Everything about this school year feels wrong

But the hard choices could lead to a new, better education system

return to school fall 2020 choice

Some parents desperately need their children to be back in classrooms come September. Others question how schools can possibly keep students and teachers safe as the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States surpasses the 4 million mark. Many parents hold both those concerns at the exact same time.

There is no perfect solution here, and every choice comes with sacrifices. Parents who cannot sacrifice income face the toughest choice—their child or their job.

School re-entry plans differ by location, by size and by socioeconomic support, but in every school district, in every city and state, there is one thing parents can be sure of as September looms: The 2020-2021 school year will be vastly different than every year that came before it.

The back-to-school commercials are still airing on TV, but they reflect our strange new reality—a scene of masked students carrying fresh backpacks down locker-lined hallways cuts to a kid studying at home, books splayed on a new desk.

This year, the pandemic is our teacher, crumpling up our cultural script for K-12 education and demanding a do-over.

We have long relied on a story of standardized education, one that creates an easy shorthand for the experiences of childhood and youth—every neighborhood has schools where bells rings, balls bounce, kindergarteners laugh and teens go to prom—but this script ignores how much of the K-12 experience isn't standardized, but stratified.

In upending our traditional planning for school, the pandemic is giving us an opportunity to rewrite the script for the educational experience. This year, more than any before it, is forcing a recognition of how the current structure wasn't working for all kids, or all parents—even before the virus.

It's time to talk about the different kinds of plans parents are making for their children this year, to normalize having empathy for those whose plans don't mirror our own, and to learn how this interruption to learning can make the future of education better and safer.

Here are some of the diverse decisions parents are making—and the lessons they offer, if we're willing to listen and act.

We need to learn from parents who want kids back in school

For many parents, school closures have had massive impacts on careers or income, with mothers bearing more of the brunt than fathers. It is absolutely understandable these families prefer a return to in-person classes over another semester of distance learning from home.

Utah mom Emily Bell McCormick owns a communication and advocacy consulting firm and shares five kids with her husband, a surgeon. During a recent rally in Salt Lake City in support of in-person schooling, Bell McCormick explained how hard it has been for the couple to communicate with all their kids' teachers while supervising distancing learning and juggling their own demanding work schedules.

"Families are burning out," she explained, adding that she was responding to 18 different teachers while helping her kids with their schoolwork. Her kids say they miss school.

Meanwhile in California, where Governor Gavin Newsom recently announced some schools will not be able to reopen for in-person learning in September, many parents who occupy a lower tax bracket than the McCormicks are worried not just about burnout but about paying the bills, too.

Santa Rosa mom Ariana Beltran says she would actually prefer to homeschool her 6-year-old son, according to EdSource, but the electrician's apprentice cannot afford to stay home with him.

"I don't really have a choice because I work and I'm a single parent," Beltran said.

Her concerns are echoed in a lawsuit filed by a group of California parents trying to have schools reopen. The lawyer for the group says that vulnerable families are being forced to choose between their jobs and their families.

We need to hear the voices of mothers like Bell McCormick and Beltran going forward, not just in 2020, but beyond. The majority of American mothers are working mothers and nearly a quarter of working moms are solo moms who can't make the choice to drop out of the workforce. We can't assume American education involves a stay-at-home parent.

We need to learn from parents who don't want kids back in school

Of course, not every parent wants their child back in an in-person classroom right now, and we need to understand the reasons why—and respect parents for doing what they feel is best for their kids.

Arkansas mom and neuropsychologist Kristin Addison-Brown told the Arkansas Times that she and her husband just didn't feel reassured when they looked at their school's re-entry plan. So they are keeping their 9-year-old home come fall.

"I feel for the school administrators having to deal with this right now. I don't know that they're getting a lot of support from the state and federal government with key decisions they're having to make," says Addison-Brown, who lost an elderly family member to COVID-19 and understands that the pandemic is not over. "They're between a rock and a hard place."

The re-entry plan for the Jonesboro Public School District (released before Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a statewide mask mandate for adults), recommended but did not require students or teachers to wear masks.

For Addison-Brown, that means her son's place will be at home for now, even though he would like to return to his social circle at school.

Meanwhile in Utah, mom Penny Brown says she plans to homeschool her children because Gov. Gary Herbert says masks will be required for K-12 schools reopening in his state.

Brown feels the mask requirement will be "strenuous and overbearing and dystopian."

We need to hear the voices of both these mothers, because their opposing positions on school re-entry plans led to the same outcome: Keeping their kids home.

Before we judge or condemn a parent for not trusting their school's reopening plan—either because it's too strict or not strict enough—let's consider how we got here. The lack of a coordinated national response to the pandemic has helped foster a widespread distrust of expert and scientific opinion, while also forcing communities to come up with their own response plans—which are often not just different, but contradictory to each other, so there's no clear "right" path forward. This has created confusion, stress and unnecessary sacrifice for all parents.

We need to learn from parents of kids with disabilities

School districts have made strides toward inclusivity in recent years, but parents of children with disabilities say many school re-entry plans represent a setback in their children's education.

The lawyer representing the group of parents suing the state of California in the hopes of reopening schools says distance learning plans often don't work for diasbled children who require educational supports.

"Special needs children are left out in the cold altogether, despite federal and state mandates," lead attorney Harmeet Dhillon said, adding "California cannot ignore its legal duties and harm these children."

But across the nation, many parents of students who typically receive additional supports or accommodations in their classrooms say those elements were missing in the roll out of distance learning in the spring.

"It has been very frustrating for us," Massachusetts mom Marla Murasko told NPR of distance learning. Her 14-year-old son Jacob has Down Syndrome and typically gets accommodations to the work in his classroom.

"He needs it very simplified in order for him to learn it. If there's no accommodations or modifications for him, he really can't attend to that lesson plan unless I modify it for him."

The added stress of having to modify lesson plans or activities (a responsibility that would usually fall to a teacher or educational assistant in pre-pandemic times) adds an additional layer of stress for parents of disabled kids.

LA mom Renee Bailey had a similar experience, telling KCAL, "Ever since the pandemic, my son has not received any of his contracted services that have been identified in his [Individualized Education Program]."

As the pandemic continues, returning to in-person school this fall is simply not an option for children who have compromised immune systems or other health concerns that make them high-risk for COVID-19. This is especially concerning considering a recent report from the Los Angeles Unified School District (the second-largest school district in the country), which found the participation rate for middle and high school students with disabilities was only 55% during remote learning. But since LA Unified will not be opening campuses this fall, remote learning is the only option.

Children with disabilities are getting left behind in the shift to digital, and as mom Allison Wohl recently wrote from the Washington Post, "technology can and should open doors, not create additional barriers."

We need to listen to the parents of disabled kids when they say their children are not being served right now. Thirty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act ensured schools would have accommodations like ramps and elevators, and in 2020, during distance learning, extra supports from educational assistants and teachers are the digital equivalent.

We need to learn from parents who have the privilege of choice and those who don't

It's not just kids with disabilities who are getting left behind in the shift to digital learning, it's also kids who don't have access to computers and internet at home, and children whose parents must go to work and cannot be home to assist them in distance learning.

That report from the LA Unified School District didn't just find that disabled kids were missing out during distance learning, but also that more than 50,000 of its Black and Latino middle and high school students didn't regularly participate in digital classes. Homeless children, kids in foster care and those learning English also had low participation rates,

On the other end of the spectrum, a new trend among wealthy white families involves gathering kids together in small groups or so-called learning pods, where all the parents pitch in to commission a private tutor. These pandemic pods illustrate how some kids will always have access to education, and how quickly a crisis can widen the gulf of inequality in our school system.

We need to hear the parents on both ends of this spectrum because allowing a generation of kids to fall through the cracks and go without an education is going to hurt America not just in 2020, but in 2030 and beyond. The wealthy parents who are choosing alternatives to public school are telling society though their choices that the public school system is not meeting their needs in a critical moment. The families who are unable to participate in digital learning because of a lack of access are telling us that for them, this system is broken. America needs to hear what they're saying.

A post-pandemic plan for education in America

While many parents are waiting for things to "get back to normal," it's becoming more and more clear that when it comes to the education system normal wasn't working, and left far too many families vulnerable—to a childcare crisis, to misinformation and to inequality.

It's time to rebuild the school system by investing in education. Decades of chronic underfunding and inequity between school districts meant schools did not have the reserves or staff required to quickly pivot to digital learning. A divestment in education by many states after the 2008 recession meant schools were ill-prepared for what they had to do in 2020, and the Trump administration is currently withholding much-needed financial resources from the nation's schools in an effort to force schools to reopen classrooms.

America's children need an education, whether it's in a classroom or through a computer, and funding schools (fully open or not) is necessary, now. Reopening schools—whether fully in the fall or through a hybrid of digital and in-person learning—is going to take billions of dollars. Republican leaders plan to invest $105 billion in education, with $70 billion earmarked for K-12 education (and about half of that being contingent on schools re-opening), but the debate continues and the plan won't be finalized until next week.

That's unacceptable. It's nearly August and schools needed this money in May. It's time for federal lawmakers to stop sitting and start investing in children and the future of this country. If they do, the next crisis won't be so hard, because our schools will be healthy and ready.

In This Article

    How one company is making a huge difference for LGBTQ youth

    Take notes, all you other brands, this is how it's done

    Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

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

    We spoke to Chris Bright (he/she/they), Director of Public Training at The Trevor Project, who works closely with H&M. Chris shared with us the Trevor Project's important mission, and what all brands should do to best support LGBTQ youth today.

    1. For those that do not know, what is The Trevor Project's mission? What is it all about and its impact on society?

    The Trevor Project is the world's largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) young people. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people, and LGBTQ youth are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight or cis peers. Our mission is to end suicide among the estimated 1.8 million LGBTQ youth under the age of 25 in the U.S. who seriously consider suicide each year.

    Founded in 1998, The Trevor Project launched TrevorLifeline, the first 24/7 national lifeline supporting LGBTQ youth in crisis alongside HBO's broadcast of the Academy Award-winning short film Trevor. The first calls were answered that night. Since then, we have grown from reaching several thousand LGBTQ youth per year to becoming the preeminent resource for LGBTQ young people in crisis, directly serving over 200K LGBTQ young people in the last fiscal year alone. We work tirelessly to save young lives by providing support through our free and confidential crisis programs on platforms where young people spend their time — online and on the phone. In addition to TrevorLifeline, we offer 24/7 digital crisis services including TrevorText and TrevorChat, as well as TrevorSpace, the world's largest safe space social networking site for LGBTQ youth.

    H&M + The Trevor Project

    2. Can you describe the nature of the relationship/partnership the Trevor Project has with H&M?

    Our collaboration with H&M has been remarkably successful, with H&M driving awareness of The Trevor Project and our services among its audience while also demonstrating its strong support of LGBTQ young people. H&M first partnered with us in December 2020 during our "Every Single One" holiday campaign, where they donated $250K in matching funds for Giving Tuesday. This helped The Trevor Project have our best-ever Giving Tuesday moment.

    Our work together has had extensive impact, allowing H&M to engage employees, customers, and community members in conversations about LGBTQ Allyship through Trevor's resources and mission. We're thankful for H&M's support, which helps us continue to operate and improve our 24/7 life-saving crisis services so we can serve more LGBTQ young people.

    3. Why was H&M the right company to partner with?

    H&M is an established yet relevant brand that has the attention of young people, and we're always so thankful to partner with youth-facing brands that can not only spread messages of love and support, but also can increase the awareness of our crisis services and resources. We know that H&M genuinely cares about creating a better future for LGBTQ young people.

    4. What do you see as the biggest challenge or struggle for LGBTQ kids today?

    LGBTQ youth are incredibly diverse, with so many intersecting identities and unique experiences — making it difficult for me to pinpoint what might be the single biggest challenge or struggle for all LGBTQ youth today.

    What I can say, however, is our research reveals numerous challenges or struggles that may be more prevalent across the board for LGBTQ youth. According to our 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, which captures the experiences of nearly 35,000 LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 24 across the U.S., nearly 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth. Over 94% of LGBTQ youth reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health and more than 80% of LGBTQ youth stated that COVID-19 made their living situation more stressful.

    What's clear is that while there is no single biggest challenge or struggle for our LGBTQ youth today, it's critical that we find ways to uplift and support each and every LGBTQ young person that we can.

    5. Since it's back to school time, are there stressors or situations that are uniquely heightened for LGBTQ youth, other than the standard new school year jitters, that people don't necessarily know about?

    Our research has found that LGBTQ youth who reported having at least one LGBTQ-affirming space had 35% reduced odds of attempting suicide in the past year, with LGBTQ-affirming school environments having the strongest association with reduced suicide attempts. Since the onset of COVID-19, the volume of youth reaching out to us has significantly increased, at times nearly double our pre-COVID volume. Feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anxiety have been heightened as a result of the pandemic, further emphasizing the need for LGBTQ youth to have access to spaces that affirm their identities, such as gender-neutral bathrooms, trans-inclusive sports, and positive extracurricular activities such as Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSAs).

    LGBTQ youth who reported having at least one accepting adult — whether it be teachers, coaches, or counselors — were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year. The Trevor Project created the Model School District Policy on Suicide Prevention, which includes requirements for teacher training, mental health instruction for students, and policies and procedures for suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that as in-person learning returns, schools provide LGBTQ students with safe learning environments where they can feel empowered, supported, and accepted by their peers and educators.

    H&M + the Trevor Project

    6. In what way is the support that The Trevor Project provides crucial to LGBTQ youth, especially as it pertains to suicide prevention?

    The support that The Trevor Project provides is so crucial because suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people — and LGBTQ youth are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight or cis peers. LGBTQ youth reach out to Trevor because we are LGBTQ-affirming and a trusted provider of crisis services. All of our volunteers are highly-trained to answer calls, chats, and text from LGBTQ youth 24/7 when they are feeling suicidal or need a safe, non-judgmental place to talk.

    Almost three-quarters of youth stated that they either would not or were unsure if they would have another service if The Trevor Project did not exist. We aim to be there for every young LGBTQ person in crisis with a clear message: you are loved, your life has value, and you are never alone.

    7. What do you think the responsibility is for brands to be involved in pro-social, activism-related work?

    Everyone can play a role in creating change and building progress in our society. Brands — especially those with large platforms and influence — have a responsibility to fulfill that role as well. We recognize H&M and our other brand partners for helping spur progress on important issues, and we encourage others to follow suit. Beyond the essential financial support that brands can provide to nonprofits like The Trevor Project, there's also a direct benefit for the community when brands are loud about their support of Pride; we've found that more than half of youth said brands who support the LGBTQ community positively impact how they feel about being LGBTQ. Finally, it's important to remember that Pride doesn't begin and end in June — the opportunity to support Pride is 365 days a year. We are thrilled to have H&M as a year-round partner for The Trevor Project, demonstrating their authentic support for our work.

    8. What is one of the biggest impacts or positive results you have seen come from the partnership between The Trevor Project and H&M?

    We wouldn't be able to do the work we do and make the progress we've made without our brand partners like H&M. The Trevor Project has experienced significant growth in the last few years with the implementation of our five key program areas: crisis services, peer support, research, education and public awareness, and advocacy. Since 2019, we've been working to scale our volunteer training to increase the number of crisis services counselors on a yearly basis. In addition to original, intersectional monthly research briefs, our research team launched the world's largest survey of LGBTQ youth mental health in 2019, and has released a total of three national, annual reports. We've ramped up Trevor's advocacy work on the local, state, and federal levels to protect the rights of LGBTQ people, including bills to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy that have been in introduced in 40 states. H&M's partnership helps us advance this work by raising significant funds and awareness for our mission. During June 2021, when H&M served as one of our key Pride Partners, our crisis counselors served over 19,500 crisis contacts with free, confidential support via phone, chat, and text.

    9. How important is it for LGBTQ+ youth to see allies in popular culture, be it a celebrity or high profile person, mainstream brand, etc.?

    LGBTQ representation in the mainstream media is extremely important as it makes LGBTQ youth feel seen, validated, and confident that they are not alone. Over 80% of youth said that celebrities who are LGBTQ positively influence how they feel about being LGBTQ, and more than half of youth said brands who support the LGBTQ community have a positive impact on their LGBTQ identity. As we continue to see increased visibility for marginalized communities in popular culture, diverse images will become normalized, which in turn creates a safer, more accepting world for all of us.

    10. For people who want to get involved with a cause like The Trevor Project, what is the best way to make a difference?

    There are a number of ways to get involved with The Trevor Project – from making a donation (TheTrevorProject.org/Donate) to applying to be a volunteer (TheTrevorProject.org/Volunteer) to spreading the word about our resources.

    Affirming spaces and support systems work to save young LGBTQ lives. People can be active in their communities to ensure that more safe, affirming spaces are available and thriving. Even making an effort to respect someone's pronouns and encouraging those around you to do the same can make a huge difference. Our research has also found that LGBTQ youth who report having at least one accepting adult were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt. If you get the opportunity, be that one person for a young person in your life.

    If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project's trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat www.TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678678.

    Our Partners

    This incredibly soft comforter from Sunday Citizen is like sleeping on a cloud

    My only complaint? I've slept through my alarm twice.

    When it comes to getting a good night's sleep, there are many factors that, as a mama, are hard to control. Who's going to wet the bed at 3 am, how many times a small person is going to need a sip of water, or the volume of your partner's snoring are total wildcards.

    One thing you can control? Tricking out your bed to make it as downright cozy as possible. (And in these times, is there anywhere you want to be than your bed like 75% of the time?)

    I've always been a down comforter sort of girl, but after a week of testing the ridiculously plush and aptly named Snug Comforter from Sunday Citizen, a brand that's run by "curators of soft, seekers of chill" who "believe in comfort over everything," it's safe to say I've been converted.

    Honestly, it's no wonder. Originally designed as a better blanket for luxury hotels and engineered with textile experts to create this uniquely soft fabric, it has made my bed into the vacation I so desperately want these days.

    The comforter is made up of two layers. On one side is their signature knit "snug" fabric which out-cozies even my most beloved (bought on sale) cashmere sweater. The other, a soft quilted microfiber. Together, it creates a weighty blanket that's as soothing to be under as it is to flop face-first into at the end of an exhausting day. Or at lunch. No judgement.

    Miraculously, given the weight and construction, it stays totally breathable and hasn't left me feeling overheated even on these warm summer nights with just a fan in the window.

    Beyond being the absolute most comfortable comforter I've found, it's also answered my minimalist bed making desires. Whether you opt to use it knit or quilted side up, it cleanly pulls the room together and doesn't wrinkle or look unkempt even if you steal a quick nap on top of it.

    Also worth noting, while all that sounds super luxe and totally indulgent, the best part is, it's equally durable. It's made to be easily machine washed and come out the other side as radically soft as ever, forever, which totally helps take the sting out of the price tag.

    My only complaint? I've slept through my alarm twice.

    Here is my top pick from Sunday Citizen, along with the super-soft goods I'm coveting for future purchases.

    Woodland Snug comforter


    The bedroom anchor I've been looking for— the Snug Comforter.


    Braided Pom Pom Throw

    Because this degree of coziness needs portability, I'm totally putting the throw version on my list. It's washable, which is a must-have given my shedding dog and two spill-prone kiddos who are bound to fight over it during family movie night.


    Lumbar pillow


    What's a cozy bed without a pile of pillows?


    Crystal infused sleep mask

    sunday citizen sleep mask

    Promoting sleep by creating total darkness and relaxation, I've bookmarked as my go-to gift for fellow mamas.


    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


    Motherly created the flexible online birth class moms need

    The Motherly Birth Class is completely online, which means you can take the class at your own pace.

    Taking a birth class is a pregnancy milestone. Whether you've been excited to take a birth class for a long time or have just recently decided that you wanted to take one, sitting down for that first lesson feels big—spoiler alert, this is really happening! But finding time for a birth class isn't as easy as it would seem.

    We know new parents are busy (hello, understatement of the year). Between diaper changes, pediatrician appointments, healing from birth and the general adjustment to #newparentlife, the days can fill up quickly. But a lot of people are caught off guard by how busy pregnancy can be, too! That first trimester is so often full of symptoms—like nausea and fatigue—that can make previously easy or simple tasks exhausting. The second trimester begins and (usually) we start to feel better. But then our days get filled with planning out baby registries and deciding on questions like, "Where will this tiny new human sleep?" And before you know it, it's the third trimester—and, well, then you're in the home stretch. Plus there are so many appointments!

    All this to say that we get how busy you are—and how hard that might make it to fit in a birth class.

    And that's why we created The Motherly Birth Class. The Motherly Birth Class is completely online, which means you can take the class at your own pace.

    Think you'll want to watch each lesson a few times over? Great!

    Due date's next week and you need the option to take a birth class very quickly? No problem!

    Like everything at Motherly, we designed this class with you in mind.

    Taught by Certified Nurse-Midwife Diana Spalding (who also wrote "The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama"), this class is broken into 12 lessons—and you get to control how and when you watch them. We'll teach you about what your (amazing) body is up to in labor, how to decide when it's time to head to the hospital or birth center (or when to call your home birth midwife), what your options are for coping with pain and so much more.

    When you sign up for The Motherly Birth Class, you'll get access to a downloadable workbook and meditations. Plus, you'll be invited to join our supportive private online community (where you can chat with the class instructor!)

    Oh, one more thing: Your insurance or flexible spending account might even able to able to cover the cost of this class.

    Pregnancy is wonderful—but it's a lot. You deserve a birth class that works for you and empowers you to have your best birth. Because vaginal or Cesarean, unmedicated or medication, birth is incredible. And you are the star of it all.

    You've got this.

    Sign up for The Motherly Birth Class today!

    The Motherly Birth Class


    Take our completely digital birth class from the comfort of your living room. We'll help you have your best birth—because you deserve it.


    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


    14 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

    They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

    Keeping kids entertained is a battle for all seasons. When it's warm and sunny, the options seem endless. Get them outside and get them moving. When it's cold or rainy, it gets a little tricker.

    So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of the best toys for toddlers and kids that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, many are Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

    From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these indoor outdoor toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

    Tiny thrill-seekers will love this kid-powered coaster which will send them (safely) sailing across the backyard or play space. The durable set comes with a high back coaster car and 10.75 feet of track, providing endless opportunities for developing gross motor skills, balance and learning to take turns. The track is made up of three separate pieces which are easy to assemble and take apart for storage (but we don't think it will be put away too often!)


    Secret Agent play set


    This set has everything your little secret agent needs to solve whatever case they might encounter: an ID badge, finger scanner, walkie-talkie handset, L-shaped scale and coloring comic (a printable file is also available for online download) along with a handy belt to carry it all along. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.


    Mini golf set

    Plan Toys mini golf set

    Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


    Stepping Stones


    Kiddos can jump, stretch, climb and balance with these non-slip stepping stones. The 20-piece set can be arranged in countless configurations to create obstacle courses, games or whatever they can dream up.


    Sand play set

    Plan Toys sand set

    Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


    Sensory play set


    Filled with sand or water, this compact-sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


    Vintage scooter balance bike

    Janod retro scooter balance bike

    Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


    Foam pogo stick


    Designed for ages 3 and up, My First Flybar offers kiddos who are too young for a pogo stick a frustration-free way to get their jump on. The wide foam base and stretchy bungee cord "stick" is sturdy enough to withstand indoor and outdoor use and makes a super fun addition to driveway obstacle courses and backyard races. Full disclosure—it squeaks when they bounce, but don't let that be a deterrent. One clever reviewer noted that with a pair of needle-nose pliers, you can surgically remove that sucker without damaging the base.




    Whether they're digging up sand in the backyard or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? It's made from recycled plastic milk cartons.


    Hopper ball

    Hopper ball

    Burn off all that extra energy hippity hopping across the lawn or the living room! This hopper ball is one of the top rated versions on Amazon as it's thicker and more durable than most. It also comes with a hand pump to make inflation quick and easy.


    Pull-along ducks


    There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


    Rocking chair seesaw


    This built-to-last rocking seesaw is a fun way to get the wiggles out in the grass or in the playroom. The sturdy design can support up to 77 pounds, so even older kiddos can get in on the action.


    Baby forest fox ride-on

    janod toys baby fox ride on

    Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


    Meadow ring toss game

    Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

    Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


    10 ways to strengthen your kids' mental health

    Now that school is back in session, there are new stressor to manage. Here's how to deal, mama.

    ksenia_she / Twenty20

    Summer is over, the new school year is in full swing, and we are all adjusting to our new routines. Whether you're over the moon or an anxious mess, let's face it... returning to school is yet another major change for our kids in a year already filled with uncertainty. From wearing masks to the rise in COVID cases, we just don't know what this year is going to look like. But what we do know is that this past year and a half has taken a toll on our kids' mental health.

    It's no surprise that you're wondering: "How the heck do I protect my kids' mental health, when I'm also struggling to hold everything together?"

    Now, I won't be able to completely ease your mind; however, I can outline 10 proven strategies that may help your family.

    I'm Dr. Mercedes, a child psychologist and parenting expert. I run the clinical team at Manatee, a virtual mental health clinic that helps families thrive and overcome the mental health challenges during these tumultuous times.

    I've had a front row seat to the amazing resourcefulness, patience, flexibility, and determination of parents. It's not an easy task to make your kids feel safe, secure, and confident during a pandemic that has left us all trying to ground ourselves again. Which brings me to a key point; there is a lot of pressure on this school year for most parents and kids. We all ask ourselves, "How can we make up for lost time?" "How can I ensure that my kid is thriving and performing in school AND feeling ok?" "Can they make friends again?" "How much anxiety is normal?"

    Well, if we've learned anything during the Olympics from Simone Biles (and many other athletes), it's that mental health is the foundation for anything we want to accomplish. Similarly, kids cannot excel if they are emotionally and mentally struggling. So, if we want our kids to thrive in school, in their social lives, and with their families, we must focus on setting their mental health up for success.

    10 ways to strengthen your kids mental health

    1. Stay positive AND realistic

    Kids will have ups and downs. We all have ups and downs. Make sure you ask open-ended questions about how they are feeling in general, then about school, with their friends, and about life. Avoid being overly optimistic by saying things like: "It's going to be a great year!" "You'll be fine!" Instead, be supportive and realistic. Let them know that some days do feel easier than others, but they can do hard things and will be able to overcome challenges. If they have bad days, it doesn't mean that the entire year will be difficult. Some key questions to get the conversation started:

    • How are you feeling about being back in school? How is it going with your friends?
    • What have you enjoyed the most?
    • What has been the hardest so far? What has helped you on the harder days? How can I help you?

    2. Create a family wellbeing manifesto

    A family manifesto communicates to your kids, "this is what we value as a family". It shows unity and helps emphasize your values and goals. This is a great way to practice point #1. Stick it on the fridge door or somewhere else that's visible, so kids and parents have a daily reminder. For inspiration, take a look at Manatee's family manifesto that we love and use with our own kids!

    3. Listen to your kid

    Prioritize connecting with your child. Listen to what they are interested in, what is bothering them and what is exciting. Try to not ask too many questions, but listen and watch how they respond. This will help you pick up on any mood changes quickly. Research shows even 15 minutes dedicated to connecting and learning about your kid or partner's world makes a huge difference (e.g., catching up in the car, asking for input on a work project, extra snuggles before bed or cooking together). You do not need to schedule something extra in, it's all about being truly present and making your kid or partner feel seen.

    4. Focus on gains, not losses

    We know kids are probably a little behind academically and socially. We know kids have missed out on opportunities, and for many of us our social skills have taken a hit. Some kids have regressed, and lost skills that they had previously mastered. Focusing on the losses will only teach your child to do the same. Instead, what have they gained? What growth can you celebrate? Are they more independent learners now? Were they able to spend more time with siblings or parents? Did they get better at using technology? Did they discover a new interest or hobby at home? Did they learn how to be flexible and adapt to new situations? Have they gained confidence after overcoming these challenges? Highlight these important lessons!

    5. Praise effort

    ... and not grades or outcomes! This is always recommended, but particularly this year when parents, kids, and teachers may be extra concerned about "falling behind." If your kid is trying their best, they are doing great! Focus on their hard work, practice, positive habits and continued discipline. These skills are the cornerstones of success. Marry the process, not the results.

    6. Stick to a routine

    Many of our routines went out the window last year, however, morning and night routines are very important, even for teens! It doesn't have to be clockwork everyday, but a schedule helps your kids create healthy habits and avoid the dreaded daily arguments. In fact, routines help kids get more sleep (vital to learn and develop social emotional skills), build confidence and independence, and reduce stress and anxiety!

    7. Relaxation, exercise, nutrition and sleep

    I know. Easier said than done, but these "four pillars of health" are vital to maintain mental health and should be considered as you build your family's routine. Brainstorm creative and fun solutions with your kids, for example; make a weekend family activity rotation that gets you outside or introduce a fun mealtime schedule like 'meatless Mondays' 'taco Tuesdays' 'veggie Fridays', etc. The key is to make it work for your family, and though you may get some crazy suggestions, letting your kids have a say will likely get them excited.

    8. Don't over-schedule

    Most of us are no longer used to being in a social setting for many hours a day. School is likely EXHAUSTING for many kids right now and so are the emotional waves that come with a new school year. Avoid overscheduling kids or yourself! Allow an hour of downtime after kids come home from school. Us humans need that mental relaxation to perform well. Whenever possible, keep 2 hours of 'unscheduled' time in everyone's days. Time for your brain to decompress and be bored are very important for brain development, creativity and problem solving skills.

    9. Make a 'Coping Toolbox' together

    Create a list of tools with your kids that they can use when they are upset (e.g. going for a walk, calling a friend, listening to music). For inspiration, check out our self-care tool. When we are upset, we have a very hard time thinking of what may help us, so building one ahead of time can be helpful. If they use one of their 'coping tools', be sure to praise your kid. For example, if your child is angry and goes outside to kick a soccer ball, you can say; "That is such a great way of letting your feelings out. I'm proud of you!" You can also ask what you can do to help when they are in a funk. Let your child complete this activity to give you (or any other trusted adult, like a teacher), a lot of clarity on what is actually helpful for your kid.

    10. Build a community

    For you and your kid. No one understands what you are going through like people in the same situation. Whether it's a new school, or going back to school, it is important for kids to feel connected to their teachers and other students. Help them have a sense of belonging. For example: Can they join a club? Volunteer to help younger students? Can you volunteer for school activities? Schedule a monthly activity with other school parents?

    But most importantly, pay attention to your kids as they adjust. Notice any changes and learn the mental health warning signs. Too many kids struggle for too long before their parents notice. If you aren't sure if your kid may need more support, talk to their school counselor, a therapist, or book a free 20 min session with a family expert at Manatee.

    Check out Manatee's back to school checklist for other tips and ideas to set your family up for success now that school is in full swing!

    Want to get more parenting tips on topics like this? Follow @getmanatee on Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, and Facebook or learn more about us at getmanatee.com.


    Nearly a third of millennial moms are having postpartum sex before they feel ready (and that's not okay)

    Whether you wait six weeks or six months, what's important is that you feel ready.

    Having a baby changes a lot—your relationships, your life and your body. In the earliest days when you're dealing with sleep deprivation and finding your feet as a new parent, having sex with your partner is likely pretty far down your list of concerns.

    That's why we are concerned that the results of our 2019 State of Motherhood survey revealed that nearly a third of Millennial moms (31%) say they had sex with their partner before they felt ready to do so.

    When it comes to postpartum sex, no specific waiting period is right for everyone, but many doctors and midwives recommend waiting four to six weeks after a birth, or until the mother feels comfortable resuming sexual activity. The Mayo Clinic says that when it comes to postpartum sex, you should "set your own timeline". Some moms want to have sex at six weeks postpartum, but many don't just yet.

    Our survey found that 53% of moms start feeling interested in sex again by the six week mark, and 11% of moms find they're interested in getting intimate before they are six weeks postpartum. Mothers under 30 are more likely to report being ready for sex by six weeks—with 67% reporting they were—while 54% of moms between 30 and 34 felt ready by six weeks, and 44% of moms over 35 did.

    But for a large number of mothers, nearly 40%, it takes a lot longer than six weeks—between six months and a year—to want to have sex again and there is nothing wrong with that. Whether you wait six weeks or six months, what's important is that you feel ready.

    "Resuming your sex life, on your terms, after giving birth can be empowering, and let's be honest, fun! If a woman feels ready both mentally and physically to have sex, she should listen to her body and all that she knows about it, and go for it," says Diana Spalding, midwife and Motherly's Digital Education Editor.

    After reviewing the findings of our survey (which saw 6,457 respondents answer questions online between March 28 and April 11, 2019, and was weighted to align with US Census demographic data), Spalding is concerned about why so many millennial moms are having sex before they want to.

    "Having sex after birth before she is ready is troublesome. First, if she has sustained any pelvic floor dysfunction or vaginal, anal, or vulvar injuries from pregnancy and birth, she needs proper medical attention before engaging in sex, which could further injure her," she explains, adding that a lack of education around and attention to birth injuries is an unacceptable shortcoming of our healthcare system.

    Spalding wants women to talk to their medical providers about any postpartum healing concerns they may have, and for our partners and society to put less pressure on new mothers to resume sexual activity.

    "The emotional ramifications of having sex without feeling ready are significant. Feeling pressured into sex is simply not okay. Healthy and fulfilling postpartum sex is a wonderful thing, but we have to do a better job of conveying to women that they matter."

    Yes, mama. You matter. Your comfort matters. Your pleasure matters. Your postpartum recovery matters and your partner and medical providers should understand that.

    Research published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology suggests about 17–36% of mothers report experiencing painful sex at six months postpartum and that only about 15% of new moms bring this concern up with their doctor.

    Here's the truth: When women are ready for postpartum sex, it can be really fun, but being ready is the key. If sex hurts it is a sign that something is wrong. If a medical provider tells you that this is just normal or the way sex is after a baby, that's unacceptable and you should seek a second opinion.

    And if sex isn't painful, but just not something you want to do right now, that's just fine. Resuming sexual intimacy after a baby can be wonderful (if you have the energy for it). If you would rather just cuddle or go to sleep tonight, that's okay, too, mama.

    This story was originally published on May 13, 2019

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