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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

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

10 Ways to Be Safe and Responsible When Visiting Parks During a Pandemic

Photo by Tama66 (pixabay)

We are all adjusting to a "new normal". Kids are attending school at the dining room table and the day to day rhythms of our lives are altered. Most people's lives are suddenly more constricted than ever before. Movie theaters are closed, restaurants have moved to take out only, and everyone, save essential employees, is home. And on top of everything else, spring is here for most of the United States. It seems like the perfect time to spend some time at the park. But is it? The situation is very fluid, and differs in different parts of the country. However, with some safety tips in mind, your family can enjoy some outside time.

1. Give others a 6-foot radius while outdoors.

Social Distancing is the new word of 2020. The most important tip? Stay away from other people. COVID-19 particles are airborne (meaning it spreads through the air). The new recommendation is to wear masks when outside, but staying away from other people is still the best way to avoid contracting the illness.

2. Make sure you check websites and do your research before visiting a park to make sure it is open and to see if there are any specific regulations.

What's open where doesn't just vary from state to state, but in some states, it varies from county to county or city to city. Some municipalities have closed some parks while leaving others open. Most localities are updating their websites regularly to reflect what parks or trails are open in their district. If you aren't sure, call your local parks office.

National Parks Website

3. Keep your hands to yourself whenever possible. Wash them frequently.

If you have gloves, it's a good idea for you and your kids to wear them while out. However, even with gloves on its important to maintain good habits like not touching handrails and keeping your hands away from your face. Hand sanitizer is great, but washing your hands is even better. Bring water and hand soap to the park with you so you can wash your hands regularly.

CDC Handwashing Information

4. If a trail seems too crowded, find a different, less popular trail to minimize density.

The most important thing you can do is to stay away from other people. Stay away from trails that were packed on a normal spring Saturday, and instead head out towards less popular parks and trails. Even then, be aware of how many cars are in the parking area and how many people are milling about. If the park you chose is crowded, head to another place.

Keeping Distances on Trails

5. Avoid Touching Other People's Pets

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that animals can't spread the disease to humans. However, their fur acts as a surface. If an infected person recently touched the pet, it could transfer to you if you then touch the animal. It's also important to keep your pets away from other humans and pets. This is a great time to teach your pets to respect personal space on trails as they should anyway!

6. Choose low-risk recreation to avoid injury.

Hospitals, rescuers, and law enforcement are overwhelmed as it is, and the last thing need is to have to patch you up from an injury, or have to devote resources to looking for lost hikers or kayakers. Stay safe!

7. Stay Close to Home

Many popular recreation areas are asking people from other areas not to travel to their locale. As tempting as a quick jaunt to the beach or a trip to hike up your favorite mountain seems, resist! This is the time to stay close to home and enjoy your own area.

8. Bring Everything You Need

A great to avoid others is to bring absolutely everything you need with you. Snacks, water, sunscreen, a first aid kit, a picnic what your family needs to safely enjoy some time outside.

9. Change Your Clothes

Lots of people ask that you not wear shoes inside their homes. Now we should all embrace this ethos! Shoes worn outside should not be worn around the house. It's also a good idea to change everyone's clothes immediately when returning from being out in the world. Naturally, a good hand scrubbing is needed as soon as you get home.

10. Avoid Park Playgrounds

Remember, the name of the game for a safe park experience during a pandemic is to stay away from others. Most park departments have already closed playgrounds, but even if they haven't you'll want to stay away. A great alternative? Contact local outdoor play equipment companies and stores and see if they can construct the playground of your kid's dreams in the safety of your own backyard.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

9 Reasons Why Play Matters During Times of Crisis

Photo by ddimitrova (pixabay)

No matter how carefully we try to shield our children from stress during a crisis, children may still pick up on stress in their homes and their communities. Play allows children to work through the complex emotions stress causes in a safe, appropriate way. After all, everyone needs a release valve. For children, that release valve is play.

1. Video Games Are Helpful During Stressful Times

Many parents are very concerned about screen time, and carefully limit the amount of time their children spend engaging with screens. During the COVID-19 global pandemic crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests parents allow some amount of video game playing. Why? Video games often have an online social aspect that can help relieve a child's feeling of social isolation, and it engages the child in a different world which allows escape from the stress of their real life.

2. Playtime Reduces Stress

During normal times, 43% of children between the ages of 8-17 worry about things like doing well in school, their family's finances, and even what college they'll get into. Your child's headaches, stomach aches, and sleepless nights are likely to be influenced by stress in their lives. During a crisis, children's stress skyrockets along with the stress of the adults in their lives. Playing actually works to reduce stress. How? Free play allows children to physically engage with their environments and releases lots of oxytocin and serotonin, which counterbalance stress hormones. It also allows children to emotionally work through their feelings, by imagining scenarios where they can safely work through some of their emotions.? When your kid scales to the top of the playground equipment, they are achieving physical, emotional, and mental goals!

3. Playtime Makes Children More Productive

Some crises put an end to normal schooling. It doesn't put an end to parents wanting their children to continue growing and developing in a healthy manner! Luckily, playing is great for the physical development of your children, it also helps them continue developing mentally and cognitively. Play allows children to explore new concepts, unleash their imagination, and even try out new words. A child with plenty of chances for free play and outdoor activity will continue developing new skills and knowledge.

4. Play Keeps Children (and Adults) Active and Healthy.

Social distancing doesn't necessarily mean skipping all outdoor activities! The CDC recommends staying away from other people and being diligent about hand washing, but as long as your maintaining proper social distancing standards, getting outside is good for the health (mental and physical) of everyone in your household. People with yards should let their kids romp away, but as a family, getting outside with a ball or play a game of tag will relieve stress promote physical health.

5. Outdoor Play Boosts Immune Systems

Being outside boosts your immune system. Naturally, you want to follow all social distancing requirements, and stay away from other people. However, you and your kids still need sun exposure and time outside to work your muscles and blow off steam. If you have space, consider contacting local outdoor play equipment companies and stores and having a private playground installed in your yard.

6. It Helps Kids Deal with Losing a Sports Season

Kids who play organized sports are mourning the loss of playing their beloved sports, seeing their coaches, and being with their teammates. Outdoor, active play allows kids to maintain their physical abilities and relieve some of the stress of being away from their team. Parents should be careful not to turn play and fun outdoor time into drills, though. Forcing certain activities, like jumping jack drills, on stressed children will cause more distress.

7. During a Crisis, Kids Need a "New Normal"

The Coronavirus has caused most children's lives to be turned upside down. They no longer attend school. They don't see their friends or teachers. Many children don't see secondary caregivers or extended family members. Their familiar schedule is no longer in place. Children crave structure, and most parents I know are struggling to come up with a way to structure days in our new reality. Including various types of play daily-video game time, dress-up box time, free play outside, family outdoor games, puzzles in the evening, et cetera-help structure children's days and helps them acclimate to their new normal.

8. Children Need Consistent Caregivers

Many parents are still trying to balance work with their children being home 24/7, helping with distance learning, and preparing endless meals and snacks. Adults are also suffering from stress and uncertainty. All parents need a break! If the pressure causes you to snap, it's just going to make your kids' lives even more stressful. So let them play, and let yourself relax on the sofa while they entertain themselves.

9. Children Still Need Socialization

If you are like me, you leaning heavily on group texts with friends and family and the occasional video conferencing happy hour as an outlet for your socialization needs. Kids are very social little beings, and they miss their friends and classmates. Setup a virtual playdate with video conferencing! Each child can play safely in their own home but still get to engage with their friend!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, April 3, 2020

Whimsical Words: 9 Benefits of Communication Play

Whimsical Words: 9 Benefits of Communication Play

Photo by PublicDomainPictures (pixabay)

Children learn best by doing. We all know about the physical health benefits of playing, but did you know that children learn a lot of communication skills through play? As children play, they learn how to carry on conversations, how to express their thoughts and ideas, and even how to decipher body language and facial expressions. Communication play is key to helping children to develop their language skills. Play that involves acting, singing, reciting rhymes, miming, or telling jokes helps children develop their communicative abilities. It also uses the entire body and mind, incorporating vocal skills, hand gestures, and body language. Learn more about the benefits of communication play and you'll see why it's so important for your kids.
    1. It helps develop language skills. When your child pretends that they are saving the world, they are a raccoon, or anything else their bright little minds come up with, they are pushing themselves to extend their language skills. Pretend play encourages children to explain the world they are creating in their mind and even promotes the use of new vocabulary. After all, everyday life might not encourage your children to describe a legend where a giant lives with tiny green fairies, but they might very well wish to dream up such a world and explain it to their playmates as they play.
    2. Remembering and telling jokes can help build memory and concentration. Did you know that babies show the first signs of a sense of humor at about five weeks of age when they start smiling at their parents' antics? From babyhood, the development of a sense of humor is an essential part of children's development. Learning to tell a joke requires children to memorize exact word order, learn how to pause for audience reaction, and relay information effectively. Just learning one joke helps kids build their memorization skills.
    3. It builds confidence when children can deliver a joke, line, or argument successfully. Even as an adult, there are few things better than having your loved ones and friends laugh at your jokes or change their mind because of one of your well-reasoned arguments. Successfully entertaining or educating people you love builds confidence for everyone. It's especially helpful in developing children's confidence. Learning to share information effectively is an important skill, and the immediate response of a laugh to a well-told joke or someone agreeing with their vocalized thoughts reinforces to children that their words matter and leads them to further experimentation and growth.
    4. Laughter is healthy and healing! A nice laugh is good for people in many ways. It relieves stress, and it also relieves physical tension in the body. Some studies have shown that muscles are more relaxed for up to 45 minutes after a good laugh! The immune system also benefits from a good bout of laughter: Laughter decreases stress hormones in the body and increases immune cell and antibody responses. So make silly faces at your kids and let them reciprocate. Laughter is good for the entire family!
    5. It helps children understand symbolism. Many children struggle with the idea that "$" represents money or that a $5 bill has more value than a $1 bill. Ever asked children to sort cash and seen that they were sure that a penny would be worth more than a dime because the penny is bigger? It's because these sorts of mental tasks require understanding symbolism. Parents often realize their children are having trouble grasping symbolism when the child struggles with the idea of the alphabet. Luckily, communicative play lets children experiment with symbolism. Pretending their swing set is really a castle while they act out fairy tales lets children grapple with the idea that one thing can stand in for another thing.
    6. It helps children understand the importance of listening carefully. Ever play Simon Says? It's a verbal game that requires children to listen carefully. When the leader says "Simon says" followed by an instruction, the player must perform the direction. But if the leader doesn't say "Simon says" before giving a direction and the player performs it anyway, the player is out. You can tell your children about the importance of listening carefully and following directions, but it won't have the impact that losing a communicative game like Simon Says will!
    7. It teaches children about teamwork. A lot of commutative play requires working with other people. Miming, acting out a favorite cartoon, and telling jokes all usually involve more than one person. Sometimes, participants are divided into the performer(s) and the audience, but other forms of performative play require the participants to work in a team. Games like Pass the Apple require children to work together using verbal and body language to win.
    8. Rhyming games show children the complexity of language. Language is very complex, and learning all of the subtleties and rules associated with both the written and spoken word can be overwhelming for many kids. Luckily, rhymes help children begin to understand and experiment with the complexity of language. They start learning about syllables through verses. Repeating nursery rhymes they are familiar with helps them learn to anticipate rhyming words. Anticipating the next word helps them prepare to make predictions about what they are reading, which is a vital literacy skill.
    9. Miming helps children learn to express their thoughts and feelings. Long before your children uttered their first words, they were already communicating with you through gestures. Gestures and body language form an essential part of everyone's communication skillset. Learning to mime and playing mime games helps children understand the importance of gestures as a communication tool and also teaches them to think about what they are trying to communicate and how they can best achieve their communication goals.
    10. Find more about the author: Kim Hart