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Monday, March 30, 2020

6 Tips for Cultivating Healthy Hygiene Habits in Children

6 Tips for Cultivating Healthy Hygiene Habits in Children

Photo by StockSnap (pixabay)

Personal hygiene is essential: It not only keeps our bodies clean but helps to prevent the spread of disease. Teaching your children about proper hygiene is an integral part of parenting. Not only are children with poor hygiene habits more susceptible to disease, but they can also suffer social consequences. However, any parent who has ever fought to get a screaming child into a bath knows that getting your kids to practice good hygiene isn't easy. Here are a few simple, parent-tested tips to keep your kids safe and healthy.

Start Early

Babies need to have their diapers changed frequently, but they also need baths to be clean and dry and constant changes of clothes thanks to spit-up and other mishaps. Start with good hygiene practices while your kids are babies to form good habits for later. Brush their teeth as soon as the first baby tooth pops out, and wash their hands frequently.

Create Routines

Kids thrive on routines. If you make hygiene a habit, your kids are more likely to conform to your expectations. Children should know that in the morning, they wash their faces and brush their teeth. They should know to wash their hands before and after they eat, after they've been outside on the playground, after visiting the bathroom, after they've played with a pet, or anytime they've cleaned up anything. Washing everyone's hands every time you come in the house will soon become an ingrained habit for your kids. The same goes for baths: Make bath time an integral part of your evening routine.

Model Good Hygiene

Children learn best by example. You can talk all day about the importance of washing your hands and flossing, but if they don't see you doing these things, they are far less likely to embrace good hygiene themselves. So make sure you are washing your hands frequently, and let your kids see parts of your hygiene routine, like oral care.

Keep a Well-Supplied Home

Make hygiene easy by making sure that kids have what they need to be successful. Each sink should have hand soap and a towel so handwashing is easy. Bathtubs and showers should have soap, shampoo, and conditioner. Make sure everyone has a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss. It's also crucial that household chores like laundry are kept up with so that everyone in your family has consistent access to fresh towels and clean clothes.

Set Expectations

Set clear guidelines about hygiene. Make rules about changing into pajamas before getting into bed and about wearing clean clothes every day. As your children age and you are less involved in their bathing process, set rules about how often bodies should be bathed and hair should be washed. Enforce handwashing expectations, and remind kids who come in from playing outside to wash their hands. Check your kids' nails and insist on trims if necessary. If your kids seem to be going off course, open up a dialogue! And don't be afraid to lower the hammer to enforce minimal standards.

Have Age-Appropriate Conversations

The conversation about hygiene should start before your kids can talk, when it sounds like "uh oh, your onesie is dirty! Let's take it off and put on nice, fresh jammies!" However, as they age, the conversations are going to become more complex. As your children approach puberty, you'll need to talk about the importance of bathing more often due to shifting body chemistry. Girls and boys both have specific hygiene needs you'll need to prepare them for and help them adapt into their routines. Remember that skin care is often a concern for both boys and girls as they enter adolescence, and be prepared to help guide them into more complicated hygiene routines.
Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, March 26, 2020

10 Reasons Not to Rush Your Children Through Childhood

10 Reasons Not to Rush Your Children Through Childhood

Photo by Cheryl Holt (pixabay)

Ever hear the old saying about parenting that the days are long but the years are short? Parents who have raised their children into adulthood often tell younger parents that their children's childhoods go by quickly. Sometimes, though, that's hard to remember when you're trying to manage your own career, run the household, help your oldest build a volcano for science class, and get your youngest to soccer practice. The rush of modern life presses into our kids, just like it presses into us. There are many good reasons for not rushing your children through childhood, though.
    1. Play is crucial for healthy, happy child development. All mammals require play. It's actually hardwired into our brains! However, just because we have an impulse to play doesn't mean that it doesn't require nurturing and cultivation. Children in modern societies are showing signs of dysfunctional play: They don't know how to interact in mixed-age groups or how to engage in symbolic play like turning a box into a spaceship. Parents can nurture their children's play instincts by giving them unstructured time that allows their instinct for healthy play to kick in.
    2. Recess is essential for social skills, confidence, and academic performance. The rise of high-stakes testing led to a sharp decline in the amount of recess schoolchildren get in a day. Recess is vital, though, and its restriction has bad side effects. Children without adequate recess time typically have more learning challenges and behavioral issues. Recess offers a wealth of social, cognitive, and emotional benefits all children need to be successful students and grow into successful adults.
    3. A playful, happy childhood is more likely to lead to a happy, balanced adulthood. Happy children have a much better chance to grow into happy adults. A happy childhood requires more than loving parents, though: It requires time to actually be a child, to play, and to engage in creative endeavors.
    4. Children's lives need to be lived at a child's pace. We all know that adult lives move at a fast pace. Who doesn't have a hectic schedule? Unfortunately, that pace and those schedules impact the children in our lives. It means that young children sleep less and have more and faster transitions in their days. Developing brains aren't meant to move at such a fast pace. Letting your children move at their own, slower pace helps them develop better habits and a better understanding of the world.
    5. Children naturally love to learn, but overscheduling or overworking a child will destroy that love. Ever watched a child examine a bug, exclaim over a flower, or puzzle over some other small facet of life? When children engage with the world around them in this fashion, they are displaying their natural love of learning. For children, the world is a big puzzle, and they are eager to discover the pieces and how they fit together. A child left to their own devices will make these sorts of discoveries. But an overscheduled child won't have the time to engage in this sort of discovery, and their natural love of learning will be extinguished.
    6. Overscheduled children have less time to learn who they truly are. Being bored has its benefits. A bored child might learn to love the books on their shelf, tinker with their toys to learn how they work, put on plays with their dolls, or engage their creativity in other ways. These explorations through boredom help children learn what interests they have, what they are good at, and what they love doing. This self-knowledge helps children develop deep interests and eventually discover career paths. Kids who are overscheduled with lots of formal activities don't get these opportunities.
    7. It can destroy the conversational duet, which helps children learn. One vital way young children learn is through a conversational duet with their parents and other caretakers. Asking children open-ended questions lets children engage in spontaneous learning with adults. Want to incorporate this into your parenting? When your child draws a picture, instead of asking questions like, "What color is the sun?" say, "Tell me about your picture."
    8. Rushing through childhood increases the amount of stress hormone in a child's body. Children's bodies don't react well to stress. Stress chemicals can change a child's brain chemistry and even the underlying anatomy of the brain. These changes can result in problems with behavior, learning, mental health, and physical health, which can last a lifetime.
    9. Once they're acclimated to being busy, it's hard for children to learn to relax. Children used to racing from activity to activity don't have time to develop the mental resources to know how to relax. They don't know how to function with downtime: They feel like they must always be doing something.
    10. Stressed-out kids don't learn to adapt to life's challenges. When kids are constantly anxious because they're being pressured to grow up too quickly, they aren't able to develop the skills they'll need to deal with the unpredictability of adult life. Unstructured play helps kids to learn persistence, creativity, and confidence.
    11. Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, March 19, 2020

It's National Nutrition Month! Here are 10 Ways To Spark Healthy Habits in Children

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It's National Nutrition Month! Here Are 10 Ways to Spark Healthy Habits in Children

It's National Nutrition Month! During this time of the year, when parts of the country are still in the firm embrace of winter but spring is starting to feel like something that might happen, it's an excellent time to reassess what healthy habits your family embraces and which practices need reconsidering. If you are anything like me, you made some resolutions in January to adopt healthier habits, but by now, some of them may have fallen by the wayside. If so, use this month to get back on a healthier path.

  1. Be a role model. Don't we all want our children to have a healthy relationship with food? The number one way to ensure that they do is to model healthy habits and attitudes toward food yourself. Parents lay the groundwork for so much of their children's future relationship with food, creating memories of the foods they enjoyed, the foods they hated, and how their parents treated food. So even if you have to fake it, act like you have the relationship with what you eat that you want your kids to have in 15 years. Make good choices, don't engage in negative self-talk, and be adventurous.
  2. Play actively, such as going to the park, taking walks, or chasing bubbles. Staying active and getting outside as part of your daily routine is crucial for you, and it's also essential for your children, no matter how young they are! Lace up your sneakers, get the baby into the stroller or carrier, and head outside to get moving. Every night doesn't have to include a five-mile walk or family game of touch football, though. You could walk around the block, head to the park to have fun on the playground equipment, or just enjoy a game of tag.
  3. Don't pressure your children to play a sport that they don't enjoy. I grew up taking dance classes and performing, but my girls weren't nearly as enthusiastic about dancing as I was. Just because you loved all 15 years you spent playing baseball doesn't mean your kids will want to, too. And when you sign your child up for T-ball, don't start imagining their career as a future MLB superstar! Let your kids experiment with different sports until they find one that they enjoy. Then, let them have fun: They don't have to win championships or compete in the Olympics to get a lot of benefits out of participating in the sport they love.
  4. Encourage each child to find their own favorite outdoor activities. Just like not every kid loves playing lacrosse, not every one of your children will enjoy outdoor activities in the same way. Some children thrive on activities that are organized and competitive, while others want to be able to do their own thing in cooperative or solitary pursuits. There is no right way to be outdoors and be active, so let your children find their own path.
  5. Limit screen time! We all resort to electronics every once in a while, and that's OK. But limiting screen time leads to children who are more active, less anxious, less depressed, and less likely to be obese. So don't be afraid to pull out the tablet when getting on a plane, but when you're at home, encourage everyone to get outside or pursue another hobby instead.
  6. Plan tasty, healthy meals. A little planning can help you limit trips to the drive-through for meals you'll later regret. Healthy meals don't necessarily have to be time-consuming: You can buy foods that are both good for you and quick to cook, like steam-in-bag frozen vegetables. Canned foods like beans can add healthy protein to a quick meal.
  7. Get your kids involved in cooking. Getting your kids to help in the kitchen will slow you down but will give your children so many advantages. For one, knowing how to prepare a meal is an important skill they'll need as an independent adult! Also, kids are far more likely to eat food they were involved in preparing. Unsure how to engage your kids in the cooking process? The Montessori method has lots of ideas for how to include children as young as toddlers in the kitchen.
  8. Swap out less-healthy foods with healthier alternatives, but do it slowly. If you're trying to turn over a new leaf, don't throw away all the food in your cupboards and buy a bunch of new cookbooks all at once. Instead, make small substitutions. Try swapping a cauliflower crust for your regular pizza crust. Make zucchini noodles with meatballs and sauce instead of spaghetti. And saute food in olive oil instead of butter. Each small change you make will have substantial health benefits, and by making one small change at a time, your family is less likely to revolt.
  9. Keep your diet affordable. Making healthier food choices doesn't have to mean busting your grocery budget. Buying fresh produce that's currently in season is an easy way to save money. Switching out a couple of meat-based recipes for ones that focus on lentils or beans can be a significant money-saver. Canned and frozen goods can also be a significant source of savings and ensure that you always have healthy food on hand.
  10. Have an open dialogue with your children about healthy choices. Talk to your kids! Let them know your reasoning, listen to their opinions, and keep the conversation about healthy decisions open.
Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

9 Tips for Encouraging Healthy, Happy Sibling Relationships

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Any parent of more than one child has experienced their home going from a peaceful paradise of calm, happy play to an absolute war zone where the two little people you love best in the world are screaming at each other. Sibling rivalry is a real thing and can have a lasting impact. A little bit is a natural part of growing up with a brother or sister, but if you want your children to have a healthy, loving relationship as adults, it's important to rein it in and help them learn to get along now.

1. Spend Special Time With Each Child

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The first way to minimize sibling rivalry is to spend time with them both and make sure that they know that you appreciate each of them as individuals. Try to set aside some time for each of them on a regular basis when it's just the two of you, and spend this quality time doing something they enjoy. For instance, my younger daughter has started getting interested in yoga lately, so I've been doing regular workouts with her. Meanwhile, my older daughter loves to cook, so I make a point of bringing her into the kitchen with me at least once a week as my sous chef. Spending time alone with each child will deepen your bond with them and their bond with you, and it reassures them that they are loved and valued as individuals.

2. Compliment Good Behavior

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When you see one of your children making an extra effort to get along, like sharing a favorite toy or helping out with homework, compliment them (but do it out of earshot of the other kid). Also, don't be afraid to compliment the kids as a group if they are playing nicely together or otherwise involved in a shared activity.

3. Avoid Comparing Siblings

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The number one thing parents of multiple children need to remember is to avoid comparing your children to each other. Of course, it's inevitable that you'll notice that your son's room is neat while your daughter's looks like a hurricane went through it, but keep the comparison to yourself: Talk to your daughter about her messy room without referencing her brother. Similarly, if your daughter loves to climb jungle gyms, rock walls, and trees in the backyard but your son is afraid of heights, don't ask why he can't be brave like his sister. Comparing siblings can ruin their relationship.

4. Don't Force Forgiveness

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As a kid, I loved the book Little Women. What I didn't love was when little sister Amy was angry at big sister Jo and burned the book Jo was writing. When your kids strike out at each other (hopefully in less severe ways that don't involve fire!), don't force the wronged party to forgive them right away. Kids have feelings and emotional lives just like adults, and letting the wronged sibling work through their anger and sadness will allow the relationship to repair itself more naturally than you forcing them to act like everything is OK will.

5. Model Appropriate Behavior

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Want your children to behave reasonably, be generous, and act graciously? The best way to ensure that your home is peaceful, loving, and filled with gratitude is to model that behavior yourself. If the kids see you yell at your spouse for drinking all of the coffee or see you act out in moments of frustration, they will copy these behaviors. Being the person you'd like your children to be is hard, and no one is perfect. But making a real attempt and owning up to your own mistakes can help give your children the tools they need to behave appropriately.

6. Set Ground Rules

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Although it's important to let your children figure out their relationship, it's still important that you set and enforce some rules. Everyone in your household should understand the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. They also should understand the consequences of breaking the rules. Acting respectfully, avoiding name-calling, and refraining from criticizing are good ground rules to ensure healthy sibling boundaries.

7. Anticipate Issues

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Look for pressure points, and see how you can address them before they get out of hand. Are fights over bathroom access a common occurrence? Set up and enforce a schedule so that everyone has the time they need to get ready. Schedules also work for battles over who sits where in the car or whose turn it is to use the tablet.

8. Listen to Your Children

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I'm sometimes frustrated by my spouse, coworkers, friends, and family members. Children are just likely to be frustrated by their siblings. Let them talk about their feelings and frustrations. Don't be afraid to share stories of your childhood and issues with your siblings growing up. Consider having regular family meetings where issues can be shared and addressed.

9. Build Memories

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Find activities and experiences that your whole family will enjoy. These don't have to be costly: Afternoons at the park, evenings playing board games, and even simple things like singing silly songs on the way to school in the morning can help your children bond. These shared memories and childhood bonds will bolster their relationships as adults.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

9 Benefits of Snowshoeing for the Whole Family

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No matter how much your family loves outdoor activities, finding ways to get outside and stay active in the winter can be challenging for people who live in colder, snowier climates. After all, you can't exactly spend a weekend swimming at the lake in the middle of January, and in some places, even jogging can be hazardous. That's why my family decided to take up snowshoeing. It's a winter sport that's good for most ages, from elementary-aged children on up, and it's a great way to get the whole family outside. Check out these reasons why you should strap on some snowshoes this year!

Snowshoeing Is Beginner-Friendly

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If you can walk, you can snowshoe: You just need warm winter gear and snowshoes. There are three different types: recreational hiking snowshoes, racing or fitness snowshoes, and backcountry hiking snowshoes. Recreational snowshoes are best for beginners.

It's Environmentally Friendly

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Walking through the snow can damage the vegetation under the snow. However, when you're snowshoeing in areas with a good snowfall, a careful snowshoer will not cause damage. Also, you'll be breaking up the snow and creating trails that can help animals to move about in the winter more easily.

It's Great Exercise

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Snowshoeing is almost the perfect workout: It requires agility, balance, cardio, endurance, and strength. It also gets you and your family outside and moving around during the winter doldrums instead of sitting on the couch.

Getting Out in the Winter Is Good for Your Health

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Getting outside has physical and mental benefits. People who spend time outdoors have lower stress levels and an overall happier outlook. Getting outside in the winter is hard, but snowshoeing makes getting out in your favorite outdoor spots easier when the snow is thick on the ground.

Snowshoeing Helps You Fight Obesity

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Between the lower rate of outdoor activity in the winter and the natural inclination to eat more heavy, fatty foods in cold weather, it's easy to start gaining a little weight. You don't want to negatively impact your kids' body image or relationship with food by harping on counting calories, but you do want to help them fend off the threat of obesity. Snowshoeing lets you focus on having fun while still burning around 600 calories an hour.

It's a Quiet Activity

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Sometimes, it's nice to just slow down and enjoy the quiet. Silence can be hard to come by when you have kids running around the house, but snowshoeing in the stillness of nature can be a nice, quiet, meditative activity. The snow dampens noise, and you'll find that the world sounds quite different when it's covered with snow.

It Lets You See Remote Places

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I once lived near a lake, and during the summer, some of its islands and inlets were hard to reach. In the winter, though, it was easy to explore all of these areas by walking over the ice and snow on snowshoes. Where snowmobiles don't fit, snowshoes can, so you can explore remote places more easily.

It's a Cure for Cabin Fever

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We all need sunshine, especially in the dark days of midwinter, and snowshoeing is a great way to get outside and fight the winter blahs. Try exploring familiar places in a new way: Check out your own backyard, or go to your neighborhood park and see what it looks like when the slides and swings are buried in snow.

Snowshoeing Is Fun!

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One of the great things about snowshoeing is that it's something you can all do together as a family. To make it even more fun, try making a scavenger hunt out of it: How many different animals can you spot? Can you find rabbit tracks, or a snapped tree branch that touches the ground, or a frozen puddle? Or maybe you'd rather play I Spy, or listen for birdsong. Either way, it's sure to be a fun family outing.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

9 Reasons Why Bird-watching Benefits Children

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Nine Reasons Why Bird-Watching Benefits Children

Children are not exactly known for their lengthy attention spans or ability to be still and quiet. But recently, I thought of a good way to help kids work on these skills and get some fresh air, too. February was National Bird Feeding Month, and while the girls and I were filling our feeders, I started thinking about how bird-watching is a great family activity. There are a lot of benefits to bird-watching as a hobby, especially for children. I can think of at least nine reasons to get the kids outside with a pair of binoculars.

1. It helps children become more familiar with and fond of nature.

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The best way for children to develop an affinity for nature is for children to be out in nature. Bird-watching requires paying attention to the smells, sights, and sounds of nature, including each bird's markings and sounds and how they behave. It's a chance to improve their focus and their sensory processing abilities. Once they spend time watching the birds, they might also decide that they have a favorite type that they'd like to focus on feeding.

2. It gets children active by visiting parks and preserves in search of birds.

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The more time children spending engaged in outdoor pursuits, the more likely it is that they'll continue to make this a habit as they grow older. Getting children out in the backyard, climbing a mountain in a nearby state park, or standing quietly in the dunes watching the birds fly over the sea means they are moving and experiencing nature, and time outdoors directly correlates with time spent being physically active; children who spend time outdoors are less likely to struggle with obesity.

3. It helps children become more observant of the world around them.

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Did you know there are around 10,500 individual species of birds in the world? Some birds are easily identified, like cardinals. However, other species birds strongly resemble each other and are difficult to identify. Sometimes, something as small as a very light eye ring is all that distinguishes one species from another. Bird-watchers have to learn to identify myriad characteristics, including colors, markings, shapes, sizes, behaviors, and calls. Adding to the complexity, some birds change colors depending on the season or their age. Good bird-watchers have to focus on details and be able to connect what they see in their field guides with what they see in nature. The focus required to identify birds can help children become more observant of all the things going on in the world around them.

4. It can cultivate an interest in biology and science.

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The field of bird study is called ornithology. Learning about birds and becoming amateur ornithologists can spark an interest in the larger field of biology. Bird-watching allows children to observe and ask questions about the behaviors, habits, life span, and diet of the birds they are watching. Their observations and questions can lead to research and even following the scientific method to pose a hypothesis, perform research or experiments, and present the results to their families and fellow bird-watchers.

5. It can build confidence as children learn to listen for and identify birds.

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Building competence is key to building confidence. Bird-watching allows children to build competence in a variety of areas. They learn to use research materials to find the information they want. They learn how to quietly be in nature so that they can see exciting things. And they learn how to identify birds and how to make observations about the behavior of birds. As they get better at identifying birds, their confidence will grow. And the skills they're building while bird-watching can help them in the classroom, too, which should also help them feel more competent and confident.

6. It develops language skills as they learn to describe birds.

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Most activities have specialized vocabularies, and bird-watching is no different. Your children will pick up some of the language of ornithology, but they'll also be able to develop their descriptive abilities as they tell you about the birds they see.

7. It can help a child develop their own identity.

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Pursuing hobbies improves children's self-esteem and can help them forge their own independent identity. Children need help finding activities and experiences that can help them grow a strong sense of self, and one of these activities could be bird-watching. Encourage your kids to explore this and other hobbies to help them form a stronger sense of who they are.

8. It can help children form a community.

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Studies have shown that time in nature increases individual happiness, but it also strengthens connections and bonds between people experiencing nature together. Families and children can meet other bird-watchers or even join online or in-person birdwatching groups. Joining a local group will allow your children to share their knowledge with other people who have the same interest they do.

9. It helps kids understand their local ecosystem.

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Children typically are drawn to the exotic animals they see in animated movies or in their textbooks, and they can easily overlook the wide variety of life that's literally in their backyard. Paying attention to the birds around them can help them learn more about their local ecosystem and how it changes from season to season. Why are some birds only around at certain times of year? Which birds tend to appear near which types of plants? The answers can help kids learn a lot about the local habitat.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart