June 27, 2007

Rediscovering the Outdoors with Your Kids Starts in Your Own Backyard



(ARA) – With school almost out, summer is the perfect time to rediscover the outdoors. Experiencing nature’s wonders firsthand — admiring a garter snake slithering in the grass, planting flowers in the yard or devouring strawberries picked fresh from the garden — can prove as captivating as anything on the TV or video-game screen. So begin today to get your kids to celebrate and capture summer outside with our living planet.

Parents searching for inspiration don’t have to look far to identify great outdoor activities that are nearby, easy and fun. And the benefits are enormous, studies reveal. More-active kids do better academically. They score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline. They show better coordination, balance and agility, and they’re sick less often. They are less likely to bully, be violent and to vandalize. And they are more likely to develop their imagination and the sense of wonder.

“Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it,” contends award-winning journalist and child advocate Richard Louv, whose book Last Child in the Woods coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” and also triggered a nationwide “No Child Left Indoors” movement. “In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace.”

Not as many children today are discovering the outdoors. In a typical week, only six percent of children ages 9 to 13 play outside on their own, while a typical child in the U.S. watches more than three hours of television daily. The decline in outdoor adventuring is cited as one reason why the obesity rate has more than tripled the past three decades, to 17 percent from 5 percent, for children ages 12 to 19.

But getting your kids off the couch and out into the neighborhood for memorable adventures is easy and enjoyable. “We realize it can be a challenge for parents to identify outdoor activities that kids will consider fun,” says Jennifer Hanley, outdoor living and gardening expert at The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company. That very premise inspired the National Gardening Association — in conjunction with ScottsMiracle-Gro – to feature guides to creative, outdoor activities on www.kidsgardening.org. The site offers a wealth of ideas on how to get kids outside and in tune with their natural surroundings this summer.

Hanley’s nature and garden-related suggestions include a stroll around the yard or the neighborhood park to introduce children to the six basic parts of plants and their functions;  planting perennials that live and bloom year after year; and designating a day for immersing children in nature — without TV, computers and video games.

Whenever a child laments, “I’m bored, there’s nothing to do,” recommend any of these options and add enthusiastically that you will be glad to join in the adventure:

* Starting a learning garden in the backyard or neighborhood plot. This helps kids learn about taking care of plants (and the animals drawn to the plants) and respecting the environment and nearby nature. Your kids can take photos of the garden as it grows and produces whatever they’ve planted.
* Bird watching and identifying trees and plants that appear in the yard. These activities often entice older kids, especially if they understand that a periodic bird or plant census helps detect any significant shifts in their populations.
* Recording sight, hearing, smell and touch observations on walks in your neighborhood, which helps kids hone their sensory-observation skills. They can log the information they gather using a scientific approach and even make drawings to chronicle their observations.

Janet Fouts, a West Virginia environmentalist, invented nature games with her daughter, Julia.  In one game called “The Sound of a Creature Not Stirring,” they would listen for sounds they couldn’t hear — an apple ripening, dew on the grass, an earthworm moving through the soil, and a spider weaving its web, among others. Fouts maintains that this attention to nature’s details helped in her daughter’s speech development, writing, artwork and keen attention to detail.

By making outdoor activity fun, parents play an integral role in helping children appreciate the beauty of nature in their surrounding areas and understand the importance of being environmental stewards, starting in their own backyard.  

Courtesy of ARAcontent

June 21, 2007

Life, an Empty Mayonnaise Jar and 2 Cups of Coffee

Got this incredible piece forwarded to me by email. Not sure who the author is, but the story just struck a chord somewhere deep inside. A must read…

When things in your lives seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous “yes.”

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things–your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else—the small stuff. “If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first—the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked.

It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

So go on and pour out all the contents of your jar, re-fill it the right way this time around – and yeah, don’t forget to have a wonderful life!

– Ravi Jayagopal
What is Ventriloquism? Click here for some amazingly funny videos

June 16, 2007

Dad’s New Favorite Pastime: Digital Pictures

(ARA) – Face it: Dads and technological gadgetry go together like barbecues and the month of June. And, when you add digital photos to the mix, the fit’s an even better one.

Just ask Derek Whiteside, a 33 year-old father of two daughters, Alice, who just turned two, and six-month old Helen. An entrepreneur at heart, Whiteside spent the last five years establishing and managing a boutique beer and wine shop that he recently sold.

So, as he ponders his next business adventure — likely something service oriented he says — in addition to caring for two young daughters, he fills his time by using his PC to enjoy all kinds of entertainment, especially digital photography.

I have a sassy new computer in the living room,” Whiteside says proudly.

But in the Whiteside household, the PC does way more than serve as a gateway to the Internet and a repository for spreadsheets and other documents: powered by Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows Vista, Whiteside’s computer is his family’s photography nerve center.

Using a Canon Powershot digital camera, Whiteside has rendered the shoeboxes full of photos stacked on closet shelves as relevant as the rotary telephone. “We’ve been comfortable with digital photography since before the girls were born,” he says. Drawing on Windows Vista, he uses the PC to organize photos in several ways — by the month they were taken, for example, or by subject matter – and shares photos with family and friends across the nation via email. One of Whiteside’s more noteworthy recipients of his photographs is his 87 year-old grandmother, who recently bought a computer.

Whiteside also enjoys the ability to edit his photos instantly, resizing, for example, and eliminating red-eye shots.

“One of the great things about Windows Vista is that it has functionality for photography, music and home theater built into the system,” Whiteside says. “Having an operating system that can do those kinds of things easily is very nice.”

And, he adds, the entire operation is integrated into the living room. “There are no wires showing,” he says. “It looks pretty. It has a lot of polish.”

Finally, Whiteside is wading into the world of video chatting, following the lead of his sister-in-law’s family. “They’re into it,” he says. “It’s a really fun thing to do and only requires a Web cam, which is pretty affordable. It’s sort of like the Jetsons.”

For more information on Microsoft Windows Vista, click here

Courtesy of ARAcontent

June 8, 2007

A Hobby that Reduces Stress, Exercises Your Brain and is Fun at Any Age


(ARA) – Looking for a hobby that’s not only fun but great for your health? How about taking up music?

According to studies conducted by NAMM, the trade association of the international music products industry, playing a musical instrument can increase memory, reduce stress, lower blood pressure, build confidence and result in greater academic success. So it’s no surprise that a stunning 82 percent of Americans who don’t currently play an instrument wish they did.

“At age 5 or 85, everyone can benefit socially, mentally and physically from playing an instrument,” says Joe Lamond, president and CEO of NAMM and a life-long drummer. “It’s never too late to start, and playing an instrument is something that can last a lifetime.”

NAMM is spreading the word about the benefits of music making through its national Wanna Play? campaign, designed to inspire people to get involved in making music, whether by taking lessons or purchasing an instrument they’ve always wanted to play. And it looks like people are getting the message. More and more Americans are dusting off their old instruments or trying one out for the first time. Garage bands are no longer exclusively teen-aged rockers. They are now made up of everyone from middle-aged moms wanting to reduce stress to the elderly aiming to improve their memory through playing a musical instrument.

Even the government is behind the benefits of making music. Recently, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed House Concurrent Resolution 121, showing support for music education as part of a complete curriculum for all children. NAMM-funded research has found that 96 percent of public school principals believe that participating in music education encourages and motivates students to stay in school longer. Additionally, on the SAT Reasoning Test, students taking courses in music performance scored 57 points higher on critical reading, 58 points higher on writing and 43 points higher on mathematics than students with no arts and music participation, according to the 2006 College-Bound Seniors Annual Report.

Celebrities and public figures have also come forward in their support for NAMM’s Wanna Play? campaign and its message. Gavin DeGraw, the talented singer/songwriter/pianist/guitarist who broke onto the music scene with his hit “I Don’t Want to Be,” brings his passion for making music to people of all ages as the first ambassador of the campaign.

“You can feel the excitement and sense of possibility in everyone who picks up an instrument, whether they are my age or my dad’s age,” says DeGraw. “To play music, I don’t need any money in my pocket or anyone else around. Music has changed my life; are you ready to let it change yours?”

DeGraw is reaching out to kids and adults alike, convincing people to pursue — or perhaps revisit — their passion for playing an instrument.

You can visit www.namm.org for more information on the Wanna Play? campaign and the positive impact of music making.  

Courtesy of ARAcontent