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Friday, August 16, 2019

It's National Dance Day! Here are 10 Benefits of Dancing for Kids

Get your dancing shoes on, people! National Dance Day is just around the corner. Celebrated on the third Saturday of every September, it lands on September 21st this year and I'm all ready to boogie down. Now, my kids have never really been dancers, but I am excited to take this opportunity to share with them the world of dance and the benefits of moving their bodies to the beat.

I loved dance as a kid. The buns, the costumes, the pride I felt as I mastered new skills and combinations. Sadly, this mama lost a little bit of her grove with age and I'm pretty rusty. But that hasn't dampened my love of the art. Maybe it's the music, or the endorphins, or the feeling of muscles stretching and strengthening. Whatever it is, dance feels good to me. It has a ton of other important benefits, too, that can benefit our kiddos.

Dance to Improve Health

Dancing improves physical health, stamina, coordination and balance, flexibility, and posture. It also strengthens muscles and increases flexibility. Whether your kids are jete-ing in ballet class or poppin' and lockin' in a hip hop class, they're getting their heart pumping and having fun doing it. It's exercise that doesn't necessarily feel like exercise and sometimes that's all that's needed to engage kids and encourage them to be active.

Dance for Personal Development

Dancing can be a solo or group activity, depending on the type. Square dancing, ballroom dancing, and sometimes ballet, for example, require a dance partner. This forced socialization helps our kids to practice interacting in close proximity with their peers. Dance styles that may not require a partner are still typically taught in a group setting, encouraging interaction and offering kids the opportunity to build friendships. Teamwork is also a big part of dance, especially when practicing for recitals or competitions. Likewise, trust and cooperation can be cultivated through dance.

Dance to Develop Character

Dance can help our kids develop character, in a similar way that organized sports can. Dancing requires commitment, focus, and discipline. The time and energy required to learn and master new moves can pay off with applause when kids put in the time and commit to giving their dance routines their all. Kids with the drive and commitment to developing their craft might even earn the opportunity to try out for competition teams and professional dance companies at both the local and national level.

Dance to Shine with Confidence

The learning, growth, and development involved in dance can give tiny dancers the confidence they need to succeed in many different capacities. Be it on stage or in the classroom, dancing is a great way to instill in our children that they can do anything, as long as they are willing to put in the time and practice to reach their goals. It takes courage for kids to step onto a stage and showcase what they've learned and practiced to near perfection. Digging deep and finding that courage may give them the skills needed to do other hard or intimidating things with confidence.

What is National Dance Day?

Celebration National Dance Day Your Way

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, August 9, 2019

10 Summer Safety Tips for Dogs

How many of you have experienced a heat wave this summer? They seem to be happening worldwide this year. Whenever there's a hot weather advisory, it's important to take care to hydrate and limit time in the direct sun. Children and the elderly are especially at risk, and many of us step up to keep an eye on them, but there's another vulnerable population you should remember if you're a dog owner. Dogs are also at risk in high temperatures, and they also might find potential hazards at popular summer events and festivals. I've gathered up a list of some important tips to remember in the heat to keep your dog healthy and comfortable all summer long.

  1. Make fresh clean water available at all times. It's easy for dogs to get dehydrated in the heat, and dehydration is associated with some serious risks. Change out the water often to keep it appealing and cool for dogs so they remember to drink regularly. Check often to make sure they have enough, since they'll increase their water intake when it's hot out.
  2. Never leave your dog in a hot car. Even a few minutes can be deadly for dogs. In the shade, a car can reach 90 degrees after a few minutes, and it can get up to 160 degrees in the direct sun! It's best not to take your dog out in the car at all in the hot weather, but if you do, bring along a water dish and don't leave them unattended.
  3. Make sure your dog has a shady spot to hang out in the yard or stays inside where there's air conditioning. A dog house is not good shelter on a hot day: They can trap heat.
  4. Get your dog a kiddie pool! It's a fun way for dogs to play while staying cool (and even clean off a little).
  5. Speaking of exercise, it's best to limit it on very hot days. Skip playing fetch if there's a high heat warning, and limit walks to just enough time for your dog to do its business.
  6. Be careful of your dog's feet in hot weather. The asphalt heats up and can easily burn the pads on your dog's paws. If you can't avoid your dog walking on asphalt, you can protect their feet with special boots for dogs.
  7. Be aware of your dog's breed and their susceptibility to heat. Breeds with flat noses, like pugs and Pekingeses, are more prone to overheating because they can't pant as effectively. You should also be extra cautious of elderly dogs or dogs with heart disease.
  8. Make yourself aware of the symptoms of overheating. These can include excessive panting, a high heart rate, bloody stool, vomiting, and collapse.
  9. Apart from the heat, you should avoid dangerous foods at barbecues and other typical summer events. Dogs should stay away from onions, chocolate, and grapes.
  10. The other big summer features to avoid with pets are events that have fireworks. Most dogs are really afraid of them, and they may run away in a panic.
Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, July 25, 2019

10 Tips for Your Dog's First Overnight Camping Trip

Photo by Zain A.B (Flickr)
Summer is a great time to go camping and many families have a four-legged friend they'd like to bring along. Talking to a few friends who bring their dogs camping made me realize that while it's really fun to bring your pet along on a family trip, it can present some unique challenges. I decided to ask my friends for advice and dig up a few other tips for taking your dog on a successful camping trip. I'd love to hear how these worked out for you, and if I missed anything important, please let me know!
  1. Research the Campground Before Booking: Not every campground is dog-friendly. Make sure to choose you a campground that will accommodate your canine. It's important to first and foremost follow the rules and regulations of the place you're visiting, whether it's a national park, state park, or other local site. Parks may have restrictions on dogs, so make sure you abide by them and pay attention to leash laws, too.
  2. Keep Your Dog Leashed at the Campsite: The outdoors is full of tempting sights and smells for dogs. From wildlife to other dogs to stray food, there are a lot of things that might send your dog off running. You don't want to lose sight of your dog or have them barge in on a campsite where pooches aren't welcome, so it's best to keep your dog on a leash while at the campsite. It lowers the risk of a lost dog and makes for happier campers.
  3. Visit the Vet Before You Leave: Bring your dog to the veterinarian for a checkup before setting out on a camping trip, especially if you plan to do any strenuous hikes. You'll want to make sure that your dog is up for the task. You'll also want to make sure your pet is up to date with vaccinations and taking necessary medication to prevent heartworm and ticks.
  4. Refresh Your Dog's Training: Before heading out, make sure your dog is brushed up on some important commands for a camping trip. For instance, "leave it" is pretty important to use while camping, in case the dog comes across a wild animal or something they shouldn't eat.
  5. Consider Your Dog's Personality: Choose your accommodations with your dog's personality in mind. A shy dog would like a quieter setting, while a social dog is probably more flexible unless you find that the dog gets too excitable around other people and other dogs.
  6. Use Waste Bags Wherever You Go: Make sure you've packed baggies to clean up your dog's mess. Most parks have a leave-no-trace policy, which means that you must leave things the way you found them. Cleaning up your dog's mess keeps things clean for other visitors and limits the spread of illness to wildlife.
  7. Bring a Doggy Bed or Pad: After a long day of camping, you and your dog will both want a good night's sleep. Bring along some kind of bed or pad to make your dog's sleep more secure and comfortable, or else your dog may keep you awake through the night.
  8. Pack a Doggy First Aid Kit: Just like humans, dogs should have a first aid kit when they go camping. The kit should include a blanket, tweezers, a bandanna, dog booties, a tick spoon, and emergency vet information.
  9. Consider Buying a Collar Light: A glowing light on your dog's collar will make them much easier to locate at night. Dog owners do worry about losing track of their dog in wooded areas, and this can really put their minds at ease.
  10. Bring a Portable Crate: If you're worried that you might not have the most well-behaved dog at the campsite, a portable crate can help keep your dog contained and calm.
Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Importance of Unstructured Summer Playtime for Kids

July is a time for beautiful weather and long summer days. For most of us, our kids are home from school on summer vacation. Some have gone to overnight camps, day camps, summer sports, or summer arts clubs. Some are taking over their backyard, taking trips to the library, or hitting the local playground. No matter where they are, kids should be using this free time to play and explore. There's been a lot of talk about whether summer vacation from school is a bad idea, but I'm of the opinion that the unstructured time and break from school schedules is really important for children. I'm sure my girls agree! I've collected a few reasons why this unstructured time is important.

Play Benefits All Aspects of Development

I've spoken many times on this blog about why play is beneficial to a child's physical, emotional, and intellectual development. These important and proven reasons are at the foundation of why a few weeks break from school to add more freedom and playtime to a child's life is beneficial in the long run. Of course education is important, but we need to make sure our kids don't forget how to play and aren't deprived of opportunities to explore and experience the unique ways play allows children to develop.

Summer Play Promotes Non-Traditional Learning

Children don't have to be in a classroom to learn: There are plenty of play experiences that can be made educational. Children playing outside can discover new plants, animals, and bugs while exploring the world around them. Summer also gives kids time to learn more skills and explore new hobbies. It's the perfect season to learn how to swim or ride a bike! Your child might also take part in a camp that provides traditional learning as well as opportunities for socialization and team-building.

Kids Need to Learn to Handle Boredom

Kids getting bored over summer break may not sound like something positive, but boredom is a part of life, and it's beneficial for kids to learn how to deal with it. We know that kids can get into trouble when they're bored, but with a little guidance from you, they can learn how to create their own play and make boredom more constructive. Getting bored prompts kids to get creative and use their imagination. The boundless free time summer offers creates the situation, and kids have to rise to the occasion and make the most of their free time.

Play Provides an Emotional Reset

Kids have a lot of new experiences as they're growing up, and these experiences can take a while to process. The free time offered by summer vacation is a chance for children to relax, deal with their emotions, and process memories. Summer cues children to be relaxed, at ease, and content. They have much more space and capacity to deal with negative emotions during this time.

To take away summer vacation and replace it with year-long schooling might sound educationally responsible, but I believe that depriving children of their summer reset would be detrimental to their development. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, July 12, 2019

How the Playground Benefits Every Aspect of Child Development

Photo by dadblunders (Flickr)

Is there a nice playground in your neighborhood? I hope so, since they have absolutely incredible benefits for child development and the community at large. My girls and I love to visit the local playground, whether it's to use the equipment, play on the grass, or meet up with friends. Playgrounds have a ton of benefits: Take a look at these and see if any of them surprise you. Did I leave anything out? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Increased Motor Skills

Most play equipment is designed to help children improve their physical fitness and their motor skills. Running, sliding, jumping, and swinging all help children increase their coordination, balance, and strength. Best of all, couch potato kids usually don't complain about exercise when they're playing. They're too busy having fun! So if you have a little one reluctant to play in gym class, a trip to the playground might be a great solution to improving their motor skills.

Taking in Fresh Air

Most playgrounds are outdoors, so kids on the playground are soaking in all of the benefits of fresh air. Kids get much-needed vitamin D when they're out in the sunlight as well as a chance to breathe fresh air and feel invigorated. This is why recess is such a needed break from the school day. Being outside has positive effects on physical health as well as overall mood. (Just don't forget the sunblock!) And extra time outside playing can also help tucker out your over-energized young ones who aren't a fan of bedtime.

Improved Social Skills

For young children, so many friendships are formed on the playground. It gives children a space for freedom to interact and play cooperatively with each other. Whether they're out on the playground during the school day or visiting the local public playground, there are often new faces and a chance to meet new friends. Children feel that they can interact with each other more freely on the playground, giving them a chance to work on their social skills, share with others, and teach each other new games.

Braver Kids

This might give the supervising adults gray hairs, but children taking risks on the playground can be a good thing. Shy children might come out of their shell in interactions with others. Children can feel encouraged to take on challenges that their friends are doing, like using the monkey bars or climbing higher on the jungle gym. Kids can practice deciding what risks are OK to take when they're on the playground, and although its nerve-wracking for us to watch, it's an important life skill for them to learn.

Imaginations Run Wild

The playground sparks the imagination. Ask your kids what game they were playing on the playground and you might get some elaborate answers. They might tell you the slide was a castle, the merry-go-round was over a lava pit, or the swing set was a space station. Play equipment can be simple, but it can form a wild imaginative landscape in the eyes of children. That's always a mental muscle I'll encourage my girls to flex.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

What is Associative Play and Why It Matters

Photo by photobom (Flickr)

I thought we ought to take a deep dive into a stage of play.

When I first heard the term "associative play," I had no idea what it meant, but once I found out, I realized that I had seen my girls engaging in it many times. Once you learn more about this type of play and why it's important, I think that like me, you'll also want to encourage the kids in your care to do it more often.

What Is Associative Play?

Associative play is all about social interaction. It refers to any instance when children begin playing together as a group doing a similar or identical activity to one another. Associative play has no formal organization, goal, or direction. Children riding tricycles together, building sand castles together, or building their own separate Lego projects as a group are all participating in associative play.

How Associative Play Differs From Other Play

Associative play is similar to other stages of play, like parallel play. Parallel play occurs when children play together in the same space but separately. While children doing associative play might also be doing separate activities, they still have a level of involvement and curiosity in what others are doing. Children doing associative play are not quite ready to use skills like teamwork, cooperation, and leadership to play together with a goal in mind, or they're taking a break from that type of activity. Doing associative play helps them practice more organized activities that call on children to work as a team.

The stages of play theory suggests that the way children play transforms and becomes more sophisticated as they grow. Each stage builds on those that came before. Associative play is a stop on the way to developing the ability to work cooperatively and socialize in positive ways.

Benefits of Associative Play

There are many reasons why this stage of play is important:

  • It encourages cooperation among children.
  • It increases problem-solving abilities. Children often ask why, when, and how while doing associative play.
  • Socialization is improved through work with others.
  • Associative play can improve language as children chat together.

Encouraging Associative Play

The most obvious way to encourage more associative play for your kids is to set up more play dates with friends and family: Associative play can't happen when the child is alone. Of course, adults can join in, too! Take a break and play some games with your kids. You might find yourself having fun, too. Some great ideas for this type of play are to color pictures or do separate art projects together. You could also break out Legos or clay or search for something together, like sea shells. Since this stage of play is so social, it's also a great idea to ask questions. Take an interest in what the children are doing, and ask them what they're doing and why. Sharing is also an important part of associative play. Encourage sharing as much as possible, and make sure there are many items around that can be shared among the group.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, July 5, 2019

7 Reasons Why Road Trips Can Spark Growth and Learning in Children!

Photo by Nicholas Cole (Flickr)

The summer holidays mean vacation time for many families. My own family loves a good road trip. Whether we're talking a day trip or a week-long journey, road trips can be great fun for everyone. Depending on the age of your kids, you may want to limit the length of the car journey and break up your itinerary with kid-friendly stops. No matter what your trip looks like, your whole family is sure to get a lot out of it because there are some surprising benefits to taking a road trip with kids. Take a look at my top seven reasons why road trips help kids to learn and grow. Then, feel free to share your road trip memories, or let me know where you plan on road-tripping this summer: I'd love to hear your recommendations!

Build Character

I know, "road trips build character" sounds like something Grandpa might say to get the kids to simmer down. You might find yourself tempted to say it to your kids as again and again throughout the car ride, they ask you, "Are we there yet?" But that's where a road trip can be a growth moment. It can teach children patience. You can't get there any faster (without risking a speeding ticket and your lives), and sooner or later, your kids will tire of asking as they get the picture. Just make sure you've got a fun destination in mind so you can help your kids reflect on how their patience and perseverance paid off.

Learn Some Geography

A road trip is a great chance for kids to test out reading a map. Let them mark your progress. They can even try out making a map of their own! Have them identify features like mountains and rivers and mark them on their map. You can also take the chance to help them identify different habitats and ecosystems. Bring along a book that might discuss what birds, animals, and plants live where you're traveling.

Develop a Spirit of Exploration

Travel brings out the adventurous and curious side of everyone. Show enthusiasm to help your kids take interest in the sites, sounds, and experiences all around them. Trying new things is a good thing for kids. It makes them more confident, more knowledgeable, and more engaged with the world.

Bond as a Family

Think about leaving the tablet loaded with movies and games at home. This might seem like a terrifying concept when faced with long hours in the car, but if you do, you'll make sure you don't miss out on some quality family time to reconnect and chat with one another.

Practice State Memorization

Do you remember playing little games during long car journeys? I sure do. If you're traveling in the United States, try playing the license plate game: See how many different states' plates you can spot along the way, and talk about the different state landmarks, animals, and other features that appear on many license plate designs.

Try Some Photography

Let your kids take the lead on taking some family photos along your journey. My girls love doing this. They get a real sense of pride out of their best photos. If possible, be a little flexible and pull over if your kids spot a great opportunity.

Learn Art, History, and Science

Road trips present a lot of educational opportunities no matter where you're traveling. Urban areas will have art museums and theaters. More rural areas will have lots of natural beauty to learn more about, and they may have homestead or living history areas to explore.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, June 24, 2019

10 Tips for Making Fruits and Vegetables More Appealing to Kids (and You!)

Photo by muammerokumus (Flickr)

June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month, so let's talk about food! For many kids, fruits and vegetables aren't the most exciting foods, and some of us adults aren't always that great about getting in our daily servings, either. If this sounds like you, maybe you just haven't found a way to jazz them up! I hope I can supply some tips below that might help you nurture your love for healthy fruits and veggies. Since kids aren't known for being the biggest health food enthusiasts, try these tips out with them, too, and help them get an appreciation for fruits and veggies. I've used these tips to drastically reduce the complaints I hear from my girls when veggies and fruits are served.

  1. Get your kids involved with cooking! For a lot of kids, cooking is fun, and they like spending time with you to create dishes the whole family can enjoy. Not only will they learn new skills and hopefully help you out with your meal prep, but kids are far more likely to eat something they helped create. They'll have a real sense of pride in having helped make the meal, and the fruits and veggies will go down the hatch.
  2. Keep your kids' favorite foods in mind. It's usually pretty easy to sneak fruits or vegetables into the favorite dishes. My kids love pizza and tacos, two things that are pretty easy to sneak more servings of vegetables into. You can also sprinkle fresh fruit on cereal or get creative with dishes like mac and cheese or lasagna, which are easy to sneak veggies into.
  3. Go a little easier on your kids' veggie-eating habits. If they at least eat some of their veggies, they should get some praise. Forcing them to clean their plate often just puts them off vegetables even more.
  4. If you're trying to expand their horizons, serve a fruit or vegetable your child already enjoys along with something new for them to try. If they only like carrots, serve them but try mixing in peas, too. If they put strawberries on their oatmeal, why not slice up a few bananas for them to try with them?
  5. Start serving fruits and vegetables early in their lives. Kids develop their tastes pretty young. Introducing fruits and vegetables as soon as it's safe to do so will make them more likely to eat them without complaint later.
  6. Embrace the veggie love yourself. Your kids are looking up to you, and if they see you enjoying fruits and vegetables with a smile, they won't want to miss out!
  7. Break out the butter. A lot of kids dislike leafy greens because of their bitterness, and butter can counteract that. Sure, we should limit butter in our diets, but it's far better to use butter if gets kids to eat veggies, and butter does have nutritional value, including vitamins A and D. The extra fat can also help their bodies to absorb the vitamins in the vegetables.
  8. Visit a community garden and pick your own fruits and vegetables. Choosing and harvesting your own produce can make it more appealing to eat it later on.
  9. Stoop to a reward system if you have to. Making kids eat their vegetables in order to earn their dessert is a time-tested tactic that often works.
  10. Make some tasty dip! Whether you're serving fruits or vegetables, there's usually a dip that will make kids more excited to eat them. Kids seem to love dipping sauces, and there are a lot of healthy yogurt-based recipes that are easy to make.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Why Choice and Freedom During Playtime is So Important

Photo by ThomasLife - Flickr

Happy June! I hope you're enjoying some beautiful weather outdoors! Schools all over the place will be starting summer break soon if they haven't already. When most of us think back to summer break from school, our minds fill with memories of long hours of freedom. I rarely stop to think about it, but really the essence of playtime is free time. When we feel relaxed, fun and a sense of playfulness follow. That's why even if we're setting up structured playtime for children, it's important to still give them a sense of freedom.

Different Styles of Play

We should recognize that there are different styles and types of play that can be used to enhance play while trying to keeping it free and imaginative.

Social Play - Children play with others at team sports and cooperative activities, or they role-play imaginative scenarios.

Independent Play - Children play alone, but they are often engaged with action figures, stuffed toys, puzzles, or the environment around them.

Guided Play - Children play in the context of a situation that an adult has arranged. This can be a teacher, parent, or camp counselor presenting an opportunity for play and giving them an objective.

There are ways to make all styles of play creative and free.

The Benefits of Free Play

  • Play teaches children problem-solving skills. If children have the freedom to push limits or encounter a problem during play, they develop the skills to find ways out and persevere.
  • When children are playing imaginary games, their emotions can be provoked. Free play is a safe environment for children to grow more comfortable with emotions like fear, anxiety, and sadness. They'll learn how to cope with these feelings while playing.
  • Free play gives children greater confidence as they learn how to entertain themselves and feel prepared to overcome challenges.
  • When children feel free while playing, they reduce their stress and anxiety as they feel free from scrutiny and judgment.
  • Free play inspires creativity and curiosity. Kids might even discover new passions and interests while playing if they have the freedom to explore.
  • When kids have free play outside and interact with the environment, they develop an appreciation and respect for the natural world.
  • Children who have freedom of choice while playing improve their decision-making skills.
  • When children play freely and socially, they work on teamwork, cooperation, and good communication with others as they play and take on challenges together.

Tips for Free Play

  • Schedule some free time for play that gets kids away from screens. Some children will need more of a structured play environment than others. If you're little one is in need of more structure, you can set up a playroom or space outdoors with activities and toys ready to go. The key is to provide choice!
  • Encourage children to use readily available resources for play! This can include empty boxes, recyclables, rocks, shells, leaves, and more.
  • Play together! Nothing gets children out of their shell like an adult ready to engage in play with them and model play behavior and ideas. Who says adults can't have fun too?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, June 21, 2019

A Round-Up of Mental Health Resources for Parents, Teens, Children, and Educators

Photo by

May is ending, but the month isn't over yet, which means that I still have time to lend a voice in support of Mental Health Awareness Month. During Mental Health Awareness Month, individuals and organizations take a moment to help raise awareness of the need for self-care, better treatments, and an end to the unfair stigma that faces people struggling with mental health issues. To help do my part, I've pulled together some resources that can help people with mental illnesses as well as the parents, teachers, and loved ones who care about them.

  1. Mental Health for Parents and Caregivers: I've started talking to my girls about mental health pretty early in their lives because I think it's important. It's not always easy to do, though. This resource can help parents and caregivers know what to say, what to do, and what signs of poor mental health to look out for.
  2. Mental Health Resources for Parents of Adolescents: Adolescence is a turbulent time full of change, peer pressure, and other challenges. This page is full of resources that can help out parents of teens for any issue you can imagine. It includes treatment guides and service locators.
  3. Learning to Help Your Child and Family: This is another important resource for parents and caregivers. It will help you identify symptoms of mental health problems and guide you on what steps you should take next to help the child or children in your care.
  4. Mental Health for Educators: Teachers are in a special and important position to encourage good mental health and identify problems. This page gives ideas on how to promote good mental health in the classroom as well as on a schoolwide level. It will also tell you what to look out for to identify a student in need of mental health support.
  5. Psychology Today: This resource can help you find a therapist near you and get information on where they practice, what techniques they use, and the insurance they accept.
  6. Anxiety and Depression Association of America: This site gives information on prevention and treatment of depression, anxiety, and related illnesses.
  7. Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder: Get information on where to find treatment for ADHD and locate local support groups here.
  8. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: This site has online support and can refer users to in-person support for depression and bipolar disorder.
  9. Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America: This organization manages the Schizophrenia Anonymous group, which is a network of self-help groups.
  10. Treatment and Research Advances for Borderline Personality Disorder: This referral center gives information on borderline personality disorder and treatment options.
  11. The Suicide Prevention Hotline: This very important resource is available 24/7 for anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts.
  12. The National Domestic Violence Hotline: This organization is always available for those who are being abused and trying to escape from domestic violence. If you're a parent who's being abused by a partner, get help, both for you and for your child or children.
  13. International OCD Foundation: Learn more about OCD and get referrals from this organization dedicated to helping people who have obsessive compulsive disorder.
  14. To Write Love on Her Arms: This organization is popular with teens. It's dedicated to providing hope and help for those struggle with depression and self-harm.
  15. GriefShare: Grief can open the door to mental health struggles or trigger an existing mental health condition. GriefShare helps you connect with others who are going through the same things and can offer support.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, June 20, 2019

National Walking Month! 10 Benefits of Walking Your Dog

Photo by Nicki Dugan Pogue (Flickr)

Did you know that May was National Walking Month? We all know that walking is fantastic for our health, helps us enjoy the gorgeous weather, and can give a giant boost to your fitness regimen. Since we all agree that going for a walk is a fantastic idea, let's mix it up a little bit. If you have a canine companion, get them involved! While we don't have a dog, my girls sometimes offer to walk our neighbors' dogs; they enjoy it and sometimes make a few bucks, too. What's not to love about getting out in the fresh air with a furry friend? The pup will thank you, and let's not forget about the rewards for humans.

  1. Make Friends: Studies have shown that people who walk a dog are more engaged with their community. It makes them more likely to meet other neighbors, greet neighbors they come across, and help a neighbor out. I know that in my own community, our local farmers' market and other community events tend to be full of dog-walkers, and a cute four-legged friend makes a great ice-breaker.
  2. Lose Weight: Those walking benefits I mentioned? They certainly don't disappear just because you have a dog in tow. Walking is a proven weight-loss tool, and walking with your dog can help keep you on a consistent schedule, giving you an extra reason to get out the door. Your dog can even help you set a good pace.
  3. Stay Loose: This benefit is for both dogs and humans. As humans and canines alike get older, joints and muscles can become stiff. Walking is a gentle but vigorous way to stretch and exercise those joints in a low-impact way that won't cause damage to the joints of you or your dog.
  4. Keep the Dogs Happy: Dogs really need to be taken out for fresh air and exercise. When they're left inside for long periods with limited fresh air, they can become depressed, anxious, and bored. This may lead them to destroy furniture and other objects around your home. To raise a happier dog, spend some quality social time with them while out exercising.
  5. See Something New: Taking regular walks with your dogs can lead to the discovery of some hidden gems in your neighborhood. If you're bored of the same old route, don't be afraid to look for new parks, trails, and other areas that might have escaped your notice.
  6. Go Back to Nature: Going out in nature benefits you and your dog. Exposure to fresh air and sunlight increases overall health as you get more vitamin D, which can improve your mood and lower stress levels.
  7. Make Better Bonds: Spending this regular social time with your dog will give you and your dog an even better bond of friendship. Your dog will really love spending this time with you, and it gives you the chance to practice obedience training with your dog as you work on communication and your dog's ability to listen.
  8. Slim Down the Dogs: We all love to spoil our dogs. We give them treats, leftover scraps, and lots of couch potato time for cuddling. Unfortunately, this has led to a large number of obese dogs. Just like in humans, obesity can cause joint problems and raise the risk of heart disease in dogs. Keep your dog in shape by bringing them out for regular walks.
  9. Improve Digestive Health: Dogs who get to walk regularly take this opportunity for plenty of bathroom breaks. Walking has been shown to lower a dog's risk of urinary tract infections and other digestive issues. Just make sure you bring a bag to clean up after your pup.
  10. Get a Healthy Reward: It's clear that going out for regular walks with your dog has some incredible benefits. But how many times have you gone out for a solo walk and then rewarded yourself with a little treat? After all, you deserve a cookie after all of that hard work. You'll find that when you walk with your dog, their excitement is contagious. A tired and happy dog and human reward each other with hugs, pets, and an endorphin rush that's totally calorie-free.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, May 24, 2019

National Bike Month! Here are 10 Benefits of Cycling for the Whole Family

Photo by Rachel Coleman (Flickr)

Tune up your bike! May is National Cycling Month. The weather in many areas has become beautiful, so it's a great time for families to get outside and enjoy the sunshine. My girls and I have been enjoying our local cycling path, and it inspired me to share some information on why cycling is not only fun but great for your health, too. Give this a read, then grab your helmet, get outside, and get your wheels rolling!

  1. It's good for the joints. Many people are fans of running as a form of outdoor exercise. However, it's well-known that running is rough on joints, especially the knees. Biking is much easier on your joints, but you'll still reap the benefits of burning calories.
  2. You'll improve your muscle tone. Cycling works all of the major muscle groups, like your legs, abs, and back. Whether you're on a path, going uphill, or biking on a flat road, you're using your muscles to move you along.
  3. Cycling decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease. A Danish study found that regular cycling protected participants from heart disease. Some studies have shown that it may also be linked to lowered rates of bowel cancer.
  4. It's good for your brain. Cycling is a lot of fun, so it should be no surprise that it has great benefits for your mental health. Many studies have shown that cycling, like many forms of exercise, can help reduce anxiety and depression.
  5. Cycling will improve sleep. Any form of exercise is said to improve sleep quality, and cycling is no exception! If you have kids who don't like to sleep or won't sleep through the night, maybe it's time to get them a set of wheels.
  6. You can decrease your exposure to pollution. A study by the Healthy Air Campaign in London showed that those who travel by car were exposed to three times more pollution than those who travel by bicycle. With this in mind, you might want to switch more of your commutes to cycling journeys.
  7. Biking powers up your brain. A study by Charles Hillman indicated that cycling boosts brainpower. It can even help to stave off Alzheimer's in the elderly.
  8. Cycling can make you feel good about yourself. Exercise in general, but especially cycling, has been shown to improve self-esteem. That's a benefit that the whole family can enjoy!
  9. You don't need to be an expert. Compared to other sports, cycling demands a relatively low level of skill and knowledge. Nearly anyone can learn how to ride a bike, and you know what they say: Once you learn, you never forget. I know learning to ride a bike without training wheels was one of my eldest daughter's proudest moments!
  10. Biking helps to save the planet. Cycling is a mode of transportation that doesn't create harmful carbon emissions like cars and trucks do, meaning that it's great for the planet. You can use cycling as an environmental lesson for kids: Encourage them to ride their bikes to the park or the corner store instead of asking for a ride from their parents to reduce pollution.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, May 16, 2019

10 Reasons Why Play is Important for Mental Health

Photo by A Health Blog (Flickr)

You may have noticed that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Just as it's important for adults to practice self-care and tend to their mental health, it's important for parents to help foster the same skills in children. Mental health should be taken as seriously as physical health. But what you may not realize is that play is vital to your child's mental health. Not only does it have health benefits, but a lack of play can be detrimental. I've come up with a list of the ten biggest reasons why play is important to mental health. And you can bet I consulted my girls!

  1. Depression and anxiety rates have been rising steadily in the past 50 years in the U.S. Psychologists still struggle to understand the root causes of depression and anxiety, but in young people, many link the rising rates to a declining sense of control over their fate and a shift from intrinsic goals to extrinsic goals. How does play work into this? The amount of time kids get for free play has been on the decline, too. Freedom to play independently gives children a sense of control over their lives and allows them the independence to work on internal goals. When kids can't play on their own, making their own rules, they're deprived of the chance to make and meet their own goals while building confidence.
  2. Play can promote positive feelings! Hopefully, all of us have felt the joy and thrill of play. All of us need a pick-me-up sometimes, and through play, kids can learn early what kinds of activities make them feel relaxed and happy.
  3. Play builds resilience. We will all face struggles, setbacks, and hard times. A sense of resilience is key to helping us pull through. Through play, children can build a sense of both physical and mental resilience, as play can push them to develop emotional responses and help them manage adversity.
  4. Believe it or not, play can actually improve the attention spans of kids who have trouble concentrating.
  5. It's probably no surprise that play can help children improve their social skills. While playing with others, they get plenty of social practice along with the chance to improve their empathy.
  6. Studies have shown that schools with increased free play time have fewer incidents of bullying. A lot of people think this is because play helps kids to decrease aggressive feelings and regulate their anger and frustration.
  7. Did you know that play has great benefits for adults, too? Take this as your cue to host a game night, sing some karaoke, or play some mini-golf: It'll improve your mood and lower your stress levels.
  8. For children who have already been diagnosed with a mental illness, like depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, or OCD, play can be an instrumental part of therapy. Play therapy, art therapy, and music therapy can be quite effective.
  9. Play is a great chance for kids to learn problem-solving skills. The confidence to solve problems can help kids improve self-esteem and experience less frustration in the face of challenges.
  10. Play can work the imagination. Of course, the point of play is to have fun, and when kids are relaxed and creating their own fun, they have the time and space to let their imagination run wild!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart