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Are your kids stressed about homework after school? Or maybe they are having trouble quieting their mind in the evening at bedtime? Both mindfulness and nature help bring a sense of calm to your children when they need it most.


“Nature meditation can help you cultivate a loving connection with yourself, the earth, and the entire web of life,” according to Buddhist meditation teacher Mark Coleman of Awake in the Wild. Through techniques like sights, sounds, and stories, we can help our children harness the calming aspects of nature during bedtime, dinnertime, car rides, and other moments throughout their day.

The best part is that nature meditation does not always have to be performed outdoors; from visualizations to nature sound apps, there are so many ways to experience mindfulness using nature even from inside the comfort of your home.

Sights

Amazingly, just looking at pictures of nature scenes can make us feel similar to actually spending time outdoors. A recent study found that you can reduce stress by simply looking at images of nature. When participants viewed pictures of natural scenes, their stress level decreased because their parasympathetic nervous system (which helps us calm down) was activated.

Another experiment proved this by observing brain activity using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The researchers discovered that when participants viewed scenes from the natural environment, the parts of their brain associated with empathy and love lit up. On the other hand, when they looked at urban scenes, the parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety were activated.

There are so many ways for our kids to feel mindful from looking at nature:

1 | Get outside

Visit zoos, mountains, forests, hiking trails, beaches, waterfalls, botanical gardens, canyons, and caves, and enjoy clear starry nights, rainbows, sunsets, and sunrises. Help your kids capture these moments by taking pictures so they can look at them anytime they want to relax.

2 | Observe nature using various media tools

This can include videos, photographs, slideshows, and even 3D or 4D movies at an IMAX theater. Check out these nature documentaries, Jason Silva’s “Shots of Awe,” and Louie Schwartzberg’s “Gratitude Revealed.”

3 | Practice meditations that tap into nature scenes

For example, the Over the Rainbow Breathing meditation instructs children to breathe in each color as they visualize a rainbow and then say a positive affirmation either silently or out loud.

4 | Add a fish tank to your child’s room

They will love lying in bed and watching and listening to fish swimming around a tank. A colorful fish tank adds to the natural atmosphere in the room and provides something tranquil and soothing for your child to enjoy as they try to fall asleep.

Sounds

For hundreds of years people have known that the sounds of nature can soothe our soul and improve our mood. I recall how happy and relaxed I felt while sitting on the beach and getting lost in the pattern of the crashing waves, walking through El Yunque rainforest in Puerto Rico and focusing on the gushing of the stream below, and hearing the lovely chirping birds in an arboretum we visited. But until recently, scientists did not understand why nature sounds have such a powerful effect on our bodies and minds.

A group of researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) in England just discovered that these sounds physically alter the connections in our brain, reducing our body’s natural fight-or-flight instinct. Their study, published in “Scientific Reports,” is the first to use brain scans, heart-rate monitors, and behavioral experiments to identify an actual physiological cause for how nature sounds impact us.

After observing adults who underwent functional MRI scans while listening to various soundscapes of natural or artificial environments, researchers found that activity in the brain’s default mode network, such as mind wandering and task-free states of wakefulness, varied depending on the background sounds being played. Listening to artificial sounds, for example, was linked to inward-focused thinking like worrying, while nature sounds were associated more with external-focused attention that is more calming. In addition, heart rate data showed that the nature sounds led to a decrease in the body’s fight-or-flight response and an increase in parasympathetic response that helps the body relax.

Not all nature sounds have the same calming effect. The best sounds are those that give us a sense of natural space and mimic the biorhythms of an ecosystem like a forest. Studies show that it’s based on how our brain interprets different noises. Loud chirping and croaking is just not going to cause the same calming feelings as sounds of water, which are very soothing because of their slow, rhythmic whooshing noises from crashing waves, the pitter patter of rainfall, or the rush of a flowing river.

By listening to soothing sounds of nature, children can feel more mindful. Ask them to sit back and close their eyes while they listen to the relaxing noises they hear. Teach them how to use visualization techniques and their own imagination to feel the full effect. We can bring the serene sounds of nature into our daily lives using the following tools:

1 | Nature meditation CDs and apps

There is an entire industry focused on selling relaxation music. You can choose from a variety created specifically for children or focused on the types of sounds included. Try out a few different kinds to see what your children likes best. Some have music along with nature sounds and others are just the sound like rushing water or chirping birds.

2 | Record your own

Take along a recording device during a nature walk, trip to the beach, or other excursion out in nature. Capture those relaxing sounds to play again later.

3 | Indoor water fountain

One of the local spas by my home has a relaxation room with the most soothing man-made waterfall on the rock-covered wall. Consider adding a small waterfall to your home to enjoy.

Stories

Throughout history, poetry has fascinated readers and inspired them to understand the world in a deeper way. Many nature lovers have used poetry to communicate their connection to the environment. We can inspire our children’s sense of awe for the natural world by reading descriptive stories and poetry that essentially transport them from their bedroom into a tranquil forest, mountaintop, or other amazing place. When we witness the beauty and vastness of nature, even through words on a piece of paper, it can trigger a number of powerful positive emotions like awe and relaxation.

Try these ideas with your kids:

1 | Library

Have fun checking out different books from the library known to have colorful descriptions of nature.

2 | Poetry

Introduce your children to a variety of nature poetry and challenge them to write their own. Some of the most famous nature poets include: Robert Frost, Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Wordsworth, P.B. Shelly, and John Keats.

3 | Journaling

After visiting a beautiful outdoor location, such as the beach or botanical garden, encourage your kids to journal about their observations so that they can refer back to it for some mindful moments based on those memories.

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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like the heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends, which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent.

Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, it's more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby—in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued. Crisis averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it all through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

The fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so that there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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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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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There are some mornings where I wake up and I'm ready for the day. My alarm goes off and I pop out of bed and hum along as I make breakfast before my son wakes up. But then there are days where I just want 10 more minutes to sleep in. Or breakfast feels impossible to make because all our time has run out. Or I just feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those are the mornings I stare at the fridge and think, Can someone else just make breakfast, please?

Enter: make-ahead breakfasts. We spoke to the geniuses at Pinterest and they shared their top 10 pins all around this beautiful, planned-ahead treat. Here they are.

(You're welcome, future self.)

1. Make-ahead breakfast enchiladas

www.pinterest.com

Created by Bellyful

I'd make these for dinner, too.

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