By Jenna Kruse, LSW – June 29, 2022 –

It’s no secret that there has been a great shift in the types of activities that children prefer. According to the Child Mind Institute, the average American child spends 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outside, while spending over 7 hours a day in front of a screen. These numbers are concerning and are directly correlated to the increase of mental health concerns in young students.

There are many benefits of outdoor, unstructured play for children. Unstructured time outside is said to reduce stress and is important to foster skills such as creativity, responsibility, and confidence. Outdoor play also improves physical health and overall mood. Here are several other benefits to sending your children outside for playtime.

  1. Playing outside promotes creativity. When children participate in unstructured play outside, they are challenged to create their own activities, use their surrounding resources, and interact socially with those around them.
  2. Children learn how to care for the living things in their environment. Responsibility is taught in this environment because children quickly learn that, in nature, living things do not survive if they are not tended to.
  3. Making choices helps children build confidence. Children have the power to make decisions about what activities they want to play and where.
  4. Playing outside reduces stress. Children who play outside can take a break from stressors such as homework, social media, technology, etc.
  5. Another benefit of outdoor play is a dose of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for bone and muscle health and is absorbed from sun exposure. It is important for children to spend time in the sun, as this vitamin is not as easily absorbed in large quantities through food.
  6. Children thrive in open spaces. Outdoor play promotes better physical health due to the large space for children to move, play, and explore. When children play inside, they are often more restricted. Several sources suggest children need at least one hour of physical exercise a day. To create the right environment for outdoor learning, it is important to eliminate harmful tools or hazards such as chemicals. It is important to listen to your child’s feedback and interests, plan outdoor time into your busy daily schedule, and reduce barriers for outdoor play time.

You can participate in several different outdoor activities with your child. Finding a local park with a playground, taking a walk, throwing a Frisbee, swimming at the local pool, or taking a hike are all great family activities.

It is important to note that students are more willing to play and spend time outside if they have positive role models showing them the way.

Outdoor play has many great benefits. How can you begin to reduce screen time and increase unstructured outdoor play for your child?

By Heather Miller – June 22, 2022 –

Author Jill Churchill once wrote, “There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”

Before having children, I had many ideas of what I would and would not do as a mom. I would limit screen time, offer healthy snacks, have a consistent daily schedule, and always remain calm when correcting behavior. Then I had a baby. Two years later, another baby with special needs joined our family.

I had a decision to make. I could try in vain to be a “perfect parent” knowing I would fail, or instead choose to give myself grace. As a parent, you will make mistakes. You will have tough days. Some days it may seem as if nothing went right, but the sun will rise again the next morning.

An article by HuffPost focuses on what can be learned from making mistakes. This information also gives insight into lessons children may learn when parents recognize perfection is not the goal. These lessons are summarized as the following:

  1. When someone has a bad day, move forward and make an effort to make tomorrow better. Children will learn that it is normal to have “off” days. Focusing on the present and being mindful of current circumstances is an important lesson for all ages.
  1. Perfection is not required to be loved and accepted. Family and home are intended to be safe zones. People can be their genuine selves, knowing that they’re loved unconditionally. Behavior can be corrected and positive coping skills can be retaught. However, there needs to be a separation between disliking behavior and disliking the person. It will help children feel safe to have open communication with parents. Additionally, children will learn that it is not necessary to expect perfectionism from themselves. While we want kids to try their best, attempting to be perfect often causes increased anxiety and lower self-esteem.
  1. It is okay to ask for help. Accepting support is equally as important as providing support to others. Learning to accept help from trustworthy adults teaches children how to communicate their needs. Children learn that if they are having a rough day, there is no shame in saying so. Empathy is often a focus, as learning to consider how others feel is important. It is equally as important to teach children to recognize when they need extra support.

If parents model this behavior, children will learn to give themselves and others the same type of grace. Youth First offers several programs geared at supporting parents and families. For more information, please visit our website at youthfirstinc.org.

By Brooke Skipper, LCSW – June 15, 2022 –

Most of us are familiar with the unpleasant feeling of being excluded. In order to raise children who celebrate diversity and include others, we need to be comfortable starting conversations about differences.

These conversations don’t have to be scary! Children are innately open-minded and seek honest answers out of curiosity. They don’t feel discomfort about differences unless we portray a discomfort to them.

If your child points out differences or questions you about them, take time to pause and have a positive conversation that explains diversity and the value of all people.

Our individual gifts and challenges come in many different forms. We need to demonstrate this is not only okay, but something to celebrate. By doing so, we can model self-acceptance and peer acceptance.

Here are some tips for teaching your child to be more inclusive.

  1. Confront your own biases and be comfortable challenging them. Conscious or unconscious, we all have biases. These can come from our parents, our upbringings, and our experiences in the world. Acknowledging they exist and working to overcome them is a crucial step to ensuring we do not pass down negative biases to our children.
  1. Model inclusive behavior. Children are always watching, listening, and learning. Make sure the behavior you are projecting is the behavior you desire your children to emulate at home, school, and in the community. Celebrate diversity, use respectful language, and treat everyone with kindness and respect. Remember the golden rule to love your neighbor as yourself. If you live your life by this rule, your child will as well.
  1. Teach your child to be full of empathy and positive self-esteem. A child who feels good about who they are is more likely to be inclusive of others. Children who empathize and understand how others are feeling will be more likely to stand up for what is right.
  1. Talk about bullying. Once your child understands what empathy is and how to display it, make sure they know how to proactively stand up for others and report bullying behaviors to an adult in charge. Encourage them to befriend students who sit alone.
  1. Expose your child to diverse people and experiences. We often belong to social circles and communities of people who look like us, believe in similar things, have similar jobs and incomes, etc. Providing opportunities for your child to encounter diversity can help normalize differences and teach children there is no “one way” to be. You can do this by visiting museums, attending multi-cultural events, and reading stories that celebrate diverse characters.


Most importantly, do not shy away from the topic of differences. Be prepared to openly discuss the topic with your child in an honest, age-appropriate way.

Evansville, IN – United Way of Southwestern Indiana (UWSWI) is thrilled to announce an investment of $400,000 into improving local mental health care access for low-income residents. The Mental Health Pathway Grant is the first funding opportunity for mental health services since UWSWI shifted its focus to address root causes of poverty and help families overcome barriers to economic sufficiency. Research shows a link between poverty and mental health challenges. Likewise, there is evidence that mental health struggles prevent individuals from escaping poverty, creating a vicious cycle. A significant increase in demand for mental health care services is creating a strain on local providers, which is further limiting access.

Funding will be invested into the following local nonprofit applicants: Catholic Charities will receive $177,840 to increase the hours and capacity of a part-time counselor. In addition, grant funds will help underwrite the financial loss of providing a sliding scale fee model to low-income clients who otherwise cannot afford mental health care. Youth First is awarded $222,160 to help underwrite the cost of hiring additional social work staff. The funds will enable Youth First to hire a social worker fluent in Spanish, a Substitute School Support Specialist who will fill the gap when school social workers are absent, and a Clinical Supervisor to support the increase in capacity. Youth First identified a gap in service for students whose primary language is Spanish.

This grant will help extend service to students who were previously underserved. UWSWI is striving to develop a best-in-class grant evaluation process, which includes a thorough evaluation by local experts in the respective Pathway, as well as in financial operations. Scott Branam, CAO of Deaconess Cross Pointe commented, “With the overwhelming demand we are currently seeing in our nation and community for behavioral health, we are very excited United Way is dedicating funds for this critical service. As a member of the review taskforce, it was impressive to see the time and energy put into the process, as well as the rigor that went into the proposal review and selection of grantees. It’s a shame there is not enough money to fund every application.”

For more information on United Way’s Pathways to Potential, visit unitedwayswi.org/pathwaygrants.

Foundation Recognized for Investment in Morgan County Youth

Youth First, Inc., presented the “Heart of Youth First” plaque to the Kendrick Foundation on Thursday, May 19, at The Brickhouse on Main in Martinsville.

The “Heart of Youth First” is awarded to organizations who have demonstrated a significant commitment to youth mental health, strong families, and community well-being through their support of Youth First’s model of service.

The Kendrick Foundation has played a primary role in bringing Youth First’s award-winning programs to Morgan County youth and families. Since 2018, with financial support totaling over $200,000, the Kendrick Foundation has galvanized partnerships between Youth First, the MSD of Martinsville, and Mooresville Consolidated School Corporation. More than 1,300 students at Bell Intermediate Academy in Martinsville and Paul Hadley Middle School in Mooresville have access to a full-time Youth First Social Worker in their school building, along with a toolkit of programs to boost resiliency and other valuable life skills.

Keeley Wright, Executive Director of the Kendrick Foundation, remarked, “Supporting the mental health of children and youth will require a whole of society effort to address longstanding challenges, strengthen the resilience of young people, and support their families and communities. We are profoundly grateful for the work of Youth First to make vital mental health services, resources, and supports more accessible for our youth and families and for their efforts to move upstream and prevent substance misuse, promote healthy behaviors, and maximize student success.”

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About Youth First, Inc.:

Youth First’s mission is to strengthen youth and families through evidence-based programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors, and maximize student success. Youth First partners with 107 schools across 13 Indiana counties to provide 78 Master’s level social workers who assess needs, develop and implement prevention plans, and connect students and their families to vital resources. Youth First also offers community programs involving parents and caregivers to strengthen families. For more information about Youth First, please visit youthfirstinc.org.

About Kendrick Foundation:  Formed from the proceeds of the sale of the Kendrick Memorial Hospital in 2001, the mission of the Kendrick Foundation is to financially support education and initiatives that improve the physical and mental health of Morgan County residents. To learn more about how the Kendrick Foundation is leading health initiatives for Morgan County, please visit kendrickfoundation.org.

By Cynthia Ehmke, LSW – June 8, 2022 –

Did you know that according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, half of American adults can’t read a book written at an 8th grade level? Although this statistic may be surprising to some, it reveals the need for learning to extend beyond the classroom.

Teachers are amazing individuals, but they have limited resources and time. Assigned homework can be a wonderful tool if students understand the material and have the support they need at home to complete assignments. Learning to value education is more difficult when students lack positive academic role models.  

There is also strong evidence to support the benefits of early reading. Psychology Today says that infants who are read aloud to have advanced literacy skills by the time they start school. Not only is this a great way to help with brain development, but it also helps you bond with your child.

Just a few weeks ago, I was working with a student who had a digital book on his tablet. I observed as he clicked the speaker button and continuously flipped through the pages while the tablet read him the words on the page. After I watched this a few times, I asked him what the story was about. It was clear he was not comprehending any of the material.

The day and age we live in makes online learning a necessary tool, but could it also be hurting the way our students are learning? Professors from Princeton University and UCLA conducted a study analyzing the effectiveness of hand-writing notes versus utilizing a computer. They learned that students who took notes on a tablet retained less information and therefore did not perform as well on exams and assignments.

This doesn’t mean that utilizing technology while learning will cause students to fail but highlights the importance that our children are learning with appropriate supervision and support.   

I don’t write this article intending to criticize technology. It serves many purposes and aids education in a variety of ways. However, when it comes to relying on individual devices and online classrooms, parents and educators must be mindful of when students aren’t benefitting from the technological tools in front of them.

Learning begins at home with caregivers. I suggest that we supply children with physical books, library cards, educational material, limit screen time, and utilize tutoring services at your school.

Lastly, provide encouragement and build up your child’s self-esteem. Ever heard that “girls are bad at math?” Make sure your daughter knows this isn’t true. Does your child become embarrassed reading in front of the class? Practice reading with your child so he can build the confidence he needs. If your children can believe in themselves, it will only push them to learn more, try harder, and value their education as they grow up. 

By Abby Betz, LSW – June 1, 2022 –

School is out. The kids are home. Summer is here. Now what?

If your budget doesn’t allow for a family vacation or a fancy kids’ camp, there are still many ways you can keep your children entertained and content at home.

While there needs to be a happy medium between totally unstructured mayhem and an overpacked schedule of “must-do’s,” the key to a happy summer break is putting the time into planning a roster of things to do.

It is vital for everyone’s sanity to stick to a schedule. A lazy summer afternoon sounds great in theory until it turns into a day of sibling squabbles and parents watching the clock waiting for nap or bedtime. Just like in school, kids need structure and a schedule in order to be happy and successful.

The same goes for summer break. If planning an entire summer seems daunting, break it down into days and give each day a theme. Here are some ideas:

·       “Make Something Monday” could be a day to focus on crafts or being creative.

·       “Take a Trip Tuesday” could center around taking a day trip to a local park or zoo.

·       “Water Wednesday” could involve a water activity or visiting the city pool.

·       “Thoughtful Thursday” could consist of volunteering at the Humane Society or participating in a community service project.

·       “Fun Friday” could be the day to do something from a “summer bucket list” the family has put together.

Making a summer bucket list can be a fun way for the family to sit down together and discuss what each person would like to do over the summer. You can also explore any goals each child may want to achieve. 

With summer also comes the unknowns of weather and possible rainy days. Keep a “rainy day jar” where each kid writes an idea on a slip of paper and then pulls one out when they get bored.

Get creative! Make an escape room or a blanket fort in the living room. Look up STEM activities to keep the kids busy or put on a show using parts from favorite books. Allow the kids to make props and costumes.

Perhaps the biggest struggle of any extended break from school can be limiting screen time. The best strategy seems to be incorporating some screen time into the daily schedule without totally taking it away. The goal is to keep kids busy and entertained with other activities so they aren’t asking for more screen time.

Providing an action-packed, educational, and stimulating summer may seem like an intimidating task; however, including the kids when making these decisions can help them feel their opinions are valued. Enjoy this time with your children while they are young and savor each new memory made!