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*We’ve partnered with Mountain Buggy to help you achieve your #fitmomintentions. Ask a new mom about her postpartum body and she may reluctantly admit she wants to shed a few of those baby pounds. Yet, many messages in the media make you feel ashamed for even mentioning weight loss; we’re supposed to be proud of our new body, no matter how uncomfortable we feel in it. While we’re all for embracing your postpartum bod, we’ve also got your back if you wish that bod was slimmer. So for Part 3 of our #fitmomintentions series with Mountain Buggy, we’ll show you how to lose weight while working towards a goal, using a 6-week workout curated by our fitness editor Roma Van der Walt. Meet Well Rounded reader Stephanie, who got real about her #fitmomintensions in an email to us: Before I was pregnant, I was coming off a high. I had completed an IRONMAN: 140.6 miles of swimming, biking and running. I trained everyday for 8 months, and raised over $60,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. And then I got pregnant. High risk and high emotion, I ate my feelings and felt awful in my own skin. Which led to more feeling dinners and shower meltdowns. Did I mention that I got engaged while pregnant, and my wedding is in two months? Harper was born after over 24-hours of Labor and multiple epidurals. She almost died at birth and was in the NICU attached to machines when I held her for the first time. Once I started working out (which is almost daily), I would feel guilty because I was away from her. With 25 lbs and multiple diets that haven’t moved the needle, I cried out of sheer disappointment and embarrassment at every wedding dress appointment. I am looking for a running stroller routine that would enable me to work out and reach my goals, all while being with my daughter, and showing her the place I feel most strong and confident.

Well Rounded Reader Stephanie training with her Mountain Buggy Terrain.

Roma says: “Weight Loss postpartum is a loaded topic. After all, this is the time when we completely devote ourselves to another human being, their needs (and there are so many!) come first and our disheveled self comes second. However, in many instances we are also prepping to return to the world outside of our newborn bubble, whether that’s for work or otherwise. “Stephanie not only wants to trim down for her wedding, but she also signed up for multiple half-marathons, a 70.3 IRONMAN and a bunch of 10-milers and Olympic distance triathlons. I admire Stephanie’s commitment to going after her goals. The caveat is however, that these intense periods of training and life have to be no more than several months at most and then we have to give ourselves a break again.” Below is a 6-week program to help you get extra fit, fast, slim and stay sane as a new mom. It’s structured as training for a race of at least 10K (or a wedding!) at the end, but can be used for weight loss even if you have no end-goal. WEEK 1:
  • Find a coach. Just like in every other area of life, having a coach to oversee your progress and hold you accountable, is crucial.
  • Invest in a training journal such as the Believe Training Journal by fellow new mama (of two) and badass runner Lauren Fleshman or sign up for myfitnesspal to track your training and weightloss.
  • Sit your partner down and warn them. The next six weeks may be hectic, they will require some emotional leniency on their part and some understanding of your fatigue, desperation, elation, frustration and added piles of laundry.
  • Stock up your fridge and pantry with healthy snacks such as nuts, dried fruit, dark chocolate, coconut flakes, peanut-butter, Ezekiel raisin toast, pre-boiled eggs and good full fat yoghurt. Hell hath no fury like a hangry mother.
  • Schedule an annual physical and have your hormones tested, especially if you have larger fitness goals in mind. The female athlete triad is particularly scary for nursing moms, resulting in anemia and possibly osteopenia (brittle bones) and 25% of mothers get diagnosed with thyroiditis about 5-6 months postpartum. Thyroiditis most often follows a curve of HYPERthyroidism (yay weightloss, scary cardiac symptoms) followed by HYPOthyroidism (oy, it’s not your baby that’s causing the fatigue) and in another 25% of cases women will stay chronically ill with Hashimoto’s disease.
  • If you are aiming to do a longer-distance race down the line, sign up for a 5k and use it as a so called ‘rust buster.’ For more structured training, we need to know your current fitness to be able to build fitness. So, if you run the 5k in 30 minutes, your mile pace is about 9:45/ mile. This is valuable information for the coming weeks. Ideally schedule another 5k for 3 weeks later at the half-way mark of your training plan.
WEEK 2:
  • A good pre workout breakfast should include easily digestible carbs, so for example a piece of toast with banana, or oatmeal with blueberries. Plan to run out 3 days a week. If your partner doesn’t have to be out of the house too early, ask them to do breakfast with the kid(s) or take the baby in your running stroller.
  • Right after finishing a workout, is a crucial window to keep your body burning, so have a quick snack or shake and then nurse, shower, get ready and have a bigger meal later. The ratio should be 4:1 carbohydrate to protein, toast with a boiled egg, a shake with banana, almond milk and berries.
  • Set your schedule for the week: 3 medium cardio sessions running or swimming or biking and one longer session on the weekend where you possibly combine two of the above and train for at least one hour or longer. If you can fit it in, add one more day for a more intense workout during the work week.
  • Work on your core and back with this move for your deep core.
WEEK 3:
  • How is your weight loss progress going? Make sure to weigh yourself first thing in the morning after going to the bathroom. Either do it every day and you will quickly find that there are fluctuations or do it 1-2 times a week and watch more overall progress. The best way I have found to lose weight is to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. So work your way from carb richer meals to low / no carb at dinner. Please don’t eat salad for lunch, you will find yourself hungry within hours and starving by dinner time. Your body burns more carbohydrate during the day when you are active but needs more protein and good fats for repairs of muscle tissue at night. Also, carbohydrates bind water which will make you “heavier” on the scale the following morning.
  • If you don’t have diastasis recti, it’s time to chisel your midsection. Incorporate a plank on your elbows into your week at least 3-4 times for 60 seconds.
  • Don’t skimp on some strength work which will benefit your cardio. Try this routine with your little one.
  • Extend your weekend training, by adding a second day recovery run after you do the longer session the previous day. Maybe you can get your partner out with you, run to the playground or go swimming together. Make it fun for all. Your children take on fitness as a lifestyle if you live it and make it fun for them.
WEEK 4:
  • How is your sleep? I know that for many new moms that’s a difficult topic but sleep is the single most important recovery tool, health benefit and key for our adrenal health which keeps our metabolism running well. If you are a night owl who loves to scroll on social media, shut it down and head to bed when your children do, at least for a few nights per week.
  • Two weeks out from your race, it’s time to put the wine glas down. Alcohol contains empty calories and not drinking for two weeks will do wonders to your body’s definition. Your body metabolizes alcohol before anything else so when you drink wine and eat, many of your dinner’s components are literally put on the back burner until the body is done metabolizing the drinks. If the glass of wine is your reward mechanism, try and make that a few pieces of dark chocolate, a nice bottle of Kombucha, or a raw healthy dessert like avocado cacao mousse.
  • Time to increase your training load during the week, and add a long session on Saturday and an easy recovery on Sunday. Always start with a warmup of about 10 minutes before running faster portions and try adding strides at the end of your easy runs. Strides are acceleration runs to about 80% of your maximum speed over about 100 yards. Always recover fully before doing the next and do about 3-5 of them.
  • Race a second 5k if you’re up for it. I bet you that you will run at least 1-2 minutes faster overall.

Stephanie and Harper.

WEEK 5:
  • In a 6-week plan, this would be your hardest week with the biggest time commitment, especially if you have a larger race upcoming. It’s also the week when recovery plays a crucial role. So book a massage to treat yourself before race week. Don’t book it too late in the week because a good deep tissue massage is quite draining on the body, too.
  • By this week, you should be eating very clean, tried out your outfit for the big day and feel good in it (whether that is your race kit or wedding dress!).
  • Now it’s time to work on some mental mantras. Big events always bring about jitters, but call on your mama experience to calm yourself; I remind myself that I pushed a baby out after 25 hours of labor. No marathon takes that long…
  • Plan your logistics for the big day because it will be here before you know it. Visualize portions of the race before going to sleep at night or how excited you’ll be and how you’ll deal with little snafus of your big day. Most importantly, think about the joy you will feel sharing your big day with your loved ones.
WEEK 6:
  • Whether it’s a social or a sporting event, I like to do a fat load before a carb load. Well maybe not before a social event... Meaning that for 4-5 days, I eat 70% of good fats and protein or more and keep carbohydrates to a minimum. That excludes sugar, most fruit, juice, bread, pasta, rice, even sweet potato. It leaves full fat yoghurt, nuts, seeds, greens, lean meats, fish, eggs, avocado and more. The result is that I can see my body getting more defined and it mentally puts me in “GO” mode.
  • For a sporting event, the last 3 days before, you would reverse and eat about 70% carbohydrate to fill up your carb storage. Make sure to eat your biggest dinner not the night before but two nights before and the lunch on the day before because most of the time, race nerves kick in at dinner the night before and don’t allow us to eat much.
  • Get some “me time” before the big day. Pamper yourself with a pedicure or go for a walk and be alone. As a mom, when have you last been alone? It’s important to hone in, to listen to your inner voice, to really feel all the emotions that the day inspires without the constant noise that is so prevalent in a new mom’s life.
  • Get out there and after it. If it’s a race, break it down into manageable chunks. Tell yourself, you’ll catch that one person ahead of you, then another and don’t give up. If it’s an event, think about getting through each detail. As a new mom, you’ve created life, birthed it and then juggled the most difficult season of your life postpartum. Not many can say that.
  • Soak in every moment! It goes by way too fast.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$99.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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As life begins to speed up this holiday season, it's important to unwind from the hustle and bustle with a celebration with friends and family. A good drink can add a festive touch while warming you up and refreshing your palate. Whether you're a bartender in the making or a novice, we've got you covered.

If you're a mixologist, dive in and enjoy crafting these tasty cocktails. Feel free to get fancy and add your own twist to the recipes. If you're a newbie, know that you don't have to be a bartender to whip up tasty drinks this year. Follow each recipe step by step and spend more time enjoying the holiday. Cheers!

Here are nine easy to make cocktails to enjoy (and impress your guests) this holiday season:

Zesty diplo cider

Zesty diplo cider

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Diplomatico Mantuano Rum
  • ¾ cups water
  • lemon spice tea bag
  • 1 oz apple cider
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • cinnamon stick
  • lemon slice
  1. Bring water to boil in saucepan; toss in lemon spice tea bag and steep for 5 minutes.
  2. Remove bag and stir in sugar, apple cider, Diplomatico Mantuano Rum and cinnamon stick.
  3. Heat just to steaming.
  4. Garnish with cinnamon stick and lemon slice. Optional: add ½ tsp of butter to mug.

Apple cinnamon daiquiri

Apple cinnamon daiquiri

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Diplomatico Planas Rum
  • ½ oz Apple Schnapps
  • ¼ oz Cinnamon Schnapps
  • ½ oz Freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ¾ oz Pressed apple juice
  1. Shake all ingredients with ice and fine strain into a chilled glass.
  2. Garnish with a cinnamon stick or apple wedge.

Prepare to be empressed

Prepare to be empressed

Ingredients:

  • 1.5oz Empress 1908
  • .25oz Italicu
  • .5oz lime Juice
  • .5oz rosemary-infused simple syrup
  1. Shake ingredients on ice, strain into a chilled coupe.
  2. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

Spiced old fashioned

Spiced old fashioned

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Partida Añejo
  • 2 Bar spoons of Maple syrup
  • 2 Slices of Fresno Chili's Dash Angostura Bitters
  • Orange Peel
  1. In an old-fashioned glass muddle the fresno chili slices, bitters and maple syrup.
  2. Add ice and Partida Añejo.
  3. Stir to mix all ingredients.
  4. Garnish with an orange twist.

Americano cocktail

Americano cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ oz Boissiere Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 ½ oz Campari
  • Soda
  1. Build directly in a highball glass on the rocks.
  2. Top with soda.
  3. Garnish with an orange slice.

Pumpkin pie martini

Pumpkin pie martini

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Jaisalmer Indian Gin
  • 1 oz Dos Maderas Rum
  • ½ oz Half and Half
  • 2 Tbsp Pumpkin Puree (canned or homemade)
  • 1 oz Maple Syrup
  • ¼ tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 3 Ice Cubes
  • Maple Syrup
  • 1 Graham Cracker
  • ½ tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp Granulated Sugar

For the Rim:

  1. Crush graham cracker in a Ziploc bag or food processor until it resembles sand.
  2. Stir in the cinnamon and sugar. Line the rim of a martini glass with maple syrup.
  3. Dip/roll in the cracker mix. Set aside.

For the Martini:

  1. In a cocktail shaker, combine the ice and remaining cocktail ingredients.
  2. Shake vigorously until shaker chilled to the touch.
  3. Strain and pour cocktail into the prepared martini glass.
  4. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and nutmeg.

Peach tree old fashioned

Peach tree old fashioned

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Peerless Rye
  • 1 tsp. Barrel-Aged Maple Syrup
  • 4 Large Peach Slices
  • 2 Dashes Black Walnut Bitters
  • Orchid for Garnish
  1. Muddle two peach slices in a mixing glass, add all other ingredients and stir with ice for about 15 seconds.
  2. Double fine strain into a rocks glass full of crushed ice and garnish with remaining peach slices and orchid.

East Indian gimlet

East Indian gimlet

Ingredients:

  • 1.5oz Jaisalmer Gin
  • 1.5oz lime juice
  • .75oz Ginger Simple Syrup
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup chopped peeled ginger
  • .25oz St. Germain
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, for garnish

For the Ginger Simple Syrup:

  1. Bring sugar, ginger, and ¾ cup water to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar.
  2. Remove from heat and let sit 20 minutes.
  3. Strain into a jar, cover and chill.

For the cocktail:

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
  2. Pour in the gin, lime juice and ginger syrup.
  3. Shake until well chilled. Strain into cocktail glass.
  4. Garnish with fresh rosemary.
Life

Congrats, you're expecting! You're excited about the tiny bundle of joy growing in your womb, and you're reading through the Google search results to prepare for this new adventure. You planned out the music to play when laboring (Enya is relaxing). You have your stretchy pants picked out for post-labor comfort, and are plotting out which brand of lavender aromatherapy you'll use to ease your labor pains. You may also be planning to breastfeed.

This is where I burst your bubble. The number one rule of parenthood that you will soon learn is that you can't plan for everything, and, most of the time, you can't really plan for much of anything.

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No matter how many adorable, organic cotton onesies you order from that boutique you fell in love with on that trip to Laos, your baby will spit up on all of them and you will end up buying cheap onesies in bulk. You may end up taking all the medicine you said you'd never take during labor or welcome baby into the world via a C-section.

And your plans might go out the window when you're faced with real-time decisions that you didn't think to Google. Breastfeeding is one of those things that might not always go as planned.

And yet, as with many of the surprises parenthood brings, I'm here to tell you it will be okay.

Many expecting moms want to breastfeed­. After all, society says breast is best, but few people tell you just how hard it can be. And no one stops to think that using hyperboles like "liquid gold" to describe breast milk is a huge disservice to the many who end up not being able to or who really don't want to breastfeed.

You might have a nurse in the hospital who puts baby on your nipple and tries to teach them how to latch. But when it's 2 a.m. and your 1-day-old baby is screaming with hunger and you're not producing enough milk to satisfy them (and baby is not remembering the lesson from the nurse earlier in the day), the whole breastfeeding thing can feel less like the euphoric bonding experience you preemptively imagined and more like a gut-wrenching impossibility that makes you want to rip all of your hair out of your head.

But you refrain from ripping all of your hair out of your head. Mostly because too many other parts of your body already hurt. And that would require more energy than you have.

You might take all the herbs and pay all the certified lactations consultants and attend all the La Leche meetings, and yet, it's still not happening. Maybe baby isn't latching. Maybe it simply doesn't feel good. Maybe your breast milk doesn't agree with baby. Maybe you bought all the pumping accoutrement and try all of the elimination diet suggestions until you're practically eating just lettuce and iced water exclusively, but baby is still gassy and fussy and sick. Maybe you just don't want to breastfeed. It's your body, after all. They're your precious breasts.

You have a right to do what you want with them and you shouldn't feel pressure to use them to nourish the next generation if that makes you feel uncomfortable. Or if you have to return to work sooner than Mother Nature intended and you don't want to risk leaking during important meetings, or stopping to pump every three hours. All of these things happened to me, and they happen to a lot of us. And it's not the end of the world.

So I'm here to tell you it's okay if breastfeeding doesn't work out.

I know you may feel shame or a sense of failure. You may fear that your baby will get more ear infections, or be overweight, or that you won't bond as strongly, or they'll miss out on all of the other benefits of breastfeeding.

I experienced all of the feelings of guilt and remorse when breastfeeding didn't work out for me and my little one. I felt like I did something wrong and was failing my child. But the truth is whether you breastfeed or formula feed, it's unlikely to have a discernible effect on your child's long-term health or wellbeing. In fact, studies indicate breastfed babies do not have a cognitive advantage over other children.

Worrying about the fact that you're a failed breastfeeder could, though, have a negative impact on your own mental health. One study found that women who planned to breastfeed but were not able to were twice as likely to suffer from postpartum depression as women who were able to feed their babies as planned.

So how do you deal with these feelings? Perspective helps. There are generations of human beings, namely the majority of those born in the decades of the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, and even '90s, who were exclusive formula babies. Our moms didn't breastfeed because they were taught formula was the preferred, "healthier" alternative, and it didn't require tiny humans hanging off their bodies all day, which must have been a revelation at the time.

Social pressure to breastfeed places undue pressure on new moms to produce or fail your baby. It comes from online forums and social media groups, and even from doctors and other professionals. I have seen new moms going to great lengths to avoid supplementing with formula, out of the misguided belief that it's somehow wrong or because they'd been made to feel that doing so would mean "throwing in the towel."

All that matters is that baby gets fed. It doesn't matter how that happens. Whether you feed your baby breast milk or formula, the only thing that's important is that baby is getting the nourishment they need.

When I finally gave up trying to feed my baby my milk, I ended up donating nearly 1,000 ounces of pumped milk to a mom who wasn't able to produce her own milk and had a sick, underweight baby who could only tolerate breast milk.

In the end, I was able to feed my healthy baby with formula that suited him best, and I helped someone else's baby thrive. When I was finally able to get over my guilt and disappointment in not being able to breastfeed, I realized that some might not call that a failure at all; in fact, some might see it as twice as successful.

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

Life

After months of morning sickness, swollen feet, and midnight chocolate cravings, I finally met my little guy. Yes, he looks so much like his dad, but his dinosaur screams when he is hungry are definitely my contribution to the gene pool. I couldn't help but feel proud.

But those feelings were quickly replaced by fear.

I lost my mom almost seven years ago. I was barely 21 and not yet out of college. My life was never the same. My mom was everything a mother is supposed to be. She was loving, kind and a pillar of strength. She was all those things and more; I had to learn to live without her.

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Over the course of the last few years, there have been tears, there has been pain and important life events have been missed. In each instance, I have found a way to be strong. To tell myself that she would be proud of the woman I have grown into.

But this time it's different. I am a mom now. I have a better understanding of her as a woman and mother. There so many questions I would love to ask her but can't. Was she this scared too? Was she constantly checking to see if I was breathing? Did the sleep deprivation give her terrible baby brain? (I legit go to the fridge 60 times a day).

I will never know.

So, I decided to approach this new chapter in my life the same way I have approached other life events without my mother; embracing the love and care of other women in my life. I decided not to dwell on what could have been but dwell on what is there.

In my eighth month of pregnancy, my younger sister stayed with us for six weeks. She proved to be a gem. She cooked all the food I love and made sure I went for work with a lovely packed lunch every day. My baby and I loved it! (I could tell because of all the jumps in my tummy)

In my ninth month of pregnancy, I asked my grandmother and mother-in-law to stay with us until my delivery. We spent our days discussing womanhood and how things have changed for women in the last few decades. Our talks were empowering, honest and even funny. They helped prepare my mind for labor and they even offered to labor on my behalf (I wish they could've)

The day I went into labor, two aunts were with me at the hospital. One held my hand until I didn't want to be touched anymore. The other gave me a hot bath upon delivery. They offered to stay with me for the night so that my husband could catch his much-needed rest.

The women in my life did their best to ensure I was mothered and I am so grateful.

Every day I live my life with the bits of wisdom my mother left me. I still miss her terribly, but I don't feel alone. I have wonderful women in my life who remind me every day that I'm not.

Life

Almost all parents agree that reading is one of the most important skills to encourage in young children, but did you know that reading to your child can directly impact their brain development? Reading to your children is one of the most important things you can do, but there are also many other quite simple literacy activities that not only help kids learn to read, but show them that it's fun and encourage a lifelong reading habit.

Winter is the perfect time to get cozy and spend some extra time reading. Try one of these literacy activities next time you're in need of some indoor fun this winter.

1. Create a listening station

In Montessori classrooms for young children, the classroom environment is considered critical to learning. Part of a successful classroom environment that meets preschool-aged children's needs is including cozy spaces.

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Especially in a group setting, but even at home, children need quiet little nooks where they can escape and feel safe and enclosed. A listening station makes for a perfect quiet space.

Provide a selection of a few different audio books for your child to choose from. If you don't have any at home, public libraries often offer many great choices. If you feel like splurging, there are other child-specific listening devices perfect for a listening station as well. The Chameleon Reader takes this a step further and lets you turn any book your child loves into an audio book. This offers such a great alternative to screen time, especially during tricky times like long days of airplane or car travel.

2. Make a story bag

A story bag has a collection of small objects with which a child can recreate a story. You can make or buy story bags for any book your child enjoys.

Choose a book they are familiar with and love. Show them the story bag and model how to recreate the story with the objects. Then let them take the lead. Don't worry about it if they get creative with the plot, that's all part of the learning!

3. Introduce sequence cards

Similarly, try providing your child with a series of images from a beloved book and inviting them to put them in order. It's fine if they use the book to help them, it's not a test!

This is super easy to do yourself. You can just take photos of the illustrations with your phone and print them, or order the photos from a site like Shutterfly if you don't have a printer. Laminating will of course make them last longer.

4. Act it out

Many children learn best when they are moving and physically engaged, so try putting your child's favorite story into action, pretending alongside your child as you move through the plot.

Stories with lots of action, such as We're Going on a Bear Hunt or Where the Wild Things Are, are a good place to start, but you can really act out almost any children's book with your child.

5. Do an author study

Next time you read a book your child really likes, ask if they'd like to hear about the person who wrote it. Read them the little author's bio at the end of the book and say something like, "Hmm, I wonder if they've written anything else we might like."

Go to the library and search together for more books by the author you've chosen. If it's a less well known author, you may want to reserve some books from the library ahead of time as well.

6. Use a story-telling inspiration basket

This is super simple and easily tailored to whatever your particular child is interested in. Choose a small box or basket and fill it with a few little items to inspire a story. For example, for winter, you may include a toy snowman, scarf, sled and cookie. Show your child you can use these objects to make up your own story.

When you model the activity, you can write down the story you create, but if your child just wants to tell you the story, that's great too. Write it down for them and invite them to illustrate it if they're interested.

7. Share oral stories

Oral storytelling is becoming a bit of a lost art, but it plays a valuable role in helping young children develop rich vocabulary and a true love for storytelling and reading.

Try doing this as an after dinner activity, turning off all of the lights and lighting a candle to make it special. Don't worry if you don't consider yourself creative, children are sucked in by oral storytelling even if you tell them the simplest story about your day.

In time, you can invite them to join in on the storytelling fun as well.

8. Write the words for their pictures.

Long before children learn to write, they tell stories through their artwork. Invite your child to tell you the story behind a picture they've made and write it down for them.

Not only does this make your child feel super special and valued, it helps them make the connection between written words and stories, which is a key literacy skill.

9. Play reading games

There are so many easy reading games you can play with young children. One of my favorites which we use a lot in Montessori is "I Spy". I love this game because it can be done anywhere, and because children love it!

This is a great one to play if you're stuck waiting at the doctor's office or stuck in traffic. Simply say, "I spy something that starts with 'c'" using the phonetic letter sound. Take turns finding things around you that start with that sounds. For older children, you can play "I Spy" with rhymes instead, saying "I spy something that rhymes with bat".

To play at home, you can also use a basket of objects starting with various sounds.

10. Letter boxes

This is directly based on one of the key Montessori language materials.

In the classroom, children use "sandpaper letters," which are exactly what they sound like, letters made of sandpaper so that the child can really feel the shape of the letter as they trace it. A child is given a box of 3-5 letters which they have been practicing and a box of small objects. The child matches the object to its beginning sound. So if there is a little cat, the child will place it by "c".

In Montessori, children learn the phonetic sounds of the alphabet, rather than the letter names, so this comes fairly naturally. There is no need to buy sandpaper letters for your home, but if you have been working on the phonetic letter sounds with your child, it can be fun to play a similar matching game with objects. You can simply write the letters on card stock and find little objects around your house, or in the dollhouse section of a craft store. Young children love tiny objects and are often very drawn to this work.

Nothing will ever replace reading aloud to your child, but these literacy activities can be really fun ways to incorporate additional language practice into your home and to encourage a true love of reading.

Learn + Play
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