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Monday, December 14, 2020

How to Keep the Spirit of Play Alive During Distance Learning

Photo by 5712495 (Pixabay)

How to Keep the Spirit of Play Alive During Distance Learning

"Learning" and "fun" aren't always viewed as synonymous. In the eyes of many educators and parents, class time is for learning, and playtime is for fun. I would argue, however, that combining learning with play maximizes the positive effects of both. It's been scientifically proven that when a child is having fun, they are far more likely to retain the information that they took in at that time. Just think back to your own childhood. What captured your attention more as a child: a dry, hour-long lecture about fractions, or a Jeopardy!-style math game where your team had to solve problems first to win?

It's even more critical to be able to combine learning and play nowadays, as so many kids are attending school in the same place they play: at home. My girls have struggled to focus on schoolwork amid the distractions of home, as have their peers. Just ask any parent or teacher and they will tell you that keeping a child's attention on a computer screen for a full school day is no simple task. But just because they're doing remote learning doesn't mean that they have to stay in their chair all day listening to their teachers talk. Try these ideas to add more play to the school day.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

10 Ways That Play Builds Future Pioneers

Photo by 5712495 (Pixabay)

10 Ways That Play Builds Future Pioneers

If you want your kids to grow into responsible and successful adults, you should encourage them to play more. That sounds a little counterintuitive, but it's through play that kids learn the necessary skills to succeed on their path through life and become the world's future pioneers. This has become perfectly apparent to me after watching my two daughters play together over the years and seeing firsthand just how valuable unstructured playtime can be to their development.

My girls have recently fallen in love with playing hide and seek, and I mean LOVE. It's become an almost-daily activity in our household, and they're getting pretty good at it. The other day, my oldest got the idea to remove some clothes from the hamper, get in, and then pile the discarded clothes back on top of her. The illusion was so well done that we spent almost a half-hour searching for her. (In truth, I actually began to worry a bit before we found her.) For context, this is the same girl who just a few months earlier had attempted to conceal herself behind a curtain that only covered her from the knees up. By playing hide and seek, she practiced problem-solving and learned how to outwit her opponent, honing valuable skills she'll need throughout life.

Here are just a few ways that play can help turn your child into a pioneer.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Play Helps Children Become Smart and Happy Adults: Here's How

Photo by StartUpStockPhotos (Pixabay)

Play Helps Children Become Smart and Happy Adults: Here's How

Predicting potential professions for their children is a favorite pastime of many parents. Maybe you foresee your daughter becoming a top brain surgeon, or your son's got one heck of an arm and is going to be the starting pitcher for the Cubs someday. Whatever the case, every parent has at least some hopes and dreams for their child's future.

When it comes to my girls, anytime someone has asked me what I want for them in life, my answer has always been same: "I just want them to be smart and happy."

To me, what they end up doing is far less important than how they feel about what they end up doing. As long as they find a career path that makes them feel content and fulfilled, it doesn't matter to me what they choose.

This is why I place such a high value on my daughters' playtime. Unstructured playtime has real-world repercussions that can impact their lives for years and years to come. It's through play that children discover and develop the necessary skills to become happy and smart adults.

Monday, November 23, 2020

10 Virtual Field Trips That Are Fun and Educational for Kids

Photo by EdiNugraha (Pixabay)

Friday, August 7, 2020

7 Ways to Enjoy Summer While Social Distancing

In the past, the arrival of the summer season was a cause for celebration. It meant the start of pool parties, warm weather, and backyard barbecues. But amid the coronavirus pandemic the world finds itself in and all the social distancing guidelines that have been put into effect to keep people safe, it's easy to feel like it's passing you by. That doesn't have to be the case, though. Here are 7 ways to make the most of your sunny summer.

1: Go for a Hike

A man enjoying a hike. 

Photo by 5688709 (Hermann)
With all the social distancing and quarantine rules in effect, there's a good chance you've felt pretty cooped up these past few months. Why not change it up and get outside while staying safe by taking a hike. Taking a stroll through the woods or up a mountain is a perfect way to get a good dose of that sunshine you've been missing while still avoiding large crowds. Plus, taking in the vista from a mountain top is a surefire way to help take your mind off the problems of the world, at least for a while.

Friday, July 31, 2020

7 Tips for Handling Your Children's Questions About Coronavirus

Photo by 5688709 (lenahelfinger)

Every generation has some sort of cultural crisis or touchstone that defines their childhoods. September 11th, the Challenger Explosion, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the attack on Pearl Harbor were defining events for previous generations. For this generation? It's certainly going to be COVID-19. It's impacted every part of their lives. Since the beginning of the year, the way children go to school, see their extended family, or even play with their friends have changed dramatically. Naturally, they have questions about what's going on. Here's some helpful hints to answering their questions in an age-appropriate manner that won't add to their anxiety.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

8 Tips for Helping Your Pet Adjust When You Stop Working From Home

Photo by 5688709 (pixabay)

2020 has been an unusual year for many. A lot of people spent significant time working from home, avoiding socializing, and in general spending the majority of their time at home. The rapid change in lifestyle wasn't easy for a lot of us. Children and adults all struggled to come to terms with the new normal. One group that enjoyed the new normal? Our pets. Most pets love nothing more than being with their humans, and the requirements of social distancing meant most humans were home more than ever before. As society reopens and people start going back to work and resuming a more typical schedule, it will be our animals who struggle to adjust to a normal that doesn't include their favorite people ready to take them for a romp on the playground equipment whenever they wished.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

9 Reasons to Read Bedtime Stories to Your Children

Photo by jarmoluk (pixabay)

It's never too early - or too late - to start reading to your children. When they are babies, you can snuggle them after their bath and enjoy quiet moments with a sweet picture book. Once they get older and start reading themselves, don't give up on bedtime stories. Reid Lyon, of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, stated "Neural research shows that when parents and caregivers interact verbally with children - which includes reading to them - kids learn a great deal more than we ever thought possible." Children get so much out of being read to by their parents. So, after a long day of activities and spending time outside getting energy out on playground, here are nine great reasons to make books part of your family's bedtime routine.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

7 Reasons Why This Chaotic, Unstructured Time Can Benefit Your Child

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Parenting is primarily made up of daily tasks like making sure that homework is done, chores are completed, and everyone gets to bed on time. However, parenting usually has a lot of external structure: The parents leave home to work or go to appointments, and children go to school and activities. These daily doings give our lives external structure and create a built-in rhythm to our days. The standard advice after an emergency, like a hurricane or earthquake, is to get into a new routine as quickly as possible. The structure of routine helps children feel reassured and gives them a sense of consistency.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, is a crisis that's unprecedented. Some states don't know when school will reopen as normal. Parents and children accustomed to leaving home for portions of the day now have long stretches of days when no family member leaves home. The good news, though, is that while your children may not be going to school, being idle at home can be good for them, too.

Monday, June 1, 2020

National Lyme Disease Awareness Month: How to Protect Yourself, Loved Ones, and Pets

Photo by Mabel Amber (pixabay)

May is National Lyme Disease Awareness Month. Spread by infected ticks via biting, the CDC estimates that about 300,000 infections are reported annually. Do you spend time in grassy or wooded areas? If so, you are at risk of being bitten by a tick carrying the disease. People who live or visit the Mid-Atlantic states, New England, and the upper Midwest are the most significant risk. However, ticks carrying the disease are also found in neighboring states, and some areas of California, Washington, and Oregon. No matter your location, you can take preventions to ensure that a fun afternoon spent on playground equipment doesn't result in a bite by an infected tick.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Pandemic Parenting: 7 Tips for Maintaining the Calm During These Overwhelming Times

Photo by Daniela Dimitrova (pixabay)

Life has a lot of fear and uncertainty at the moment. Most of us have seen our lives radically change over the last months. Perhaps more than anyone else, children have been impacted. School went digital and ended months ahead of schedule, play dates vanished, and some children aren't even able to visit extended family members. Parenting through the pandemic is incredibly challenging. Some parents struggle with the fact that no one in the household ever leaves home; others are dealing with trying to homeschool and provide childcare while still working. No matter what your life looks like at this moment in time, there are things you can do to maintain calm in your home for your children during this time.

1. Try to stay active with workout videos, socially distanced walks, bike rides, etc. Exercise can help the whole family stay calm and grounded.

Photo by RENE RAUSCHENBERGER (pixabay)

Physical activity reduces stress, tension, anger, anxiety, and depression. These are things most of us are trying to cope with right now. It also can improve sleep, and quality of sleep is essential in times of stress. So make time as a family for socially distanced exercise. It's the perfect time to make your yard into the playground of your dreams. Contact outdoor play equipment companies and stores for ideas.

2. Try to establish a routine, but be kind and forgiving to yourself if things don't go according to plan.

Photo by StockSnap (pixabay)

Many of us are struggling with a lack of external structure. Children don't need to be at school at a specific time, appointments are canceled, and activities curtailed. Does this mean bedtime and other routines can be set aside? During times of uncertainty, everyone, but especially children, need a sense of order. A predictable routine is key to a calm day. Come up with your own schedule. Everyone up at by this time, schoolwork for however long, chore time, reading time, outdoor play, free play, et cetera should all be considered. If one day goes sideways and the routine is forgotten, forgive yourself and move on.

3. Practice deep breathing. Before reacting to a stressor, ask yourself, "Does the problem pose an immediate danger? How will I feel about this tomorrow?"

Photo by Anastasia Gepp (pixabay)

Everyone is on edge. Young children probably don't have the insight or vocabulary to describe what they are feeling about their world changing and the stress they are picking up on from other people in their lives. Their stress might manifest as anxiety or inappropriate behavior. Older kids and teenagers are dealing with feelings of loss over anticipated events and milestones, and might be more irritable than usual. Some days, grouchy children are enough to send any overwhelmed parent over the edge. Instead of reacting, take a moment to take a breath and dispassionately evaluate the situation before you say or do anything.

4. Answer children's questions about the pandemic and the impact on their lives calmly and honestly.

Photo by Pezibear (pixabay)

The most important thing parents can do is to cultivate an environment where kids feel they can ask questions in a stress-free environment. We all want to shield our children, but the pandemic is impacting their lives, and knowledge can help assuage their fears. Empowering children with age-appropriate information also gives them the insight they need about hygiene, and teaches them coping skills for their future.

5. Incorporate daily praise.

Photo by Olya Adamovich (pixabay)

One of the best ways to ensure a calm, peaceful household is to dole out lots of praise. Praise is highly effective at changing bad behaviors and reinforcing positive behaviors. When praising your children, be specific. That lets them know precisely what you are happy with about their actions. Tell them what a great job they did staying quiet while you were on a video-conference call, or tell them how nicely they cleaned up their art supplies.

6. Set aside time for each child.

Photo by marcisim (pixabay)

Since everyone is spending so much time together, it's easy to forget the importance of making sure everyone is getting adequate one-on-one time. Carve out specific time for each child, and let them take the lead on how they would like to spend it with you. Your outdoorsy kid might want to play on the playground equipment, while your bookish kid might want dedicated story time.

7. Incorporate appropriate socialization.

Photo by StockSnap (pixabay)

School ended early, organized activities are on pause, and even play dates are rare. Just because kids aren't able to see their friends, doesn't mean they aren't missing their friends. And the same is true for adults! So set up some pandemic proof socialization! Schedule video chats, phone calls, or even every stays six feet apart outdoor walking dates so everyone can get in some time with their friends.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, May 18, 2020

9 Ways That Play Can Keep Spirits Alive During Times of Stress

Photo by Esi Grunhagen (pixabay)

Are you a little stressed lately? Modern life is typically hectic and stressful, and play can quickly fall off the list of things for which we make time. Right now, many of us have plenty of time and are experiencing a ton of unprecedented stress. Engaging in play, whether it's with your significant other, pets, children, or others who live in your household is a way to keep spirits up during these trying times. And there's no need to make play a complicated endeavor that feels like one more task to be completed. Throw a Frisbee in the backyard, hang out on your backyard playground equipment, indulge in dress up, or play fetch with your dog. Any of these activities are fun and will help you and your family reap the benefits of playing.

1. Play triggers the body's natural feel-good hormones and chemicals.

Photo by PublicDomainPictures (pixabay)

Play can lift the spirits because even 30 minutes unlocks your body's feel-good hormones. These include endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. What do these chemicals have in common? They reduce stress, increase your sense of happiness, and make people feel alive.

2. Laughter releases endorphins to promote positive feelings.

Photo by Lenka Fortelna (pixabay)

Need a quick burst of endorphins to brighten your mood? Try laughing. Studies have proven that laughing leads to a significant increase in endorphins and other opioid peptides. These chemicals are released in the parts of the brain controlling emotional regulation.

3. Play and laughter with loved ones can foster empathy, trust, kindness, and connection.

Photo by Bessi (pixabay)

Sometimes too much togetherness can strain familial relationships. One way to rebuild fraying bonds is to indulge in shared play. Having fun together and sharing light-hearted moments fosters good feelings, and restores connections between loved ones. Designing areas that foster family play will encourage spontaneous outbreaks of group play! Contact local outdoor play equipment companies and stores to design an area for your yard.

4. "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."

Photo by pasja1000 (pixabay)

Famed playwright George Bernard Shaw is the source of the quote and it still rings true today. No one is ever too old to engage in play. Play has a multitude of physical and mental health benefits that keep our bodies and our spirit young!

5. Play engages the mind and encourages creativity.

Photo by Design Miss C (pixabay)

Research has proven that play is the best way for young children to learn. Guess what? That same principle applies to adults. Adults, just like children, learn new tasks best when they are relaxed, and learning the skill is fun. Play also serves to activate the imagination, and an active imagination helps improve adaptation and problem-solving skills.

6. Need to boost productivity? Try playing.

Photo by Alexas Fotos (pixabay)

Play can seem like a distraction from our to-do lists and projects. Actually, it's just the opposite. The creative part of the brain engages during play and that little voice in your head, which regularly critiques your efforts? Play helps shut that down. A play break often will refresh your mind and leave you in the right frame of mind to approach an existing problem in a new way.

7. Play helps children and adults learn cooperation.

Photo by Jess Foami (pixabay)

Need a dose of positive socialization? Try play! Play encourages children and adults to get along, work together in a group, and follow agreed-upon rules.

8. Play is an excellent way to manage stress in a healthy manner.

Photo by Prashant Sharma (pixabay)

Feeling stressed? Combat it with play. Fun is a natural stress reliever! The endorphins released while playing also increases your sense of well-being.

9. Play can help heal trauma.

Photo by lisa runnels (pixabay)

Unfortunately many people have experienced a trauma at some point in their lives that affects their health in many ways. Play is an excellent way to restore emotional balance and work through emotional trauma. Engaging in playful behaviors leads to positive psychological health benefits for children and adults. Someone struggling with emotional problems benefits from playing with an emotionally secure partner, and often that shared play will help reshape behaviors.

As adults, when you play together, you are engaging in precisely the same patterns of behavior that positively shape the brains of children. These same playful behaviors that predict emotional health in children can also lead to positive changes in adults. If an emotionally-insecure individual plays with a secure partner, for example, it can help replace negative beliefs and behaviors with positive assumptions and actions.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

20 Ways to Stay Connect and Play Online With Friends and Loved Ones

Photo by StockSnap (pixabay)

We all miss the days when getting together with friends or family was as easy as meeting up on the playground equipment at the local park. Today, it takes a bit more work and thought to stay connected with the people we love whom we don't share a house with. Luckily, there is a wealth of online tools to help keep us connected.

1. Watch Movies Together

Photo by Deborah Breen Whiting (pixabay)

I've loved going to the movies with my favorite people since I was just a small child. Luckily, there are now a couple of different ways to watch movies with your friends and chat about the experience as you watch (something that's not allowed at your local multiplex). A Netflix Chrome extension allows Netflix subscribers to watch together, while WatchTogether also offers synchronized watching and private chat rooms.

2. Have a Dress-Up Video Chat Date

Photo by Marjon besteman-Horn (pixabay)

The kindergartners in my acquaintance now have busy video conferencing schedules! One way to make weekly chats fun is to come up with themes! Try dressing up in your finest clothes, or even try something like "'70s Roller Disco" for laughs.

3. Sing Karaoke Online

Photo by Free-Photos (pixabay)

Apps like Smule allow you to have all the fun of singing with your friends from the safety of your living room. Never tried karaoke before? What better time to try?

4. Enjoy a Scavenger Hunt

Photo by PublicDomainPictures (pixabay)

Do a scavenger hunt together but apart. Make it a race. Choose things like "something small and blue" and "something soft and fuzzy" and take photos. An app like ActionBound might help. Also, check out neighborhood social media sites. Some areas are doing things like putting teddy bears in windows or hanging crystals off of mailboxes.

5. Play Words With Friends Together

Photo by Wokandapix (pixabay)

Ten years ago, everyone I knew loved Words with Friends. Reload the app and reach out to your friends, it's still one of the best apps for having online fun with your real-life crew.

6. Create a Minecraft Server

Photo by StartupStockPhotos (pixabay)

Minecraft has educational aspects but also is a great way to build community. Build your own virtual world to escape to.

7. Play Cards Against Humanity

Photo by Jess Foami (pixabay)

Cards Against Humanity is one of my go-to's for entertaining. The online version lets you hear your friends' inappropriate thoughts even when you are away from each other.

8. Join an Online Book Club

Photo by StockSnap (pixabay)

If you already are a part of a book club, move it to video chat. Otherwise, reach out to your local indie bookstore! You'll make new friends and support a local business all at once.

9. Solve a Mystery Together Playing Clue

Photo by David Bruyland (pixabay)

Love board game nights? Try getting together a group to figure out just what Miss Scarlett was doing in the library.

10. Use Houseparty to Host an Online Dinner Party

Photo by cattalin (pixabay)

Miss dinner parties? Set your table, and start a video conference. You'll get dinner time conversation, and maybe even pick up some ideas for new dinner recipes.

11. Don't Miss Out on Your Weekly Card Game

Photo by TanteTati (pixabay)

Many card games are available online, including UNO. These games allow you to play card games online with your real-life friends.

12. Enjoy Trivia Night

Photo by Foundry Co (pixabay)

Trivia Night needn't be skipped just because you aren't going out. Each week, let one person on the video conference be the trivia master and everyone else be the participants.

13. Use Screen Share to Take a Group Trip

Photo by Edi Nugraha (pixabay)

Many museums and historic sites are offering free tours online. Find one that will interest your group, and set up a screen share so that your crew can enjoy the experience together.

14. Mail Craft Kits to Your Kids Friends

Photo by Robert Armstrong (pixabay)

Make up age-appropriate craft kits and mail them your kids' best friends. Then schedule a video call where the kids can work on the craft kits together!

15. Set Up Group Text Chains

Photo by Dayron Villaverde (pixabay)

Texting makes it easy to stay in touch, but some days it feels like my phone never stops buzzing! Streamline texts by setting up group chats with friends and family groups. That way, everyone sees important news but you don't have to text everyone individually.

16. Virtual Outdoor Playdates

Photo by eokateri (pixabay)

Video conferencing doesn't have to stay indoors! Setup the tablet and let your kids play with their friends from afar. Noticing your yard isn't the playland you'd like it to be? Contact local outdoor play equipment companies and stores.

17. Schedule Regular Check-ins

Photo by William Iven (pixabay)

It's easy to get overwhelmed and withdraw from the people you enjoy most. Schedule regular check-ins via text, phone, or video chat so you also have something you look forward to on your schedule.

18. Engage in Group Projects, Separately

Photo by Andy Gries (pixabay)

One of my favorite days in quarantine? My college best friend and I set up a video conference and chatted while we worked on some DIY projects (I painted my kitchen while she refinished a dresser). It gave each of us the impetus to knock something off our to-do list while we had fun chatting.

19. Plan a Fun Outing For Later

Photo by Jan Vašek (pixabay)

One day we will leave our homes again, right? So plan a fun outing for later. It might be as simple as a group dinner at the local Mexican restaurant or as involved as a multi-family international trip. The trip will give everyone something to chat about and look forward to!

20. Do the Same Activity and then Compare Notes

Photo by StockSnap (pixabay)

Have you been meaning to watch some binge-worthy show you missed, or learn how to bake sourdough bread or take up a new craft? Reach out to your loved ones and see if anyone else is interested. Work on the project separately, and then share your progress and thoughts during video chats.

Find more about the author:Kim Hart

Saturday, April 25, 2020

A Round-Up of Online Resources for Fun, Playful Learning

Photo by Виктория Бородинова (pixabay)

A Roundup of Online Resources for Fun, Playful Learning

A lot of us are spending a lot more time indoors these days, but the good news is that there's still plenty for our kids to do. There have never been more engaging Web resources available to help children learn, and a lot of these research-based, kid-friendly resources follow pedological and developmental best practices, so you don't have to feel too guilty about relaxing your usual limits on screen time. Kids will be entertained and learning while they use these resources, and you can get a little of that most valuable of resources: quiet time! While websites and apps aren't a total replacement for a robust curriculum or time spent playing on outside playground equipment, they can help reinforce and strengthen important skills in a way that's fun for kids.

PBS Kids

PBS Kids features educational games starring kid-favorite characters like Curious George. The games are divided into sections like "Teamwork" and "Feelings" along with educational categories like "Social Studies." These categories allow parents to guide their children toward games that can help them master areas where they need extra support.

Sesame Street

Preschoolers love this engaging website, featuring kid favorites like Big Bird and Elmo. The website offers videos, games, printables, and free ebooks to engage young learners while reinforcing basic literacy, math, and emotional skills.

National Geographic Kids

National Geographic designed its Web portal to supplement its magazine. The site is full of educational games and information presented in a kid-friendly way. Parents and other adults should be aware that some videos feature animals attacking each other, so supervision and caution are needed with young or sensitive children.


Funbrain first premiered back in 1998 and has been a part of generations of children's learning online. The quizzes and games cover a wide variety of subjects, including grammar, math, science, and social studies. The resources here are aimed at elementary-aged children; if you need something for younger kids, try Funbrain Jr.


Exploratorium encourages learning through inquiry-based experiences. The guided inquiries allow children to develop their critical-thinking skills and practice the scientific method.


ABCya offers Common Core-aligned digital learning experiences for children from preschool through middle school. Parents and educators designed the more than 400 games available on the site, which are organized by grade level and topic. Children can work on skills like multiplication, parts of speech, pattern recognition, and critical thinking while having fun!

Nick Jr.

Is there anything the average preschooler loves more than Paw Patrol? The Nick Jr. website leverages that love with a variety of videos and games designed to gently teach young viewers while also entertaining them.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy offers a variety of resources for children and students of all ages. The website offers schedules for kids that incorporate learning with needed breaks, and it includes outside activities as well as inside ones. Khan Academy offers an especially strong curriculum in math. They suggest starting your student a grade or two back from their current grade level, which will allow children to review material and fill in any knowledge gaps.
Khan Academy Kids features online learning for preschoolers, kindergarteners, and first-graders. The learning activities focus on basics like letters and numbers while also helping children master social-emotional lessons.

Math Games

Are your kids resistant to math drills or structured math activities? If so, trick them into learning with these math games, designed for kids to have fun while they sharpen needed math skills like number sequencing and fractions.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart