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Archive for the ‘Family Time’ Category

National Park Service’s Find Your Park resource

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America’s kids are facing an outdoor crisis. A generation ago, kids spent more than 4 hours a day outside – now, it’s less than 40 minutes per week. Being outside has a multitude of health benefits. Help kids escape the indoors and connect with nature during Great Outdoors Month through the free National Park Service’s Find Your Park resource.

11 free places in PA to swim, splash and cool off this summer

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If you’re looking to stay cool without breaking the bank this summer, we’ve got your back. Here is a list of destinations where you can take a dip, make a splash or otherwise relax with some water-based entertainment, all free of charge.

  • Middlesex Township Splash Pad: The Middlesex Splash Pad, 50 Beagle Club Road, Carlisle, has been open since 2009 and operates 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. every day from Memorial Day through Labor Day. It’s a 30’ x 30’ area with underground water sprinklers, and the surface is a brushed concrete (you should have your kids wear rubber-soled water shoes). If you’re bringing a group of 10 or more, the township asks to you contact the office.
  • Memorial Park, Carlisle: The 2-acre Memorial Park has a spray pool where the kids can cool off. The park, located at 149 Penn St., Carlisle, is adjacent to Hope Station, a community aid organization.
  • Doubling Gap Lake, Colonel Denning State Park: The sand beach at Colonel Denning State Park is open from late May to mid-September, 8 a.m. to sunset. There is no lifeguard available, so it’s swim at your own risk. The park is located at 1599 Doubling Gap Road, Newville.
  • Pine Grove Furnace State Park: The beaches at Fuller and Laurel lakes are open from May 1 to September 30, 8 a.m. to sunset. The park is located at 1100 Pine Grove Road, Gardners. Laurel Beach is swim at your own risk, while Fuller Beach has lifeguards from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through Labor Day weekend. The parks department advises swimmers to exercise caution because of extreme depths and cold subsurface waters.
  • Gifford Pinchot State Park: The large, ADA-accessible beach in the Quaker Race Day Use Area is open from late May through mid-September, 8 a.m. to sunset. There are no lifeguards on duty. Boat rental, picnic facilities, a snack bar and a children’s play area are located near the swimming beach (which is grass).
  • Veterans Memorial Pool, McClure: This free public swimming pool is located off Route 522 at 34 E Ohio St., McClure, in Snyder County. They’re open 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday through Friday and 1 to 6 p.m. on Saturday. There’s a snack bar, and they accept donations. There’s also a park a few blocks away. For more information, 570-658-8352.
  • Splash Pad at Fairmount Park, Red Lion: The park at 108 Boundary Avenue in Red Lion has a free splash pad, open from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, in addition to changing rooms, rest rooms and pavilion. The activator is found at the center drain, and features are motion-activated. Parking can be found at the Community Building at 190 S. Charles Street, or along South Charles or Fairview streets. For more info, call 717-244-3475.
  • Penn’s Park Splash Pad, York: York City Recreation and Parks Bureau opened the Penn’s Park Splash Pad early this year, and it will be open from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily, weather permitting. The park is found at 100 W. College Avenue in downtown York.
  • Seven Tubs Recreation Area, Wilkes-Barre: Seven Tubs in Luzerne County is so named due to the seven “tubs” carved out of the surrounding stone by glacial action, which are filled with water today thanks to the Wheelbarrow Run stream. The stream and the tubs are found on a 500 acre nature area.
  • Locust Lake State Park: The sand beach at Locust Lake, found in Barnesville, Schuylkill County, is open from late-May to mid-September, with hours from 8 a.m. until sunset. Swimming areas are marked with buoys.
  • Yellow Breeches Creek, Mechanicsburg: The Yellow Breeches Creek is a destination for fishing, kayaking and yes, swimming. There are a few places the public can access the creek, including at Messiah College’s campus at the historic covered bridge. Click here for more info on the Yellow Breeches Creek Water Trail.

Family meals help kids’ physical and mental health

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The value of a family dinner isn’t exaggerated, according to a new study. It found that children who eat meals with their family benefit from better physical and mental health.

Sharing a family meal has been linked to children having a better diet. Research has also suggested that these meals promote language development in children.

Study follows kids and meals

In the new study, researchers followed a group of about 1,500 children in Canada. They already knew a lot about these kids, so they felt they could determine if family meals were making a difference.

When the kids were age 6, the researchers asked their parents about the family meal environment. They focused on the family’s enjoyment of the meal and if it felt like a chance to talk. Families were also asked if they could confide in each other or if they had bad feelings toward one another.

When the children turned 10, the researchers focused on their well-being. They asked the children, their parents and their teachers about academic success, eating habits, and behavior at home and school.

Benefits of family meals

The results were telling: Having better-quality family meals was linked to better physical fitness in the children. It was also linked to drinking less soda.

Kids who had a higher quality of family meals were less likely to fight, attack others and dominate other children. They were also less likely to be defiant, steal and tell lies.

The study didn’t find a link between family meals and success in reading and math. But the researchers noted that teacher and student relationships, which affect academic success, are often related to the family environment.

Why do family meals have such a positive effect? The researchers said family meals give parents a chance to connect with their children and monitor their activities. Parents can act as role models for healthy eating. And family meals may give kids a sense of belonging, as well as a chance to talk about issues that bother them.

The study was published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

Bring your family together

The researchers pointed out that family meals aren’t the only characteristic of a good home environment. But it’s an easy place to start to improve a child’s well-being.

Making an effort to share family meals is worth the effort, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says. If you don’t share family meals already, you can get started with one meal a week. Keep the menu simple, and ask your family to help prepare the meal.

To learn more about the positive influence of eating together as a family, you can read this article: “Family meals: A time for health and happiness.”

How to nurture your child’s mental health

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You can’t protect your kids from stress and difficult times. But you can help them develop good self-esteem and give them the tools to cope with adversity in a healthy manner.

As parents, we want our kids to be happy. But no matter how hard we try, we can’t guarantee their happiness. What we can do, however, is help them build a strong foundation for lifelong mental health.

To support good mental health, parents can help kids feel good about themselves, develop healthy strategies for coping with difficult times and strive for physical health. Parents should also be able to recognize the signs of more serious mental health problems—and know where to go for help.

Building Self-esteem

Kids with good self-esteem are happier, says Jane Meschan Foy, MD, FAAP, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) who served on the Mental Health Leadership Work Group and is a professor of pediatrics at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “They are also less subject to peer pressure and able to make better decisions under stress.”

To help children build self-esteem, parents can:

Offer sincere encouragement and praise.
It’s important to acknowledge kids’ efforts—not just their accomplishments. Be descriptive in your feedback—for example: “Good job turning your book report in on time. You included a lot of great details about the main character.” Try to avoid vague feedback, like: “You’re so smart!” or “You’re terrific!”

Give Kids age-appropriate responsibilities.
Help children develop a sense of purpose and contribution by giving them age-appropriate tasks that matter. Then, let them do the job without your constant supervision.

Let them know they belong.
Every child needs one-on-one time with parents, Dr. Foy says. This should be a time when phones, TVs and computers are shut off.

“Even if it’s just 10 minutes a day, it should be protected and should never be subject to discipline,” she says.

Let the child decide, within reason, what he or she would like to do during that time—such as reading, singing, playing a game or just talking.

Promoting Resilience

Resilience is a key component of overall mental health, according to the AAP.

“We can’t give our children perfect childhoods, but we can help them learn from stress and loss,” Dr. Foy says. “Most children will experience some sort of loss during childhood. Many experience multiple losses—moving, divorce, deployment of a parent, death of a grandparent or loved one, or change of school.”

Each child responds differently to stress and trauma, but all kids can benefit from certain tools, such as:

Good Communication Skills
“Help children from a very early age put emotions into language and to use language to reach out to others,” Dr. Foy says. By being a good role model, you can help kids learn how to express their own needs—and to respond kindly to the needs of others.

Good Relationships
“It’s important that kids have a social network they can rely on,” Dr. Foy says. Help kids build relationships early by teaching them how to help, how to take turns, how to win and lose graciously and how to accept responsibility.

Methods for Managing Stress
For example, teach kids ways to relax, such as stretching, exercise and spending time in nature.

A Positive Outlook
“Parents can help children feel appreciative of the good things in life,” Dr. Foy says. “Draw attention to positive things about life.” A gratitude journal is a good tool, for example. For some people, prayer can also express appreciation, she says.

Minding the Body
Mental health requires a healthy body. Kids need sufficient sleep, a balanced diet and regular exercise.

“Sleep is very critical to mental health,” Dr. Foy says. “Children who are sleep-deprived may have symptoms of emotional disturbance.”

Help kids get the sleep they need by establishing a regular bedtime routine. And make sure kids use beds for sleeping only—not for homework or texting. If they have their own cellphones, have them give you their phones at a set time every night to ensure that they aren’t on them all night.

A healthful diet and daily exercise are also important to mental health, in part because they help kids maintain a healthy weight. “Being overweight is associated with lower self-esteem and more stress,” Dr. Foy says.

All children have to cope with challenges. Parents need to monitor their child’s reaction to problems and know when to seek help.

“Children will vent in different ways,” Dr. Foy says. “Some vent through misbehavior and acting out. Some internalize and become more anxious or dependent or cautious.”

Often these behaviors will pass as the child works through the difficult situation. Talking with your child and listening to his or her concerns and fears may help. But sometimes outside help is needed.

“If a child settles into a pattern of being irritable or sad most days, withdrawing from friends, or struggling academically, these could be signs that a child is in trouble,” Dr. Foy says. If problems persist, talk with your child’s doctor.

Families who eat dinner together are doing more than feeding their bodies

By Youth Advocate Programs

Families who eat dinner together are doing more than feeding their bodies. Parents who take the time to plan and prepare family dinners regularly promote love and bonding and contribute to a lifetime of good emotional and physical health for their children. Children who eat dinner regularly with their families enjoy:

  • Better academic performance
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Greater sense of resilience
  • Lower risk of substance abuse
  • Lower risk of teen pregnancyLower
  • Lower risk of depressionLower likelihood of developing eating disorders
  • Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders
  • Lower rates of obesity (

Family dinners naturally bring families together with an immediate reward for hungry children-dinner! With busy lives and hectic schedules, family dinners require planning, coordination, and commitment. Here are some steps to help you pull off routine family bonding around the table.

  1. Involve your Kids-Allow your kids to contribute to the planning of the menu to ensure meals they will eat. This provides a great opportunity to help your children learn to plan. Prepare a shopping list and take your kids to the grocery store. Allowing your kids to help prepare dinner is fun, provides time for bonding, teaches life skills, and give children something to be proud of.
  2. Be positive-If your family is not accustomed to family meals, they might resist at first. Be positive and resist nagging. Instead, tell your children you love them and you want to spend this time together. During dinner, tell your family about your day and ask about theirs. Offer praise and resist criticism.
  3. Plan-Schedule dinners for days and times that work. Get agreement from family members to attend dinner. Be realistic as well. Your family may not be able to share dinner 7 nights a week. Shoot for 3-5 nights per week. Make sure to let them know what’s on the menu.
  4. Unplug-Shut off the TV and don’t allow electronics at the table. Be sure to model the desired behavior through your own actions.

Making mealtime a priority, and keeping it positive will have a lifelong impact on your children and offer routine opportunities for your family to come together and enjoy each other.

Get Outside: Free Family Fun

By Nicole Maurer, MPH
Written for the Table Magazine in Lebanon – [Link]

Summer is here. The kids are out of school, and you’ve got the whole summer ahead of you! Now what? Did you know that June is Great Outdoors Month? Well, Lebanon County has a host of great outdoor destinations and we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorites for every age group. All of these are free and local. Now, GET OUTSIDE!

If you have toddlers:

Dinosaur Rock

Many of our readers probably grew up going to dinosaur rock. But when was the last time you were there?  It’s still so cool! It still looks like a dinosaur, and kids are sure to get excited every time they go.  The best part? The hardest part of this hike is getting the whole family across the road from the parking lot, so it’s perfect for kids with a low tolerance for hiking and nature. In case you didn’t know, the rock itself is an erosional remnant of an igneous rock called diabase left over from the Jurassic period (199.6 to 145.5 million years ago!).

Side note: There is a LOT of graffiti. That’s why you should take your little kids – too young to read and too little to do any dangerous climbing!

How to get there: Dinosaur Rock is located in southern Lebanon County, along Mt Wilson Road, just north of where it crosses the Turnpike. Park at the State Gamelands 145 parking area, which is on the east side of Mt Wilson road and 0.7 miles south of Mt. Gretna Road in Colebrook. From the parking lot, cross Mt Wilson Road to the trail to Dinosaur Rock. Follow the trail about 500 feet to the rocks.

Cleona Community Park

Cleona Community Park may be the best kept secret in Lebanon County. It’s got everything… a place to picnic, ball fields, tennis, basketball and volleyball courts; a 9-hole miniature golf course, great access to the Quitty creek, and a variety of playground equipment for all ages. You may literally have to drag your kids out of there. Remember to take a sports ball, golf club and ball, snacks and a change of shoes (just in case they slip into the creek). You could easily spend the entire day there. The park sometimes shows movies, and they have a great Fall Festival.

How to get there: The park is right behind the Cleona Elementary School (at 50 East Walnut Street in Cleona).

If you have kids in Elementary School:

Governor Dick

Here is another example of a destination most of us have visited, but probably not for a long time. Climbing the tower never seems to lose its allure, and for school aged kids it provides just the right difficulty level and sense of adventure they need. The hike up to the tower is about 1.5 miles.  It’s mostly wide and relatively smooth but not very stroller friendly. All told, the park offers 14 miles of hiking trails, many of which also allow mountain biking. The tower is only 66 feet high but still provides an expansive view. On a clear day you can see five counties: Lebanon, Lancaster, Dauphin, Berks, and York.

How to get there: In the town of Mt Gretna turn South onto Pinch Rd. The Center is 1 mile up on the left. Park at the lovely Nature Center and follow the signs to the tower.

Memorial Lake

Memorial Lake is surrounded by Fort Indiantown Gap and like many of these spots, has a little something for everyone. It’s 230 acres of lake, jogging paths, playgrounds, picnic areas and a one-mile exercise course. Take your fishing gear, bikes and a packed lunch. You could also take your own paddle boat or rent canoes for a small fee.

How to get there: From I-81 take Exit 85. Turn north onto Fisher Avenue and follow signs to the park.

If you have teens:

Eagle Rock

The hike up to the Eagle Rock lookout utilizes the Horseshoe Trail (yellow blazes) and goes through the Camp Mack Scout Reservation. You can get to the Eagle Rock Lookout from 322 or from The Pretzel Hut on Route 501. It’s a moderate hike up to the lookout and quite rocky.  This is a great for hike for teens who like a challenge and a clear end point. The 1000+ acre Camp Mack is open to the public for mountain biking, hiking, trail running and other non-scouting activities provided the Camp closure dates/map restrictions are observed and respected. Trail maps and closure dates can be found at

How to get there:  From 322… Head East on 322 for 5.5 miles and park in the large parking lot on the left hand side at Pumping Station Road. You must follow 322 across the creek to access the trailhead. From The Pretzel Hut (at 2224 Furnace Hills Pike), located just north of the intersection of Routes 501 and 322… Park at the restaurant and locate the petting zoo just behind it. There you’ll find the yellow blazes that distinguish the Horseshoe trail and head up to the lookout.

Shower Steps

If you like to be “off the beaten path” you’ll love this hike. Lloyd C. Showers of Bethel led the project of building a side trail leading up to the Appalachian Trail from 501 in Bethel. Under his guidance, and with labor he recruited, huge boulders were moved to form steps up a steep slope to the summit and to an outstanding view.  This is an advanced hike, but not very long. It can be combined with some nice Appalachian Trail hiking at the top.

How to get there: Head North on Rt 501 from the Bethel exit on Rt 78.  Proceed North for 2.5 miles. The trail is on the right and it’s blue blazes can be seen from the road. Parking is not great on 501, so you may need to find a pull out farther to the North and backtrack to the trail.


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