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Smart Parenting

Practical advice about raising children

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It’s amazing how a 2-year old can be handed a gadget and just know how to use it, similar to how a kid knows how to use a feeding bottle. Action figures, puzzles and blocks are no longer the standard toys among today’s children. Research by child-education specialists at the Michael Cohen Group revealed that touch screens have taken over all other forms of playful delight for kids. Sixty percent of parents with kids under the age of 12 reported that their child plays on a portable screen often, while 38 percent apparently play very often. It’s interesting to note that 36 percent of these kids have their own device.

On the average, research by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that children are spending seven and a half hours staring at a screen. Compare these results to a global survey of preschool-aged kids by the Nature Conservancy, which showed that preschoolers around the world spend an hour and a half a day (12 hours a week) on a playground or outdoors. It should be no surprise, then, that when a kid turns seven, traditional play is over.

The advantages of traditional play range from physical to mental and emotional. In addition, the disadvantages are equally enormous, and the effects stay with the child as he or she reaches adulthood. So before handing your kid a gadget just to shut him up, learn about the long-term effects modern gadgets can have on a kid’s brain as well as their overall development.

Kids And Gadgets 

Not Good For the Brain

Even before kids can utter their first words, kids’ brains are tripling in size—a lot of learning happens before the age of five. Researchers at the University of Washington reveal that modern gadgets are not necessary in child development—children can thrive on being talked to and read to. In fact, kids need one-on-one time with their parents, not gadgets. Additionally, overexposure to gadgets has been linked to attention deficit, cognitive delays and impaired learning.

Language Delay for Toddlers

There is no such thing as educational TV for kids under 2 years old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). There are presumptions that screen time can be educational, but the AAP says that toddlers under the age of two do not have the cognitive ability to comprehend such programs. What it actually does is interfere with “talk time” between the parent and the child, which results in delayed language skills. Parents should be reminded of this because, aside from TV, a survey commissioned by Common Sense Media revealed that 38 percent of kids under 2 years old have used gadgets such as a smartphone or tablet even before they could talk or walk.

Less Active Play Equals Delayed Development

Kids under the age of 12 spend more time in front of a screen rather than playing outdoors. This restriction in movement results in delayed development. John Ratey, a doctor at Harvard, explained in his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, that the advantages of playing are not limited to being physically fit and socially comfortable. Even 10 minutes of physical activity changes the way the brain functions. In addition, exercise normally makes people feel better because it “builds and conditions the brain.”

Not Good for Bedtime

The late-night glow of laptops and mobile phones are depriving children a good night sleep. Research at the Kaiser Foundation found that 60 percent of parents don’t supervise their children’s gadget usage, and 75 percent of kids are allowed to use technology in their bedrooms. This results in 75 percent of sleep-deprived children, between the ages of 9 and 10, according to researchers from Boston College.

Not Good for School

Being sleep-deprived doesn’t only affect child development but also their performance in school. Researchers from Boston College found that students from developing countries in Asia scored better in math, science and reading than students from the U.S. and other big world economies whose children are overexposed to technology.

Terrible Child Aggression

A study by the National Institutes of Health found that the increase in use of modern technology can break the old boundaries of family, values, behavior and children’s well-being. Some games available in the internet portray sex, murder, torture and mutilation, which can make kids violent and aggressive. On the other hand, playing outdoors (for example, in a traditional playground) has proven to help children be more sociable and generally calmer.

Kids Suffer Mental Illness

The PEACH project, a study of more than 1,000 children between the ages of 10 and 11, found that children who spend longer than two hours in front of a screen or another entertainment medium are more likely to suffer psychological difficulties. These can include child depression, anxiety, attention deficit and problematic child behavior. On the other hand, children who experience more moderate physical activity fared better in emotional categories and were better able to solve peer problems. This shows that active play makes kids healthier not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.

Gadgets Cause Tantrums

Do you know what an “iPaddy” means? It’s a term coined for kids throwing a tantrum when their electronic devices are taken away from them. A study commissioned by online retailer Pixmania revealed that eight out of 10 parents who have children ages 14 and under said they confiscate gadgets as a form of punishment. Because kids have grown attached to them, kids throw tantrums. If you don’t want to be like these parents, re-assess the extent you allow your kids to regularly use technology before they get too attached to them.

There is no stopping the wave of technology. Parents cannot tell their kids to live without them because they will surely need it as they grow older. However, a parent must be aware of the advantages and disadvantages behind them. When supervised and regulated, gadgets can aid in development at the right age, but too much use of technology (and too early) will only delay a child’s learning abilities and put a strain on his psychological health.

Aby League HeadshotAby League is a medical practitioner and an Elite Daily writer. She also writes about business and other topics of great interest. She also writes a blog, About Possibilities. Follow her @abyleague and circle her on Google+.  


In our society, home birth is often considered to be countercultural and rare, yet a small but slowly growing number of women are choosing to give birth to their babies at home.  Why, in a land of advanced technology and hospitals, would a woman make this choice? If you’ve been toying with the idea for your first or next child, but haven’t quite made the decision yet, take a look at these five benefits of home birth.

Home Birth
1 1/2 year old Regina kisses her new sister. Photo by Daniel Penny

5 Benefits of Home Birth

Safety. Although the advanced technology found in hospitals saves lives in emergency situations, that same technology can pose grave risks. After all, birth is not an emergency; it’s a natural and normal process. Pitocin, for example, which is frequently administered to begin or speed up labor can cause longer, more intense contractions, often resulting in fetal distress and a C-section—a major surgery which brings risks of its own including infection for the mother, difficulty breathing for the infant and high-risk birth for future pregnancies. Statistics confirm the risks of technology: In Sweden, where home birth is common, there were only 4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010, while the United States reported 21; the infant mortality for Sweden was also lower. Low-risk mothers—who desire to avoid the potential risks associated with technology—may feel safer at home and understandably so.

Comfort. Much of the pain of labor and birth is caused by tension. The stress of being in an unfamiliar environment, surrounded by strangers and machines, with nothing to think about but the progress of your labor can bring on enough stress to greatly increase your pain or stop labor altogether—which is what the body does if you produce enough adrenaline. Wouldn’t it be better to relax in your own hot tub or easy chair; read your favorite books; or do some light chores in your own kitchen to keep your mind distracted and your body relaxed?

Control. Hospitals may claim that they are up-to-date with all the latest trends in natural childbirth, but often when the time comes, so do the excuses. Laboring mothers are told to lie on their backs for a good part of every hour so the nurse can get the fetal heart rate—even though a midwife can get the same data while the mother stands or sits in a matter of minutes using a fetoscope! Discomfort due to your position, alas, often leads to an epidural, which can slow labor and require pitocin—haven’t we been here before?

Most hospital births occur with the mother lying flat on her back with her feet up. In 2004, the Journal of Perinatal Education noted that other positions actually allow more blood to flow to the uterus, resulting in less pain for the mother, more regular heart rate for the baby and shorter births. Take control in this enormously life-changing, life-giving, sublime moment of life by choosing to labor and birth in the position that is right for your body and your baby—doing so at home will give you tremendously better odds of doing that.

Relaxed recovery. Recovery is simply so much nicer when you’re in familiar, comfortable surroundings, assuming of course you have another adult with you all the time for the first few days— your spouse, a close friend or relative—someone who loves you and will take care of you and the household as long as you need. You can also eat continue to follow the diet you normally do, and intend to raise your baby on—no high-fructose corn syrup, MSG, gluten or whatever you prefer.

Family meets baby
The children meet their newest sister. Photo by Daniel Penny

Your family. If you have other children, staying at a hospital for a few days can be lonely for everyone. Visits aren’t the same and they put stress on your husband, who wants to spend time with you, but has to shuttle the kids back and forth. Many husbands feel torn between caring for other children and supporting their wives through the often frustrating challenges of breastfeeding and any unexpected issues that can occur with a newborn. Again, if you have other children, a home birth will only work smoothly if there is someone you trust watching the children during the birth so your husband can focus on you. You will not have a relaxed birth or a restful recovery if you’re worried about your children.

Getting Your Husband On-Board

Dad at home birth
2 1/2 year old Boethius kisses his new sister. Photo by Agnes Penny

Your husband is experiencing the enormous stress of supporting you through one of the biggest moments of your lives. However, during a home birth the father, like the mother, is in a comfortable environment. Typically, he is given small, easy-to-complete tasks that actually help such as filling the hot tub or brewing some tea. Alternately, if labor slows and you take a nap, he can work on other projects, do household chores done or watch television.  A comfortable, relaxed setting is almost as important for the father, as it is for the mother. Many husbands don’t immediately appreciate the choice, but explaining these seemingly unimportant things may help to convince him. The actual experience of a home birth will likely be enough to change their mind.

Home birth is not for everyone. High-risk mothers will birth more safely in a birth center or hospital. Having a midwife attend you there may enable you to avoid unnecessary technological measures and unproductive positions without running the risk of birthing too far from emergency treatment. In addition, for a home birth you must find a competent midwife with the prerequisite training and experience—a professional whom you trust to recognize potential emergencies, as well as someone who listens and respects your choices. Most importantly, you must feel confident about having a home birth. If you’re unsure of this decision, you won’t be relaxed. However, being nervous about making such a decision is perfectly normal.

Giving birth is such a mysterious, miraculous and defining moment of our lives. Whether or not we feel in control of our bodies and satisfied with our experience may powerfully affect how we feel about our femininity, motherhood and future births. Such a profound, life-changing event demands a very special place: a place of peace, comfort, safety and love. And this is why more and more women are choosing to birth at home.

Agnes PennyAgnes Penny is the mother of nine children, six born at hospitals and three born at home.  She is also the author of three spiritual books for mothers, Your Labor of Love for expectant mothers, Your Vocation of Love for all mothers, and Your School of Love for homeschooling mothers, all available from TAN Books. She lives in Whitehall, Pennsylvania.


I have read—even written—about how I would rather be making memories then doing dishes, laundry or any other housekeeping task. But you can’t ignore it. If you are a stay-at-home mom, you are captive to the mess 24 by 7; and if you’re a working mom, the last thing you want to see when you leave your neat and clean workplace is a horrific wreck at home.

Thankfully, there’s a way to maintain balance. We don’t live in perfect-looking homes, especially if we also live with kids (confession, my house pre-kids was still not perfect). But that doesn’t mean we should tackle 100 percent of the chores, burning all of our “free” time fanatically cleaning the house because we believe the waking hours of our kids’ existence should only be filled with educational/precious/memorable moments.

Over the past few years I’ve found a few tricks that combine spending quality time with my kids and cleaning house. I’m getting things done and making educational/precious/memorable moments with my kids, age 6 and younger. Here are 11 ways you can effectively follow in my footsteps! Cleaning with your kids can be a lot of fun!

Cleaning With Kids 

1. Use safe, eco-friendly cleaning supplies.

Kids adore spray bottles! I use products from Melaleuca, a membership wellness company that sells decently priced, good-quality, low- to no-chemical products, and Norwax cloths because they work like magic on dirty walls with just water.

2. Manage your time.

You know that sometimes you will make a HUGE mess cleaning. For example, emptying your entire fridge onto the counter(s) and scrubbing it up. Know that your kids WILL lose interest if the task takes longer than 10 minutes. Instead of doing a whole job “right,” just finish small portions at a time For example, clean off one shelf or five things from the top of your cabinets. It isn’t as satisfying, but it’s a lot better than abandoning a job right at the peak of a mess.

3. Bribes Incentives.

I’ve used a variety, including races, sweet tooth prizes (for example, giving them a chocolate chip for every two dishes they bring me) and Mom Tickets. My Mom Tickets work wonders. They’re a commerce system where I make a list of rewards they can earn with tickets, but, they really love just getting the ticket.

4. Know what each kid can do.

You know them best. Are they good at bringing things to other rooms? Use them as a runner. Are they great at doing just what you say they’ll do? Be directive in a task. Breaking out what they can do in a task that you need done might not save you time, but at least you’ll be doing it together.

Swiffer Sweeper 

5. Find or modify cleaning tools to fit your kids.

Try modifying your Swiffer sweeper so that it’s kid-size: Unscrew the middle sections and then screw the handle directly to the base.

6. Five minute blitz.

Inspired by all the cleaning sites I’ve read, but can’t actually do because of the constant presence of my children, the five minute blitz work for us. Before we do something fun that they want, we clean one or two rooms for five minutes each. Based on tip four, I rapidly fire instructions and the room looks better after just five minutes of attention.

7. Include them in decisions.

Give them the choice of what room to start with. Ask them to pick whether they want to use the green or blue cloth. When the answer doesn’t really matter, just let them pick and compliment them all the way.

8. Use kid-friendly words.

“Sparkle.” “Shiny.” “Beautiful.” They’re probably not words you would usually use when cleaning, but saying something like “Let’s make the bathroom beautiful” sounds more exciting to your kids. If you can bring in the TV hero of the moment into the “game,” go for it.

9. Make what you are doing look enticing.

My kids think mopping is the epitome of fun. They’re not great at it, but I can set them in an area to happily mop while I do the rest of the work. Smile while you are cleaning and it will at least look fun.

Silverware Drawer 

10. Save jobs for them that they like.

Not exactly the same as having chores because I don’t really believe kids under 8 have the follow-through skills to remember to do something regularly. But, for example, I save the silverware basket for my 2.5 year old. It keeps her busy while I do other things in the kitchen AND I didn’t use my time on a task that she actually likes to do. She calls it her “special job” and is very proud to sort out the utensils. (I take out the knives first.)

11. Manage expectations.

So many ladies I know would rather do everything themselves because other people don’t do it right. Trust me—I often feel that way, too. But the fact that your kids want to help is something that should be encouraged. If they get bored dusting half way through the task, that’s still half of a job that you didn’t have to do.

I know it’s tempting to let your kids play outside or watch TV just so you can get things done. But keeping them with you while you do bits and pieces of housework not only teaches them how to clean, but you can also keep an eye on them. There’s no perfect system, but hopefully these tips will inspire you to get your little ones in the habit of cleaning with you rather than seeing them as an obstacle to be planned around. 

Kate LuthnerKate Luthner is a mother of three little girls. Transplanted from New York to Minnesota, Kate began to blog about life to keep up with her family at home. Her blog, Katy Stuff is updated most every day with posts ranging from DIY projects to updates on her children, as well as an occasional book review or opinion piece about world news. Kate’s philosophy? If you can make it, don’t buy it!


Rapidly growing in popularity, homeschooling is coming to be seen as a more holistic approach to education for many reasons.  In addition, homeschooling is a perfect fit for families unafraid to question the “experts” and take charge of their own well-being and their future.

Photo by Fotolia

Benefits of Homeschooling

Studies show that children learn better in an atmosphere where they feel comfortable and when they have a teacher with whom they have a personal relationship.  Clearly, learning at home from a loving parent fits the bill. Every child learns at an individual pace, and homeschoolers can slow down or speed up as needed, avoiding both confusion and boredom.  Just as there is no magic age for learning to roll over, stand up, or walk, there is no magic age to learn to read, add or multiply; however, conventional schools usually demand children learn these things at the same age or assign labels to the children that may negatively affect their self-esteem for life.  But children who are forced to learn to read before they are ready often struggle with reading for years and may never really learn to enjoy reading, while children who learn at an older age usually catch up to the reading level of their peers within a few months.  Since reading promotes abstract thinking, imagination, improved writing and communications skills, expanded vocabulary, and learning about an endless array of topics, a child who loves to read has a powerful advantage.

Individual instruction takes a fraction of the time that classroom education does, leaving children time for free play, a much-neglected, but necessary element in healthy childhood development, as children learn more from activities they initiate.  Homeschooled children also have more time for crafts, hobbies, chores, and community activities, all of which build confidence, impart new skills, and prepares them for living in and contributing to the real world as adults.  Gardening, carpentry, baking, apprenticeships, political campaigning, musical or artistic development, and volunteering at their church or other local charity, and even starting their own business are among the many types of activities that homeschoolers are participating in every day.  Obviously, experiences of this nature will tend to form mature, responsible, and enthusiastic youngsters and citizens who are used to contributing to their communities.

Homeschoolers can individualize lessons according to the interests and needs of each child, since children learn better if they are interested in the subject or if they can see how it relates to real life.  Further, if a book or program is not working well for a child, homeschoolers have the option of choosing another book or program better-suited to the child’s learning style or interests—something a teacher of twenty or thirty children in a traditional classroom simply can’t do!

Most importantly, homeschooling teaches families not to blindly trust the experts but to take charge of their own lives, not only in education but in other areas, too.  Once a family has made the commitment to educate their children at home, they become increasingly open to beginning other activities at home.  More and more homeschoolers are starting to grow their own food, raise chickens or bees, make their own soaps or candles, bake from scratch, and use herbs, essential oils and other natural remedies for minor pains and illnesses.  Sometimes homeschoolers start doing these kinds of activities for educational purposes, for example, an interest in gardening or candlemaking might begin as hands-on science class. Other times the tight budget necessitated by having only one parent working outside the home might lead a family to learn to make their own toothpastes, shampoos, or detergents.  However, the experience of homeschooling, which involves the daily experience of how holistic learning surpasses conventional, one-size-fits-all classroom education, easily leads a family to consider what other endeavors they could successfully take on.  In particular, taking charge of one’s health goes well with homeschooling because both foster an individualized, holistic approach, and, of course, learning how to help the body heal itself is educational for the whole family!

Unfortunately homeschooling intimidates many families who imagine it requires a lot of money, academic prowess, or superior organizational skills.  Don’t worry.  In 2009, a study by the National Home Education Research Institute found that homeschoolers consistently outperform conventionally schooled students on standardized tests, regardless of the level of their parents’ education or their income bracket or the style of homeschooling.

Homeschooling Styles

Those interested in homeschooling can investigate different homeschooling styles to find one with which they feel comfortable. The options below are a few of the most popular styles, but there are many more.

Charlotte Mason style homeschooling. This involves using living books that engage the child’s interest, rather than textbooks, as well as limiting paperwork to the mornings and substituting nature walks, complete with nature notebooks for sketches and notes, in the afternoons.

Unschooling. Also called child-led education, where children initiate their own learning experiences, an approach first made famous by educator John Holt, who believed in children’s ability to learn what they need to learn; just as a child learns to walk and talk with the help, but without formal teaching, by the parents, so also children can teach themselves to read, write and do math with minimal help.

Relaxed homeschooling. In this style, parents provide parameters but allow children a certain amount of choice regarding books, educational games and activities and try to individualize lessons according to each child’s interests and needs.

Unit studies. The homeschooling family chooses one particular topic and applies it to all subjects; for example, a child interested in baseball could study how baseball affected history and vice versa, do math using baseball statistics, read and analyze literature about baseball, and study the science of different types of pitches, etc.

In reality, homeschooling is just an extension of parenthood, not the adoption of the new role as teacher.  You don’t need a lot of expensive textbooks, elaborate science kits, academic brilliance, advanced degrees, or a perfectly organized house.  All you need is determination and love.

Agnes PennyAgnes M. Penny homeschools her nine children in Whitehall, PA.  Her newest book, Your School of Love: A Spiritual Companion for Homeschooling Mothers, is available from TAN Books, as are her other two books, Your Labor of Love for expectant mothers and Your Vocation of Love for all mothers.


When the temperatures drop, getting kids outside and connected to the natural world can be a hard sell. But making up fun activities and getting creative helps keep kids in touch with the natural world all year.

Outdoor Winter Activities

1. Make Ice Sculptures

Many children are more excited to wander around in the cold if there is a specific project to complete. Encourage children to gather natural materials to put inside of an ice sculpture. Collect leaves, pine cones, acorns, twigs, pine needles and other materials and then place them inside a plastic container or ice cube tray with a string hanging out. Fill the container with water and put it outside or in the freezer. Once frozen, use the string to hang up the sculpture. On warmer days, children enjoy watching their projects melt.

2. Read Books About the Natural World

Many children enjoy books about nature that are incorporated into stories or poetically presented. Some of our favorites are The Snowflake by Neil Waldman, Wild Fox by Cherie Mason and Dory Story by Jerry Pallotta.

3. Look Around for Signs of Animals

The animal world changes dramatically once winter hits. Walk around outside looking for signs from animals, such as footprints, opened nuts or animal homes. Reading a book beforehand to teach children what to look for may be helpful. Good children's titles include Animals in Winter by Henrietta Bancroft and What do Animals do in Winter by Melvin and Gilda Berger, or even Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich for adults.

4. Feed the Birds

Winter can be a difficult time for birds, as days get shorter and food sources are covered in snow. There are lots of fun kids' projects for feeding our feathered friends, including orange feeders and suet balls with seeds (or a vegetarian version).

5. Invent Winter Games

My children enjoy playing "ice hockey" with sticks, stones,and found objects on a patch of ice. Constructing winter fairy homes with icicles, mini snow forts, rocks and bright berries can engross children for a long time. When it is really cold, bring found natural objects inside to create a fairy craft.

Sarah Lozanova is a mother of two, a holistic parenting coach, and a freelance environmental writer. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and has an MBA in sustainable development.


Getting kids outdoors can sometimes prove challenging. Kathryn Bluher emphasized in her Seattle Children’s article, “8 Activities to Get Kids Outdoors in Cold Weather,” nearly half of American preschoolers haven’t experienced parent-supervised outdoor play each day. This data was obtained from a study conducted by Pooja Tandon, a pediatritician and childhood-health researcher, which also found that 15 percent of mothers and 30 of percent fathers in the U.S. don’t take their children outside to walk or play even a few times per week.

Tandon also stated that outdoor activities provide children the physical and motor development they need. Additionally, these activities improve kids’ vitamin D levels and mental health.

Getting Kids Outdoors

How do you get your kids to appreciate nature? How do you convince them that outdoor play can be fun and enjoyable while ensuring their safety? Help your kids live a healthier life while keeping them happy. Entice them with these innovative outdoor activities for kids—they won’t be able to resist!

1. Cramp Together like "Sardines"

How To Play Sardines
Photo courtesy Andrea Macken, via Pinterest

Tweak the classic hide-and-seek by playing a game called sardines. Here’s how to play sardines: In this game, only one child hides, while the other kids wait for 25 minutes before searching for the hider. As each searcher finds the hider, he crawls quietly to the hider’s hiding place. Searchers need to be careful not to let other searchers find their hiding spot. The searchers and the hider eventually cramp together in the tiny hiding space, like “sardines.” At some point in time, the players won’t be able to contain their giggles, while they crowd a restricted space for hiding. This is what makes the game fun for your children!

Ensure kids safety by playing the game in a wide outdoor space, like a local park or your backyard. A wide space will give your kids more place to move about, and play the hide-and-seek counterpart. Plus, playing this game will let your kids appreciate the creative purpose of nature. But don’t forget to supervise your kids while playing to enhance their security outdoors.

2. Collect Rain in an Ice Cream Tub

Collect Rain
Photo courtesy Lalita Krish, via Pinterest

According to, kids who play both cautiously and creatively are those that have clean and lasting fun. Don’t hesitate to take play ideas for kids to the next level. Play with your children in the rain outside. Have fun gathering rain in an empty ice cream tub.

Expand your kids’ storehouse of knowledge. Weigh the tub with them after it has collected rain in your backyard for an hour. The additional knowledge kids will gain from this activity will help them complete schoolwork better or finish a life task in general.

3. Demolish a Big Leaf Pile

Train your little ones to achieve stronger body stamina. Guide them to rake up a big leaf pile, then let them demolish it afterward. Raking leaves will give kids the physical exercise their body needs. Heavy stuff may overwhelm your little ones, so be sure to assist your kids in using the rake to avoid injuries and accidents. Allow children to get carried away with their imagination. Let them ingeniously reconstruct the leaf pile into something their hearts desire.

4. Tummy Time Activities

Tummy Time Activities
Photo courtesy Debbie Fischer, via Pinterest

Secure your children’s playground safety by letting them observe their outdoor surroundings closely. Take a break from playing in seesaws and swings with your kids. Lie down on the grass with them on your tummies. You may observe the playground environment, review safety play measures together, or use your imagination and come up with stories while lying down comfortably.

Make sure to keep your playground safe by letting your young ones demonstrate their learning gained from Tummy Time moments before they resume playing in your backyard.

5. Build Your Own Carnival

Build Your Own Carnival
Photo courtesy Cynthia Ramirez, via Pinterest

A backyard carnival compliments your kids’ fun outdoor activities. Use cardboard, poster board, construction paper and bean bags to build your own carnival. Construct a ticket booth, balloon dart board and photo booth backdrop in your playground. Make believe you’re in a miniature carnival. Give yourself a pat on the back for making it look realistic.

6. Tracking Animals Helps Kids Learn to Pay Attention

Tracking Animals
Photo courtesy Suchil Coffman-Guerra, via Pinterest

Think about helpful activities to get your kids to play outside. Sharpen your children’s attention and memory by going on an outdoor tracking activity. Wild animals, such as cottontail rabbits, white-tailed deer, red fox and fox squirrel, may be hard to spot, but the footprint marks they leave in the mud can guide you to the direction they pass through. Ask your children informational questions afterward, such as what was the animal doing? Why did it stop at a particular area? And where has the animal gone now?

Exert additional efforts in supervising your children during the trip. Getting too close to wild animals poses enormous threats to your kids’ safety.

Explain the benefits of outdoor activities to your kids in detail. Let them experience extraordinary moments outdoors to help them become physically fit and active.

Aby LeagueAby League is a medical practitioner and an Elite Daily writer. She also writes about business and other topics of great interest. Follow her @abyleague and circle her on Google+.



With summer vacation right around the corner, long, sun-filled days are fast-approaching. What better way to spend them than at the beach? Whether you live near the coast, or are planning a seaside family getaway, a trip to the beach with kids is a lot more fun when you’re prepared. Yes, sand toys and sunscreen are a must. And be sure to tote plenty of snacks and drinks too. But as a seasoned beach mama, take my word for it that having a couple of planned activities—beyond the basic wave-riding and sand sculpting—is a good idea. When your little ones get too sandy, too hot, or generally disagreeable for whatever reason, pull out one of these creative ideas to reset the mood!

Beach Fun

Beach Fun: Sea Life Touch Tanks

For many summers now, my girls have enjoyed weekly visits to a small strip of shore we call Shell Beach. We gather with friends and the kids spread out, spending the day shaping the powder fine sand, riding the Gulf waves, scaling snail-covered rocks, and climbing low-hanging sea grape trees. The one activity they all adore, however, is creating “touch tanks”—portable containers filled with sea water and found sea creatures. Armed with nets, shovels, buckets, and curiosity, the kids seek and discover all variety of sea life: crabs, non-stinging jellyfish, small fish, sea urchins, sea snails, coquinas, sand fleas, whelks, and more! Once captured, the critters are corralled into buckets and bowls where they can be touched, examined, and observed. The touch tanks are added to all-day long, and then the creatures are gently returned to their habitats, unharmed.

Touch Tanks

Try It!

• Bring along a few buckets and portable containers, and some nets and beach shovels, when you visit the shore.

• Help your kids to search the different natural habitats of your beach to discover the varying sea life they house. Look in the water, around rocks, along the shoreline, and in the sand. Take a walk and see what you can discover in different areas. (Consider visiting the beach at different times of the day to see what different critters can be found.)

• Gently place found critters into buckets or containers filled with water or sand, depending on the creature. Now is your chance to examine them up-close. If it’s safe, encourage kids to carefully touch and explore!

• If you like, bring along field guides to help you identify the species you collect.

• Keep adding, or cycling, finds to the touch tanks all day long. Remember to always return your critters to where they came from.

Beach Fun: Art, En Plein Air

Sometimes an entire day (or weekend, or week) of sun, sea, and sand can be overwhelming for kids.  I’ve found we can extend the length of our beach trips if I plan a quiet activity that can be done on a blanket, in the shade of a tree or beach umbrella. In comes beach art en plein air—a French expression which means “in the open air.” Typically used to describe painting outdoors, plein air art for us includes various types of mixed media, including crayons, markers, colored pencils, and tape/glue, as well as paint. No worries if the kids get messy—they can wash up in the ocean!

Beach Art

Try It!

• Pack a tote bag of art supplies. Include simple, portable materials such as sketchpads, watercolor paint trays, a few paintbrushes, markers, crayons, tape and glue, colored pencils, and a cup for water.

• Try landscape pictures: Suggest kids paint, or draw, the landscape as they see it. Have them first divide their paper into thirds with one-part sky, one-part water, and one-part shore (they don’t need to be equal parts). Next, encourage them to add details they observe, such as clouds, birds, boats, people, palm trees, rocks, and so on.

• Get creative: There are many creative ideas you can do for on-location art at the beach. Try making a leaf rubbing of a seaside plant or tree (place the leaf vein-side up under a sheet of paper, then rub over the paper with the side of a crayon and watch the image appear). Or try taping or gluing found objects (feathers, shells, seaweed, sand) onto paper to create a mixed media collage.

• Create sea-watercolor paintings: Bring along a squirt bottle and a couple of plastic straws (never leave these behind as they could harm wildlife). Fill your squirt bottle and a small container with sea water. Use the collected water when painting to create sea-watercolor paintings. Use the spray bottle to spritz paintings—watch how the colors bleed together and create new designs. Use the straws to pick up drops of sea water and drip them onto paper saturated with color. What happens if you sprinkle the pictures with sand? What happens when the paintings dry—does the salty water create any special effects?

Photos by Elizabeth Sniegocki

For more creative ideas to keep kids active and engaged in the natural world this summer, check out the 8-week, At-Home Summer Nature Camp eGuide at A Natural Nester. It’s packed with a summer-full of kid-friendly lessons, outdoor activities, indoor projects, arts & crafts, recipes, field trip ideas, book & media suggestions, and more.

Elizabeth SniegockiElizabeth Sniegocki is a writer, naturalist, suburban homesteader and mother in Sarasota, Florida. She writes on seasonal and sustainable living, wholesome cooking, community building, conscious parenting and more for various print and online publications. Elizabeth also offers self-paced eCourses and family eGuides to help others create a natural and mindful environment around them, and within. Learn more about her work at Natural Nester.

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