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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

Monday, May 13, 2019

How to Cultivate Positive Social Skills in Children Starting From an Early Age

Photo by Nicolo Bonazzi (Flickr)

I've always found that one of the most rewarding and challenging parts of parenting has been watching my girls develop socially. Watching them make friends, teaching them how to have positive interactions with others, and helping them develop manners takes a lot of thought, and it seems like the job is never done! The good news is that there are many fun play activities that can help kids start learning good social skills at an early age. Teachers, parents, and guardians can use these fun activities to help kids develop their social skills.

Know the Milestones

You and your kids should focus on different sets of social skills and abilities depending on their age. Here are a few milestones to look out for and work on, depending on the age of the kids in your care.

2-to-3-year-olds: Kids this age should be comfortable saying their "hi" and "bye" greetings. They're also able to understand that they should not interrupt and will wait their turn to talk. You might also find that their sense of humor is developing and they giggle at jokes!

3-to-4-year-olds: Kids in this age group should be able to start a conversation with their words now. You'll also find them interacting with toys as if they're humans. You can also play games with them that require them to wait their turn.

4-to-5-year-olds: These kids are more cooperative when playing with others than younger children are. They're able to make and follow direct requests like "stop" or "wait."

5-to-6-year-olds: "Please," "thank you," and "sorry" should all be used regularly by children in this age bracket. They should also understand what bad language is and have a concept of playing fair and good sportsmanship.

6-to-7-year-olds: These kids should have a sense of empathy. They'll communicate with gestures, tell jokes, and express their point of view. Despite this, they won't always totally grasp the difference between right and wrong.

Fun Play Activities for Strong Social Skills

These are some activities that will help kids develop their social skills:

  1. Teach children about personal space. I recommend the book Personal Space Camp as a fun read. You can even have kids design their own "personal space planet" to better understand the concept.
  2. Encourage pretend play. When kids act out scenarios with dolls and toys, it helps them to learn empathy.
  3. Read books from around the world to children. This will help them appreciate and respect diversity.
  4. Have kids identify different tones of voice with emotion. You can do this with a tape recording, or you can look for opportunities to quiz them while they watch TV.
  5. Make a collage with different facial expressions. Ask your kid what they think the people in the collage might be feeling.
  6. If you're trying to teach a group of young children to take turns, have them sit in a circle and roll a ball to each other. Before they roll the ball, they should call out the child they're rolling to by name and make eye contact with them.

Have you tried any of these activities? Let me know if your kids liked them or if you have other ideas!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart