And just like that—it’s November. We’re facing the beginning of a whirlwind holiday season and all the planning, joy, stress, moments, and memories that it comes with. Before we dive into the chaos, it might be the right time to simplify life. Declutter. Re-prioritize. Re-evaluate what’s been easy, what’s been hard and what you can let go. You’ve got this, mama.
Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.
Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.
One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.
Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—
1. It changes brain structure in important ways
In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.
Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.
Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.
Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.
2. Play activates the entire neocortex
We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."
He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.
3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others
It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.
4. Children who play are often better students
The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."
5. Unstructured play gets kids moving
We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.
Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.
It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.
The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.
Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.
1. People Blocks Zoo Animals
These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.
This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.
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Losing a pregnancy hurts on many levels. It can be physically uncomfortable to downright painful, but the emotional aspects of a miscarriage are far more profound, multifaceted, and often require more time for resolution. Whether a woman is newly pregnant or farther along at the time of miscarriage is irrelevant—loss is loss. And with any loss, comes grief.
Once the OB provides a due date, we naturally construct a mental image of what life with a baby will look like, and thoughts about a new family flood our minds. Then when the pregnancy ends prematurely, a woman is left to grieve the actual loss along with this theoretical future family that will never be. It's a double whammy.
Grief after miscarriage is similar to any other form of loss, and it conforms to the well-known Kubler-Ross Grief steps, with a few alterations. Women often progress forwards and then take steps back before moving forward again and eventually feeling relatively comfortable with the past and the new normal. It can be difficult to process feelings about miscarriage because partners often experience grief at different speeds and may express their feelings in different ways.
Furthermore, it can be hard to talk about a loss with friends and family, many of whom will likely be unsure what to say and, with good intentions at heart, will end up saying something that feels disingenuous or preachy that inadvertently can be irritating or even hurtful to a woman who recently miscarried.
As a result, women often report feeling highly isolated and alone in their grief, which is unfortunate and unnecessary considering that one in two women have miscarried. Finding other women who have similarly suffered a miscarriage and can be there for you to empathize and provide a shoulder to cry on is incredibly helpful. Grief-based support groups in person and online often function to provide a safe place for women to open up about their feelings and begin to process and heal.
If you or someone you know have recently gone through a miscarriage, it's important to understand the chain of reactions that may follow in order for the healing to begin.
1. Shock and denial
Being told there is no heartbeat on ultrasound or that miscarriage is inevitable often feels like a punch in the gut, followed by a sense of disbelief. How is it possible? Just a moment ago this pregnancy was real, and now my world is crashing down. Why? This can't be right.
Feeling as though one's head is spinning or that you're in a cloud is normal, as is the desire to confirm the doctor's finding once or twice or more times because of disbelief. Many women continue to experience transient nausea until hormone levels drop, making it hard to believe the pregnancy has ended. If a pregnancy is far enough along, women may misattribute gas or cramping to phantom kicks, which also reinforce this sense of denial.
Why my pregnancy? Why my baby? Some women externalize anger: 'I did everything right, I took my prenatal vitamins and I ate well. This isn't fair…' Others may be angry at themselves, wishing they had done things differently, despite being told and knowing on some level that miscarriage is not her fault.
Women may be irritable and angry with their partners for not understanding their experience or for not having the same degree of reaction or response as they are. They may also be angry at her friends who have had babies despite realizing this is not logical.
Even the most rational woman may be very easily angered and hostile at those around her, seemingly without cause because she is angry at the situation. Miscarriage is not fair, it doesn't make sense, and it is a good reason to be angry—so when a woman is mad, it's okay. Don't try to stifle the anger, just understand that it's because a wanted pregnancy is gone and not really directed at the people who are trying to be supportive and loving and are grieving also.
'If I eat only organic foods, remove all chemicals from my makeup and skin care products, and keep all toxins out of my house, then my next pregnancy will be okay, right?' This period is notable for looking for ways to right the wrong, to find a reason and to remedy it. The notion that a miscarriage can occur without cause or that one cannot prevent it is highly upsetting, and this stage is focused on fixing things.
This is a time where women search for answers and try to make it all better. In fact, it's not uncommon to try to conceive right away during this time while all is seemingly perfect, and then to be incredibly frustrated if things don't go as planned.
4. Depression or deep sadness
This time is characterized by awareness of the magnitude of the loss and that nothing can change the past or can inherently ensure the future. Women frequently isolate themselves, even from those who want to help, and feel as if they are the only ones who have ever experienced such grief. They often have low energy and little motivation during that time.
The severity of the depression depends on a woman's experience and likely on if she is otherwise prone to depression and other psychiatric illnesses. If this stage is severe enough to negatively impact daily life for more than several days or if there's any thought of self-harm, please reach out for help from a trained mental professional.
Ask your OBGYN for a referral or go to postpartum.net to connect with a local coordinator who can help you find a perinatal and reproductive psychiatry trained clinician in your area.
The magnitude of the grief begins to lessen over time. Eventually, days will pass without thinking of the miscarriage, which can cause guilt. This sometimes throws a woman back to a lower step such as anger or depression. But, that's okay—the idea is to move forwards along the process at your own pace.
Eventually, this loss will be a part of your story without defining your life or being the focus of your thoughts, day in and day out. The memory never goes away, but the sharp pain fades with time.
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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.
The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.
"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.
The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.
Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."
So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.
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We asked #TeamMotherly to submit their children's Halloween costumes—and you all didn't disappoint!
Here are a few of our favorites.
Superwoman, submitted by Bibianna Rocha
Snow White, submitted by Keshia Williams
Flamingo, submitted by Crystal Mijailovic Quayle
Peter Pan, submitted by Kaitlee Fenno
Scarecrow, submitted by Tiffany Casper
Robot, submitted by Jennifer Neff
Octopus and mermaid, submitted by Julianna Drinan
Cinderella, submitted by Chelle Zellers
Troll and jack-o-lantern, submitted by Rima Ivy
Lobster, submitted by Holly Simon
Chicken, submitted by Jacklyn Kate
Max from Where The Wild Things Are, submitted by Nicolle Mallinson
Baby Elvis, submitted by Brittany Lara Pilcher
Starry Night, submitted by Cierra Joy Wortman
Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, submitted by Anna Kirschbaum Frary
Old Lady, submitted by Kristen Poat
Clown, submitted by Dha Muyalde
Mummy, submitted by Marieke Ayoub
Dinosaur, submitted by Christel Jameson
Sushi roll, submitted by Chelsea Druso
Monopoly, submitted by Allanah Bryant
Crayon, submitted by April Nixon
Frappucino, submitted by Courtney Richards
Belle from Beauty and the Beast, submitted by Brittany Baez
Skunk, submitted by Kelsey Maier
Strawberry Kiss, submitted by Jam My
Unicorn, submitted by Tyler and Hilda Dunford
Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, submitted by Kelsey Berry
Deer, submitted by Carrie Arias
Tangled and Frozen characters, submitted by Lindsey Whitworth
Firefighter and dalmatian, submitted by Kate Zylinski
Mickey Mouse, submitted by Victoria X Yang
Harry Potter, submitted by Karisa Seamans
Baby giraffe, submitted by Heather Dorman
Baby bear, submitted by Kristen Reay
Cookie Monster, submitted by McKenzie Ruttner
Moana and Pua, submitted by Clare Kennedy
Butterfly, submitted by Eni Dan
Luigi and Peach from Mario Brothers, submitted by Lisa Coker
Police officer, submitted by Pamela Zavaleta
Power Ranger, submitted by Danielle Groff
“All of her favorite things," submitted by Gillian Bell Weeks
Prince Gristle from Trolls, submitted by Alicia Hooper
Chucky, submitted by Kim Butcher
Bananas and monkey, submitted by Taylor Zuiderveen
Batman and Robin, submitted by Stephanie Maiden
Dobby the House Elf from Harry Potter, submitted by Emily Whiteley
Puppy, submitted by Brooke Shemer Zweig
Paper Bag Princess, submitted by Heather Cameron
Little Red Riding Hood, submitted by Kimberly Steward
The Big Bad Wolf, submitted by Nicole Monk
Pink Super Girl and Wall-E, submitted by Jasen Melinda Eairheart
Home Alone characters, submitted by Molly Anderson Caton
Luke Skywalker and Jedi Knight from Star Wars, submitted by Wolf Pup Threads
Marty McFly from Back to the Future, submitted by Carla Bermudez-Rivera
I look forward to Halloween every fall—not just for the candy and treats that come with it, but because of the costume making. Oh, how I love to get creative with costumes!
As a kid, my mom would always whip up a super creative design for my sister and me, so I knew I wanted to carry on that tradition with my little ones. And, let's be honest, this is basically the Golden Age of DIY. Between sources like Pinterest, Facebook and the internet at large, there are so many great ideas for DIY kids' Halloween costumes out there.
Here are some easy-peasy Halloween costumes (including a few tried-and-true ones from me) that you can definitely pull off this fall:
1. Stop sign
No joke: When my oldest was two, he requested to be a stop sign for Halloween. All it took on my end was some grey pants, a red top, a handmade cardboard sign shaped like an octagon with the letters S-T-O-P on it and some felt hot glued to his socks to mimic grass and—voila!—we had a walking stop sign.
2. It's raining cats and dogs
This may seem a little off the wall, but it's actually a great use of those excess stuffed animals strewn around the house. All you need is an umbrella with hanging stuffed cats and dogs, a simple solid tee and pants and rain boots.
Make some felt logs (fabric glue should do the trick if you're averse to sewing), add a little felt fire and put a marshmallow on the end of a stick. That gives you the perfect costume for your budding outdoorsman or woman!
Save a few yellow pool noodles from the clearance section at the store and tape them together to make the shape of a beehive around your little one. Put a pair of yellow or black pajamas underneath them and add a headband with antennas on top! The whole neighborhood will be buzzing about this costume! (Bonus points if you want to add some plastic bees!)
Unicorns are all the craze right now—and making an on-trend costume is really easy! All you need to do is put your little one in a solid white or pastel outfit, make a rainbow colored tail with different colors of yarn and then make a horn using Styrofoam and glitter.
Similar to the raining cats and dogs costume, use a clear or white umbrella to make a jellyfish. All you need is two large eyes and some streamers to hang around the umbrella. Pair with a coordinating outfit of choice and you've got yourself a sea creature!
7. A planet
Last year, my oldest went as Jupiter. I ended up gluing two large circles together, painting them to mimic the planet with fabric paint, tying them together and putting black shorts and a tee (complete with fabric painted stars) to mimic the universe. He might have gotten called a jelly donut a few times, but it was a total hit!
I don't think there is anything cuter than a baby skunk! Take a black onesie, put white felt on the front and add a matching hat. You've got yourself a Pepe Le Pew.
Take a grey outfit, pair with a fuzzy bonnet and add a faux fur tail. What a match for Little Red Riding Hood!
Use grey or navy pants, a blue long-sleeved tee, a makeshift felt belt, a red hat made from construction paper and brown shoes. For boys, it's fun to add a big ol' white beard. Easy and adorable!
Using a pink feather boa and a pink onesie, glue the boa to the bottom portion of the onesie. Add a matching pink cap on top with a black felt beak. Pair with pink leggings and black shoes!
12. Volkswagen Van
I never in a million years thought I'd be able to come up with a VW van costume for my little guy, but an empty cardboard box, felt, string and some reflective paper did the trick. He was a hit Halloween night!
Take a yellow onesie or tee, add some green to the sides and some cut some felt kernels to go on the belly area. Add a headband with some yarn to make it look like "silk" and you've got a corn costume!
14. Pencil or Crayon
Dress your kiddo in yellow, blue, red, green, orange or whatever color you desire—and top with a cone-shaped hat. You can make a pencil top or crayon top fairly easy with construction paper.
15. Bubble bath
Take a white outfit, tape some balloons onto it and put a shower cap on your little one's head. You could even add a scrub brush to the costume!
Take packing paper, wrinkle it up and roll it into the shape of a snail shell (a swirl-like pattern). Add an antenna headband and a green or brown pj set and you have a snail costume!
Use a yellow onesie or tee, draw a pineapple pattern onto it and make a headband with the stem to mimic the top of a pineapple. You can do the same for many other fruits as well!
Dress your little one in khaki pants, a khaki vest, (safe) fishing lures, a matching hat and a fishing pole! Easy and adorable!
19. Candy corn
Using a white onesie, cut orange and yellow felt to cover the parts that would make the onesie resemble a piece of candy corn. Yellow on the bottom, orange in the middle and a small portion of white at the top. Using white felt, make a headband for the top portion of the candy corn. Then just pair with white or orange pants.
If you are baby-wearing this Halloween, making baby a spider is a great costume to incorporate your carrier. Using streamers, construction paper or felt, make eight legs to attach to the back of your carrier. Add a black cap to the little baby and you've got a baby spider!
21. Care Bear
Use a solid color onesie or tee and make the care bear (of your choice) belly sign to attach to the top. Pair with matching leggings or pants, add some ears and paint a bear nose. You've got a cute, cuddly Care Bear!
Have fun getting crafty and creative, mama! ✂️