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If I had to choose one favorite part about teaching in a Montessori classroom, it would probably be seeing the spark in a child’s eye when she first realizes she can read. The delight of a child in decoding the seemingly mystical code of written language is like nothing else.


While most young children do not need to practice academic skills at home, early reading games can be a really fun way for you to share in this experience.

Here are five simple games to try:

1. Beginning sound scavenger hunt

Before your child can successfully read, he has to be able to isolate sounds. A scavenger hunt is a fun way to practice this skill, and you don’t need any supplies—just you and your child!

Say to your child, “I wonder if you can find something in the house that starts with B.” Say the phonetic sound of the letter, not the letter name. Repeat the sound a few times and then send him to search for something starting with that sound. Every child is different, but this is generally a good game for a 3 or 4 year old.

A fun and slightly easier variation is ‘I Spy.’ Gather 5-6 little objects on a rug or table. Each object should start with a different sound—for example, a toy pig, an apple and a ball. Then say “I spy something starting with ‘P.’” Say the “P” sound, not the name of the letter, and let your child find the pig.

2. Secret message game

This game is so simple, yet I have seen many Montessori children fall in love with it and play it daily!

Cut some blank slips of paper, get a pencil and tell your child you want to show her a game. Tell her you’re going to write a secret message just for her. Write it on a slip of paper, give it to her, and ask her to read it silently. Then ask her to find the object with that name and place the label on it.

Start with easy words like box, cup, mug and doll before moving on to more challenging household objects like plant, drum and window. Here is a great list of phonetic words if you find yourself stuck.

3. Commands

This is basically like charades. It’s a fun rainy day game because it combines reading with movement. This can be played with you and your child, two children taking turns, or simply your child by himself.

Write different action words on small pieces of paper or cardstock. Make sure to start with phonetic actions like run, sit, hop, hug, jog, sob, jump, skip, stand, stomp and clap. Ask your child to choose a paper and perform the action while you guess what it is. Take turns!

As he masters the phonetic words, you can add more complicated words or even phrases like ‘get a glass’ or ‘dance a jig.’ If he likes, your child can also think of actions and add his own command cards to the box.

4. Color labels

Apart from ‘red,’ most color names are not phonetic and can be tricky for children to learn, so playing a game is a great way for them to practice.

For this game, cut little slips of paper and write a color on each—use black ink for each label, as color coding them would make this too easy. Begin with just three labels and start with the easiest colors to sound-out—red, black and a third, perhaps your child’s favorite color.

Practice sounding out each color name with your child. When she’s familiar with the three labels, she’s ready to begin to play.

Fold the labels in half and put them in a little basket or box. Ask your child to choose a label and find something in the room of that color. For example, if she chooses a label that reads ‘red,’ she places it on something red. When she’s proficient with those colors, it’s time to add another!

5. Bingo

Bingo is one of the easiest board games for children to learn, so why not use it to practice reading?

You could make your own board, or use one of the many versions available online. You can say the word for your child to find, hold up a picture, or hold up the word for different variations.

If you try these games at home, the most important thing is to keep it fun!

If your child is getting frustrated, the game is likely too challenging for his current level. Start with easy sounds and words and do not correct your child if he gets it wrong. Just make a note to yourself that he might need more practice with a certain sound or word.

Reading games are a great way for children to get extra practice with their new skills, but their biggest purpose is to spark curiosity and wonder.

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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like the heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends, which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent.

Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, it's more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby—in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued. Crisis averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it all through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

The fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so that there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There are some mornings where I wake up and I'm ready for the day. My alarm goes off and I pop out of bed and hum along as I make breakfast before my son wakes up. But then there are days where I just want 10 more minutes to sleep in. Or breakfast feels impossible to make because all our time has run out. Or I just feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those are the mornings I stare at the fridge and think, Can someone else just make breakfast, please?

Enter: make-ahead breakfasts. We spoke to the geniuses at Pinterest and they shared their top 10 pins all around this beautiful, planned-ahead treat. Here they are.

(You're welcome, future self.)

1. Make-ahead breakfast enchiladas

www.pinterest.com

Created by Bellyful

I'd make these for dinner, too.

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