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7 ways you’re probably already fostering learning skills in your newborn

Your habits lead to major developmental boosts for little brains. Way to go, mama!

7 ways you’re probably already fostering learning skills in your newborn

Before their first child is even born, women are often confronted with unsolicited advice and questions like, “Have you signed her up for preschool yet?” “Are you going to teach baby sign language?” “You know, you should really start reading to her now—she can hear you in there!”


Its easy for new parents to be overwhelmed—after all, amid sleepless nights, the stress of breastfeeding (or not!), making sure baby gets enough tummy time and enough stimulation (but not too much!), thinking about early childhood education may not be a priority.

Luckily, many of the things you naturally do with your child set the stage for her academic future—you may just not know it!

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Below are some of the terms to know about your child’s early development.

1. Attachment

When you hold your child lovingly in your arms, gently change his wet diaper, and respond to his coos and gurgles, you are helping him form an attachment with you. Being securely attached to one or more caregivers means that your child trusts the person or people taking care of him. That trust is the foundation for all of his future relationships and his understanding of the world. It is how he learns whether or not the world is a place he can confidently explore and grow in, or if it is a place where he needs to be fearful and always on alert.

2. Autonomy

Your child enters the world as a brand-new, unique individual. As she grows, her understanding of herself will develop and evolve as she learns what she is capable of. Responding to your child’s wants and needs with love, patience and respect teaches her that she is a valuable member of your family. Remembering that your child is a person with unique thoughts and feelings means allowing her to express herself as an individual who is separate from you.

3. Expectations

Before your child was born, you likely had thoughts about the future—what your child might look like, what his interests might be and how he might interact with others. But in the first few days of your newborn’s life, new mothers often discover that they need to modify those expectations based on the unique needs of their child. Managing and setting developmentally appropriate expectations is a process that repeats itself at each age and milestone. Developmentally appropriate expectations are about making sure that what you expect of your child is reasonable at each stage of his growth and development—without expecting him to do more than he is capable of doing. As your child grows and develops, be prepared to reevaluate your expectations so that he can feel appropriately challenged and successful at each age and stage.

4. Temperament

Each child is born with a basic way of responding to her environment. Some children approach new situations cautiously, without a fuss, and adapt slowly. Others have an immediate positive response to new situations, are generally cheerful and have regular patterns of behavior. Many withdraw or cry in new situations. When you are aware of your child’s temperament, you can sometimes interpret your child’s behavior, and predict how she will behave in certain settings. While temperament may be inborn, you can still provide the love and support to best help your child with her reactions and behaviors in all types of environments and experiences.

5. Self-talk

Your baby’s language development, beginning with communicating through facial expressions, crying, gestures and movements and progressing to verbal or sign language, is the foundation for all future language and literacy learning. As important as this is, many people feel unsure about how to support this development in their daily interactions with their baby. Self-talk, sometimes referred to as private speech, is an easy way to encourage language development and help your child understand the routine, flow and rhythm of the day. Self-talk means simply describing your actions as you carry them out, e.g., “Now I am warming up your bottle.” Talking to your baby and describing your actions builds his vocabulary, conversational skills and understanding of the world around him.

6. Emotional cues

As you become more connected with your baby—learning her temperament, forming an attachment, planning for your routines—you will quickly become familiar with her emotional cues. Smiling, crying, holding eye contact, looking away, all of these cues give you insight into how your baby is feeling in the moment. Reading her emotional cues and using self-talk as you respond to them reassures your baby that she is understood and cared for. As she grows, you can help her learn to recognize the emotional cues of others. As you exchange smiles, describe and label feelings, and notice the facial expressions of others in photos and books, you develop her understanding of her own emotions as well as foster her developing empathy for others.

7. Intentional engagement

Whether diapering, dressing, feeding or soothing your baby to sleep, you have an endless number of opportunities in your day to engage with your baby. Each interaction you have with him sends him a message, and making that message a positive one lets your baby know that he is loved. You can be intentional with your words and actions, by using self-talk during a diaper change or kissing his toes as you put on his socks, and in those moments you are strengthening your bond with him. This thoughtfulness does not require anything more than a smile, kinds words and gentle actions for your baby to feel the strong bond between the two of you.

By remaining conscious of these habits—many if which you are probably already doing—you are setting the stage for a lifetime of great learning habits. Way to go, mama!

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    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

    I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

    To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

    2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

    We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

    3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

    Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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    Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

    There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

    With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

    Minimize smoke exposure.

    Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

    Do your best to filter the air.

    According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

    Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

    "Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

    Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

    "COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

    Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

    Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

    Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

    Most importantly, don't panic.

    In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

    This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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