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One night last winter, the clouds opened into a heavy snowfall that fell in fluffy clumps and quickly covered the ground in thick, uneven mounds of drifting snow.

After dinner was eaten and toys cleaned up, we layered into snowsuits and mittens, tiny hands pulling ear flaps down over pudgy cheeks and thickly layered feet pushing into the woolen lining of our boots. It was bedtime but we were headed out.

There would be no lengthy trek or prolonged adventure, but we would walk down the road to breathe the nighttime air and gaze at the blanketed sky above. We would watch the snow land heavily and disappear into the white. We would feel like astronauts as the streetlights illuminated each flake flying towards us against the black background of night. We couldn’t even see it behind the dense clouds, but tonight was the full moon and this was our tradition, so out we went.

Every month, my kids watch the moon eagerly as it grows rounder and brighter. They check the calendar and count the days until it’s full. For they know that when it is, instead of heading upstairs after dinner for bath time and stories, they will head into the evening air and run wild one last time before they sleep. We are a family that values time outdoors and prioritizes the chance to run wild. This is one way that we let our actions reinforce that.   

On the surface, family traditions are a fun and exciting way to create memories together. But on a deeper level, traditions reinforce a family’s identity, foster togetherness, teach family values and provide comfort and security. Families that create traditions centered on nature reinforce for their children the importance of time spent outdoors. And the results are long-lasting on two levels. First, children who spent time in nature growing up show higher levels of maturity and lower levels of aggression as teens. And second, teens who participate in positive and mutually-agreed upon family rituals report higher levels of self esteem.

It’s a win-win for outdoor family traditions.   

But you don’t have to take monthly full moon walks to reinforce this for your own family. Here are 20 nature-centered family traditions that will rekindle your child’s love of being outdoors and reinforce your family’s commitment to nature and each other.   

Season Celebrations.

Throw a family party 4 times a year to mark the change in seasons. Choose a perfect winter day to play in the snow or watch an early sunset. Mark the arrival of spring by planting flowers or checking bulbs. Spend a summer day making popsicles to enjoy after bedtime. Carve a pumpkin and enjoy a harvest feast in the fall. Whatever makes each season its own wherever you are, celebrate it together.

Outdoor Vacations.

Rather than choosing vacation destinations based on theme parks or fancy accommodations, try choosing one annual vacation based on the outdoor activities it affords. It doesn’t have to be a long trip – even a single night away that enables you to get up early and start a long day hike could be the start of a yearly tradition.

Pick your own berries or vegetables.

Find a local farm, orchard or berry patch and visit it around the same time each year to harvest its bounty. Or, visit it multiple times each summer to see how its fruit changes over time.

Family Bucket Lists.

Create a family bucket list of outdoor activities, places or sights. Make it relevant to your interests and then work together to check off each item. It could be historical sites, summits, Audubon properties, birds sightings, constellations, or anything else you can think of! Choose something together, craft the list, and celebrate your success as you accomplish everything on it!

Sharing Nature Observations.

For a simple daily reminder of your family’s values, try each sharing one interesting thing you observed in nature on a daily basis. This could be over dinner, at bedtime or in the car. It only takes a tiny bit of time to share what you’ve seen.

Have an “opposite day” to celebrate summer in the middle of winter.

Visit your favorite summer places, bring lots of warm clothes, and enjoy a meal outdoors. Don’t worry, summer is coming and it won’t be long before you can celebrate it again!

Family Strolls.

These are as simple and frequent as you want to make them. Walk weekly, or monthly, or choose an annual hike to do together. Our neighbors mark the start of each new week with a Sunday hike together.

Service Days.

There are many ways to become a steward of the environment. Try volunteering together as a family to plant trees, clean up a beach or pick up trash in your local park. If there aren’t any formal options available near you, start your own!

Annual outdoor photos at the same landmark.

I love this one. Try taking a photo of the family (or just the kids, if you’re camera shy) outdoors at the same place each year. Or make it even more interesting and take a photo at the same place multiple times throughout the year so you can see how it changes with you.

Meteor watching party.

This one takes some planning, but there are many celestial events throughout the year to choose from. Visit the Sea and Sky to plan ahead and make sure to research your chosen event for optimal viewing times and places.

Backyard Camping.

If a weekend away is too hard to come by, simplify by planning an annual campout in your own backyard.

Picnic days.

Choose a favorite place to enjoy a meal. Pack something special to eat, a blanket for lounging, and a kite to fly or frisbee to throw. Spend the afternoon. For a fun twist, try it on a snow day.

Thunder Dances.

Thunderstorms can be a scary thing for kids, but make them exciting and lighthearted by turning them into a dance party. Whenever you hear thunder, turn out the lights and dance away!

Outdoor Movie Night.

Each summer, on a special weekend, let the kids invite some friends over to watch a movie in the backyard. A projector and a sheet screen is the ideal setup, but even a laptop will work. Bonus points for popcorn over a fire while you’re at it.

Wish gardens.

Each fall, have the kids write down one wish they have for the upcoming school year. Plant the wish under a new bulb and when it sprouts in the spring, talk about whether or not their wish came true.

Celebrate the Solstice.

Each spring and winter, celebrate the solstice with a family party. Read a story about the solstice, eat dinner by candlelight or outside, and go for a walk at sunset.

Coming of age ritual with outdoor relevance.

It could be getting a first pocket knife, going on a first backpacking trip, or learning to build a fire. I am grateful on a regular basis for the outdoor skills I’ve been taught. I find myself using my knowledge of knots often and plan on passing this skill on to my boys as a rite of passage.

Organized family distance walk or run.

It could be a formal 5k that you participate in together or it could be a long walk that you do each year. In my family growing up, we always took a long walk after Thanksgiving dinner to make some room before dessert.

Fun family sporting event.

Maybe it’s an annual football game, mini golfing excursion, or backyard corn hole tournament. In any case, kids who grow up watching the family enjoy games outside together will look forward to participating themselves.

Weekly wonder jar.

This one is especially great for younger kids. Keep a large jar or bowl on the kitchen table or counter. Each week, encourage your kids to spend some time looking around them for something small that sparks their wonder. When they find it, they can put in the wonder jar. On Sunday night, each family member can share what they put in the wonder jar that week.

When choosing a family tradition, it’s best to start small. Choose something that can be integrated easily into your routine, and don’t force it. If it doesn’t feel right or causes more stress than it’s worth, there’s no shame in starting over with a new one. Remember, it’s supposed to be fun!

Do you have any nature-inspired family traditions in your home? Add to our list to inspire others.

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I had big plans to be a "good mom" this summer. There were going to be chore charts, reading goals, daily letter writing practice, and cursive classes. There would be no screen time until the beds were made, and planned activities for each day of the week.

Today was the first day of summer vacation and our scheduled beach day. But here's what we did instead: Lounged in our pj's until 11 am, baked the girl's pick, chocolate chip cookie brownies, started an art project we never finished, then moved to the pool.

It's so easy to be pressured by things we see on social. Ways to challenge our kids and enrich their summer. But let's be real—we're all tired. Tired of chores, tired of schedules and places to be, tired of pressure, and tired of unrealistic expectations.

So instead of a schedule, we're doing nothing this summer. Literally NOTHING.

No camps. No classes, and no curriculums.

Instead, we're going to see where each day takes us. I've dubbed this the "Summer of Me," so workouts and clean eating are a priority for me. And also giving our girls the freedom to pick what they want to do.

We may go to a local pool and check out the swimming programs. And we join the local YMCA. But whatever we do—it will be low key.

It will include family time, too much TV, a few trips, lots of sunshine, some new roller skates, water balloons, plenty of boredom, rest, relaxation, and reading. (Because mama likes to read!)

So if you haven't figured out what you're doing this summer, you're not alone. And guess what? It's OKAY! Your kids will be fine and so will you.

Originally posted on Kristen Hewitt's blog. Check out her post on 30 ways to have fun doing almost nothing this summer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.

XO,

#TeamMotherly

PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

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