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31 things your kids should be doing instead of homework

There are many aspects of my more than decade-long career as a teacher that I'm proud of. My reputation for giving lots and lots of homework is not one of them.


For most of my teaching career, I taught fifth or sixth grade. Sometimes I gave more than two hours of homework. Kids complained a lot, though parents rarely did, at least not to my face. I think parents mostly felt the same way I did: that homework was the best way to practice new skills, that it teaches responsibility and helps to develop a strong work ethic, and that it's an opportunity to reflect on new learning.

But most of all, my students' parents and I were more than a little afraid that our kids would fall behind—behind their classmates in the next classroom, behind the kids in a neighboring school, behind the kids in other countries. Homework was considered one of many ways to prevent that from happening.

I wasn't entirely wrong about all of that, and I still believe a lot of those things. But only for middle and high school students (and not hours of assignments). Not for elementary students, and certainly not for kindergarteners or preschoolers.

When I entered a doctoral program in education policy, I learned about the research that suggests that homework is not good for young kids. Not only does it fail to improve the academic performance of elementary students, but it might actually be damaging to kids' attitudes toward school, and to their physical health. In a review of available research studies, Harris Cooper, a leading researcher who has spent decades studying the effect of homework, concluded that “there is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students."

When I became a parent during graduate school, I experienced for myself just how tired and overwhelmed kids can be after a full day at daycare, preschool, or elementary school, often followed by more after school activities. After hours spent sitting and engaging in mostly adult-directed activities, children's minds and bodies need other kinds of experiences when they get home, not more academics.

It's not just that homework itself may be harmful for little kids, it's also that homework is replacing other fun, developmentally appropriate, and valuable activities—activities that help them grow into healthy, happy adults.

So, what are some of the things kids could be doing in those hours between the end of the school day and bed time?

1. Jump rope

An important part of how young kids' minds develop is through free, self-directed play. According to David Elkind, Ph.D., author of The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children, free play is critical now more than ever, as recesses are shortened or eliminated, and kids' calendars are busier than ever.

“Through play," Elkind writes, “children create new learning experiences, and those self-created experiences enable them to acquire social, emotional, and intellectual skills they could not acquire any other way."

2. Talk with parents

I've heard from countless friends about their daily battles with their elementary-aged kids struggling to do homework, and the way it's negatively affected their relationships.

Instead, of parents asking their overtired kids to do homework they're too young to do independently, families should spent much time talking together about their day. In fact, conversation is the best way for all of us, especially young children, to learn about our world and cultivate empathy.

3. Sleep

The National Sleep Foundation estimates that between 25 and 30 percent of children aren't getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep can cause all sorts of problems in kids, including poor attention, behavior problems, academic difficulties, irritability, and weight gain. But even small amounts of additional sleep can have big impacts. One study found that only 20 additional minutes of sleep can improve kids' grades.

4. Independent reading

Most of us know that developing good habits (and hopefully a love of reading) is critical to doing well at school. However, homework can actually interfere with the time that kids can spend on reading.

5. Listen to a book

Studies show that kids who are read aloud to do better in school and have better vocabularies.

6. Work on a puzzle

Being able to play on their own without adults (called “solitary play") builds confidence in kids and makes them more relaxed.

7. Go up a slide backwards

“Risky" play—activities like climbing a tree—is good for kids. Children need to explore their own limits, to be able to assess risks, and to learn how to negotiate their environments.

Researchers theorize that risky play, found across all cultures and in other mammals, has a evolutionary role in preparing offspring for life without their caretakers.

8. Dig in the dirt

Another type of play, sensory play, is also critical for kids' development. When kids knead clay or finger paint, they are stimulating their senses. “Sensory experiences," explains one early childhood educator, “provide open-ended opportunities where the process is more important than the product; how children use materials is much more important than what they make with them."

9. Playing with a friend in a sandbox

Parallel play, or the type of play in which kids play next to each other, begins in toddlers. But even for older kids, parallel play can help develop critical social skills.

10. Help with dinner

Kids who learn about new foods, and how to prepare them, may be more likely to choose more nutritious foods later on.

11. Walk the dog

Kids who help take care of family pets may be less anxious, less likely to develop allergies and asthma, and are more active.

12. Volunteer at an animal shelter

Even kids who don't have pets at home can benefit from being around animals. The emotional and psychological benefits of being around animals can also be found when kids care for injured animals and take on care-taking responsibilities for other people's pets.

13. Plant a garden

Kids who work in gardens may have higher achievement scores in science than those who don't. That's because they're actively engaging in scientific concepts and practicing math skills as they learn about plants.

14. Practice an instrument

Kids who participate in musical activities – those who practice an instrument regularly and participate actively in music groups – may have brains who are better wired for literacy skills, according to one study.

15. Hang out at Grandma's

Encouraging multi-generational relationships can yield many lessons for kids. They can learn how other adult role models in their lives who love them handle conflict, create and negotiate rules and routines, and embrace family traditions.

16. Participate in a community service project

Through volunteering, kids can become more grateful, empathetic, and feel more connected to the wider community.

17. Draw a picture

For kids who have trouble expressing themselves verbally, drawing can be a way for them to relax and communicate in a different way.

18. Do a science experiment

Kids are naturally curious and want to know how things work. Scientific exploration outside the classroom may be particularly effective at teaching kids about scientific thinking.

19. Play dress up

The significance of imaginative “pretend" or “fantasy" play for kids' creativity and future problem-solving skills is difficult to overstate. When kids pretend they're superheroes or talk to stuffed animals, they're learning about social roles, setting the stage for later learning, and processing ideas from the world around them. In fact, some research suggests that kids who don't engage in fantasy play may actually struggle in the classroom later.

20. Wrestle with a sibling

Rough and tumble" play is not the same as aggression. It's vigorous, free-form, whole-body, energetic, happy play. Kids learn decision-making skills, relieve stress, improve their ability to read social cues, and enhance their cardio-vascular health.

21. Clean their room

When kids are spending their afternoons working on homework, there's often not time for them to help out with housework and other chores. A University of Minnesota researcher, Marty Rossman, found that one of the best predictors of a kid's future success is whether they contributed to household chores as a young child.

According to Rossman, “Through participating in household tasks, parents are teaching children responsibility, how to contribute to family life, a sense of empathy and how to take care of themselves."

22. Write a story

By writing down stories, kids can express their feelings, stretch their imaginations, and practice their fine motor skills.

23. Zone out

Just as important as play is “down time." The authors of “Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Happy, Successful Kids“ argue that every kids needs PDF: playtime, downtime, and family time.

Downtime is when kids are allowed to literally do not much of anything, like sit around and listen to music or stare at the ceiling. These moments allow children to reflect, rest, and reset their minds and bodies.

24. Meditate

Kids also benefit from meditation. Studies have found that mindfulness and meditation can improve behavior, focus, and reduce impulsiveness.

25. Create a collage

Constructive play" – building a fort, making a snowman – is goal-oriented and involves kids building something using tools and materials. Constructive play also has an important role in developing children's communication, mathematical, and socio-emotional skills.

26. Listen to classical music

One study found that playing classical music to children can improve their listening and concentration skills, as well as self-discipline.

27. Learn to knit

Knitting, sewing, and crocheting are hobbies that can help enhance fine motor skills, improve coordination, and develop longer attention spans.

28. Take pictures

“Photography can help develop a child's voice, vision and identity as it pertains to their family, friends and community," according to one photographer who teaches photography to children in Canada.

29. Ride a bike

Kids who are physically active – as well as adults! – have stronger hearts, lungs, and bones. They are less likely to develop cancer or be overweight and more likely to feel good about themselves.

30. Listen to a long bedtime story

Babies, children, and adult sleep better when they have a regular (not rushed) bedtime routine. Kids who don't have bedtime routines are more likely to have behavior problems, be hyperactive, and suffer from emotional difficulties.

31. Play “Simon Says"

During cooperative games, kids collaborate to reach a common goal. There may be a leader, and kids start to learn about social contracts and social rules.

When homework is assigned to young children, it doesn't improve academic learning. In any case, the learning done in school is only one form of learning. Homework takes away from the time available to engage in endless other forms of learning, such as social, physical, and emotional, as well as rest.

Our kids deserve a chance to spend all their other hours outside of school doing their most important job of all: being a kid.

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When a baby is born, for many families, the vacations stop. And while it can be intimidating to get out and just go with a little one in tow, with the right preparation, family vacations can be a rewarding, memorable experience for everyone.

All it takes to make your next adventure a success is a little planning―and a great, grab-and-go carrier like a BABYBJÖRN Baby Carrier One Air. Simply pop your little one into the breathable mesh carrier, secure the straps, and you're ready to take on your destination like a pro―all while providing a fresh perspective for your baby or toddler (it's suitable for children up to age three!).

Next, pick your destination. Thanks to easy-to-access beaches, a host of incredible museums, and a variety of outdoor and indoor activities, Chicago is a popular vacation hot spot for families year-round.

Not sure where to start? Leyla Tran, Chicago native and blogger behind Second City Mom, filled us in on her favorite kid-friendly spots around the Windy City.


DO

Leyla Tran, with her husband and twins at Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory in front of one of her favorite features.

Chicago Children's Museum
Sure, you'll have to battle a throng of tourists to get through Navy Pier most times of year, but it's worth it to reach this gem. From a dinosaur dig to arts and crafts areas, there's something to satisfy every interest at the Children's Museum. Plus, you can face baby out in the BABYBJÖRN Baby Carrier One Air so there will be plenty to hold their attention while they ride along! Check the museum's calendar to find out what special events and exhibits are open during your visit.

Garfield Park Conservatory
If you're visiting during the colder months, the Garfield Park Conservatory is the city's largest botanical conservatory. It's a great place to explore, play, and learn indoors during the Midwestern winter months. To get around hassle-free, check the stroller and take in the sights hands-free with the Baby Carrier One Air. You can carry bigger babies on your back starting at 12 months old. "My favorite thing at the conservatory may not be all the plants but the mosaic fountain in the Horticulture Hall, which was gifted to the city of Chicago from sister city, Casablanca," Tran says.

The Sod Room
Speaking of indoor activities, The Sod Room is another great indoor playspace located in the South Loop neighborhood where the design, toys, and activities are all put together with the Earth in mind. "The play space teaches kids to be creative to reuse things and the importance of being eco-friendly," Tran says. "There are so many different events for parents, caregivers, and kids to enjoy throughout the week such as baby yoga and music concert."

Galt Baby

While you probably won't get to do as much shopping on the Miracle Mile as you might without littles in tow, you should try to squeeze in a visit to Galt Baby for any must-haves. From travel gear (like the Carrier One!) to replacement sippy cups should yours get lost (the horror!), Galt Baby has you covered on the go.

SEE

Leyla Tran with her family in front of the iconic Cloudgate at Millennium Park.

Millennium Park

A trip to Chicago isn't really complete until you've taken a family selfie at the Bean. And while you're there, take advantage of the cultural events, exhibitions, and landscape design (hello, wide open spaces for toddlers to run!). Many events are free, so be sure to visit the park's website to find out what's on the calendar. "Although it is a tourist destination, we love it as locals because there is so much to do here from summer concerts to fun kids events," Tran says. "From the iconic Cloudgate (AKA, the Bean) to Crown Fountain to the Lurie Garden, there's something for everyone in our family. Our six-year-old son loves Crown Fountain, with the changing faces on the LED screens waiting for the water to spray out."

Harold Washington Library

The Harold Washington Library is a book worm's dream, no matter your age. Explore the Children's Library, which is broken up into "neighborhoods" based on age with an interactive puppet stage, STEAM-based activities, a digital media center, and more. Parents will love the indoor Winter Garden (with free wifi!) and taking in the local art throughout the library. Let your little one fall asleep in the Baby Carrier One Air while you enjoy the interior architecture—quietly.

Seasonal festivals

From holiday markets to beerfests to parades, there are seasonal activities to take advantage of year-round in Chicago―and many are free! Check the city's calendar during your trip to find out what's available. With so many wearing options on the Baby Carrier One, little ones from newborn to 3 years can stay close while you stroll, sip, or shop. Partner it with the Cover for Baby Carrier and baby will stay warm in all seasons.

EAT

Little Beans Cafe

All the best family vacations start off with a little caffeination. We love Little Beans Cafe because it doubles as an indoor playground for kids, meaning parents get to enjoy a good cup of coffee while kids get to play and learn. "We've had so many fun playdates here with our first child that we're looking forward to more playdates with the twins," Tran says. "It's a great place for new moms to meet during the week."

Giordano's
If you go to Chicago and don't eat deep dish pizza, did you ever really go? Don't take the chance. Book a table at Giordano's and indulge in a slice of Chicago's finest slice. Besides, how often is the local delicacy something you don't have to beg your kids to eat?


Making the time for travel is one of the greatest gifts you can give your family―and yourself. And thanks to BabyBjörn, now everyone can come along for the ride.

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

There's so much noise.

All. The. Time.

It feels like it's 24 hours, 7 days a week.

There's whining, crying, chatting, banging, tapping, scratching, singing, buzzing, yelling, snoring, crunching, schlopping, chewing, slurping, stomping, clapping, singing, laughing.

There's sound machines with crashing waves coming at me around every corner. There's a baby (doll) crying, and then my real baby crying. There's toys going off even when no one is playing with them.

There's requests, questions, demands, negotiations, plans, adventures, stories, performances—at all times.

There's ringing phones, alarms going off, voicemails, television theme songs (Daniel Tiger, I'm looking at you), Moana and Sing soundtracks playing. There's random loud videos playing when you're scrolling through Facebook and think you have your phone on silent.

I even hear things when there's nothing to be heard. Like the baby crying when I'm in the shower and she's sleeping. Like a bang from someone falling when everyone is fine. Like Imagine Dragon's 'Thunder' when it's not even on but it's stuck in my head because my daughter has requested to play it over and over and over.

At times, it makes me feel like I am going crazy. Like my brain doesn't work because I can't think clearly because the noise is all-encompassing.

This noise, paired with the never-ending, running-forever list of things to do in my head is one of the areas of motherhood that is hard for me. Really, really hard. It triggers my anxiety more than anything else does.

Sometimes, I just want to sit in silence. Alone. Not listening to anything or anyone.

Sometimes, I just want to hear myself think.

Sometimes, I just want the whining to stop.

Sometimes, I just want the brain fog to go away and never come back.

But what I've realized is that this is part of motherhood. Of my journey. Because, I have three children and it's never going to be quiet.

I need to get used to the noise, embrace the noise and know when I need to step back and take a break from the noise.

And I am used to the noise on some level.

I function fairly well on a daily basis getting work done and to-do lists checked off and taking care of my (loud, but wonderful) children. When all of the noise is overwhelming me, I've gotten into the habit of taking deep breaths and focusing on my task at hand.

It's not perfect, but it's something.

And I can definitely embrace the noise—especially the lovely noises of childhood.

Because when I think about it—is there anything better than hearing my 4-year-old belt out 'Thunder'?

Is there anything better than hearing my 2-year-old giggle uncontrollably?

Is there anything better than hearing the coos of my 3-month-old?

Is there anything better than hearing one of my daughters say "I love you, Mama"? Or "See you later, alligator"?

Is there anything better than hearing cheers from my kids to celebrate their siblings' accomplishment? ("Lucy went potty! Yay!")

Is there anything better than hearing your preschooler say "sh-sh-shhhhh" over and over to soothe her newborn sister like she sees her parents doing?

No, nothing is better. Not even silence.

But there will be days when it feels like it's too much. And I just want to say—

It's okay.

It's okay to want to sit in silence.

It's okay to look forward to the quiet that nighttime offers.

It's okay to admit to ourselves that sometimes the noise is too much.

And it's normal.

Our brains can only handle so much at one time. So, be gentle on yourself, mama. I know I'm trying.

I am learning to recognize when I need to step back and take a break from the noise.

I stay up late sometimes to enjoy the quiet—to listen to my thoughts.

I wake up early sometimes—to meditate and look inward.

I plan "me time" outside of the house—to spend time with myself and decide on choosing noise or not.

I hop in the shower when my husband gets home—to hand over the noise for a while and enjoy only the sound of rushing water.

There are moments of motherhood that challenge me—mind, body and soul. The constant noise is one of them. But these challenges will never beat me. I love being my children's mother too much.

So on the days when the noise is taking over, know that you're not alone. And know that peace and quiet is potentially just a shower away.


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This past year, I was diagnosed with depression. I was fighting what I believed to be a stubborn case of PPD. I thought things would get better as my baby grew, when I wasn't postpartum anymore. I was in denial, not receiving any kind of help, and definitely not getting any better.

Finally, I sought out help from a doctor and was diagnosed with clinical depression and am now receiving treatment. Part of this treatment involved visiting with a therapist for the first time in my life in hopes of combating the powerful force of negativity that has insidiously planted itself inside my mind.

I learned something significant in that meeting: that my thoughts were caused by something that was physically going wrong inside of my brain. Deep down, I believed I had been allowing the darkness—that it, too, was my fault. I found hope in that meeting, the hope of rewiring my brain.

I now know there are steps I can take to change how I think, to find the true me again. That is why I am going to take better care of myself this year. In fact, that's the only resolution I care to make.

My therapist advised me to do an exercise that's proven difficult for me. I literally have positive affirmations about myself taped to my bathroom mirror. My sarcastic side really fights this. I envision that I'm wearing a colorful collared shirt or sweater combination (a la Stuart Smalley) as I repeat these mantras to myself. The truth is they're a powerful counterbalance to the way I normally think about who I am.

Most people struggle with this at one time or another. I think we could all benefit from practicing a little self-love.

So for this year, I resolve not to make any resolutions about losing weight. I am at a healthy weight, and although I would love to re-lose the 10 pounds I lost when I began depression medication, I will instead resolve to replace the negative thoughts I have about my body with healthy ones.

My critical observations regarding my body began very early for me, as they do for most women. It may take some time, but I'm going to work on appreciating my body for what it can do, instead of worrying about how it appears to others.

I resolve to be the best mom I can be. And that is only possible when I work on taking better care of myself. For many years, I've devoted myself completely to my children, believing it was best for them. But you can't pull water from an empty well, and this past year my well went dry.

I resolve to take more breaks, indulge in some mental health days, and spend more quality time with my family.

Society is hard on mothers, so I'm going to pull a Taylor Swift, and "shake it off." I will ignore the negative commentators who feel compelled to troll my writings. I will look to the positive instead of dwelling on the negative.

I will support and seek to uplift other mothers. We should be each other's biggest fans, not harshest critics. I will stand up for those who are belittled, judged, or misunderstood.

I resolve to let go of past mistakes and less than perfect parenting moments. I will seek to learn from the past instead of dwelling on it. I will work on treating myself with more kindness, moving forward in hopes that my three boys will learn from my example and speak kindly toward themselves.

I will continue my treatment—even the daily affirmations—and be patient with my progress.

So here's to a new year and a new way of thinking, to not giving up, and to practicing kindness that begins from within.

One of the best—or worst—parts of the holiday season is taking our littles to get their pictures with Santa. Some kids relish in those few minutes of telling Santa Claus exactly what they want under their tree, while others are terrified and hate every second of it. Either way, it usually makes for some adorable photos to look back on over the years.

We asked #TeamMotherly to share their best Santa pics. With nearly 700 responses, it was hard to pare down our favorites. Here are some that we adored.

1. Pure happiness

—Aimee R.

2. A magical look

—Jen L.

3. Everyone is a bit unsure...

—Holly H.

4. The cutest elves

—Julia V.

5. A sweet encounter

—Rosanne S.

6. A little bit of drama

—Besty P.

7. Santa cuddles each year, please

—Chelsey S.

8. Mama said she cried after she took a good look at him 😂

—Chantille B.

9. Third time isn't always the charm

—Gina M.

10. Playing in the snow

—Liz T.

11. SO much excitement

—Ieena S.

12. Nope

—Melissa H.

13. She definitely made the 'nice' list

—Janesa N.

14. Mama, no!

—Jenny S.

15. One mama's heart grew by three sizes this year

—Melanie R.

16. Two loved this, two hated it

—Rose E.

17. This baby was happier than Santa

—Angelica A.

18. A precious encounter

—Stacy B.

19. "I'm only here for the cookie." 🍪

—Laura R.

20. Two Santas are better than one

—Menakshi S.

The temperatures are dropping and that can only mean one thing. Whether we like it or not, winter's cold chilly months are upon us. As a born-and-raised Alaskan, and mama of three, I've got a lot of cold weather experience under my belt, and staying inside half the year just isn't an option for us. As my husband likes to say, "There's no bad weather, just bad gear."

Here are some of my favorite picks to keep your family toasty warm this winter.


1. Bear bunting

This sherpa bear bunting wins winter wear MVP for being a comfy snowsuit for your littlest babe, or base-layer under another snowsuit for the chilliest of winter outings. Bonus: your baby bear will never look cuter!

Sherpa Hooded Bunting, Carter's, $15.20

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2. Patagonia Capilene base-layers

Speaking of base-layers, for any prolonged winter activity outside in the cold, it's best to layer up to create air pockets of warmth. These moisture wicking base-layers are a family favorite.

Baby Capilene Bottoms, Back Country, $29.00

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3. Arctix Kids limitless overall bib

These adjustable snow pants keep kids warm and the bib style keeps snow from going down the back of their pants. Bonus: the price is excellent for the quality and they can grow with your child. The Velcro strap also makes bathroom breaks for kids so much easier.

Arctix Kids Limitless Overall Bib, Amazon, $14.99-$49.99

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4. Hooded frost-free long jacket

Keep your little one warm and stylish in this long puffer jacket. Great for everyday outings.

Hooded Frost-Free Long Jacket, Old Navy, $35.00

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5. Patagonia reversible jacket

This jacket is windproof, waterproof and the built-in hood means one less piece of gear to worry about (or one more layer for your little one's head). It's a best buy if you live with cold winter temperatures for many months of the year and still love to get outside to play. It also stays in great condition for hand-me-downs to your next kid.

Reversible Down Sweater Hoodie, Nordstrom, $119.00

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6. Under Armour Decatur water repellent jacket

Made of waterproof fabric and lined with great insulation, kids will no doubt stay warm—and dry—in this. It features plenty of pockets, too, so mama doesn't always have to hold onto their items. We love that the UGrow system allows sleeves to grow a couple inches.

UA Decatur Water Repellent Jacket, Nordstrom, $155.00

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7. Stonz mittens

Ever tried to keep gloves on a 1-year-old? It's a tough task, but these gloves make it a breeze with a wide opening and two adjustable toggles for a snug fit they can't pull off! Warm and waterproof, and come in sizes from infant to big kids.

Stonz Mittz, Amazon, $39.99

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8. Sorel toot pack boot

Keep their little toes warm with these cozy boots from Sorel. With insulated uppers and waterproof bottoms their feet are sure to stay warm. They're well constructed and hold up over time, making them a great hand-me-down option for your family.

Sorel Kids' Yoot Boot, Amazon, $48.73-$175.63

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9. Stonz baby boots

These Stonz stay-on-baby booties do just as their name says and stay on their feet. No more searching for one boot in the grocery store parking lot!

Stonz Three Season Stay-On Baby Booties, Amazon, $29.99-$50.29

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