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Summer is a more relaxed time that often brings more quality time with your kids. Whether you have full days at home with them or just fewer sports and structured activities, there is definitely a lot more "empty" time to fill.

While for some this brings a sigh of relief, for others it leads to a mild sense of panic. How are we supposed to fill all of that time? How are we supposed to entertain our children all day long without school and ballet class?

There are many creative ideas for boredom busters out there, but the Montessori way takes a slightly different approach to boredom. In Montessori, the role of the adult is to prepare the environment, rather than to entertain the child. This means setting up a space filled with simplicity, beauty, and interesting things with which a child can engage themself.

How to set your child up for success this summer—Montessori style

You can do a lot to help your child successfully entertain himself through how you set up their environment. Montessori environments are simple, extremely organized, and allow children to access all of the activities they may want to complete on their own.

To replicate this at home, look around your child's room and try to identify anything they haven't played with in the last two weeks. Then put it away in a closet. Bring it out a few months later when it will seem new again.

It can seem baffling when children say they're bored when they have so many toys, but sometimes they are just overwhelmed by choice or clutter. Fewer toys can often be more engaging.

Next, take a look at how the room is set up. Can your child reach his toys and books by himself, or are they too high on a shelf? Are things organized in a logical way? Does everything have a specific place where it belongs?

These things may seem insignificant, but many young children have a strong sense of order and it can be hard for them to concentrate or really delve into playing if things are too chaotic.

One strategy that can be helpful is organizing the room by category. Every Montessori classroom is organized this way, with all of the language work together, all of the math together, and so on. The categories would look different at home. Try putting all of their puzzles on the same shelf and art supplies in the same bucket.

Here are some examples of Montessori-friendly areas you might include in your child's space:

Art

Designate a small shelf or corner for an art area for your child. For a young child, it can be helpful to have each art activity on its own tray.

You might have a tray with oil pastels and black paper, a tray with two or three paint colors, paper, a paintbrush, a water cup, and an apron to protect their clothes. Then a tray with a bowl full or paper scraps, a small container of glue, and some paper.

You can switch out the art supplies throughout the summer as you notice their interest waning.

The first time they choose the activity, give them a lesson, showing each step, including how to clean up and where to put the picture when they're done. After you've shown them how they should be able to choose the activities and do them independently whenever they want.

For a slightly older child, you could set up a maker space with various supplies.

Food prep

Many children love preparing food and there are so many fun food prep activities that toddlers and older children can complete by themselves.

Clear off a small shelf or drawer in the kitchen for your child's kitchen tools and food prep activities so that they can choose what they want. A simple one to start with for young children is peeling an orange. All you need is a small tray with two bowls, one for the orange peel and one for the orange slices.

Other activities include carrot or cucumber slicing using a wavy chopper, egg peeling and slicing, banana peeling and slicing, and cherry pitting.

Older children can do things like make guacamole or bake bread using a toaster oven. If you show your child how to use the tools safely and how to clean up, these are all things that they can do independently.

Science and nature

Choose a small area of your home to serve as a science and nature center. This could simply be a little table in your child's room. Include books about plants, animals, geography, and whatever else you notice your child is interested in.

Find a little box or basket to use for a nature collection—where all of those little pebbles and feathers they gather outside can go. When the box is full, it's time to return some things to nature. Bonus: Include a magnifying glass so they can examine everything.

You can also include things like these fun insect specimens or a selection of magnets for open exploration.

Language

A well-stocked and cozy book corner is always a wonderful place for a child to spend time.

For a younger child, consider a set of interesting picture cards for building vocabulary. Don't use them as flashcards to quiz your child, just talk about each one together. For an older child, include some story writing paper and colored pencils and encourage him to write his own stories as well.

Other areas that you won't find in a classroom but might want to include at home are pretend play and a building area with various kinds of blocks and legos. You can really set up a small area for anything your child is interested in.

Lazy summer days are a great time to play with your child and do special activities together. Setting up a few areas in your home where your child can play independently will allow your child to have fun playing on his own too so that you can recharge as well.

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While breastfeeding might seem like a simple task, there are so many pieces to the puzzle aside from your breasts and baby. From securing a good latch, boosting your milk supply and navigating pumping at work or feeding throughout the night, there's a lot that mama has to go through—and a number of products she needs.

No matter how long your nursing journey may be, it can be hard to figure out what items you really need to add to your cart. So we asked our team at Motherly to share items they simply couldn't live without while breastfeeding. You know, those ones that are a total game-changer.

Here are the best 13 products that they recommend—and you can get them all from Walmart.com:

1. Medela Nursing Sleep Bra

"This fuss-free nursing bra was perfect for all the times that I was too tired to fumble with a clasp. It's also so comfy that, I have to admit, I still keep it in rotation despite the fact that my nursing days are behind me (shh!)." —Mary S.

Price: $15.99

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2. Dr. Brown's Baby First Year Transition Bottles

"My daughter easily transitioned back and forth between breastfeeding and these bottles." —Elizabeth

Price: $24.98

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3. Multi-Use Nursing Cover

"When I was breastfeeding, it was important to me to feel like a part of things, to be around people, entertain guests, etc. Especially since so much of being a new mom can feel isolating. So having the ability to cover up but still breastfeed out in the open, instead of disappearing into a room somewhere for long stretches alone to feed, made me feel better."—Renata

Price: $11.99

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4. Lansinoh TheraPearl Breast Therapy Pack

"I suffered from extreme engorgement during the first weeks after delivery with both of my children. I wouldn't have survived had it not been for these packs that provided cold therapy for engorgement and hot therapy for clogged milk ducts." —Deena

Price: $10.25

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5. Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump Wipes

"Being a working and pumping mama, these quick clean wipes made pumping at the office so much easier, and quicker. I could give everything a quick wipe down between pumping sessions. And did not need a set of spare parts for the office." —Ashley

Price: $19.99

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6. Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter

"This nipple butter is everything, you don't need to wash it off before baby feeds/you pump. I even put some on my lips at the hospital and it saved me from chapped lips and nips." —Conz

Price: $12.95

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7. Medela Double Electric Pump

"I had latch issues and terrible postpartum anxiety, and was always worried my son wasn't getting enough milk. So I relied heavily on my breast pump so that I could feed him bottles and know exactly how much he was drinking. This Medela pump and I were best friends for almost an entire year" —Karell

Price: $199.99 Receive a $50 gift card with purchase at walmart.com

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8. Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads

"I overproduced in the first couple weeks (and my milk would come in pretty much every time my baby LOOKED at my boobs), so Lansinoh disposable nursing pads saved me from many awkward leak situations!" —Justine

Price: $9.79

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9. Haakaa Silicone Manual Breast Pump

"This has been a huge help in saving the extra milk from the letdown during breastfeeding and preventing leaks on my clothes!" —Rachel

Price: $12.99

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10. Medela Harmony Breast Pump

"Because I didn't plan to breastfeed I didn't buy a pump before birth. When I decided to try, I needed a pump so my husband ran out and bought this. It was easy to use, easy to wash and more convenient than our borrowed electric pump." —Heather

Price: $26.99

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11. Milkies Fenugreek

"I struggled with supply for my first and adding this to my regimen really helped with increasing milk." —Mary N.

Price: $14.95

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12. Lansinoh Breast Milk Storage Bags

"I exclusively pumped for a year with my first and these are hands down the best storage bags. All others always managed to crack eventually. These can hold a great amount and I haven't had a leak! And I have used over 300-400 of these!" —Carla

Price: $13.19

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13. Kiinde Twist Breastfeeding Starter Kit

"The Kiinde system made pumping and storing breastmilk so easy. It was awesome to be able pump directly into the storage bags, and then use the same bags in the bottle to feed my baby." —Diana

Price: $21.99

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This article is sponsored by Walmart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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For a lot of families, summer is a season where rules relax and bedtimes get pushed back a little later than usual. But with school starting, weekday mornings are about to start a lot earlier for many kids, and parents might be wondering how to reset the clock on bedtimes.

According to Terry Cralle, an RN, certified clinical sleep expert and the spokesperson for the Better Sleep Council, a new school year is a good opportunity for families to get a fresh start on sleep routines.

"We have to start with really making sufficient sleep a family priority [and] having some discussions about the importance of sleep with our children," Cralle tells Motherly. "It shouldn't be at bedtime when everyone's cranky and tired. It should be during the day that families really discuss the importance of sleep for all family members."

If you need to have a conversation about getting enough sleep for school, try the following tips from Cralle.

1. Be positive about sleep

Make sure that younger children, especially, understand that sleep is a positive, not negative thing, and don't use the threat of bedtime as punishment.

"What we want to do is, ideally, change how children perceive sleep because children can see sleep as a great big timeout where they're missing out on things," Cralle explains, suggesting that parents instead try to present sleep and bedtime routines as "with positivity and as just a non-negotiable part of our lives."

Cralle wants parents to make sure they're talking with their kids about how a lack of sleep can impact one's mood, health and academic ability. Just as we teach our kids about the importance of eating healthy, we should be teaching them about the importance of sleeping healthy, and from an early age.

2. Empower your children with choices

According to Cralle, it's really important to empower children with choices around bedtime, because the one thing they can't have a choice in is the fact that they do need to go to sleep.

"They're going be more accountable, more responsible, and hopefully, develop good sleep habits and practice good hygiene early in life," if we empower them through simple choices, Cralle suggests.

"So we can say, what pajamas do you want to wear to bed tonight? What book do you want to read? Let them participate. If they can pick out their color of their pillowcase, let them do it. Whatever's age appropriate."

3. Let them do their own bedtime math

Instead of just telling kids when they need to go to bed, involve them in figuring out an appropriate bedtime.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine lists how much sleep kids need depending on their age. Have them look up how much sleep a kid their age needs, and then show them the National Sleep Foundation's online bedtime calculator. Kids can choose how many hours of sleep they need and when they want to wake up, and it will show them when they need to go to bed.

It's not an arbitrary decision mom and dad made, it's science and math, and you can't argue with that.

4. Add one sleep item to the back-to-school shopping list

Cralle says adding one sleep-related item to the back to school shopping list can really help children understand the importance of sleep as they head back into the classroom. A conversation about how getting a good night's sleep is important for school success, combined with a shopping trip for a new pillowcase or comforter can really help children see sleep as an important priority, and give them something to look forward to using at bedtime.

5. Provide an environment conducive to sleep

When our kids are infants we're really good at setting up rooms that can help them sleep. But as our children age out of cribs and start to accumulate a lot of possessions and playthings, their rooms can become a less ideal sleeping environment.

According to Cralle, it's not uncommon for kids to get up after bedtime and start playing with toys in their room. She recommends removing stimulating toys or storing them in another area of the home, and never putting televisions, tablets or smartphones in a child's room.

6. Enact a media curfew

At least an hour before bedtime, screen time should come to an end and other, more relaxing activities can begin. Cralle says families can designate a certain hour as DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time, or move from away from brightly lit screens and towards a board games or puzzles, "things to do to get that blue light out of their eyes."

A family-wide media curfew can be a good thing, says Cralle, as it helps parents "walk the walk" when it comes to sleep hygiene. "Don't be looking at your iPad and tell your child to put it away," she explains.

7. Remember: It's never too late for good sleep habits.

According to Cralle, age 3 is the ideal time to start reinforcing the importance of sleep for a child's health, but older kids and even mom and dad can reverse bad bedtime habits if the whole family buys in. That may mean curtailing your kids' (and your own) caffeine consumption, says Cralle.

"We're seeing younger and younger age groups of school children walking around with their Starbucks cups, with coffee, late in the afternoon," says Cralle, who thinks a lot of parents just don't have good information on how caffeine consumption can impact sleep—for our kids and ourselves.

She recommends limiting the number of caffeinated beverages available in the house if you've got tweens and teens at home, and watching your own consumption as well.

"We have to say 'Here's how we're all going to approach it.' It's sort of like seat belts with children, we never would buckle them in and get into the car, and not do it ourselves."

This may be the season to tweak your own sleep habits mama. Here's to a well-rested September.

[Correction: August 24, 2018: The sleep calculator was created by the National Sleep Foundation, not the Better Sleep Council.]

[A version of this post was originally published August 23, 2018. It has been updated.]

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Learn + Play

Finding out that you are having multiples is always a surprise, but finding out that you're in labor with triplets when you didn't even know you were pregnant, well that's the mother of all surprises.

It happened to Dannette Glitz of South Dakota on August 10. The Associated Press reports she had no idea she was pregnant and thought the pain she was experiencing was kidney stones.

"I never felt movement, I never got morning sickness, nothing!" Glitz explains in a social media post.

"Well this was a huge shock"

When Glitz posted photos of her triplets to her Facebook page last week one of her friends was confused. "What? You really had triplets?" they asked.

Glitz (who has two older children) started getting pain in her back and sides in the days before the birth, but it felt like the kidney stones she had previously experienced so she brushed it off. Eventually, she was in so much pain all she could do was lay in bed and cry.

"It hurt to move and even breath[e]," she wrote, explaining that she decided to go to an Urgent Care clinic, "thinking I'm going to have to have surgery to break the stones up."

A pregnancy test at Urgent Care revealed Glitz was pregnant—that was the first surprise. The second surprise happened when a heart monitor revealed the possibility of twins.

'I need another blanket, there's a third'

Glitz was transferred to a regional hospital in Spearfish, South Dakota. "And in about 2 hours they confirmed twins as there was 2 heart beats," she writes.

Glitz was 34 weeks along and four centimeters dilated. She was transferred again, rushed by ambulance to the hospital in Rapid City and prepped for a C-section. When the C-section was happening she heard the doctor announce that Baby A was a boy and Baby B was a girl.

"Then [the doctor] yells 'I need another blanket, there's a third' ....I ended up having triplets, 1 boy [and] 2 girls," Glitz writes.

Glitz and her husband Austin named their surprise children Blaze, Gypsy and Nikki and each of the trio weighed about 4 pounds at birth. Because the couple's older children are school-aged, they didn't have any baby stuff at home. Friends quickly rallied, raising over $2,000 via a Facebook fundraiser to help the family with unexpected expenses.

A family of seven 

The family is getting used to their new normal and is so thankful for the community support and donations. "It's amazing in a small town how many people will come together for stuff that's not expected," Glitz told KOTA TV.

Her oldest, 10-year-old Ronnie, is pretty happy about a trio of siblings showing up suddenly.

"One time I seen a shooting star and I wished for a baby brother, and I wished for like two sisters for my little sister because she always wanted a little sister, I knew this day was always going to come," Ronnie told TV reporters.

Ronnie may not have been surprised, but everyone else in this story certainly was.

Congratulations to Danette and her family! You've got this, mama.

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News

A new season is fast approaching, and I'm not certain that I'm prepared. Truth be told, I've known this day was coming. I've contemplated it for months, years even. I've dreamed about it. I've spent countless hours trying to wrap my head around the fact that my life is about to take a drastic, inevitable turn.

The narrow road I have traveled over the past eight years is suddenly widening and twisting, dotted with signs, dangerous curves ahead. Once the carefree days of summer are over (replete with endless cries of “I'm bored," multiple interventions, and failed attempts to keep the pantry stocked with snacks), a new chapter begins.

This will be the first year that all three of my kids will be in school full-time. Perhaps this change is heightened by the fact that my youngest two are twins, so I am losing both of my babies at once. Perhaps I'm overestimating the impact this will actually have on my life. Perhaps I've created the proverbial mountain out of a molehill. Or, perhaps the feeling that this is a pivotal turning point in my life as a stay at home mom is, in fact, spot on.

Regardless, with the impending approach of September comes the age-old existential dilemma: Who am I?

Over the past eight years, I have enjoyed the joy (and sometimes hair-pulling craziness) of watching my children grow, being a part of each milestone, of every achievement and failure. My world has silently shrunk down to being wholly centered around my children.

As the kids have gotten older and changed, so have I. Everyone tells you how quickly time passes when you have kids, but no one warns you that time is also passing for you. I am not the same person I was eight years and three kids ago. I am no longer the career-obsessed, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. office professional that I once was. I would like to believe that that I have been upgraded to someone softer, more nurturing, more patient, more understanding, and more tolerant.

But with that is also a sense that, somewhere along the way, I've lost a bit of me. When someone asked me what the best event of this past year was, it was difficult to think of something that was my accomplishment, rather than my kids,' My identity has become entwined with theirs.

Prior to having kids, I never imagined that I would be a stay at home mom. I expected that I would work and mother, balancing it all in perfect harmony. But the loss of my own mother and the birth of my daughter a year later changed my perspective. I opted out of my well-paying job, a decision supported by my husband, and one I have never regretted. But now the world is opening up, my small bubble ready to burst. I must face the reality that life is changing, whether I'm ready for it or not.

It's difficult to deny this inevitability with the endlessly repeated question from friends, family, and acquaintances: “What are you going to do with all that free time?"

What indeed.

I give the same pat answers I gave when the twins went to part-time kindergarten (and which are all, in fact, true):

  • “I have dreamed of grocery shopping alone."
  • “I'll enjoy having the house clean for more than five minutes."
  • “I will revel in drinking a cup of coffee, blissfully uninterrupted."
  • “I'll volunteer in my kids' classrooms."

But now it seems as though these answers are not enough. “Are you going back to work?" quickly follows.

Don't presume that I haven't spent hours exploring this very question myself. I miss a lot about working – financial independence, adult interaction, positive reinforcement, accessing now dormant parts of my brain.

There is also the guilt of not working. What will people think? When other parents ask at school drop off what I'm doing for the rest of the day, and I smile and shrug my shoulders, will I be judged? Considered lazy? Will I feel as though I have to justify my existence, my purpose in life? Will I find myself slipping into a depression with all this time alone?

If I do choose to return to work, will I be satisfied in my former career? Have I changed so much that that part of me has become irrelevant? I am also hit with the reality that the school day is three hours shorter than the work day and subsequent calculations of the cost of before and after school care, summer vacation, Christmas break, spring break, sick days, and all those days off in between.

I am approaching a curve in the road, unable to see what lies ahead. So I continue to hold on tight to these last fleeting days of summer, to my life as I know it. I feel an impending sense of loss, but also a tingle of excitement as I look to the future, to exploring the person I want to become—the new version of me—and to writing a new chapter, whatever it may be.

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This piece was originally published on Mamalode.

If you're contemplating the road back to work, our podcast “Where Was I…" provides a roughly-sketched road map for anyone wishing to return to work after taking a career break to care for their young children.

Life

I hate breastfeeding.

But I didn't always hate it. When I found out I was pregnant, it was something I was planning to do. There was no question about it.

I started hating it when I was admitted to the hospital for medical bed rest. When the nurses asked me how I planned to feed my daughter, they would exhale dramatically and smile when I told them I was going to breastfeed. I got the impression that, in their eyes, breastfeeding was the only acceptable answer to that question.

So many nurses asked me about this very personal choice that by the time my doctor asked me, I was a little on edge. Her response was very different.

"Just know that it might not happen for you," she said.

She told me that because I was delivering six weeks early, my body might not be ready to produce milk. Having a baby at 40 weeks and full term, was not only ideal for the baby but also for my body as well.

I never realized that this could be a side effect of having a preemie. I told her that I still wanted to give breastfeeding a try.

Within hours of leaving the operating room, a lactation nurse was knocking at my door. I hadn't even held my daughter for the first time, and already this woman was explaining the pumping equipment she brought with her. After she was done, she asked, "When are you going to start pumping?"

"Maybe tomorrow?" I said, still trying to wiggle my toes from the effects of the spinal tap.

She shook her head and scowled. "No, you need to start now. If you don't, you will never get your body to produce milk."

I watched awkwardly as she rubbed and squeezed her own breasts to demonstrate how to "warm up my body" before I used the pump.

There was nothing sexual about this. The nurse was merely showing me, clinically, how to get my body to start producing, but I was so uncomfortable. That discomfort continued as she stayed to watch my first pumping experience.

She instructed me to pump every two to three hours, even at night.

That was never going to happen.

Some women would relish the opportunity to do this, but not me. I had just been cut open, my daughter was in the NICU, and I had just spent two months in the hospital where nurses were continually waking me up. I felt like I earned a few nights of uninterrupted sleep.

She was not pleased to hear that when she checked in with me the next morning. She was a pleasant woman, but she was acting like I was personally insulting her because I didn't roll myself out of bed after abdominal surgery to pump every couple of hours. The nurses in the NICU were just as intense about my breastfeeding.

People no longer asked me what my decision was, it was expected of me. They would make me pump in front of them and then frown at the amount I was producing. They grilled me on how many times a day I was pumping. The whole thing became so unpleasant that I shut down every time the subject came up.

I was breastfeeding my daughter, and it was going well, but I did not feel like other mothers who describe the whole thing as an incredible bonding experience.

For us, the whole thing was tense, uncomfortable and frustrating. To top it off, my hormones were raging out of control. I was crying all the time and felt like everyone was judging me as a mother. I started getting caught up in how much I was producing and putting pressure on myself to provide more each time.

Maybe it was just my hormones, but I felt so unhappy feeding her and even felt that way during pumping. I felt like a cow that was chained to a post and forced to be milked eight times a day. I found myself making excuses for why I couldn't pump or breastfeed her. Instead, I used the formula the hospital sent us home with.

At the first pediatric appointment, I tested the waters again with this new doctor. I told her that I didn't love breastfeeding, but was doing it for my daughter since she needed it.

"If you don't like it, then stop." She told me. "I can't tell the difference between a breastfed child and a formula child, but I can tell the difference in the kids that have a healthy, happy mom."

Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. It was everything I needed to hear to officially make the switch. That afternoon I started to wean myself off pumping.

Not only am I much happier, but my daughter continues to thrive. At her latest doctor's appointment, she continues to gain weight, and her doctor is amazed at how well she is doing.

Breastfeeding is a very personal choice, and it's one that a lot of mothers and babies love, but I'm one of the mothers who hated it. Whenever I think I've made a mistake and I should have just "sucked it up," I think back to what my doctor said.

Give your kid the greatest gift of all. Be a happy mom.

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Life
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