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“Wow, Mama, what kind of bug is that?” my son asks, squatting in the dirt and peering at a tiny bug that I would have never noticed.


“I’m not sure, honey, we will have to look it up later,” I say, watching the multi-legged creature try to make a quick getaway.

“Okay!” he replies, before running off to find another hill to climb.

My youngest comes toddling down the trail, a wooden stick in hand. “Hike! I hikin’, Mama!” he proclaims proudly, carefully placing his newly found walking stick with each step he takes down the tree lined path.

A moment later, a creek is spotted, and the boys quickly abandon their entomological and ambulatory pursuits in order to throw rocks into the water. They ignore my pleas to keep their feet out of the water, and then a follow-up request to at least roll up their pants, and moments later they’re covered in water, mud, and smiles.

This is childhood, I think to myself. It’s a constant pursuit of knowledge, joy, and adventure, fueled by a drive that’s only found in the youngest among us. As parents, we hope to offer our children a healthy start, a sense of duty to help others than themselves, and an opportunity to experience the simple delight of being a child. Playing outdoors gives our children an excellent opportunity to fulfill all of these needs.

Overall Importance of Outdoor Play

There are several reasons I take my children outside on a daily basis. Some of these are less noble than others, primarily that my children seem to take better naps if they’ve spent the morning running around in the sun. I also find that I have to spend less time performing the more tiresome aspects of parenting, like constantly harping, “Use your indoor voices! Don’t jump on the couch! Give your brother some space!” When we’re outside, things just seem to go a little bit more smoothly.

Outdoor play has been a fundamental part of childhood until recently, and there are grave consequences associated with this shift. One study, published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, found that roughly one half of the preschool aged children surveyed did not walk or play outside with a parent once per day. Even more concerning, the study found that the girls in the study were 15% less likely than boys to have daily outdoor play.

When children do make it outdoors, other studies have shown that the time they spend out there is short, with the average child spending only four to seven minutes per day in unstructured outdoor play. By contrast, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that children should participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that 2 to 5 year olds may need two or more hours per day of physical activity. Even if toddlers seem to be constantly active, they still require dedicated time for physical play. 

Pediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg of the AAP, while testifying before a federal subcommittee, described the importance of outdoor play for children:

“Play in an outdoor, natural environment allows children to explore both their world and their own minds…. Nature places virtually no bounds on the imagination and engages all of the senses. For all children, this setting allows for the full blossoming of creativity, curiosity, and the associated developmental advances.”

While I might personally be motivated to run my kids ragged with the hope they’ll burn off some energy, the benefits of nature play extend far beyond an earlier bedtime. Playing outdoors offers children opportunities that can’t be replicated in a classroom or even a gym – opportunities for better physical and mental health, a better world, and even a better childhood.

Physical Health Benefits 

This lack of outdoor play time has its consequences for children’s health. Numerous studies have found relationships between the time children spend outdoors, their proximity to a park or greenspace, and being of a healthy weight. One Australian study found that the older children who spent time outdoors were more likely to be physical active and were significantly less likely to be overweight. This outdoor playtime can help spark lifelong health habits, as being overweight in childhood puts a child at risk of being overweight as an adult.

The health benefits of playing outdoors aren’t limited to helping children maintain a healthy weight, however. Vitamin D, which is produced in the body after skin is exposed to sunlight, is increasingly becoming recognized as an important nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium and is essential for bone production and health. Deficiency in Vitamin D, which has also been linked to heart disease and diabetes, is common, with roughly 70 % of U.S. children not getting the amount they need, according to one study.

Even eyesight can be affected by a lack of time spent outdoors. The risk of myopia, or nearsightedness, is reduced by two-thirds for children with nearsighted parents if they spend more than 14 hours per week outside.

Mental Health Benefits

If the only benefit of playing outdoors was avoiding having to buy a new pair of glasses each year, we could debate whether or not it is worth it. But the mental health benefits of encouraging children to play outside erase any doubt to the question.

I have had my fair share of days where the constant whining, the insurmountable piles of laundry, and the boredom of the daily routine has built up inside of me until I am ready to explode and buy myself a plane ticket to Fiji, or at least drive to the nearest hotel and check myself in. On these days, I know what we need to do is get ourselves outside and into nature, our backyard, or on a walk through the neighborhood. When we finally make it out the door, I feel my stress level drop and watch the kids run around, much happier than when they were bouncing off the four walls of our living room.

It’s not just in my imagination, either; time spent in nature has been associated with better mental health for adults. Researchers found that adults who took a 90 minute walk in a natural setting were less likely to ruminate (focusing on negative parts of yourself, a behavior associated with mental illness) than those who walked in an urban setting. Other studies have shown that exercise in green environments, particularly those with water, lead to improved mood and self-esteem, two things from which most parents could benefit.

The mental health benefits extend to children, too. Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are able to concentrate better after spending time outdoors, according to numerous studies, and time spent in nature can also help to reduce stress in children. We often forget that children are not immune to the stresses of the world and require an outlet to relieve some of the anxiety and pressure they may feel. Playing outdoors helps them return to their most natural state – simply being a kid.

Conservation Benefits

But here is where things start to get really interesting. Our children are facing a world that is unlikely the one that we grew up in. While we may have heard vague rumblings about a hole in the ozone layer, acid rain, and disappearing rainforests in our childhood, the threat of climate change has become fully realized in this generation. June of 2016 was the hottest June on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and was the 14th month with record breaking high temperatures in a row.

With climate change moving from a theory to a reality, the need for citizens who are concerned about the well-being of our environment and all of those who live in it is greater than ever. But instead of fostering a connection between children and the outdoors, we’ve divorced nature from childhood, putting conservation efforts in jeopardy.

There is good news, however. Children who have a high sense of connection to nature are more likely to engage in pro-environmental behavior, such as recycling, turning off lights, and saving water, according to a recent study. This connection to nature is influenced by a family’s attitude to nature and having positive experiences in nature.

The same idea holds true for adults as well. Adults who recreate in nature, whether they are bird-watching or hunting, are more likely to actively participate in conservation efforts, such as habitat preservation or donating to conservation organizations.

When I am hiking with my children, my mind will often jump down the path, ten, twenty years ahead of us. I wonder what kind of world they are going to grow up in. Will they ask me what a glacier was when we visit Glacier National Park? Will the nightly news be bombarded with one environmental calamity after another? Will my generation be able to clean up our mess in time, or will we have to trust that our children will be able to figure out better solutions than we have?

If we want to enable the next generation to become good stewards of the environment, we cannot expect it to happen organically. Instead, it will take a concentrated effort to ensure that all children are able to access nature and experience the joy of playing outdoors. For our children (and for adults as well), melting ice caps and vanishing rainforests might sound like far off threats, but they can more easily understand the importance of keeping a river they love to fish in free from pollution, or why cleaning up trash along their favorite trail is necessary to preserve the habitat. Letting children experience nature first hand gives them understanding and an investment in their local ecosystems.

On The Right to be a Child 

The best part about playing outdoors with children is that it is one of those rare parenting moments when what I believe my children need, and what they want, actually intersects.

Childhood should be a time of excitement, learning, and adventure. The look of unbridled joy on a child’s face is one that no parent can get enough of. There are many times I have seen that look in my kid’s eyes – on Christmas morning, when they watch their grandparents get off of the plane, or when we tell them that yes, tonight they can have ice cream after dinner. When we are outside that look is not a rare one. I see it bubble up when they are splashing in puddles on rainy days, running at full speed across a field, or tumbling down a hill.

The concrete benefits of outdoor play are numerous, but even if they were non-existent, our children would still deserve the chance to run outside if for no other reason than it is part of what it means to be a kid. Chasing fireflies after bedtime, making mud pies, and building forts are all essential elements of the childhood experience. Sure, these activities inspire creativity, assist gross motor development, bolster burgeoning language skills, but more importantly, they are part of a season of joy in a child’s life that is often all too short.

Our children have a right to experience all of childhood, whether it is the view from the top of a tall tree or their first skinned knee, picking wild blackberries, or even bad case of poison ivy that will twist into a tall tale they till their own children about one day. At their heart, children are wild things, and we should let them grow up where the rest of the wild things are.

Like most parents, I worry about the start I am giving my children. I fret over if the food I give my children has too many pesticides on it, or if the pacifier my child has held onto for too many years is full of chemicals yet to be discovered as harmful. I try to teach them the importance of kindness and service to others, and pray that it will stick somewhere in their subconscious. I google milestones and activities to help them develop important skills they will need to know in life.

But the truth is, one of the simplest activities I can do, and the one they enjoy the most, is to simply head out the door and into nature. Playing together outside is not only beneficial for our physical and mental health (theirs and my own), but helps to lay a foundation for a lifestyle that respects the world we live in.

The time our children spend play outdoors is rapidly diminishing, and this has ramifications not only for their own health, but for our larger communities if are our children grow up without a connection to the environment. But even more simply, we should hold dear the importance of outdoor play as a foundational part of childhood because our children have the right to be kids.

My oldest son still talks about the time he found a frog fishing with his dad last summer. I am not surprised, as most of my best childhood memories were also formed outdoors. I want my children to know the beauty of eating s’mores by a campfire, swimming in a creek, and traipsing through a forest, because, more than anything, I believe it can bring them a good dose of joy.

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Rachel McAdams didn't talk publicly about her pregnancy or her birth story. There are some things this working mama wants to keep to herself, but the fact that she needs to pump at work isn't one of them.

McAdams was recently doing a photo shoot with photographer Claire Rothstein of Girls Girls Girls magazine when she needed to take a pump break. Wearing Versace and a neck full of diamonds McAdmans did what mamas all over the world do every day, and Rothstein snapped a pic that is now going viral.

In an Instagram post, Rothstein explains that she and McAdams had a "mutual appreciation disagreement about who's idea it was to take this picture," but the photographer says she remembers it being McAdams' idea, "which makes me love her even more."

In her caption of the amazing photograph, Rothstein writes: "Breastfeeding is the most normal thing in the world and I can't for the life of me imagine why or how it is ever frowned upon or scared of."

The photographer added that she wanted to put the image out there to change perceptions about breastfeeding, pumping, and working motherhood.

McAdams decision to normalize pumping through this glamorous image is especially cool when you consider that she's not really a social media person, and spends a lot of days in much less glam attire.

She recently arrived for her first interview since welcoming her son in the spring wearing a grey shirt, baggy pants and sneakers, reportedly telling the interviewer (Helena de Bertodano for The Sunday Times U.K.), "I don't even know what I'm wearing today. The shoes are held together with glue. Isn't that sad? I need to get a life."

"I have clothes on and that's a good thing," McAdams told Bertodano during that chat. Her attire for that newspaper interview was a world away from the clothes she wore for the Girls Girls Girls shoot.

During her Sunday Times interview McAdams declined to discuss her son's name or birthdate.

"I want to keep his life private, even if mine isn't," she explained. "But I'm having more fun being a mum than I've ever had. Everything about it is interesting and exciting and inspiring to me. Even the tough days — there's something delightful about them."

Most of us will never look the way McAdams does in this photo while we're pumping, but we can totally understand that sometimes, motherhood means you're wearing sweats and sometimes it means you're pumping in your work clothes (even if for most of us, that doesn't mean Versace).

McAdams may be keeping some parts of her motherhood experience private, but by showing the world this part of her day, she's normalizing something that desperately needs normalizing.

Some mamas pump, and the world needs to know (and accommodate) that.

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To my children,

It's the New Year, and I have been doing a lot of thinking. I want to say, with all of my heart and all of my soul, that I am sorry. I want apologize for anything (and everything) I have said or done that made you feel less-than or sad or small.

I regret, so deeply, the hurt I delivered through harsh words or sideways glances, for steely eyes you didn't deserve and sarcastic replies you didn't understand. I'm sorry for being upset when I should have been more understanding, for resorting to frustration when I should have found more patience, for pulling away when I should have drawn near.

There were the times when you needed more from me, when you asked for more, and I simply couldn't provide. There were the moments when you wanted less of me, needed less from me, and I couldn't—or perhaps I just wouldn't—back away.

I start every day with a hope, a hope that I will be better than the day before.

Sometimes I succeed, but many times, I fail. Every so often, I fail in spectacular fashion. I think about all the times when I wasn't gentle enough or kind enough or attentive enough to you, about all the moments when I was too quick to anger and not quick enough to forgive.

You don't need me to tell you that I'm not perfect. Lord knows, you know far too well.

But I will say it to you, because I think it helps to hear me say it: I am not perfect. I make mistakes. I am human. I have flaws and cracks and blemishes; they are a part of me, just as they are a part of you.

Sometimes, my dear ones, my mistakes are small—like forgetting to pack your lunch or mixing up the dates for Tot Shabbat, or picking you up an hour late from a play date or accidentally switching your piano primer with your brother's, or sending a snack I know you dislike because I didn't have time to go grocery shopping and have no other food in the refrigerator. But sometimes, they aren't so minor.

Sometimes, my mistakes have to do with the way I've behaved, and the words I have said, and the way I have said them. For those times, and for all the times I failed to support you the way I should, or help you in the way you deserve, and love you in the best way I can, I am sorry.

I wish I didn't make so many mistakes. I'm a perfectionist at heart, but when it comes to parenting, there's still so much I haven't mastered. Even after almost a decade of doing this day in and day out, I still feel like a novice in so many regards and as green as I did on day one.

Precious ones, I've come to realize, no matter how hard I try, that I just can't get it right all of the time. I hope you can forgive my failings.

The older I get, the more I realize that life is a jumble of hits and misses. As many times as we try and succeed, we also try and fail. As much as we hope to do right, we often end up doing wrong. It is the story of the human condition—this mix of losses and gains, triumphs and defeats. It's all very messy (think sloppy joes and pancakes dripping with syrup kind of messy), and yet, it's all we know.

My darling ones, I want nothing more than to do right by you and be the best mother I can be for you. I want to love you unconditionally, support you unreservedly, and be present unambiguously.

In the New Year, I resolve to do better for you, to be better with you, and to act as if God is watching. You mean the world to me. You are everything to me. I love you, always and forever.

All my love,

Mommy


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People often say that having a second child doesn't much add to the workload of parenting. There's no steep learning curve: You already know how to make a bottle, install a car seat and when to call the pediatrician. And you're already doing laundry, making lunches and supervising bath time—so throwing a second kid in the tub isn't a big deal.

Except that it is. Having a second child doesn't just mean attaching a second seat to your stroller. Adding a whole new person to your family is more complicated than that, and it's okay to say that it is hard.

A new study out of Australia disputes the popular idea that after making the transition from people to parents, making the jump from one child to two is easy. The researchers found that having a second child puts a lot of pressure on parents' time and their mental health, and mothers bear the brunt of the burden.

When looking at heterosexual couples, the researchers found that before a first child is born both partners feel equal amounts of "time pressure," but once the child is born, that pressure grows, more so for mothers than fathers.

Basically, parents feel psychological stress when they feel they don't have enough time to do all they need to. One baby makes both parents feel more stress, but mom's increase is more than dad's. When a second baby comes, that time pressure doubles for both parents, and since mom already had more than dad, there's now a gulf between them.

The researchers behind this study—Leah Ruppanner, Francisco Perales and Janeen Baxter—say that after a first child is born, a mother's mental health improves, but after a second child, it declines.

Writing for The Conversation, the trio explains:

"Second children intensify mothers' feelings of time pressure. We showed that if mothers did not have such intense time pressures following second children, their mental health would actually improve with motherhood. Fathers get a mental health boost with their first child, but also see their mental health decline with the second child. But, unlike mothers, fathers' mental health plateaus over time. Clearly, fathers aren't facing the same chronic time pressure as mothers over the long-term."

The researchers say that even when mothers reduce their work time, the time pressure is still there and that "mothers cannot shoulder the time demands of children alone."

Adding a second child to the family isn't just a matter of throwing a few more socks in the laundry: It means a schedule that is already stretched is now filling up with twice as many appointments, twice as many school functions. Mothers only have 24 hours in the day, and as much as we wish we could add a couple extra hours per child, we can't.

Time simply can't change to help us, but society can. As the researchers noted, when time pressure is removed, motherhood actually improves mental health.

We love our lives, we love our kids, we love parenting, but there is only so much of our day to go around.

Ruppanner, Perales and Baxter suggest that if society were to help mothers out more, our mental health (and therefore our children's wellbeing as well) would improve even after two or three kids. "Collectivising childcare – for example, through school buses, lunch programs and flexible work policies that allow fathers' involvement – may help improve maternal mental health," the researchers explain, adding that "it is in the national interest to reduce stressors so that mothers, children and families can thrive."

Whether you're talking about Australia or America, that last bit is so true, but this research proves that the myth about second-time parenthood isn't. Even if you already have the skills and the hand-me-downs, having a second child isn't as easy as it is sometimes made out to be.

We can love our children and our lives and still admit when things aren't easy.

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We know life gets a little (okay, a lot) busy around this time of year so if you haven't crossed off everyone on your Christmas list just yet, here's your reminder that you've still got time. Fortunately, that Amazon Prime membership of yours comes in handy... especially for the holidays.

Here are some of the best last-minute gifts to get on Amazon. Also, that extra couple of dollars for gift wrapping is *so* worth it if it's available. 😉

1. Tape Activity Book

So your little can create just about anywhere—on the go, in the car or hanging out at home.

Melissa & Doug Tape Activity Book, $6.47

BUY

2. Instant Pot

Mama, meet your new best friend. 4.5 stars with nearly 30K reviews.

Instant Pot 8-qt, $89.95

BUY

3. Silicone Teething Mitt

Offer relief to your teething one with a mitt that stays in place.

Itzy Ritzy Silicone Teething Mitt, $8.99

BUY

4. Roomba

Give the gift of never having to manually vacuum again.

iRobot Roomba 690, $279.00

BUY

5. Magnetic Tiles

These are always a favorite for kids of all ages. Build endless possibilities and work on fine motor skills—win-win!

Magnetic Tiles Building Blocks Set, $31.99

BUY

6. DryBar Triple Sec

Perfect addition to mama's stocking, or paired with a salon or blowout gift card. Adds *so* much texture and volume.

DryBar Triple Sec 3-in-1, $35.99

BUY

7. Plush Animated Bunny

Plays peek-a-boo and sings for baby.

Animated Plush Stuffed Animal, $32.97

BUY

8. 23andMe

Learn everything you want to know about your family history, where you came from, and even information about your genetics.

23andMe DNA Test, $67.99

BUY

9. Boon Bath Pipes

Make bath time more fun. They suction to the wall and can be played with individually or altogether in a chain.

Boon Building Bath Pipes, $14.99

BUY

10. HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer

For printing all of those adorable Instagram moments—and for getting *all* of the photos off your phone.

HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer, $99.95

BUY

11. Board Blocks

Kids can sort, learn colors and shapes, and work on their hand-eye coordination.

Wooden Educational Geometric Board Block, $6.39

BUY

12. Ring Doorbell + Echo Dot

A great bundle for the techie in your life.

Ring Doorbell 2 and Echo Dot, $169.00

BUY

13. Pai Technology Circuit Conductor

For the little who wants to learn to code, this offers endless learning fun.

Pai Technology Circuit Conductor Learning Kit, $69.99

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14. Kindle Paperwhite, Audible + Headphones Bundle

Bookworms will love this bundle. Enjoy a new Kindle Paperwhite, wireless bluetooth stereo headphones, and 3 month free trial for Audible for new users.

Kindle Paperwhite Bundle, $139.00

BUY

15. Wooden Grocery Store

We love this imaginative play grocery store, complete with a beeping scanner and hand-cranked conveyor belt.

Melissa & Doug Freestanding Wooden Fresh Mart Grocery Store, $179.99

BUY

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work.We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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