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Kid-Friendly Ideas for Giving Back to the Community

Kid-Friendly Ideas for Giving Back to the Community

1. Find a “Giving Tree”

Throughout the holiday season, there might be “giving trees” or “wish trees” in your town building or the local mall, and they’ll be filled with tags that show children’s names and their holiday wish lists. Scout out these places or contact your local Salvation Army to learn where you can find one of these trees, and then head out with your child. Have him pick a name from the tree and shop together for the child’s wish list.

2. Go Through Toys and Clothes

Why not do your spring cleaning a bit early this year? It can be hard for children to part with toys and clothes that they’ve been using and wearing for a while…so be sure to set the activity up and discuss it beforehand. Talk with your child about less fortunate kids — some may not have toys to play with…and some probably don’t have warm clothes for the winter. Pull out some toys that your child hasn’t played with in a while and clothes that may not fit anymore. Together, choose a few items to donate to children who can use and benefit from them. Then, pack everything up, go find a clothing drop-off site, and let your child do the donating!

3. Make Cards

Does your child love to draw, decorate, or color pictures? Set aside some time to make holiday cards for children in the hospital, troops overseas, people in assisted living communities or nursing homes, and anyone else who could use an extra dose of happiness this time of the year. Then, have your child help you send them out or drop them off.

4. Donate Food

When you and your child think of the holidays, you likely think of your favorite foods that go along with them. Talk with your child about the importance of participating in a food drive for those less fortunate so that they can experience the delicious tastes of the season, too. Take a trip to the store to buy food to donate…and make it fun! If they have child-sized shopping carts, encourage your child to take the reins. Ask your child to pick a favorite holiday food to donate so that others can eat it, too, and work together to find it in the store — if it’s stuffing, grab some boxes of that; if it’s pumpkin pie, grab some cans of the filling. Once you make your purchases, have your child drop everything in the bin.

5. Deliver Goodies to Local Organizations

Whether you and your child love to bake holiday cookies or whip up endless amounts of snack mix, make extra. Decorate bags with your child, stuff them full of treats, and go around and pass them out to employees at the police and fire stations, hospital, and other local organizations that serve the community.

6. Work with Animal Shelters

Animals deserve the best, too. Contact a shelter nearby to see what they need — dog food, cat litter, bowls, etc. — and go to the pet store with your child to pick everything out. Or, call ahead to ask if you’ll be able to walk around and pass treats out to the animals. Either way, when you go to the shelter, do a lap around the kennels with your child and give the dogs and cats some love.

7. Create a Kindness Tree

Throughout the season (and even year round!), keep track of everything you and your child have done to help others by creating a kindness tree. Make a tree trunk out of cardboard or paper and cut out leaves from colored construction paper. Hang the tree trunk on the wall of the kitchen or the door to your child’s room and, on each leaf, jot down an act of kindness or activity your child does to help others. This is a great time to reflect on giving back and to talk about how it makes your child feel. Have your child hang each leaf up…and watch the tree grow.

Reference: Jeannie Krill of Bright Horizon

The 9 Best Indoor and Outdoor Summer Activities for Kids

The 9 Best Indoor and Outdoor Summer Activities for Kids

Summer is the time when kids build memories. And kids will look back at vacations, day trips, picnics and other outings with nostalgia. But that's not all they'll remember. They'll remember the bad (e.g., being bored at home, fights with siblings). And so as parents we want to help them make every day in summer something they'll want to remember.

And while these everyday summer activities may not necessarily inspire idyllic childhood memories of summer, they will happily fill those long summer days spent at home. Work-at-home parents, in particular, need ideas for enjoyable summer activities that school-age kids can do on their own.

Of course, parents also will want to add in more special activities, like vacations, summer camp or these free summer fun ideas to build those fond memories.

When you're working at home, playing outside is probably not the first activity that comes to mind. Supervising outdoor play can take time out of your workday. But kids that are cooped up inside all day only get rowdier and rowdier. Spending a little outdoor time with them can allow them to blow off some steam and nap later. When they are a little older and nap time is a thing of the past, you may be able to watch from a window while they play outside. So, work some of these 5 outdoor activities for kids into your routine.

Art, much like getting outside, can feel counterproductive to getting things done. It's messy and can use supervision. Setting up an art space — with paper, coloring books, glue, scissors, colored pencils, and crayons are all readily available — will encourage kids to make art part of their daily routine, while making it easier to clean up. But even if you have an art space, you might have to provide some inspiration in the way of ideas and easy summer craft projects.

Typically, kids get new toys during the holiday season, right in the middle of the school year when they often don't have time to play with them. By the time summer rolls around, they are forgotten or, worse, broken. But if you choose your children's toys wisely this does not have to be the case. Toys can provide lasting enjoyment all summer.

Good old-fashioned board games and cards can keep kids busy while you work. Of course, for some games, you'll need to have more than one kid in the house to play. However, there are some games for one and brainteaser games that can keep one child occupied this summer, and you'd be amazed at how many things a kid can do with a deck of cards. If your kids are old enough to play outside unattended, don't overlook outdoor fun like shooting a game of HORSE at the driveway basketball hoop or sending them out to play tag.

Reading for enjoyment every day is a great habit to teach your kids. And summer — without the fatigue of homework and school activities — is the time to instill the reading bug. Summer reading is an activity that's good for just one kid.

Join the local library summer reading club. Try wordless books for new or struggling readers. Buy comics or magazines for your kids. Setting aside a certain time every day for reading helps get kids in the habit. Join a summer reading program or start your own.

Audiobooks and podcasts are for more than just summer car trips. Listening to audiobooks promotes a love of literature while keeping kids engaged for hours, and it's easier for some kids than reading a book.

Today it is easier than ever to download books to a phone, tablet or computer, but you can still do it the old-fashioned way and bring CDs home from the library. And don't forget about podcasts, which are even easier to access than audiobooks.

Spending 15 minutes a day writing (or drawing) in a journal will give your child a head start on the old back-to-school question: What did you do on your summer vacation? Writing in a journal will not keep a child occupied for long periods while you work, but it's a good way to start the day or transition from one activity to another.

All summer long, have a jigsaw puzzle going somewhere in the house. And keep puzzle books handy. Puzzles keep kids mentally active. Some kids are more into puzzles than others. Don't expect them to spend hours working on puzzles in a day. Doing only a little bit of a large puzzle each day or completing a 100-puzzle piece puzzle all at once keeps kids from getting bored with it.

Of course, there are puzzle apps and computer games as well, but, as with all electronics, parents need to keep an eye on the clock to be sure kids don't get too much screen time.

If your child's school gives summer homework or summer reading, have your child work on it a little each day or each week. You'll both be happy it's finished at the end of summer when you're rushing around getting ready for back to school. Keep an eye on your child's progress, but don't give too much homework help. Working on it a little each day teaches your child how to manage long-term projects. The homework becomes an everyday summer activity rather than a monumental end-of-summer task. The purpose of summer homework is to keep kids' skills sharp, so waiting until the end of summer may mean re-learning forgotten skills. Make a plan for summer homework early in the summer, and stick to it.

References: Laureen Miles Brunelli and Sean Blackburn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Mental Health Benefits of Gardening

10 Mental Health Benefits of Gardening

Research has shown that spending time outside is good for our bodies and our minds. I'm sure you've experienced these benefits: After feeling stressed out or bored indoors, you step outside and your spirits lift.

One great way to spend time outdoors is to garden. My dad always had a garden when I was a kid, and now I understand more about what drew him to it. I've always enjoyed being outside and gardening, but it took on special significance for me when I was recovering from an extended illness. As I began to recover, I felt compelled to greatly expand my garden beds and the things I planted, even though I was still struggling physically and mentally.

The experience seemed to accelerate my own healing. It felt like even as I was building the garden, it was helping me come back to life. One day as I stood in the afternoon sunlight and looked with amazement at all that had grown, I felt my own strength that had returned over the same stretch of time.

This personal experience, along with numerous studies about the positive effects of time outside, made me curious to explore the many benefits of gardening. Recently I discussed this topic on the Think Act Be podcast with professional gardener Joe Lamp'l, creator of joe gardener®. Here are 10 benefits of gardening that emerged from our conversation:

1. 

Most of our suffering comes from trying to control things that we can't. The more we can accept the limits of our control and the unpredictability of life, the more peace of mind we can find—and gardening is a great way to practice. "Every day is one more reminder from Mother Nature that I'm not in control," Lamp'l said, which he finds helpful as a self-described "control freak."

I learned to practice acceptance in my own garden as the first baby lettuces were ready to harvest in mid-April. I had looked forward to spending time in the garden with my family, but when my 4- and 8-year-old daughters asked if they could help me harvest the lettuce, I was less than enthusiastic. What if they "messed up" my carefully planted garden? What if they broke off the stem instead of a leaf?

Thankfully, I managed to get over myself and welcome them into the garden even with the possibility that they could break something. I realized that a "perfect garden" could wind up being a pretty lonely place, which wasn't my idea of perfection.

Acceptance in the garden or elsewhere doesn't mean giving up, of course. We bring our best efforts to what we can control, and we let go of the rest. With gardening that means "preparing the best environment you can possibly make for your plants," said Lamp'l, and allowing nature to take it from there. Your garden (like your life) is in bigger hands than yours.

2. 

If you're prone to perfectionism, you're probably well aware of the costs. Trying to make things perfect can lead to frustration, missed deadlines and opportunities, and strained relationships. It can also lead to not even trying to do something, with a mentality of "why bother if it can't be perfect?"

Given the lack of control we have, gardening can be a good antidote for perfectionism. No matter how carefully you plan and execute your garden, there are countless factors you can't predict—invasions by bugs, inclement weather, hungry rodents. Years ago one of our neighbors had a beautiful garden growing until a neighboring resident sprayed weed killer on a windy day, damaging many of my neighbor's vegetable plants.

Gardening offers an endless supply of these kinds of "neutralizers for perfectionism," as Lamp'l called them. He confessed to being a perfectionist himself and knows firsthand that "pursuit of perfection is a waste of time—especially in the garden. So don't bother!"

3. 

The inability to garden perfectly is actually cause for celebration. Psychologist Carol Dweck developed the distinction between "fixed" and "growth" mindsets, and gardening is a great opportunity to develop the latter. With a growth mindset, we assume that we're constantly learning. When something doesn't work out the way we had hoped, we view it as a learning opportunity rather than as a "failure."

We can even look forward to our mistakes. "I love making mistakes," said Lamp'l, "because I look at them as a chance to learn something new. Through those mishaps, you can understand what happened and why, and you can be empowered to relate that learning to new things." So more mistakes just mean more learning and more growing.

I certainly make my share of gardening mistakes and find a growth mindset to be so helpful. For example, this season I experimented with a seeding method that I didn't do quite right and ended up with plants that were overcrowded and nearly impossible to disentangle when it came time to put the seedlings in the garden beds. My initial reaction was to feel stress about needing to "do it the right way," and then I realized all I had to do was the best I could do, and I would learn something for my fall planting.

4. 

Few things boost our well-being like good relationships, and gardening offers ample opportunities to connect with others. Lamp'l noted that "gardening is one of the best ways to connect strangers" and quickly become friends "because we have that gardening thing in common."

I've experienced that quick connection myself when meeting other gardeners, and there's so much to talk about—not only the nuts and bolts of gardening but the emotional and spiritual connections we can experience with our gardens. "It's a collective effort," said Lamp'l, "and we're all better together when we share our experiences."

5. 

Gardening provides a connection not just to other people but to our world. Many people feel that connection in a visceral way when they eat food they've just harvested. "We all have an innate connection to the earth," said Lamp'l, "and that connection manifests itself when we consume what came from the ground—which is where we came from and where we all end up."

Having a garden really means having a relationship with the plot of ground you're tending. Since I've gotten more into gardening I've had to be much more aware of the elements: the first and last frosts of the season, how much rain we've had, the temperature, where sunlight falls throughout the day. Gardening also connects us intimately with the cycle of the seasons.

And as Lamp'l described, it's easy to feel "like a parent" to one's growing plants. "You nurture the seedlings and do everything you can for them," he said, "and then it's like you're putting your babies in the soil"—much as we might nurture a young child who eventually heads out to meet the world. "They don't call it a 'nursery' for nothing!" Lamp'l continued. "I put a lot of care and emotion into the garden."

6. 

The Japanese expression "shinrin-yoku" can be translated as "forest bathing," which nicely captures the experience of being immersed in green. A growing body of research has found all kinds of benefits from being in natural landscapes.

These studies have found evidence that being in green, or even being able to look out on a green landscape, is linked with better recovery from surgery, less anxiety and depression, better stress management, and many other positive effects.

The nice thing about a garden is that it can be right out your back door. And while you could just as easily spend time sitting in your yard, you're much more likely to be outside consistently when the work of a garden requires it.

7. 

Mindful presence is tied to a long list of positive outcomes, like relationship satisfaction and less emotional reactivity. The garden can be a protected place where we practice being where we are and actually doing what we're doing.

Lamp'l described finding his "Zen moment" in his garden, where he tunes in to his experience. For example, while he generally loves to listen to podcasts, he doesn't when he's in the garden. "That's sacred time for me," he said. "When I'm out there weeding, I want to hear the birds. I don't want to hear anything else. It's a quiet time, and I relish it."

I often find that centering effect in my own garden. Just last night after heavy rain I sat in my garden in the dying light of the day and took in what was around me. It was striking how quickly I felt a sense of ease.

8. 

Moving your body regularly is an effective way to boost mood and lower anxiety, and gardening offers "no shortage of opportunities for physical activity," said Lamp'l. Even when he's not able to get to the gym consistently, he maintains muscle tone and feels good through daily work in his garden.

The movements are varied, too, which may mean fewer repetitive use injuries compared to more structured exercise. "When I do my weeding, I'm on my belly, on my butt, lying on my side—doing a lot of things you probably do in a yoga class," he said. "I can give up my gym membership."

9. 

Not surprisingly, time in your garden can be a great way to release stress. There's something about feeling the life all around you, the warmth of the sun, the soil in your hands. As I sit in my own garden these days I see rainbow Swiss chard and lettuces shaking in the wind, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries ripening, and feel the breeze as clouds move across the blue sky.

Just don't forget to spend time simply being in your garden. There's always the next thing to do, as Lamp'l pointed out, so take time deliberately to step away from activity and experience what's around you.

10. 

Last but not least, a garden can yield the freshest and healthiest foods available—the types of food that can have a significant impact on our mental health. For example, two studies showed that dietary changes can be an effective treatment for depression.

Studies in this area tend to find benefits of the "Mediterranean" (and similar) diet, which emphasizes consuming minimally processed whole foods—exactly the types of food that your garden will yield. Plus there's the added benefit of knowing you played a role in growing the food.

 

How to Get Started

Ready to start a garden of your own? Here are six quick tips that Lamp'l recommends for beginners.

1. Just start. Decide that you're going to get started, even though you don't know how it's going to go or even exactly what you're doing. "Try it, and so what if you fail?" asked Lamp'l. "The worst that will happen is you'll learn something. And that's worth the price of a plant, every time."

2. Start slow. Lamp'l noted that it's easy to get excited when starting out and plant too much, which ends up being hard to keep up with. As a result, you could end up feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. So get started, but don't overdo it. You can always add to your garden over time. A simple first step is to grow something in a container that you can put close to your house, so it's easy to take care of and enjoy seeing every day.  

3. Focus on healthy soil. Successful gardening starts literally from the ground up, according to Lamp'l. "Soil is life. When you focus on that, good things happen." He strongly advises gardeners to avoid synthetic chemicals and "start feeding the soil with organic material." That can include compost, the "single best thing you can add to the soil because there's so much in it," and anything else that nature provides, like shredded leaves, shredded bark, or aged manure. 

4. Grow what you like. Choose fruits and vegetables to grow based on "what you want to eat or what you like looking at," advised Lamp'l. "Grow something that's easy and that grows quickly, like a radish or lettuce." The ease and quick reward will be the motivation to stick with it. 

5. Know your plants' needs. "Learn something about the plant before you stick it in the ground," said Lamp'l. "Read the plant tag so you know if it likes sun or shade and wet or dry, and do your best to give it the environment it wants to thrive in." After all, plants can't move, so it's up to us to "put the right plant in the right place." Your plants will reward you for it. 

6. Pay attention to your plants. Spend at least a little time in your garden every day observing what's happening. That way you can "be proactive when problems arise and can circumvent potentially bigger problems," said Lamp'l. Besides, there's really no downside to spending time in your garden, given all the benefits discussed here

Reference: Seth J. Gillihan, PhD from Psychology Today