of it.

Make music that mimics emotion. As with art, music can be created as a representation of emotion. Children can experience both strong and more subtle emotions through music and listening to music may be able to pick out different emotions and practice empathy for the emotions of others.

Read stories with strong emotions. Watching and listening to emotions experienced by others also allows children to build empathy. Stories can help children learn appropriate behaviors and make decisions regarding how they can express their own emotions.

Play with children of different ages. As with teaching children about cultural diversity, exposing them, first-hand, can be very beneficial to their learning and comprehension. Children playing with older peers may observe the reactions and coping skills around them and adopt what they see as they process their own emotions. Children playing with a wide age range of peers may also help to normalize emotions as they watch others experience and express difficult emotions in an age-appropriate way.

More Information:

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

5 Reasons Why Children Need Down Time, Especially During the School Year

The start of a new school year can be stressful for everyone. It doesn't matter if you are the parent or the child; the change in routine, figuring out new expectations, and finding the rhythm of a new school year can be tough. During this time, it is important that we rest. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it's true: Rest and downtime are important, especially at the beginning of a new school year. Here's why:

1. High stress correlates with increased anxiety and difficulty focusing.

Stress and anxiety often go hand in hand. Students experiencing high stress-levels in September may be nervous about meeting the expectations of a new teacher or anxious about the course material, so much so that stress may evolve into anxiety over school. The anxiety may manifest in a variety of ways, including insomnia, headaches, and nausea. Difficulty focusing is also a byproduct of stress, as a student may be too focused on how prepared they are and what might be coming next that they aren't present or able to participate in the classroom.

2. Children experience burnout too, which may extinguish their passions for various activities and lead to boredom.

As an employee might experience burnout, so can students. If you stop to think about it, it makes sense that that is so: Being a student is, in essence, their full-time job. When a student is burnt out, they may lose interest in the activities they really enjoy because they simply have no energy left to put into those things. The mental and physical load of school is taxing and without consciously setting aside time to relieve some of the stress through healthy, fulfilling activities, they can quickly take a backseat to academics. Over time, the falling away of interests and activities may contribute to depression.

3. Children need time to be "bored", meaning they need the freedom to find ways to play and entertain themselves. This is important in childhood and in adulthood.

Boredom can be a powerful motivator and helps students to tap into their own natural creativity. Often times boredom is viewed as a negative, but when given the freedom and lack of direction that contributes to being bored, students may begin to explore their options to a greater extent. This strengthens them to think in different ways and approach problems in new ways without being led to an immediate resolution. The skill of problem-solving cultivated through boredom in childhood can serve them well into adulthood.

4. When children spend too much time on schoolwork and sports practice, they miss out on crucial family bonding time.

When school begins, soon follows football season, soccer, lacrosse, and basketball. Whichever sport a student plays, it means time spent at practice and games, both of which may take away from family dinners and time spent catching up with kids. The loss of family time may strain the family dynamic. In order to make sure the family stays connected, it is important to sit down weekly and coordinate schedules to find a day and time that works to catch up. Sports seasons are also great opportunities to come out in support of each other. Make it a point to show up games whenever possible.

5. Freedom and play give children time to process what they have learned throughout the day in a functional, healthy way.

The freedom to play affords children the opportunity to stretch their imaginations in a safe way. Dynamic play/pretend play is when children play out different roles and scenarios. This type of play can help them to process real-life events and builds their confidence in their decision-making skills. If a child is anxious, dynamic play can also help them work through potential outcomes and prepare to accept real-life outcomes in real life.

Learn More:

Is Your Child Overscheduled?

Overscheduled Kids

Play at School

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, September 23, 2019

Tips for Being a Great, Supportive Sports Parent

I love being a parent for many reasons; one of which is the opportunity to experience so much through our children's eyes. As parents we are fortunate enough to share so much with our little ones. We watch them learn new things, explore the world, and overcome the obstacles that are put in their path. One of the many things we get to experience together with our children is sports. Whether it is baseball, softball, soccer, or figure skating, each sport offers our children - and us - the opportunity to grow and learn much more than the technical skills required to excel. Sports are a wonderful way for children to gain confidence, learn the importance of dedication and hard work, and how to work well with their peers in a respectful way.

As a parent, of course we want to see our children excel in whatever they are interested in. But there is a fine line between passionately encouraging and bullying. It is important for us to model good sportsmanship, even when we're not the ones on the field. Our athletes also look to us as a barometer of importance and to learn how they should react in a given situation on or off of the field. Take your opportunity as the parent of an athlete to show them what it means to be a team player and encourage them to work toward their goals in a healthy way. Here are some of my tips for being a supportive parent to your young athlete this season.

Avoid bad-mouthing

Our children are watching us for their behavioral queues. Whether they are right next to us or on the field, they see how we treat those around us at their practices and games. Treat all coaches, referees, other parents, and opponents with respect and courtesy.

Focus on the effort rather than the win

Win or lose, it is important to praise the efforts of your athlete when they have given their all. That is not to say that empty praise should be doled out, but that recognizing an athlete who continued to show up throughout the game with focus and skill helps them to recognize that regardless of the outcome, their best efforts matter.

Respect the authority of those running the practice or game

Along with treating others with respect, we also need to support our coaches and referees. They work hard to facilitate a healthy and fair game for our athletes and many of them are as invested in their success as you are. Even if you don't agree with a call, it is important to maintain perspective and respect for those running the game.

Respect your child's shifts in interest

We know that it is important for our athletes to honor the commitments they have made to their teammates and coaches by signing up for a sports team. If at the end of a season, your athlete decides that they do not want to continue to play on a team, respect their shift in interest and allow them to try a different activity.

Create a healthy balance of school, fun, family, and sports

Sports practices, games, workshops, and camps can take up a considerable amount of time in your athlete's schedule. Make sure that there is a healthy balance between school, home, and their sports team. Doing so may stave off burn out and allow your athlete to recognize that their identity does not lay within their sport.

Challenge your athlete

Keep your athlete engaged and challenged by encouraging them to explore their range of ability. This might mean taking on a different position within the team or switching teams to benefit from opportunities for advancement within their sport. Moves like that can be daunting, but worth the time, effort, and sacrifice in the end.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, September 9, 2019

Why It is Healthy and Normal for Children to Play Alone

Socialization is an important aspect of childhood, but equally important is learning how to play alone. It can be very tempting to encourage our kids to play with their peers whenever the opportunity presents itself, but let's remember, too, that there are important lessons to be learned from solo play. Decision-making, creativity, imagination, and independence are all important traits that can be developed through time spent playing alone.

Many of us parents can vividly remember the days when our small toddlers needed and wanted every moment of our attention. "Play with me, Mommy" are words that many of us love to hear, but they can also wear us thin as we try to balance our children, chores, careers, and so much more. But those days went by all too quickly, and pretty soon those toddlers were confidently exploring their own spaces, making their own decisions on play, and becoming the strong and engaged individuals we'd hoped they would be.

Challenging our little kids to make their own fun is so important. Through solo play, especially play that does not include an element of technology, children can learn how to entertain themselves and find their own joy in activities. There is value in boredom because it forces children to think harder about the options available to them. Whether inside or outside, children can surprise us with their creativity and ingenuity when challenged to create their own entertainment.

Imagination can also be strengthened through ingenuity. So many of the activities children engage in today are created in a way that allows a child not to be required to think too hard. But thinking hard and stretching one's imagination is just like stretching any other muscle; it gets stronger. The ability to use one's imagination and really taking the opportunity to flex that muscle is something that can also serve them well in life and empower them to think creatively as they grow, explore, and learn.

Confidence is also gained by playing alone. Children can gain confidence in their ability to problem-solve and create when they don't have another person there to actively steer them in one direction or the other. Playing alone, children are responsible for making their own decisions, and while that may feel daunting to some children, once they practice their decision-making skills through play, they will be better equipped to make decisions within a group and outside of play.

New hobbies and interests can also be born out of playing alone. Without the influence of others and peer pressure to like or dislike specific activities, children may be more willing to try something new and find that they really enjoy it. There is so much to be said about "dancing when no one is watching", and lifting the social obligations felt by many, both children and adults, in a group setting. Playing alone, children can try new activities unfettered by public opinion.

So, as your little ones grow and social pressures push socialization and group play, don't forget the value in playing alone. Build up their independence and confidence through solo play and those skills will serve them very well in so many different ways.

Psychology Today on the Benefits of Alone Time

Playing Alone Promotes Creativity and Self-Esteem

School-age Play Options

Find more about the author: Kim Hart