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I'll never forget the first time my daughter initiated a game with me. She was on her tummy with a block just out of her reach and had been there for a couple minutes. My mind had started wandering, planning out my to-do list, and all of a sudden, she rolled over, reached out and had the block in her hands!

Then she looked at me and I SWEAR she was trying to hand it to me. It was exhilarating. We passed the block back and forth a few times…and then…a new worry crept in—what should we play next?

As your little one starts interacting with you more, you may feel new pressure to help your baby thrive in her environment. And sometimes, it's hard to know what to do. Luckily, the fact that you're feeling this at all means you're already doing a great job.

Here are some simple ways to play that are low impact for you, and have a high impact on the development of your 6 to 9-month-old:

1. In the palm of your hand

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  1. Sit or lie down across from your baby
  2. Pick out a small toy that fits in your hand and show it to your child
  3. While they're watching, hide it in one of your hands, then show both of your closed fists to your baby
  4. Ask, "Where did the toy go?" while hinting at the hand it's in by looking at or shaking your hand slightly
  5. Pause to see their reaction, then open your hand and say, "Here it is!"

What this helps with: Object permanence, pairing gestures with sound, shared attention

As your child approaches nine months, he starts to understand object permanence—that objects are still there even when they're not visible. Playing this game introduces the concept, and when you ask where the toy is, your glances and subtle movements help him practice shared attention.

See if you notice any attempts to gesture at the object, or babble in response to your question. Learning to pair gestures with sounds is an important language milestone.

2. Eye on the ball 

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  1. Get a small ball and sit or lie down near a wall with your child
  2. Show them how you can bounce the ball on the floor and have it rebound against the wall to bounce back to you
  3. Say "Boom" when the ball hits the floor
  4. Watch their reaction and repeat several times. Let them have a turn, continuing to say "Boom"
  5. Finally, bounce the ball, but be silent. See if they try to say "Boom" and applaud all attempts

What this helps with: Visual development, tracking objects, imitating syllables

Your child is learning to track moving objects and predict where they will land. See if he looks in the direction of the ball's movement. He's also learning to imitate the sounds others speak. See if he tries to babble or imitates you, remembering that his babble may only partially match yours. For example, he may say "Boo."

Learning to say only one syllable at a time takes more muscle control and attention than a constant string of babbling.

3. Just out of reach 

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  1. Place your child on their tummy, sit or lie down next to them, and show them a toy
  2. Slowly move the toy out of his line of sight in an arc like you're drawing a circle around them
  3. Wait to see if they turn to find the toy. Cheer them on and remind them where it is by tapping or rattling it
  4. As your child gets more mobile, move the toy up onto a different level (ex: a stair or a low stool) and watch as they tries to reach it.
  5. Repeat in different directions

What this helps with: Strength, coordination, motor planning, pre-crawling skills

This activity helps your child build the strength and coordination for crawling and future physical milestones. When you move the toy around them in an arc, watch to see if they pivot on their tummy to get it. As you move the toy in different directions, let them problem solve and practice various movements—pivoting, reaching out, pulling themselves up, etc.—before you offer assistance.

4. My face, your face 

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  1. Sit or lie down next to your baby
  2. Start singing the song "If You're Happy and You Know It." When you get to lyrics that suggest movement, act out that movement with him (ex: when you say, "clap your hands," clap his hands together).
  3. Add lyrics like "touch your nose," "touch your cheeks."
  4. Then, switch it to "touch MY nose," "touch MY cheeks" and help them touch your face.

What this helps with: Vocalizing in response to music, sense of self, bonding

As you sing, see if your child attempts to vocalize with you. They may start to recognize songs and will show you by turning to you, flapping his arms and legs with excitement, smiling, laughing, and more. When you differentiate the times when they're touching your nose versus their own nose, you're helping them recognize that they are a separate person from you.

5. Narrator 

  1. Watch your child as they plays independently. Hold back and don't intervene for a couple minutes
  2. Narrate what you see them doing. Use simple sentences and repeat keywords, pointing to the object as you name it. For example, "You rolled the ball. Red Ball."
  3. Observe their responses—physical and vocal. Try to tell what's catching his attention. Are they babbling more than he used to? What do they seem most interested in?

What this helps with: Vocabulary development, bonding, empathy for your child

When you narrate what your child is doing, labeling the objects they're interacting with helps with vocabulary development. Taking time to step back and observe focuses all your attention on them, which they will love. You will develop greater awareness of the things they like, dislike, find easy and find hard, which will result in greater empathy for your child.

[Originally published May 17, 2018]

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There is so much joy in the world right now, even if our news feeds and the headlines in the paper don't always show it. Babies are being born, mothers are harnessing their power and children (yes, little children) are changing this big world.

That's why we are always on the lookout for the stories that are going to make us smile, because there are certainly things in this world that are upsetting and worth worrying about, but there is also so much joy, so much resilience and an amazing future ahead of us.

These are the stories that made us smile this week:

Mom's post goes viral after she gives baby advice meant for goats 😂

Have you ever replied to a post in an online group thinking you're in another one? It's happened to a lot of us, but never quite as hilariously as it happened to Hailey McHone.

McHone is a member of multiple Facebook groups, including a mom's group and a group for goat owners. When someone needed advice about an ill kid (which, to be fair, can mean a young human or a young goat) McHone replied with goat advice, thinking she was in that group.

"Put the kids in a plastic bag in a warm bath. 103-104 degree water is the best. Rub honey and cayenne on their gums," she wrote.

When one of the Facebook group members asked why a parent would want to raise an infant's temperature, McHone realized her mistake.

"[O]h my god," she wrote. "I thought this was in my goat emergency group. Normal goat temperature is 102. All this advice is for baby goats. Please do not follow any of it."

McHone's advice may not have been what OP was looking for, but it sure made the rest of the group (and now the whole internet) crack up.

2-year-old sees himself reflected in Target display and his reaction went viral 

Representation matters for kids with disabilities, as nearly 2-year-old Oliver Garza-Pena and his mom demonstrated with their now-viral post about a trip to Target.

"Oliver stopped me dead in his tracks and turned back around to see this picture that he spotted! He just stared at it in awe! He recognized another boy like him, smiling and laughing on a display at Target. Oliver sees kids every day, but he never gets to see kids like him. This was amazing!" his mom, Demi Garza-Pena, wrote on Facebook, in a post that has been shared more than 34,000 times.

Oliver's experience is similar to one writer Jamie Sumner had with her then 6-year-old son Charlie at Target back in 2018.

"But when we rolled past the Cat and Jack sign with the little boy in the walker, it became a different kind of day. For Charlie, who has cerebral palsy, it was the moment he saw his own lifestyle reflected in the world."

Thank you, Target, for including kids who move through the world a little differently.

This little girl is going viral and providing 'more than peach' crayons

When Bellen Woodard was in third grade she began to wonder why classmates would refer to the peach crayon as "skin-color" when skin comes in so many colors besides peach. That's why she launched the "More Than Peach" project, aiming to celebrate and highlight diversity by giving kids the art supplies they need to draw what they see in the mirror, at home and in the classroom.

Multicultural crayon and marker packs do exist thanks to Crayola and the company is now helping Bellen put diverse art supplies in the hands of her elementary school peers in Loudoun County, Virgina.

Thank you, Bellen!

Sisters go viral after giving birth on the same day, in the same hospital 

What's better than having twin? Having a "cousin-twin"! That's what sisters Charell Anthony and Cierra Anthony of Indianapolis call their little ones, Terry Valentino (Charell's newborn son) and Dream Monique (Cierra's newborn daughter).

Terry and Dream were born on February 12 at Community Hospital East in Indianapolis, Good Morning America reports. "They're going to be really close," Charell told GMA. "Being born on the same day, that's going to be really special for them."

It was a special memory for the extended family, who were going back and forth between the two hospital rooms and could not believe the timing. "They were so excited," said Cierra.

Viral Instagram photo series shows surrogacy birth creating a family + a friendship

Olatz Mendiola Marinas of San Sebastian, Spain, wanted so badly to be a mother and Celeste Remediz of Texas made her one. Now the two women are connected by a bond most can't conceive of, one that was documented by photographer Stephanie Cabrera of Reborn From Within, who was there for the birth of baby Kala and posted her photos on Instagram.

"I feel so lucky to get to witness how amazing the love between people can be. Surrogacy is something I've always admired, to provide someone with the gift of love, a gift more precious than any other gift in the world is incredibly special," Cabrera, the photographer, tells Motherly.

The surrogate, Celeste Remediz, a former Dallas police officer, told Good Morning America that she found out about her own third pregnancy a bit late in the game, around 5 months along, and felt a bit robbed of the pregnancy experience because of that. Three kids were enough for Remediz and her husband, but she wanted to be pregnant again.

"After the birth of our daughter, I told my husband that if she was to be our last child, I felt I had missed out on half of the pregnancy and didn't get to fully enjoy it and take it all in. I love being pregnant and enjoyed all my pregnancies," Remediz told GMA.

Credit: Stephanie Cabrera/ Reborn From Within

Remediz continues: "I realized then, that if my husband and I were done growing our family, I could be pregnant again and help someone else grow theirs through surrogacy. My husband agreed to support me and we found the agency who did an amazing job matching us to Olatz."

The two women became super close.

"Since I knew Celeste was going to be the surrogate mother, we started to talk regularly on the phone and got along well very quickly," said Marinas, the intended mother. "I had the chance to live with Celeste three weeks before giving birth and to be fully involved in her family['s] daily life, which really allowed me to get to know her well, support her and share her feelings on a daily basis."

Remediz says she was elated when the baby she'd just given birth to was placed in Marinas's arms. "I felt like the baby's aunt or something but never like her mother. This journey has been one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done and has taught me so much," she explains.

Credit: Stephanie Cabrera/ Reborn From Within

Cabrera says she was inspired by the two mothers who shared a birth and shared their story, and plans to continue capturing birth stories like this one to show the world that there are so many ways to become a mother, and so many ways to support mothers.

"My family and I will be traveling full-time the next few years in our old restored Volkswagen bus and by plane. During this time I will be documenting various individuals during their prenatal, birth and postpartum process. One of my biggest goals is to highlight all of the inspiring birth workers and organizations that greatly improve birth outcomes for everyone especially for people of color and low-income communities that are so often marginalized and at higher risk for maternal and infant mortality. This documentation will also take me across borders to document birthing traditions in other countries and cultures," Cabrera tells Motherly.

These are three incredible women and such incredible pictures.

News

My husband and I dreamed about our future child for years before actually embarking on our pregnancy journey in earnest. We are not unique, of course: That dream we had is shared by so many expectant parents and is part of what makes pregnancy so magical.

And getting pregnant for the first time is truly a magical experience. My husband and I were lucky enough to get pregnant on the second try. While I had nausea my entire pregnancy, I was otherwise gliding through it like it was the easiest thing I'd ever done.

By the time we got to my 20-week anatomy scan, the oh-so-exciting moment when you get to see all of your new baby, we already knew we were having a baby girl and were so excited to get to know her even more. I still remember what I wore that day: a black embroidered shift dress and little sandals, with a brand-new handbag I bought myself as my own push present. I dressed up for the occasion because I felt like I should.

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Toward the end of my scan, the technician said she had to show the doctor my results. It threw up a red flag in the sense that we knew this was not always customary, but not knowing much myself, I was more confused than scared.

I will never for the rest of my life forget what happened next. When the doctor came in and started her own scan, she looked at me and said, "Your baby has a hole in her heart." My reaction was immediate: tears that vowed to never stop. I couldn't breathe.

The obstetrician sent us to see a pediatric cardiologist immediately to do a fetal echocardiogram, a test similar to an ultrasound that can determine the severity of the Congenital Heart Defect (CHD). Our unborn child had what is called a tetralogy of fallot with pulmonary atresia, in which she was missing a wall between her heart chambers and had small pulmonary arteries and one of the more complex defects. We were told that based on the severity, we should consider termination — at 20 weeks, exactly half of a full-term pregnancy.

Technically, I had four weeks to decide: in New York State, 24 weeks is the legal cut off for early termination. I had four weeks to decide the fate of that child my husband and I had spent years dreaming about.

It ultimately took me only that night to make a decision. We found a team of doctors who were, and are, true angels in the face of something otherworldly terrible. They showed us the kind of empathy and care we needed as scared new parents, while also being the best high-risk OBGYN and cardio team in the country to handle this kind of case.

On Nov. 4, 2018, I went in for my induction, and on Nov. 5th, 2018 at 8:13 p.m., our daughter was born. She was whisked off almost immediately, and I didnt get to see her again until the next morning in the Cardiac NICU.

Babies do "breathe" while in utero, but once they are born, there is a chemical released that closes a particular valve in the heart that is no longer needed. Due to her defect, she actually needed that value to stay open so she needed to get medication immediately to keep the valve from closing. That meant I held her post delivery for about 15 seconds before she was taken away; I didn't get to really, truly hold her until three days later.

Once I got to my room, I finally had a minute to breathe — and I just started crying. I wanted my baby. I wanted to hold her, to get to know her, and I just couldn't. The silver lining was that I had that easy pregnancy and a very easy vaginal delivery; I think God cut me a break knowing what I was in for once our daughter was born. The next morning, I was up with the sun and upstairs in the NICU to see my daughter where she would be for the next three weeks.

She had open heart surgery seven days after she was born, a second surgery at month five and a less invasive procedure at month nine. She is now 15 months old and a tornado of a toddler. She is smarter than she should be and a total comedian who knows she's the boss, who loves to climb and dance, who is affectionate and loving. She has filled my heart with so much joy, I could burst at the seams.

Someone asked me recently what was the bravest thing I had done in my life. After some reflection, I realized it was choosing to have my baby — and getting myself prepared for whatever would come once she was born. It was knowing fully that we could only know so much about what her heart may be like when she arrived, and what the course of care would be upon that potential outcome. But I knew in my own heart that she was meant to be here, and I was wiling to endure whatever came my way.

If she was here for a day, a week or a lifetime, that was her choice, not mine, and I would be the mother she needed for as long as she was alive.

Life

I admit it: We struggle with screen time in my house. My 4-year-old is a rambunctious consumer of entertainment and most of his beloved forms come in the mini screen of my cell phone. I do, however, do my best to fill that screen with the most educational kid's apps that exist, and one of his favorites is the world of Sago Mini. Their apps are fun, playful, and yes, help him learn something too.

So imagine our excitement when we found out that Sago Mini is bringing that experience offline with an IRL kid's toy subscription service that sends open-ended toys to you about once a month. The service officially launches today and it's perfect for kids aged 3-5. It costs about $19 a month or $15 a month if you pay for an annual subscription.

The Sago Mini box

The first set of boxes will have planes, road trip and fairy tales themes. ✨The box we tried was road-trip themed and it came with everything your little needs to get off the phone and into their imagination. I loved that even the box itself can be turned into a toy by disassembling it and rebuilding it inside out. Because we all know that sometimes our kid's favorite toy ends up being the box it was shipped in!

The kit comes with three make and play activities, all designed to build off each other. For example, our road trip box came with a felt "road" that my son loved draping all over the furniture, and a cardboard car with wooden wheels in one activity pack. Then the second activity pack had destinations your child can "drive" their car to like Grandma's house, school and a gas station.

I especially appreciated that they kept an eye on sustainability (and cute design!) when creating these play materials. All the paper materials that come in the box are made from recycled goods or sourced from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC certified). The best part? My son played with his set for a good few hours—and never asked for my phone once.

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When you're in the middle of the school year and managing a family, each minute of time becomes very precious. Sometimes that means healthy food choices in the household can take a backseat. But don't stress it, mama. Prepping delicious and nutritious choices for the kids to munch on doesn't need to take all day.

Remember to keep it fun, simple and interactive! Here are tips for simplifying after-school snacks once and for all:

1. Prep snacks on Sunday

This simple trick can make the rest of the week a breeze. Tupperware is your friend here, you can even write different days of the week on each container to give the kids a little surprise every day. I really like storage with compartments for snack prep. Personally, I slice apples, carrots or cucumbers to pair with almond butter and hummus—all great to grab and go for when you're out all day and need some fresh variety.

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2. When in doubt, go for fruit

Fruit is always a quick and easy option. I suggest blueberries, clementine oranges, apples, frozen grapes or even unsweetened apple sauce and dried fruit, like mixed fruit. It's fun to put together a fruit salad, too. Simply cut up all the fruit options and let the kids decide how they'd like to compile. Prepped fruit is also great to have on hand for smoothies, especially when it's been sitting in the fridge for a few days—throw it in the blender with some nut milk and voila.

3. Pair snacks with a dip

Hummus is a great dip to keep on hand with lots of versatility or you can grab a yogurt-based dip. Easy and healthy dippers include pre-sliced veggies, baby carrots and multigrain tortilla chips. Plain hummus is a great way to introduce seasonings and spices too—shake a little turmeric, add fresh basil and you'd be surprised what your kids will take to.

4. Have high-protein options readily available

Snacks with high protein, like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, hard boiled eggs and jerky will fuel kids for hours. One of my favorites is a turkey stick, which is a fun addition to the hummus platter. Just slice into bite-sized pieces. I love cottage cheese because it can go savory or sweet, use as a dip with your prepped veggies, or drizzle pure maple syrup and sprinkle with berries.

5. Always keep the pantry stocked

Monthly deliveries keeps the pantry updated without a trip to grocery store. Many kids are big fans of popcorn, granola and pretzels. We like to DIY our own snack packs with a little popcorn, pretzels, nuts and whatever else is in the pantry so there's always something different!

6. Make cracker tartines

I love the idea of replicating popular restaurant dishes for kids. Here are some of my favorite snack-sized tartines using any crisp bread, or favorite flat cracker of your choice as the base. There are no rules and kids love adding toppings and finding new combinations they love.

  • Avocado crackers: Use a cracker and then layer with thinly sliced avocado, a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese topped with roasted pepitas or sunflower seeds.
  • Tacos: The base for this is a black bean spread—just drain a can of black beans, rinse and place into a wide bowl. With a fork or potato masher, lightly smush the beans until chunky. Spread onto your cracker and top with tomato, cheddar cheese and black olives. Try out a dollop of super mild salsa or some lime zest to introduce some new flavor profiles.
  • A play on PB&J: Smear peanut butter, almond or a favorite sun butter on the cracker. I like to get a mix it up a bit and put fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries and tiny diced apples) and a little bit of dried fruit sprinkled on top.

7. Pre-make smoothie pops

The easy part about meal prep is the prep itself, but knowing exactly how much to make ahead is tricky. Freeze a smoothie in popsicle molds to have a healthy treat ready-to-go snack. They're super simple to make: Add any fruit (I like apples, berries, pineapples and mangoes) and veggies (carrots, steamed beet and wilted kale) to a blender with your favorite nut milk until you have consistency just a bit thinner than a smoothie. Pour into your trusty reusable popsicle molds and then into the freezer to make an ice pop so good they could eat them for breakfast.

Lifestyle
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