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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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Toddlers can alternatively be the sweetest and most tyrannical people on the planet. Figuring the world out is tough, but it is possible to teach them how to care for and respect others—and the first steps start with you.

Here are five tips from Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Harmony in Parenting Dr. Azine Graff on teaching empathy through modeling and playtime, with some of our favorite dolls from Manhattan Toy Company.


1. "I wonder if she's sad." 

Think about it: The first step to understanding the emotions of others is being able to recognize them in yourself. Graff recommends looking for opportunities to label emotions throughout the day by helping your child identify sadness, anger, happiness, and fear.

You can do this by pointing to someone smiling in a book or noticing a baby crying in the grocery store. Try saying, "The baby is crying. I wonder if she is sad." Over time, your little one will learn to label emotions on their own.

2. "How can we take care of her?" 

Dramatic play can be a great time to model care and compassion for others. That's one reason why baby dolls make such great toys for toddlers—not only are they great for open-ended play, they also provide the opportunity to teach caretaking.

For example, you can ask your child, "The baby is yawning and seems very tired. How can we take care of her?" We love the award-winning Wee Baby Stella doll from Manhattan Toy Company to turn playtime into a time for empathy teaching.

3. "It is really hard when all the blocks fall and you're trying to build a tower."

You can set the best example of empathy by taking time to notice and validate your child's feelings. Instead of trying to immediately shush crying, react from a place of compassion.

For example, if your child throws a tantrum over a fallen block tower, try saying, "It is really hard when all the blocks fall and you're trying to build a tower." This demonstrates the importance of understanding feelings, even if they are not our own.

4. "Do you want to try with me?"

Once your child is better able to identify their emotions, they're in a better place to find solutions with your help. "When we can help our children through challenging feelings, especially when they are struggling, we are modeling care for others," Graff says.

The next time your child gets upset, you can say, "It is frustrating when something falls apart. It helps me to take a deep breath when I'm frustrated. Do you want to try with me?"

5. Express your own feelings

It can be tempting to hide your feelings from your child, but when modeled appropriately, it can teach them that feelings are a normal part of life. Over time, you will see them use the same strategies of empathy on you, like kissing your "boo-boos" or suggesting you take a deep breath when you're upset.


This article is sponsored by Manhattan Toy Company. Thank you for supporting that brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Dr. Azine Graff is a Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Harmony in Parenting, which is based in Los Angeles and offers groups, classes, therapy and consultation services informed by the latest research on child development.

We've all been there. In a very public place with a child who is melting down. They're in full kicking and screaming mode, can't be reasoned with or even easily moved. It's frustrating, embarrassing and it can make you question yourself as a parent.

We've also all been the mama to watch it happen to someone else, wishing that we could stop a fellow mother's child from freaking out in aisle six. Wishing that we could let that mother know that we get it, that she's doing a good job, that this happens to all of us.

Sometimes, the lessons we've been taught throughout our lives keep us from acting in those moments when our words could be the life preserver another mother needs. And that's why Katie McLaughlin, a writer and mom of two, recently shared her story in a Facebook post that is now going viral.

She hesitated to speak to a fellow mama, but is so glad she listened to her gut, because that mama (and all of us from time to time) needed to hear what McLaughlin had to say: "I know it doesn't feel like it now, but you are rocking this."

McLaughlin was in the middle of a Target run when she noticed a fellow mother who she sensed could use a kind word.

"Behind me at the checkout, this 3-year-old was kicking and screaming and flopping around on the floor like a fish out of water. I tried to catch the mom's eye and give her an empathetic look, but she was too busy wrestling with her daughter to notice me," McLaughlin wrote, noting that the mom behind her was using all the 'right' tantrum taming techniques, but it just wasn't working.

"She remained calm. She spoke to her child in a gentle, reassuring tone. She was as attentive as she could be while also attempting to pay for her assortment of $10 tees and seasonal decor. But despite her best efforts, the meltdown only got bigger and bigger. The mom still stayed calm, but I noticed her cheeks were very flushed as she apologized profusely to the cashier," McLaughlin wrote in the Facebook post that has now been shared more than 12,000 times.

As the child's tantrum continued, so did the conversation McLaughlin was having with herself. She knew what this mother was feeling, and she wanted so badly to let her know that she's not alone.

"Say something kind to her, I thought. She's embarrassed and alone and feels like a terrible mother. Remind her that none of those things are true," McLaughlin wrote. "But then I thought, No, it's none of your business. LEAVE THE POOR STRANGER ALONE."

McLaughlin walked out of Target with her purchase, and so did the mom of the mid-meltdown toddler. She watched as the mama tried to buckle a flailing, frustrated toddler into a car seat, and then summoned the courage to follow her gut and talk to a stranger.

She said: "Sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to say you're doing a great job."

The mom could have told her to mind her own business, but McLaughlin took that risk. The mom looked up at her, blinked twice, and the tears started flowing down her face. "I think I feel as bad as she does," she told McLaughlin, who replied, "I know it doesn't feel like it now, but you are rocking this."

Through more tears the mom of a very upset toddler told McLaughlin: "You have no idea how much I needed to hear that."

McLaughlin says the reason she spoke up was that she does understand how much the mother needed to hear that, and she hopes other parents who read her viral post can take the risk she did.

"Since the post went viral, I've heard from so many moms who say they wish another mom had offered a supportive word or an understanding glance," she tells Motherly. "So often we stay silent because we're not sure what to say or we're afraid to be seen as 'butting in' or not minding our own business. But the chances are much higher than our act of kindness will be appreciated. So if your gut is telling you to reach out and be supportive, don't overthink it; just do it."

So the next time you find yourself at Target hearing frustrated screams of a toddler, don't mind your business. Offer a supportive verbal comment like McLaughlin did, or offer to help her with her other children, like Tiffany Jones-Guillory did when she encountered a mom with a baby and a melting toddler at her local Target.

Jones-Guillory accidentally went viral back in May, after stepping in to help mom-of-two Rebecca Paterson when her 2-year-old and 2-month-old both melted down at Target. Peterson was about to give up on her shopping trip and was putting items back on the shelves when Jones-Guillory offered empathy and a pair of arms.

"She walked with me while I got the essentials needed for the day and kept hold of my toddler while he calmed down," Paterson recalled in a Facebook post. "She saved me today moms!!! I am so sleep deprived and was running on empty. A little kindness and understanding go a long way."

What the world needs are more people like Jones-Guillory and McLaughlin. Unfortunately, we don't have enough of them. If your child melted down in public today and there was no one around to offer you an empathic word, here's a few more from McLaughlin. When asked what she wants mid-Target-tantrum mamas to know, she told Motherly this:

"I know you're embarrassed. I know you're ashamed. I know you feel totally judged. But here's the truth: for every one person who's judging you, there are so many more that are empathizing with you."

Remember that, mama. And don't be afraid to say it to yourself or someone else who needs to hear it.

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It's the news many royal watchers have been waiting for since their history-making wedding. Today, Kensington Palace announced the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, are going to have new titles in Spring 2019: Mom and Dad.



"Their Royal Highnesses have appreciated all of the support they have received from people around the world since their wedding in May and are delighted to be able to share this happy news with the public," a Palace spokesperson wrote in a media release.



Meghan's been planning for kids 

We are thrilled for Harry and Meghan, who have both been open about one day wanting to start a family.

Back in 2015, before rumors of the couple's relationship made their way into British newspapers, Markle told Hello! that she had bought herself a Cartier French Tank watch to celebrate her accomplishment as an actress when her show Suits was picked up for a third season.

"I totally splurged and bought the two-tone version," she said. "I had it engraved on the back, 'To M.M. From M.M.' and I plan to give it to my daughter one day. That's what makes pieces special, the connection you have to them."

Prince Harry's always wanted to be a dad 

Seeing the watch as an heirloom proves that long before the Royal wedding, Markle was already thinking of her future as a parent. And so was Prince Harry.

In 2012, during ABC's coverage of the Queen's Jubilee, Prince Harry told Katie Couric, "I've longed for kids since I was very, very young. And so … I'm waiting to find the right person, someone who's willing to take on the job."

Now that the job has been filled, the Prince's lifelong dream is coming true, and history is being made once again.

The citizenship question

People who are born in the UK after 1983 become British citizens if the mother or father was a British citizen or was settled in the UK at the time of their birth. This royal baby will be British for sure, but will they also be an official American?

It's a complicated question.

Meghan Markle is royalty, but she's not quite a British citizen yet. As Prince Harry's communication's secretary told the BBC before the couple got married, Markle (who is still an American) "intends to become a U.K. citizen and will go through the process of that, which some of you may know takes a number of years."

It's a long process to get British citizenship, but eventually, the Duchess will be an official Brit. When all that red tape has cleared, she'll have a decision to make: Whether or not to keep her American citizenship as well.

Royal expert Marlene Koenig told Town & Country that if Markle "remains a U.S. national, her children will have dual nationality just like Madeleine of Sweden's children."

But other royal watchers say it's more likely that Meghan will renounce her American citizenship when she becomes British to avoid having to divulge royal finances in accordance with U.S. tax laws.

That said, because this baby is likely going to arrive while Markle is still an American, they will probably be a dual citizen. According to the State Department, "a child born in a foreign country to U.S. national parents may be both a U.S. national and a national of the country of birth."

This is truly a unique situation, so we will have to see how it shakes out. No matter if the baby is American, British, or both, we are so happy for the Duke and Duchess.

Here's to another royal baby! 🎉

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It's not unusual for a mother's spouse to be next to her during labor, holding her hand and encouraging her. But in almost all cases, that partner is not also recovering from giving birth themselves less than 48 hours earlier.

But when Anna and Renee McInarnay spoke to Motherly this week, that was their plan. The married couple were getting ready to go to the hospital, planning to spend their weekend supporting each other through the births of their daughters, Avonlea and Emma.

The two women share a love story, a home, a profession, and a due date (although their medical team is hoping to give them at least 36 hours between births).

"We actually we don't really know who's gonna go first, it's kind of whoever's ready to go first, but they're thinking it's Renee," Anna told Motherly the morning before the pair checked into the hospital where they would spend their first weekend as parents.

The McInarnays live in Mississippi, a state where they know their chances of having a child placed with them through adoption are not good. They both have stable jobs as elementary school teachers, and having been together for 17 years they certainly have a stable relationship, but adoption workers were honest with them about their chances of having a child placed in their home through foster care or adoption.

As Anna recalls, one worker was warm but frank, telling her "Mississippi I think would probably go through placing everyone else before they would place a same-sex couple", she recalls. "At that point I just appreciated the honesty."

With adoption off the table, the McInarnays started exploring fertility at the urging of Anna's brother, a medical professional who gently nudged the couple, at 35 and 36 years old, to explore the option sooner rather than later.

And so, the McInarnays found themselves in the waiting room at Audubon Fertility in New Orleans. At first, they just wanted to find out if either of them would be likely to conceive. When they found out that it was possible they both could, they didn't quite know how to answer the next question.

"They asked us, 'Okay so who wants to carry for your family?' And Renee and I, because we had so expected them to say 'neither one of you can conceive' or 'you waited too late,' or 'your eggs are dried up,' we didn't know the answer," Anna recalls.

The fertility clinic suggested both women move forward with the process if neither were opposed, as it typically takes multiple cycles for a patient to conceive. When Renee was diagnosed with PCOS, it seemed like Anna would likely be the one to carry the couple's child, but when both women ovulated at the same time, they continued to move forward.

Renee and Anna remember asking their nurse what the chances would be of them both actually conceiving at the same time. She told them it would be a first for the clinic and a statistical miracle. "'Of course it's possible,' she said" Anna recalls. "But that's not the possibility that you should bank on. What you should hope for is that one of you is gonna be able to carry for your family."

And then a statistical miracle happened.

The McInarnays were in their living room when the clinic called and told Anna she was pregnant. Thrilled and excited, Anna got a jolt when the voice on the other end of the phone asked her to sit down.

"I had this moment where I thought 'Oh my God they're gonna tell me that all three of them took and we are gonna have triplets, and I'm going to die.' That was literally what I thought. And so they said 'Are you sitting down?' We said 'Yeah.' I sat down, and they said 'Anna, you're pregnant. But so is Renee.'"

Tears of joy flowed that day, as they will this weekend when Avonlea and Emma enter the world, but before the girls entered the world, their families got to experience another magical moment.

Renee says both her mom and Anna's mom were thrilled to hear of the pregnancies, but as the couple was open about going through fertility treatments, it wasn't exactly a shock.

"There was not this big moment that you get to do where you give 'em a onesie that says 'you're gonna be a grandparent,'" says Renee, who was instead able to plan another surprise with the help of her twin sister.

That's who took the call from the fertility clinic to learn if Anna and Renee were expecting boys, girls, or one of each. Even Anna and Renee didn't know, so when they drove from Mississippi to Florida and shot off confetti cannons, everyone was surprised and thrilled.

As a lesbian couple, this wasn't a moment Anna and Renee—or their parents—were sure they would get to experience, and it was doubly special. "Our whole families, siblings, nieces and nephews, they all drove in and we all were in the yard together and popped [the cannons]. And then just the pink confetti falling, it was really great," Renee recalls.

Getting here wasn't easy.

When Anna and Renee fell for each other as teenagers, reconciling their attraction and love was difficult. It was the first time either had non-platonic love for another woman. "We were a young couple, we were from really conservative areas, and initially we really struggled with, you know, what is this going to look like in our lives, what does this even mean, does this mean we're gay? You know as young people back then really, you had no context for any of that," Anna recalls.

They stayed together, but briefly broke up a few years later, each wanting to protect the other from the discrimination they knew they would face. "I think we were just really scared to come out. I mean to tell you the truth, when we think about that time that we weren't together, it really wasn't because there was love lost between us, it was just fear, you know?" Anna told Motherly.

When they reunited they decided they would never live in that fear again, and would do what was best for themselves and now, their family.

This has meant correcting folks around Hattiesburg, Mississippi who mislabel them as roommates, sister or "really good friends." In a community where LGBTQ rights are a contentious topic, these two award-winning teachers have won the respect and admiration of many parents, and changed some minds in the process.

"That's not to say that we haven't received hateful comments, that's not to say that explaining this to parents every year is not really, really tricky, and the way that we kind of have to phrase things is not tricky," says Anna. "We have to be very clear and be very direct, and be just very loving, you know. And we also have had to accept that as deeply as we want people to understand us as a couple, and to be loving and supported, for some people it's going to take some time for them to open up their thinking a little bit."

And it's why they're being so open with the story of how they are starting a family. Besides, there's no hiding the fact that the two married, female teachers both have baby bumps.

The McInarnays want to give hope to anyone who is afraid of loving who they love, and they want to give hope to anyone going through the ups and downs of trying to conceive with reproductive assistance.

"In that [fertility clinic] there were gay couples, there were straight couples, there were interracial couples, there were every type of couple that you could imagine. Sitting there, all with the same goal, trying to start families, and some of them had been there for years," she recalls.

"It's not lost on us that we had this really rare experience in fertility where we got pregnant on the first try, and that that's something that the people that kind of became our friends, our family in the [fertility clinic] lobby, that they never got or that they're still waiting for."

The McInarnays are humbled by and so grateful for their double pregnancy. It takes a strong mama to be up and holding her wife's hand 36 hours after giving birth herself, but we've got no doubt that both these women have that strength in them.

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