A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

5 ways to make playtime good for your child’s brain, too

Although there has been a big push toward academics for young children in recent years, the research continues to show that play is really the engine for learning among our little ones. It may look frivolous to us, but play is really helping our kids learn valuable lessons, test out roles and figure out their place in the world.


As a parent, you can foster playtime in ways that can make it even more beneficial for their developing brains and social skills.

1. Use spatial language

Remember the last time you tried to assemble some IKEA furniture? That is a test of your spatial skills if ever there was one. If you want your kids to develop better spatial skills, play is a perfect way to start. Building blocks, construction sets and magnetic tiles are classic toys that still work best for developing these skills.

The key, however, is guidance from adults. Using words like “over,” “under” and “next to” are how kids pick up on directionality and spatial understanding.

We take these concepts for granted—but for young developing minds, this is the first step in later engineering magic.


2. Let them (and their imaginations) take the lead

Yes, we are the parents and we technically know more than the kids, but when it comes to play they are the experts. Besides providing boundaries to ensure safety, we should try to allow our kids imaginations to lead their play where they want to go.

For parents that can be a challenge—we think we need to make it “more fun” or “educational,” but kids generally have an idea of the type of play that interests them the most. In fact, research backs this up, too. Studies indicate that children whose parents follow their lead and pace in playtime developed better cognitive skills, such as mental flexibility and controlling impulses. The same was seen among kids whose parents provided guidance and scaffolding in a task or game, but did not take over the scenario.


3. Stick with the basics

In our age of technology, classic toys like blocks, dolls, tools and books may seem old fashioned. There are no electronics, beeps, lights or touch screens. For kids, however, classic toys are like brain food.

These toys are classic for a reason—they are open-ended.

This means kids have to use their brain power and imagination to create new ways of playing with these toys each time they use them. Beeps and lights are fun, but if that is all a toy can do, the novelty will wear off quickly. Classic toys have longevity and brain-building power because they can be made into anything.


There are real language-learning differences, too. Although research is new in this area, early studies are showing that infants vocalize less when playing with electronic toys compared to classic toys or books. Relatedly, adults tend to talk to infants less while they are playing with electronic toys, rather than classic toys. This is important, of course, because the number of words children hear related directly to their language development.

4. Don’t be afraid to label and repeat

If you are a parent to a toddler, you know that repetition is a big part of your life. Your child probably wants to hear the same story every day, play with the same toy and maybe even wear the same shirt. They really aren’t just trying to annoy you. Underneath all the repetition is a brain hard at work figuring out the world.

Research tells us that the same repetition in language development works, too. Kids whose parents use more words and repeat words tend to learn more language by age two than children of parents who do not.

In the case of language development, quantity really does matter. However, it is not just quantity that is key. Repetition is important because it aides kids in learning to segment language into individual words.

As a parent, this labeling and repeating may make you feel like an ongoing episode of Sesame Street—but bear with it for a short time. This period of development will pass and soon enough that same child will be teaching you vocabulary they learned at school.


5. Let the outdoors be their playmate

Most of us know that kids enjoy the outdoors, but kids also physiologically need the outdoors. The benefits for both brain and body are endless. In the outdoors, kids practice their gross motor skills, their eyes adjust to differing dimensions and their brains come alive with questions and insights about textures, water and light.

In certain parts of the country where urban kids do not have easy access to nature, some pediatricians are actually prescribing outdoor time.


Having two very active boys, I have learned that the outdoors has to be part of their day, regardless of the weather. In the summer, this is easy—if they are bounding with energy early in the morning, outside time is the answer. Nature becomes just another play mate to us—it’s always changing. New bugs appear, the garden looks different each day and biking or the pool is the best exercise around. In the winter, it is a bit more challenging. Even in cold weather, however, a short trip outside can be a learning experience. Why is that icicle longer than the other one? Look how my breath is visible when I blow in the cold air. Nature can be an awesome classroom and the catalyst for many of the best questions.

Playing with your kids doesn’t have to be pre-planned or Pinterest-worthy. With a little guidance, even the simplest playtime can help them learn and bond with you.

Comments20x20 ExportCreated with Sketch.
Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

Subscribe to get inspiration and super helpful ideas to rock your #momlife. Motherhood looks amazing on you.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

Starting your child on solids can be a daunting process. Between the mixed advice that seems to come from every angle ("Thanks, Grandma, but pretty sure one dessert is enough…") to the at-times picky palates of our little ones, it can be tough on a mama trying to raise a kid with a sophisticated palate.

But raising an adventurous eater doesn't have to be a chore. In partnership with our friends at Raised Real, here are eight tips to naturally encourage your child to nibble and taste with courage.

1. Keep an open mind. 

As the parent, you set the tone for every bite. So stay positive! Raised Real makes it easy to work new and exciting ingredients into every meal, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to practice modeling open-minded eating. Instead of saying, "You might not like this" or "It's okay if you don't like it" from the start, keep your tone upbeat—or simply serve new dishes without any fanfare at all. (Toddlers can smell a tough sell from a mile away.) Either way, let your child decide for themselves how they feel about new dishes.

2. Show mealtime some respect. 

Spend less time in the kitchen and more time together at the table with Raised Real meals, which come prepped and ready to steam and blend. They're even delivered to your door—because they know how busy you are, mama. Think about it: Do you enjoy a meal you've had to rush through? Keep meals relaxed and let your child savor and taste one bite at a time to take any potential anxiety out of the equation. (This may mean you need to set aside more time than you think for dinner.)

3. Serve the same (vibrant) dish to the whole family.

Don't fall into the "short-order cook" trap. Instead of cooking a different meal for every family member, serve one dish that everyone can enjoy. Seeing his parents eating a dish can be a simple way to encourage your little one to take a bite, even if he's never tried it before. Since Raised Real meals are made with real, whole ingredients, they can be the perfect inspiration for a meal you serve to the whole family.

4. Get kids involved in prepping the meal.

Raised Real's ingredients are simple to prepare, meaning even little hands can help with steaming and blending. When children help you cook, they feel more ownership over the food—and less like they're being forced into eating something unfamiliar. As they grow, have your children help with washing and stirring, while bigger kids can peel, season, and even chop with supervision. Oftentimes, they'll be so proud of what they've made they won't be able to wait to try it.

5. Minimize snacking and calorie-laden drinks before meals. 

Serving a new ingredient? Skip the snacks. Hungry kids are less picky kids, so make sure they're not coming to the table full when you're introducing a new flavor. It's also a good idea to serve in courses and start with the unfamiliar food when they're hungriest to temper any potential resistance.

6. Don’t be afraid to introduce seasoning!  

Raised Real meals come with fresh seasonings already added in so you can easily turn up the flavor. Cinnamon, basil, turmeric, and cumin are all great flavors to pique the palate from an early age, and adding a dash or two to your recipes can spice up an otherwise simple dish.

7. Make “just one bite” the goal. 

Don't stress if your toddler isn't cleaning their plate—if he's hungry, he'll eat. Raised Real meals are designed to train the palate, so even a bite or two can get the job done. Right now the most important thing is to broaden their horizons with new flavors.

8. Try and try and try again. 

Kids won't always like things the first time. (It can take up to 20 tries!) If your child turns up her nose at tikka masala the first time, that doesn't mean she'll never care for Indian food. So don't worry. And be sure to try every ingredient again another day—or the next time you get it in your Raised Real meal box!

Still not sure where to start? Raised Real takes the guesswork out of introducing a variety of solids by delivering dietician-designed, professionally prepped ingredients you simply steam, blend, and serve (or skip the blending for toddlers who are ready for finger foods)—that's why they're our favorite healthy meal hack for kids.

Raising an adventurous eating just got a whole lot simpler, mama.

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

You might also like:


I wasn't supposed to be a stay-at-home mom.

Or, to put it another way, I wasn't supposed to be a year-round, stay-at-home mom. My husband and I live in Los Angeles, and our rent and monthly bills require two paychecks.

By the time our son Ryan was born, I had been teaching for seven years. And there was no question that I'd continue to teach. Other teacher-moms told me that teaching was the "perfect" career for parents.

"Once he starts school, you and your son will have the same hours each day."

"You'll always be available when he's got a random day off from school."

"You'll spend vacations together."

"You know what your schedule is year-round. It's not like other jobs, where your schedule changes on a weekly basis."

Like my husband's schedule. Paul's retail career didn't provide the same consistent schedule, week after week, that my teaching career did. While Paul's schedule could be erratic, I would provide Ryan with a reliable, fixed routine.

And my colleagues were right.

Aside from a few exceptions, such as Parent-Teacher Conferences and Back-to-School Night, Ryan and I would have dinner together each night. I imagined us doing "homework" together each afternoon—Ryan doing actual homework, me grading my students' homework.

Because there are 180 school days, theoretically, that means that the other half of the year, I'd spend with Ryan. But again, there were some exceptions. I usually spent quite a bit of time each summer attending conferences, workshops, and professional developments. I always returned to my classroom several days before the start of the new school year to get everything ready.

Still, teaching would continue to provide our family with a needed second income, feed my passion for teaching, and allow me the opportunity to spend considerable time with my son each day, all year long.

If Ryan attended the same small, local elementary school where I taught, I'd never have to choose between my students and my son. We'd come and go to school together, I'd watch him walk with his class in our school's Halloween Parade, and he'd watch me walk with mine. I'd hear him and his class sing holiday songs during our winter performance, and he'd hear my class.

That was the plan.

But while Ryan was a preschooler, the plan changed.

I got sick with a "mystery illness" that took doctors almost a year and a half to diagnose. Eventually, my rheumatologist determined I suffered from Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease, an autoimmune disease. I tried to pretend that my disease didn't impact my life or require any major lifestyle changes. But I couldn't keep up the pretense. So, in 2013, after a 12-year teaching career, I retired due to a disability.

I wasn't merely forced to give up my career. I had to give up my passion. I was now thrust into the role of year-round, stay-at-home mom, and I wasn't completely sure how to do it.

Thankfully, my disability check would continue to provide us with some income and the matching schedules Ryan had grown accustomed to would continue as well. But there were a lot of changes.

I had never before been the person to take Ryan to preschool. That job had always fallen to either our nanny or Paul. Now, I had to learn the timetable for breakfast, and the morning routine of getting washed, dressed, and out of the house.

I also had to figure out what to do after preschool. When I was teaching, I came home in the late afternoon. Ryan and I had some play time and shortly after that, we would begin our nightly evening routine. Now, with preschool ending at two o'clock each afternoon, we would have hours together before it was time for dinner.

How would I fill that time?

I knew how to lesson plan for a class of 30-plus students. I knew how to fill school days with a mix of whole-group instruction, independent work, and cooperative group work. I had a pacing plan to adhere to, standards and concepts that I was mandated to teach on a

timetable to prepare my students for periodic assessments and yearly standardized testing. But how would I organize a single day that involved just Ryan and me?

Many colleagues told me to find the silver lining. I had a disability, but I had also been given a gift—the opportunity to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. While that was true, it came at a price.

I felt confused because I wasn't accepting my new role with complete enthusiasm and pure delight. I alternated between feelings of guilt, anger, and frustration because it wasn't my choice. My doctor and the state of California told me I could no longer teach. And when someone tells you that you can or cannot do something, it means something entirely different than when the choice is your own.

While I love my son and am honored to be his mother, I didn't know how to reconcile the fact that mothering had now become my primary job every day. I wasn't sure how to accept and make sense of my new identity. Disabled woman. Former Teacher. Stay-at-home mom.

I've slowly come to realize that I'm still a teacher, but now my student roster consists of one, my son, and my classroom isn't always a room. Sometimes it's the library. Sometimes it's our kitchen. Sometimes it's our backyard.

Sometimes it's enough. Sometimes it isn't. But it is always an adventure.

You might also like:

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.

You might also like:

Jessica Simpson will soon join the mom of three club! The singer-turned-fashion mogul announced on Instagram today that she is expecting a baby girl.

"This little baby girl will make us a family of five," said Simpson, who shares 6-year-old Maxwell and 5-year-old Ace with husband Eric Johnson. "We couldn't be happier to announce this precious blessing of life."

The news may come as a surprise to Simpson's fans, considering she's been pretty vocal about feeling as though her family was complete. "I have two beautiful children, and I'm not having a third," she told Ellen DeGeneres in 2017. "They're too cute. You can't top that."

Earlier this year, Simpson revealed to Entertainment Tonight she had developed a case of baby fever, but said it would "definitely have to be a miracle" to have a third baby. Today's joyful announcement is proof that plans can change and that's part of the fun of life. All that really matters is that Simpson's family—including the two big siblings—certainly seem excited.

Besides, the designer of a line for Motherhood Maternity shouldn't have any problem with being just as fashionable as ever through her third pregnancy. 😉

Congrats to the growing family!

You might also like:

Pumpkin spice lattes are here and the weather is getting chillier. That can only mean one thing—Halloween is near! Whether you're a fan of the holiday or not, there's simply nothing more precious than dressing up your baby or toddler in an adorable costume.

Today only, Target has up to 40% off Halloween costumes for the entire family. We rounded up the cutest picks from the baby + toddler departments—check 'em out. 😍

Toddler Halloween Costumes: Shark

Shark costume, $15.00 (was $25.00)

BUY

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

You might also like:

Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.