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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