18 Simple Ways to Infuse Each Day With Learning

Teaching your child to love learning offers them a lifetime of discovery, far outside the classroom.

Teaching your child about World War II or how to do double digit addition is important. But those are limited facts and skills. Teaching your child to love learning offers them a lifetime of discovery, far outside the classroom.
Here are 18 easy ways to foster a love of learning in the midst of everyday life.

Read to them

Reading not only has physical and emotional benefits. There is concrete evidence that it helps brain development and academic growth as well. With so much possibility, reading is the perfect way to help kids fall in love with learning.

Let them see you read

While reading to your children has many benefits, letting them see you read shows kids that reading is forever. It’s not just for babies. It’s not just for school. Read in front of them (and Facebook doesn’t count).

Be outdoors

Time outside provides opportunities for fine and gross motor development, risk-taking, and exploring, all of which prove beneficial to learning. There is also a direct correlation between time outside and reduction of stress, confidence building, and exposure to different stimuli.

Sing, play, and listen to music

The brain benefits of music are numerous. Plus, music has the ability to bring joy, relaxation, and express ideas.

Relax

True learning goes far beyond grades in a classroom. Show them you believe that by spending time with your kids doing nothing much in particular except enjoying each other’s company.

Embrace what they love

Give kids the opportunity to explore the things they love. If your child is into trains right now, find books about trains, build a train, draw a train, watch trains at the train station. Allow your child to guide their learning through their passions.

Talk about learning

Let them know when you discover something new. “Wow, I never knew that popcorn could burn so quickly. I wonder why?” Kids need to see that we are always learning, even in the ordinary.

Ask questions

I know it feels like all we do is answer questions. So start asking. “How did that bird know I just put birdseed out?” or “Why are there police officers guarding the construction workers?” Questions are the foundation of learning.

Give them money

I know it can be painfully slow, but letting them pay at the store and count change is real life learning. If you use plastic for all your payments, talk about how that works, too.

Wonder

Encourage your children to think freely about things, without boundaries. Some of the best ideas started with wild wondering!

Play

School keeps kids busy learning good things. But there is not a lot of room for play in a regular day. Giving kids the opportunity to play with no agenda allows them to be better thinkers.

Ask random math questions

Math facts are foundational for good mental math, but kids don’t always want more schoolwork. Make math facts fun by asking them when you’re doing something else, like driving, hiking, or making dinner. Make it easy, fun, and short.

Keep reading picture books

Even as kids get older, picture books can provide unique opportunities for learning. Increased connection with the text, vocabulary, and a more sensory approach to reading keeps the experience enjoyable and beneficial.

Go places

Visit the sea or a mountain. Spend time at the free art museum or check out the historical house in town. Experiences make learning part of life and create schema, a personal framework for learning.

Create

Giving kids the chance to create through art, music, science, or any imaginative play helps them develop better thinking skills that translate far outside the classroom.

Enlist help

Helping with adult tasks gives kids new skills and shows them the need to learn throughout life. Cooking, taking pictures, changing the oil, and doing laundry all show kids that there is always something new they can do.

Fail

Often. Let them see that failure is part of learning. Recognizing failure as part of the learning process rather than an end to learning shows kids to keep going. Demonstrate that it’s okay, even good, to fail because it’s all part of the process.

Did I mention read?

It’s one of the simplest things you can do with endless possibilities. Read to learn, for fun, and for life.

Read These Favorite New Books After Your Kids Go to Sleep

If you’re looking for something to read, here are some favorite new books to put on your radar:

We may have lives that are chaotic and exhausting. The morning routine. Chasing kids. Working. Errands. Afterschool activities. The bedtime routine. Parenting never comes to an end.
Don’t let that stop you from sneaking in a little me-time. After the kids go to bed is the perfect time to crack open a book. If you’re looking for something to read, here are some favorite new books to put on your radar:

TheGypsy

The Gypsy Moth Summer

by Julia Fierro

In the long, sweltering summer of 1992, a gypsy moth invasion blankets Avalon, an islet off the coast of Long Island. Despite being an inescapable burden, the insects are hardly the topic of discussion. Leslie Day Marshall, the only daughter of Avalon’s most prominent family, returns with her black husband and bi-racial children to live in “The Castle,” the island’s grandest estate.
Hidden truths, scandals, and racial prejudices soon emerge in this many-faceted story about love, family, escape, and revenge. “The writing is lovely, and the story is compelling. It’s set in the 90s so it’s fun nostalgia, too,” says Jen from New Jersey.


LittleFiresEverywhere

Little Fires Everywhere

by Celeste Ng

After reading “Little Fires Everywhere”, Jessica from New York says, “The characters are so real. And I love the way that [Celeste Ng] explores issues of race, class, and privilege in a deep and meaningful way, without being heavy-handed or preachy.”
Picture-perfect Shaker Heights runs like a well-oiled machine. Elena Richardson embodies this progressive suburb’s image, playing by the rules and striving for the best. Things begin to unravel when she rents a house in the idyllic little bubble to single mother, Mia Warren, and her teenage daughter Pearl.
All four of Elena’s children are drawn to the rebellious mother-daughter pair, who ignore the status quo and threaten to upend the community. This instant New York Times bestseller explores motherhood, secrets, and the naivety of thinking that following the rules will keep you safe.


ATangledMercy

A Tangled Mercy

by Joy Jordan-Lake

“A Tangled Mercy” is an interweaving of two distinct, yet connected, narratives: the story of Harvard grad student Kate Drayton’s journey to Charleston, South Carolina, to find answers about her deceased mother’s troubled past, and the lost story of the Charleston slave uprising of 1822 – the subject of Kate’s mother’s research.
Inspired by true events, the book examines the depth of human suffering and brutality and our everlasting hope of forgiveness and redemption. “Joy Jordan-Lake’s ‘A Tangled Mercy’ is an incredibly compelling and meticulously researched historical novel that will have you thinking about it long after you turn the last page,” says Jane Healey, author of “The Saturday Evening Girls Club.”


TheGoldenHouse

The Golden House

by Salman Rushdie

The mysterious and eccentric newcomer, Nero Golden, and his three adult sons, each odd in their own way, take up residence at the Gardens, a cloistered community in New York’s Greenwich Village, on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration. Soon after moving to the neighborhood, Nero is charmed by Vasilisa, a sleek Russian expat, while their young neighbor, René, is captivated by their mystique and quietly intertwines with their lives.
“The Golden House” is set against the backdrop of current American politics and culture, while beaming with the realism of a timely story of love, loss, and deceit. “It’s really delicious reading. It’s like [Salman Rushdie] has the English language on his leash and can will it to do what he wants. It’s incredible,” says Olga of Zuid-Holland from the Netherlands.


TheDesigner

The Designer

by Marius Gabriel

While Paris celebrates its liberation in 1944, Cooper Reilly’s life is falling apart. She’s stuck in an unhappy marriage riddled with infidelity. Unable to endure it any longer, she asks for a separation.
Suddenly alone, she finds a friend in a middle-aged clothing designer named Christian Dior. Hiding in a lackluster, decrepit fashion house seems counterproductive to the brilliance of his designs, so Copper urges him to take a risk while she takes one of her own – tipping her toes into the world of journalism.
“I was swept away by Marius Gabriel’s vivid descriptions of the Parisian fashion world – I could practically hear the rustle of silks. ‘The Designer’s’ evocation of Paris in the dying days of the war and the admirable spirit of the French people as they find their way again after years of occupation was simply enthralling,” says Sammia Hamer, Editor.


TurtlesAllTheWayDown

Turtles All the Way Down

by John Green

Azra is trying to be a good daughter. And a good friend. And a good student. She’s trying to make good decisions, even as her thoughts spiral out of control. She never meant to become tangled in the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett.
With a hefty reward at stake, and her friends eager to crack the case, she has nothing to lose. Or does she? “It’s one of the most realistic depictions of living with mental illness that I’ve ever encountered without being super depressing about it,” says Stephanie from Maryland.
What new books would you add to this list? Please share!

A Mother's Proclamation About How This Day is Going to Go

Today, we will get out of the house. This will be no easy feat, but we will get out of the house.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
Today, we will get out of the house.
This will be no easy feat, as I will need to dress both of you while you are fully committed to this riveting episode of Paw Patrol. It will be like attempting to tug clothes onto an angry octopus, or actually, like trying to dress two fighting octopi that can’t keep their tentacles to themselves.
But we will get out of the house.
I must pack enough snack rations to feed an entire small town for a week, even though we’ll only be gone for a couple of hours and you just ate your weight in muffins at breakfast. And I need to make sure I have exactly the same number of banana applesauce pouches for each of you. Strawberry applesauce is obviously not acceptable.
And you, my dear daughter, must go potty. I realize this is a 42-step process, and that you will shout “I pooped!” just as I am trying to wrangle your brother to the ground, pinning him down with my body weight so I can change his diaper. But we can do this. We must.
And then we will be ready – hooray! Dressed, bag packed, faces (somewhat) clean, hair brushed. We will just need to find your shoes and socks and put them on. Easy-peasy, right? Yes, I know we are missing one of your gray socks with blue whales, and that it is nearly impossible to go on living without it, but we will prevail.
Despite all of this, we will get out of the house.
We will figure out a way to get in the car, even though you will each insist that I buckle you into your car seat first.
We will go to the library to return our overdue books and pick out new ones, even though you, my sweet son, will sob, your little face scrunched in rage, because I have the audacity to insist that I hold you while we cross the street.
After the library (where one of you clearly will not respect the quiet rule), I will – despite my better judgment – take you to the bakery next door for a donut. You will argue over who gets the bigger half (news flash – they will be exactly the same size). You will coat every square inch of your face, the table, and the floor with cinnamon sugar.
But today, I will get out of the house.
Here is a list of things I will not do:

  • Fold the load of laundry that’s been waiting for me in the living room for three days.
  • Clean the kitchen, which may be reaching health code levels of dirtiness.
  • Spend any measure of quality time with my husband.
  • Clean out the back of my car, or finally take those clothes on top of my dresser to Goodwill, or do our weekly meal planning, or write, or go for a run, or take a nap.

I will not do any of those things today.
Some days I wonder – what am I doing with my life? Am I achieving enough? Am I reaching for my dreams? Am I doing anything really worthwhile? And importantly – will these kids ever sleep? Will my house ever be clean again?
I am often tired and frazzled, overwhelmed by how much you need me and by my inability to do it all. But I do know deep down that it is all okay, and that nothing lasts forever – not even these days, which are messy, mundane, and maddening … but also magic if I am determined enough to pay attention.
Today, I will get out of the house. I will take you to the park. I will watch as you play in the sand, giggle your way down the slides, and shriek with joy while you chase butterflies. I will push you on the swings, one hand on each of your little backs. I will raise my face to the warmth of the sun and be grateful.

When School Is No Longer a Reliable Babysitter

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
After a fraught winter of flirting with freelance writing (chagrin implied), I’d made some gains. They were almost negligible, and some of the platforms dubious, yet I got published elsewhere. Still mostly for free (more chagrin) but on bigger platforms for a few more likes, shares, and an occasional pocket change paycheck. (No large advance is forthcoming.)
Then school was out, summer happened, and I reacquainted myself with TV, some video games, full-time parenting, and the clouds.
Well, I’m a parent all the time but her first year of school was an amazing freedom for me.
It’s not that summer strips parents of all their free time. The hours between 9:30 p.m. and 8 a.m. were usually open. If I were a real go-getter, I’d have gotten up at the butt crack to “scribble” on the keys then burn the midnight oil after a few beers, but I didn’t.
Not all was procrastination, though. A lot went on this summer, and it started out fantastically with a two-week break from parenting. The g-rents whisked the kid away, leaving my wife and I childless. It was glorious. We were a couple of young adults without a child again. Other parents were jealous.
After that two-week stint without the kid, things changed. We traveled a lot, there was a death in the family, and we went from practically having a live-in babysitter (a niece) to being full-time parents again.
The adult time was over and my hobby sort of dropped off.
It dropped off because writing isn’t a sprint but a distance game, and it requires more than 20 to 30 minutes of attention at a time. I tried to write with her around but that required a lot of TV (something us modern parents aren’t supposed to let our kids overindulge in), and she had questions and concerns every two minutes.
Can’t get mad, though. When your preschooler asks you to come into the bathroom to smell her fart, your heart just swells. These are the precious moments parents carry with them to their graves.
I’ve also found that picking up where you left off only works with pieces that are nearly done. That being said, it’s easier to pick up a book and easier still to watch Netflix, Amazon, Hulu – whatever.
The easiest thing to do, however, is watch clouds.
Being committed to a word file takes focus, time, and, I guess, some will power.
Not making excuses helps, too, but no one else is going to get that paladin to level 99 other than you, bro.
That’s game talk and while procrastination and gaming go hand in hand, they should never be used in the same sentence around a gamer. They’re liable to set you on fire with a level four flame spell.
Instead, I set the writing aside and checked out critically acclaimed works of nonfiction, making sure I brought them with me so people would notice. I didn’t read them, just skimmed reviews in hifalutin magazines in case someone asked me about them. It’s what we procrastinators call “doing adequate homework”.
I also watched a lot of YouTube videos on lions, landslides, volcanoes (just one Saturday night), even Saturday Night Live, tsunamis again (never gets old), and an inordinate amount of Star Wars fan theory videos.
Did you know that not all Jedi are prudes? I didn’t think so.
The kid and I also did our fair share of floating around the pool. Well, I floated and she attempted the world record at most consecutive drowning attempts.
However, before I lay too much blame on parenting and chronic procrastination, let me reiterate the real culprit: summer break. I absolve myself of all responsibility and lay most of the blame, if not all, on the summer holiday. It’s just too long. Really, kids should be in school more. Perhaps all day so that the only time you see them is when they wake up and after dinner.
A parent’s daily peace of mind is worth a little state indoctrination, am I right?
To be blunt, summer break ruins a this peace-o-mind, pure and simple. Yes, it was great having almost three months off from school as kid, but I’m not a kid anymore and their time off offends me.
Of course, we could’ve mitigated all this with summer camps (I will become a convert next year) and a regular schedule. But to have regularity in you and your child’s schedule, you must plan for it. Since I’m neither a planner nor someone who remotely understand plans, this was not the case for me.
That’s why we’re here now, commiserating summer break together and relieved it’s over.
You hear that kiddo? Sounds like first bell. Time for dad to level up.

Putting the Train Together Again

Perhaps the hardest thing about being a divorced parent are the moments you feel real, powerful grief when your child is with you and you can’t show it.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
For months after I sold the house, it remained inside a large plastic bag in the loft. One of my daughter’s toys. The pieces were disorganized, and I was not certain that we had them all.
One day I began to organize the loft. Christmas was on the horizon, and our artificial tree was in the corner behind too many items for it to be accessible for the holidays. I got to work. My five-year-old daughter was with me.
“Daddy!”
“Yes, sweety?”
“Is that the pirate train?”
“I think so. Let me check.”
It was.
“Can we build it again?”
“I don’t know, honey. But we can try.”
“Oh Daddy, please let’s do that right now!”
“Maybe once we get the loft better organized. Okay?”
“Okay.”
The toy was a plastic pirate ship. A train track circled around it. As the train made its way up towards the mast, it reached a smooth part of the track where it would invert on its rapid descent down. Katie loved it. We had kept it outside on the covered portion of our pool deck, since it took up so much space in our small home.
Now that home was gone, one of many casualties of the divorce I had filed for nearly two years before.
Losing your first and only home feels like parting with one of your internal organs. A part of your life is over, and it isn’t coming back. And just like the body that must live and go on post-operation, you have to thrive once more though it may not immediately apparent how to do so.
I pondered the pirate train and its current state of affairs. I knew we had to be missing a few pieces. I didn’t see the train itself anywhere, just the caboose that attached to it, and while I may possess certain talents building things without a clear plan isn’t one of them. I saw all these obstacles before we started, but I didn’t want to disappoint my daughter. We spread the pieces out on the living room floor.
“Alright, sweetheart. Let’s see. I think this is the mast.”
“What does that mean?”
“The part that goes on top. Here.”
I fixed the mast to the topmost portion of the pirate ship.
“Daddy, look. The track goes together here.”
My champion puzzle-maker was right.
“Katie, that’s really smart. Good job. Let’s see how to do the rest of it.”
We set up the rest of the track. There were a few long plastic arms that didn’t seem to fit anywhere.
“What about these, Katie?”
“I don’t know, Daddy.”
“Me either. Let’s think about it.”
We both looked at the half-completed structure in silence. Then I had an idea.
“Look, Katie. This one goes here.”
“You’re right, Daddy.”
Then one of the arms connected and made a support for the other.
“That’s it, Daddy!”
As I enjoyed our success building together, I felt a tinge of sadness. I knew we couldn’t completely rebuild her toy. It wasn’t that it was broken, precisely. It was incomplete and destined to remain so. That’s why the pirate train could never be put together again.
Realizing that the same thing had happened to our family, a shudder went through me. I couldn’t put our home or my marriage back together, either. It didn’t matter what I did. I didn’t have all the pieces. Our old life was gone and more for my daughter than myself, I grieved. I was the one who filed for divorce and I still believe that I had to do it, that there was no other choice. But that didn’t make it easier.
Perhaps the hardest thing about being a divorced parent are the moments that you feel real, powerful grief when your child is present with you and you cannot show it. It takes every ounce of restraint you possess.
Sometimes, if we can learn from their unique form of wisdom our children lead the way. This was my daughter Katie. Her attitude was constructive. Absolutely, she wanted to build the entire train. She regretted that we couldn’t do so. But she has enjoyed playing with the mostly-finished structure for weeks. She didn’t regret, she just moved forward. She epitomized determination.
I may be a dummy, but watching her I knew she was showing me exactly how to move on and that I had the internal resources to do it.
“Besides, Daddy, maybe Santa will bring me something better for Christmas.”
“He just might, Katie. Christmas is only a couple of months away.”
Hope for the future that has every reason to be better than the past, no matter what is behind you. That’s what my daughter taught me. I hope I can teach her half as much.

7 CrAzy Things That Might Happen If You Leave Dad Alone With the Kids

When Mom’s away, the kids will play, and Dad – well, he’ll be in for a wild day! When he’s in charge anything goes!

When Mom’s away, the kids will play, and Dad – well, he’ll be in for a wild day! Mom’s usually the one who has it all figured out: she grocery shops, she cooks, she works, and she plays. She knows all the kids’ schedules, when they got their last round of vaccines, and their favorite fruit. She has the numbers to the pediatrician, the teacher, and the babysitter on speed dial and she always knows when to call the nurse line and when to rush into urgent care.
Dad, well, he’s another story. And when he’s in charge anything goes! Check out the CrAzY things that might happen when you leave dad alone with the kids:

1 | Dad might make the kids a WiLd breakfast …

That’s well balanced and nutrient rich because he’s a grown up whose been feeding himself since he went off to college and feeding the kids since they began eating solids. No cold cereals here – this guy prefers to make his kids a hot breakfast that will give them the fuel they need to learn, grow and play!

2 | Dad might dress the kids in WaCkY outfits …

Because they’re going to be playing hard all day and he doesn’t want to get any of their smocked overalls or dresses to dirty. After all, next week is picture day at school and he wants to make sure all their good clothes are ready!

3 | Dad might be ShOcKeD by a dirty diaper …

Because babies make amazingly huge dirty diapers that would shock the pants off of any caretaker. He’ll change it without complaint though – dirty to clean in less than 45 seconds, because that what parents do.

4 | Dad might take the kids on a CrAzY adventure …

Like to the park, the playground, or the museum because he knows their interests and is committed to spending quality time with them. He also wants to be the one to help them develop a lifelong love of being active, introduce them to new games, and open their eyes to new ideas.

5 | Dad might let the house turn into a HuGe mess …

Because he understands that kids are only little once and that the laundry can wait. Sometimes, it takes making messes to make memories. Don’t worry though – he’ll pick everything up after the kids are in bed.

6 | Dad might not know how to respond when the kids ask him some BiG questions …

So he’ll let them know that he’s got to think about his answer. He’ll do a little research, consult his buddy who happens to be a family therapist, and circle back with his kids when he feels confident about what he wants to say.

7 | Dad might struggle his way though bedtime …

Because that shit’s just hard. But, once the kids are finally still and quiet, he’ll probably stand in their doorway wondering how they got so big so quickly. Then he’ll get to cleaning up that mess from earlier.

13 Crafts for Little Artists That Aren’t a Pain to Clean Up

If you’re the one picking up from the latest art explosion, here are 13 crafts that will make your job easier and allow your little artist to be creative.

I think there’s still glitter on my floor. From five years ago. Arts and crafts have a way of sticking around, and while I want to encourage creativity in my kids, I hate cleaning up the aftermath.
Yes, we can make them clean up. I know. But seriously. Do they ever really clean it all up? If you’re going to be the one picking up from the latest craft session, here are 13 crafts that will make your job easier and allow your little artist to be creative.

1 | Melissa & Doug Deluxe Combo Scratch Art Set



I love this. Still. And kids are drawn to it. Scratch through the black surface to reveal amazing colors. Reveal as much or as little as you want. This favorite comes with 16 boards, two stylus tools, and three frames. Kids love the rainbow and metallic backgrounds.

2 | Boogie Board Jot LCD eWriter


A small notebook sized LCD drawing panel, the Boogie Board Jot is perfect for drawing anywhere, even in the car. No mess and endless possibility. Kids love the erase button and the ability to start fresh. Great for keeping in your purse for kids to play with on the go.

3 | Made By Me Build and Paint Your Own Wooden Cars

 

This one does involve paint, but it’s all pretty self-contained. Spread a piece of newspaper and grab a cup of water. Kids put together small wooden cars and then decorate using the stickers and paints provided. This one is great for keeping boys busy and giving them a chance to create.

4 | Fashion Angels Portfolios & American Girl Doll Fashion Design Portfolio Set

 

Kids design outfits and unique looks on the doll like outlines provided. Tons of great activity books with stencils for those who love to create fun fashion looks. Makeup, fashion and even home decorating books give kids great ways to draw and imagine as they get older.

5 | Melissa & Doug Paint with Water

 

Sometimes the little ones just want to paint. A great compromise that just involves water. Watch images and colors appear magically as your little artists swipes a wet brush across a page.

6 | Alex Toys Craft Color a House Children’s Kit

 

Cardboard box play taken to the next level, kids can easily construct a house and then decorate it with crayons. Toddlers love this and it keeps them busy for hours.

7 | Crayola Color Wonder Magic Light Brush & Drawing Pad

 

Half the fun of this amazing toy is the magic! Kids use the special brush to paint on their paper. It lights up with each color they pick and they create a masterpiece. Plus, it doesn’t leave marks on hands, the table or clothes.

8 | Rainbow Wikki Stix


These bendy, twisty sticks quickly become a favorite of kids and adults. You can link them together, twist and create without making a mess to clean up. Another great toy for the traveling creative.

9 | Sidewalk Chalk

 

Let nature take care of the cleanup! Kids love the ability to leave their mark and draw outdoors. A bucket of sidewalk chalk fits the bill, and all you have to do is wash hands when it’s done.

10 | Creative Hands Foam Kit Beads 2 Lace

 

Fun and great for fine motor development, Beads 2 Lace give kids the chance to string chunky foam beads in different shapes and colors to create one of a kind masterpieces. While there are a lot of pieces, this one is easy to clean up. You can even make a game out of tossing the foam pieces in the bucket when you’re done.

11 | Alex Toys Little Hands Mosaics

 

Using the color coded stickers kids place them on the template and create a beautiful picture. These are great for hanging up when they’re complete. Also offers fantastic color and shape matching and fine motor development.

12 | Crayola Model Magic


Softer and airier than the traditional play-doh, Model Magic is a great way to let kids mold and shape with less mess. It also air dries solid, giving little artists the chance to create forever masterpieces.

13 | Crayola Bathtub Finger paint and Crayons


When you can’t avoid the mess, at least make it in the easiest place to clean up. Finger paints and crayons specifically designed for the tub, give kids the chance to make a mess. And cleaning up when they’re done is contained and fun.
What mess free crafts do your kids love?
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My Place With the Playground Benchwarmers

Where there is a playground, we will be there as Protectors of the Peace, like mundane super heroes keeping an eye on petty criminals.

It is almost 3 p.m. and I am standing around with a bunch of other parents waiting for the torrent of children to come barreling out of the school doors like a herd of screaming cats. Some of us chit chat idly with each other, some look at phones, some kind of stare aimlessly. It’s a fairly subdued scene, save for the slight hidden tension in anticipation of the impending barrage. Then the bell rings.
Some things never change, and certainly the end of the school day looks much like it did for me when I was a screaming cat in the herd. Like a river flowing forth from a burst damn, tiny people come streaming out of the doors, heads whipping wildly about in search of their respective rides home. Some charge off to the school bus lines, while other throw their backpacks in the general direction of their guardians and run recklessly to the parking lot.
Others, my son among them, greet their elders with pleading cries requesting playground access with their peers. Since I’m a sucker both for time spent in pursuit of physical activity and my son’s begging puppy-dog eyes, I graciously relent and we head around behind the school, my scion at top speed and me lagging behind with a newly acquired schoolbag.
The playground is ground zero for childhood, and these kids are anxious to spend as large a portion of their pent-up energy as possible before the cluster of parents at the picnic table finally decides we’ve had enough and it’s time to go home. They charge into whatever game they’d presumably created at recess earlier and just like that, they’re off.
As an experienced Playground Benchwarmer I know it is only a matter of time before the younger siblings that have been dragged along to pick-up will find something to complain about, and somehow in my seven years of parenting I still haven’t figured out the appropriate amount of snacks to bring to a venture such as this. So I bide my time as I commiserate with the other Benchwarmers about the nightly homework arguments and what new learning style has been introduced this year.
There was a time once, in the distant past, when I determined I would follow my son on the playground and do what he did, because I wasn’t one of those lazy parents that just sits around all the time while their kid plays. Oh no, I was one of those active, fun parents that likes to play with their kid and run around and swing on the monkey bars! I was able to keep up with him respectably for approximately three minutes, following which I collapsed on the nearest bench and spent the rest of the evening caving to TV demands just for a moment’s rest. Since that atrocious folly I have realized my place among the adults, and I stray no further from the bench than necessary.
This playground hierarchy, with kids rampant at play while parents sit nearby or push a younger sibling on a swing, translates to any and all designated play areas equally, I have found. There will always be a few guardians who get more involved, a few who remain aloof and remote, and the majority watching out of the corner of their eye from the sidelines. The Playground Benchwarmers are a stalwart bunch, braving the afternoon sun on an August afternoon or huddling around a steaming cup of coffee on a crisp November morning. Where there is a playground, we will be there as Protectors of the Peace, like mundane super heroes keeping an eye on petty criminals.
At the slightest sign of discord, the more alert and attentive of the bunch will call out a cease and desist cry, warning of the terrible consequences of non-compliance as the offending children pretend to listen before finding a sneakier way of breaking the rules. This is the way it has always been, and the way it will always be. One generation makes way for the next, but the bench will be forever warmed.
Finally the call has been made by one of the monitoring elite, and soon the rest follow. Momentum is a powerful force, not to be understated when children must be removed from a playground. Once one child has been suitably convinced of the need to leave, the rest will be much easier to persuade. It is imperative, therefore, the Benchwarmers work together as a group so as to avoid disruptive meltdowns and lengthy arguments. Slowly the playground clears out save for a few stragglers, and the sweaty children are led to their chariots to be carted off to the familial snack huts.
The Playground Benchwarmers have done their job, and the playground has been used and vacated without bloodshed or tears. Tomorrow is another day, and another chance at mutiny for the children. Against the Swingset Supervisors they stand little chance, however, and life will proceed as it has for generations.
I carry the bounty of second-grade math papers and left over lunch on my back as my son exchanges his last remaining potty jokes with his guffawing friends. As the sun sinks lower in the afternoon sky, we finally make it to the car and climb in, contentedly weary. All is right with the world now, as we head for home. Proudly I offer the bounty of Goldfish I actually remembered to bring this time, to which he replies that he has suddenly decided he hates Goldfish and is desperate for water, which of course I forgot to bring. Seven years in and I still have no idea what I’m doing.
This article was originally published at lifeoutsidethebox.me.

Beyond the Family Pet: How Animals Enrich the Lives of Kids

Not only does contact with and knowledge of animals, both pets and wildlife, make kids smarter, but it also makes them healthier.

It was after dinner, and I was at the sink washing the dinner dishes when my son shrieked.
“It’s a raccooooooooooon!” he yelped, jumping up and down in excitement as his eyes bulged. “A REAL RACCOOOOOOOOON!” he trilled.
“Huh?” I stumbled back from the sink and looked around the kitchen.
“ON THE ROOF OF THE BARN!” His entire body was trembling. I followed his pointed finger and watched the fat, banded critter through the window as my son loudly narrated its every move.
When it was gone, I turned to him. “Have you seen a raccoon before?” He looked at me. “Like at the zoo or something?” He stared blankly. “How did you know that was a raccoon?”
He smirked as he strutted out of the room. “I just knowed, Mama.”
Later that night, as I made a final sweep through the toy room to tidy a few last things, I found a small plastic raccoon, perched atop some blocks arranged in the shape of a barn. It was my turn to smirk, remembering the wildlife set he got in his stocking as I placed the little raccoon back into its bin amongst gray wolves, grizzly bears, and elk.
Like most parents, I am in constant awe of what my children learn through their interactions both with the natural world and at play. They are always picking up on tiny details that I miss or fixating on particularities that I find unimportant. Children are the observers of the world.
And when it comes to animals and the natural world, I have even more reason to be in awe. Not only does contact with and knowledge of animals, both pets and wildlife, make my kids smarter, but it also makes them healthier.
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Young boy with his well-trained 4-H calf.

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Physical benefits of animals

The health benefits of pets are well-documented. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention devote an entire page to the specific health benefits of having a pet, including increased exercise and outdoor activities along with increased opportunities for socialization.
What’s more, exposure to pets can actually decrease the risk of developing allergic sensitization into young adulthood. While scientists have not determined the exact relationship between owning a pet and developing allergies, they suspect that high-dose exposure to certain pet danders and allergens triggers a non-allergic immune response.
Further, simply being in nature has health benefits as well. In fact, children who are regularly exposed to nature experience decreased stress levels and bolstered resilience for coping with stress.

Animals as therapy

Not only can animals prevent children from getting sick, but they can help in treatment, too. Animal therapy has roots going back to the Middle Ages, when doctors in Belgium noticed that patients who rehabbed alongside animals had better prognoses than those who did not.
Animals often have a profound calming influence, unlike that achieved through human interaction or companionship. One study found that simply watching fish swim around an aquarium could lower someone’s blood pressure, which might explain the abundance of fish tanks I’ve noticed in doctor’s waiting rooms.
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Parent Co. partnered with Safari LTD because they know an appreciation for animals and curiosity go hand in hand.

 
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Another study found that petting a dog decreased the stress hormone cortisol in a stressful environment significantly more than resting quietly did. Visits from pet therapy animals have been shown to decrease the stress hormone epinephrine in cardiac patients, and having a pet present decreases heart rate and blood pressure more significantly than having a friend or family member present.
The therapeutic benefits aren’t limited to physical symptoms, either. Animal therapy is often used for psychiatric and behavioral therapy as well. Taking care of animals has been shown to increase children’s self-esteem and confidence while helping them to develop empathy and perspective-taking skills. Horse therapy has had proven results for autistic children, improving their subsequent interactions with family pets as well as their general attitude and behavior toward animals.
One of the most successful and ambitious programs to incorporate animals into therapy is the Green Chimneys residential program in New York. Here, children aged six to 18, many of whom have experienced extreme neglect or abuse, develop a sense of self-worth as they learn to care for pets, farm animals, and even hawks and falcons. Some children tend to injured animals or go on to become guides or caretakers for the animals when visitors come to experience farm life for a day.
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Boy training pet dog
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Environmental benefits

Our kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from learning about and appreciating animals. Our environment benefits, too. The more students know about local wildlife, the better they absorb ecological lessons about the environment and conservation. This, in turn, leads to a generation more likely to value pro-environmental behaviors.
Children who play outside and are exposed to wildlife regularly form emotional attachments that last well into their adult years and translate into pro-environmental behaviors, like recycling and alternative energy use.

How to get started

How can a parent set their child up for successful interactions with animals? How do we ensure that the first experiences with a family pet or new wildlife are positive ones?
By bringing realistic animal-themed toys and books into the home, parents can introduce both pets and wildlife in a controlled and safe environment. These toys, books, and games can spark conversation, inspire questions about how to act appropriately around new animals, and get your child excited about meeting them.
These kinds of toys can even prepare your child for broader lessons. In one study, preschool children who participated in guided play with animal toys were better able to absorb a subsequent lesson about the food chain.
You can support your child by role playing how to approach a new animal using realistic animal toys. If it’s a wild animal, this might mean giving the animal plenty of space and not moving erratically. If it’s someone’s pet, it may mean asking permission before you greet it and offering a hand to sniff before petting. Children who talk about and practice new interactions go into them with increased confidence and a higher likelihood of success.
Teaching your child different animal names and breeds will build even more interest and confidence around animals. For more ideas about introducing your child to the wide world of animals and preparing them to reap the rewards of a lifelong relationship with nature, check out some of the many free activities and resources available online.
Children who care for and about animals enrich their lives physically and emotionally and are more likely to grow up to be stewards of the environment.
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Parent Co. partnered with Safari LTD because they know an appreciation for animals and curiosity go hand in hand.

How to Make Storytelling a Fun and Engaging Family Affair

Storytelling is portable and requires no gadgets, batteries, or anything else to weigh down your diaper bag and can bring your family closer, too.

Let me tell you a story…

People across cultures have told stories for centuries. Stories have the power to gather, teach, entertain, and soothe. Human brains are wired for stories. A good story boosts oxytocin levels and can cause brain changes that last for days. Stories make information more memorable. Here’s why storytelling can benefit everyone in your household:

Stories make your kids smarter

Researchers say storytelling is a natural and essential part of linguistic development from early childhood onwards. A new study suggests that when children hear a vocabulary word spoken, they learn to read it more easily later. I don’t tend to often use the words “glisten” or “gleam” in conversation, but I used them both in “Magical Pony” bedtime stories this week. Honing storytelling skills gives kids a leg up in school for tasks like crafting written narratives and demonstrating reading comprehension.

Stories help you rock your professional and personal lives

Contributors to the “Harvard Business Review” hail storytelling as the best tool leaders can use to establish a sense of connection and craft inspiring presentations. They even go so far as to call it an irresistible strategic business tool. Whoa.

Your ability to spin an engaging yarn can make or break your success in social situations. Nothing kills an evening like getting trapped listening to an endless saga, or worse, in the awkward silence of “I Have Nothing To Talk About With This Person.”

Telling stories together fosters family closeness. Storytelling is portable and requires no gadgets, batteries, or anything else to weigh down your diaper bag.

With all these pluses, how do you turn your family into storytellers?

Make it a daily routine

Adults and children can “tell the story of their day” during your commute or family meal. When I frame my request this way, I hear more than “nothing” about what my kids did at school. With mine, I show them how even spotting a goldfinch or finding my lost sunglasses can be narrative-worthy.

Take a cue from preschool teachers

One of my first jobs was a preschool aide. One night a local restaurant burned down and many of the children drove past the wreckage on the way to school. The seasoned teacher started that day by acting out what happened with dolls: they discovered the fire in the block “restaurant,” called the fire department, who bravely put it out and made sure no one was hurt, and made plans to rebuild. Telling the story of a difficult event can be comforting.

Stories can also prepare children for upcoming events. When I took frequent red-eye flights with my toddler to visit family, “We Will Go to Sleep on the Airplane” got a lot of mileage.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

There’s a reason fairy and folk tales have been enjoyed for centuries. In a moment of desperation I once settled my rowdy kids with an impromptu retelling of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” This became a favorite for months. (Full disclosure: it did not inspire my toddler to stop fibbing.) 

Kids can retell, too. Show younger children how to act out familiar stories with toys and add their own twists. How about a house built of wooden play food for the second little pig? Older kids can come up with new story versions or compete for the most dramatic retelling, honing their creativity and performance skills.

Build a story brick by brick

Jason Boog, author of “Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age – From Picture Books to eBooks and Everything in Between,” tells parents to approach storytelling like building a Lego structure: one brick at a time. Start with the simple foundation of a few characters and a setting. Layer on events that build up to a problem or climax and top it off with a satisfying conclusion. Take cues from children’s play: magical elements and the classic good versus evil power struggle are attractive.

Concoct your personal story recipe. When I’m especially exhausted, mine is something like this: Kids take a walk in the forest. Kids find something that imparts special powers. Kids go on a magical adventure. Kids go home. Kids go to sleep so Mom can too.

Create your family’s characters

When my oldest son was potty training, he was afraid to use the real toilet. I took a cue from Schipol airport and stuck a fly decal in the toilet bowl. Soon the fly had a name and even acquired a friend. Zippy and Twirly starred in family stories for years. Recurring characters appeal to kids and give you a go-to story foundation.

Pass on family stories

Hold the magical blueberries and talking insects, some of the best stories are ones from your own family history. Research shows that hearing family stories builds empathy, contributes to positive identity formation, and can even reduce the risks of anxiety and depression.

Play it up

Like many things in parenting, turning storytelling into a game is always a reliable move. Open a magazine in the doctor’s waiting room and tell each other stories inspired by the photos. Resurrect the classic tag-team game of telling alternating sentences.

A family campfire always works to get everyone’s narrative juices flowing, whether it’s an actual backyard s’more-making affair or a rainy afternoon on the couch with a crackling fire playing on your flat screen. (Need more ideas? Check out “Show Me a Story: 40 Craft Projects and Activities to Spark Children’s Storytelling” by Emily Neuburger.)

Storytelling brings out the best of what it is to be human – creativity, intellect, emotion, and connection. Find a listener and go tell your story.

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