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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.

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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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Sometimes it can feel like toys are a mama's frenemy. While we love the idea of entertaining our children and want to give them items that make them happy, toys can end up taking the joy out of our own motherhood experience. For every child begging for another plastic figurine, there's a mama who spends her post-bedtime hours digging toys out from under the couch, dining room table and probably her own bed.

Like so many other moms, I've often found myself between this rock and hard place in parenting. I want to encourage toys that help with developmental milestones, but struggle to control the mess. Is there a middle ground between clutter and creative play?

Enter: Lovevery.

lovevery toys

Lovevery Play Kits are like the care packages you wish your child's grandparent would send every month. Expertly curated by child development specialists, each kit is crafted to encourage your child's current developmental milestones with beautiful toys and insightful activity ideas for parents. A flip book of how-tos and recommendations accompanies each box, giving parents not only tips for making the most of each developmental stage, but also explaining how the games and activities benefit those growing brains.

Even better, the toys are legitimately beautiful. Made from eco-friendly, sustainable materials materials and artfully designed, I even find myself less bothered when my toddler leaves hers strewn across the living room floor.

What I really love, though, is that the kits are about so much more than toys. Each box is like a springboard of imaginative, open-ended play that starts with the included playthings and expands into daily activities we can do during breakfast or while driving to and from lessons. For the first time, I feel like a company isn't just trying to sell me more toys―they're providing expert guidance on how to engage in educational play with my child. And with baby kits that range from age 0 to 12 months and toddler kits for ages 13 to 24 months, the kits are there for me during every major step of development I'll encounter as a new mama.

So maybe I'll never love toys―but I will always love spending time with my children. And with Lovevery's unique products, mixing those worlds has become child's play.


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

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One hour.

That's all this summer goal requires. It requires pretty much no planning or bucket list-making or thought, other than keeping your eyes open for opportunity. This hour will find you.

I figured out the impact of this hour when we spent last weekend at a water park while my son played lacrosse. Going back and forth from game to hotel water park all weekend left us feeling disjointed and exhausted. It was lots of fun, but I was just tired at the end of it. Every bone in my body couldn't wait to get home.

My kids, however, who can run all day and still not be tired, really wanted just one more hour in the water park. This meant I'd have to put on my bathing suit. We had to check out of our room, so if we stayed, we'd have to change in the damp, icky changing area. My hair would be wet. The water park was so loud. Not one thing about the idea of staying sounded appealing to me.

But still, they wanted to stay. They looked at us with hopeful eyes, begging for the fun to continue. Pretty much every other family was headed home. But we made a decision that changed how I am looking at my whole summer – and, really, how I'm looking at how my role as a parent.

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We stayed the extra hour. I am not exaggerating when I say it made all the difference.

I dug deep and decided I was going to be Fun Mom for an hour. I could have been Sit-in-a-chair-and-half-heartedly-watch-their-antics Mom for an hour, but I decided that would be a waste. If I wasn't going home, I was going to really be there for an hour. I was going to get my hair wet and not complain. For one hour, I was basically going to be a kid.

And it was So. Much. Fun.

I realized how important this hour was about 10 minutes in, when I found myself racing up the steps of the kiddie water slide area, chasing after Sam, plotting how I could adjust my way of sliding to finally beat him in our water slide race. I was ALL IN at that moment.

When I said I would slide with him, Sam's eyes lit right up and his little arms shot up in the air with a giant “YES!" He wanted to have fun with me. In that moment, I was not just Fun Mom. I was Fun Amy.

Having fun with your kids allows you to see them in a whole new light. I watched Sam use his God-given giant load of energy to run and run and run and embrace that hour, so much that I think he may be a fun genius.

I watched Kate fearlessly whip down water slides that made me scream like a baby. She held my hand. She was the one who was brave. She had no fear, and her fierce independence and determination made me feel lucky to be her friend for an hour.

I watched Thomas take Sam under his wing when it was his turn for slide races. I watched him teach Sam new water tricks and happily play in the kiddie area with reckless abandon, being kind and awesome to his brother at every turn.

I watched Ellie and Lily with their arms around each other, best friends for this sacred hour. I went down sides with each of them and floated through the lazy river as we all chatted, without a care in the world.

I held Todd's hand and rode down a slide with him in a double tube, just like in our dating days, our kids watching from behind, rolling their eyes with huge grins on their faces, hopefully seeing that marriage is more than making lunches and carting them around – that marriage is having actual fun with each other.

Spend the hour, my friends.

This hour reminded me how awesome it is to be the fun mom, to just be human with your kids. It reminded me how amazing it can be to say yes.

Sure, I could have used that hour to start on the massive pile of laundry we brought home. And full disclosure: We pushed ourselves to the point that there was plenty of super tired whining and complaining when we drove home. That hour could have saved us from having to stop for a little treat on the way home because now dinner was too far away. The house might have been cleaner and my people fed on time and in bed earlier had we not spent the hour.

But the laundry and the whining and the feeding of the people will always be there. That hour of fun was not only priceless. It was fleeting, like a feather in the wind we could catch if we tried. And we did.

Your hour may not be water park fun. This may sound like sheer torture to you. But your hour can be anything. And seriously, it's just an hour. We can do anything for an hour.

Thinking back, I remember my parents taking this same hour with us. My dad raced from roller coaster to roller coaster with my more adventurous siblings. My mom became more fun than any teenage shopping buddy we had. They spent the time. They took the hour. And we have amazing family memories because of it.

Life tries to drum that hour out of us. It tries to make us believe that getting stuff done is the ultimate prize. I am all for folded laundry and an empty sink and kids who are asleep at bedtime. But don't let life keep you from taking an hour here and there.

Find what you love, share it with your kids, say yes even when every bone in your old and weary body says no. Let your kids hear you scream like a kid going down a water slide. Get your hair wet. Eat ice cream for dinner. Play a family game of tag at the park as the sun goes down.

Show your kids you are more than a task master who cares too much about beds being made. Show them that you are not just the adult who wants them to entertain themselves at the water park while you sit in a hot tub (although I did that this weekend, too, and it was amazing).

Show them that family is fun, and that fun can actually come first. Show them the kid in you. It will bond you together in a whole new way.

Make it your goal this summer to take the hour. Those moments will make all the difference. And it's the moments that will change your family forever.

This post was originally published on Hiding in the Closet with Coffee.

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Breastfeeding is not easy. But neither is weaning. That's why this powerful photo from Brazilian mama Maya Vorderstrasse is going viral. Her husband captured the first time she ever breastfed their second daughter and next to it, almost two years later, the last time she fed their daughter from her breast.

And it's not just the photo that is powerful. In her caption Maya shares her emotional struggles with weaning and the tricks they used to make this transition easier for their youngest daughter. The caption reads:

"The first and last time my precious daughter ever nursed.

I didn't know that one person could feel so proud and so broken at the same time, right now I am a hormonal, emotional, and mental mess.

Raising my arm in this picture was very difficult for me as I had to fight through uncontrollable tears: this picture meant that I would never breastfeed my daughter ever again. I have been nursing for so long, that I don't know what it's like to not nurse anymore.



As I looked behind the camera, my husband is crying like I had never seen him cry before, like seriously, a deep gut cry. I was her comfort, her safe place, and I hope she still finds me that way. A month shy of 2 years old, she finally has a bed in a shared bedroom with her sister. We bought her her first bed, used any distraction we could come up with, snacks and new toys to keep her mind off of it.

My husband has taken over bedtime completely, including all nighttime wakings. We are on our third day, and every day gets a little bit easier. The guilt I feel for not putting her to bed is so intense and I can't wait to go back to it once she doesn't ask to nurse anymore. Closing a chapter is painful, but I am hopeful that this new season of our lives will also be special in its own way.

Through this maturation step she will not only grow more independent, but I will get a much needed break. She unlatched for the last time and sobbingly I said to my husband: "I did my best". He hugged me and responded with: "No. You did THE best, because you gave her your all". I love my family and am so thankful for such special and unforgettable moments like these. 💛

*my lazy boob has no clue about what's going on, but thoughts and prayers are accepted for my good one, I really think it might explode🤱🏻

**thank you to my husband, for insisting on filming this, I will treasure this forever.🤳🏼👩"

You've got this mama!

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If you're looking for basics for the kids for summer, you're in luck, mama. Primary clothes don't have logos or sparkles—they're classic prints and colors that can easily transition from one kid to the next. And this week, Primary is celebrating the new season with a major summer sale.

Items, like swimsuits, dresses, polos and more, are over 50% off. Most pieces are under $10 so you can stock up on an entire new wardrobe without breaking the budget.

Here's what we're adding to our carts—shop the entire sale here:

1. Baby rainbow stripe rash guard

With UPF 50, you can rest easy knowing baby has extra protection outdoors.

$14.50

SHOP

2. The track short

The easy pull-on waist will make outfit changes a breeze.

$10.50

SHOP

3. Rainbow stripe one-piece

Cute? Check. Will stay in place? Check. UPF 50? Check.

$18.00

SHOP

4. The short sleeve twirly dress

Made of 100% cotton jersey, this one will be a staple all summer long.

$10.00

SHOP

5. The polo babysuit

Perfect to dress up or down.

$8.00

SHOP

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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Being an adult is no joke. Beyond dressing ourselves and our kids and, ya know, feeding and bathing the family, there are so many other things that life throws at us. And because we're adults, we have to take care of these myriad to-dos. Welcome to: Adulting!

I'm not just talking about laundry, filling up the gas tank and stocking the fridge with groceries, but those tasks that always get pushed back. Getting life insurance. Refinancing your loan debt. (Students loans? Us, too.) Signing up for marriage counseling.

But guess what? These seemingly heavy-lift tasks are now a whole lot easier and faster to tackle. Here's how to check off your most tedious adulting chores.

The life insurance

When you're single with no descendants, life insurance might not seem like a top priority. But when you suddenly have a kid (or three), setting your family up for financial success is a must. And thanks to Ladder, obtaining a policy isn't the taxing, cringe-inducing process it used to be! It's modern and easy to use—seriously, you can even sign up for a policy from your phone or tablet. Ladder makes it possible to obtain a policy in under five minutes. Yes, really. See? No need to procrastinate!

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The student loan redux

You have the degree and the career and you also have the debt. And like us, you're likely just paying your monthly minimums without considering refinancing your student loans—because that sounds hard and complicated. Laurel Road simplifies the process. You can check your rates in only a few minutes (and don't worry, doing so won't impact to your credit score!).

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The marriage counselor

Did you know that 66% of couples report a drop in marital satisfaction when baby arrives? It's not surprising that an infant can cause stress for mama, but all that pressure can affect your relationship, too. Taking the time to really invest in marriage counseling often falls to the bottom of the to-do lists because of the many hurdles—finding a therapist, traveling to appointments, the cost of copays or out-of-pocket fees, the stigma around it all. With Lasting, however, you and your partner pair your apps and can begin working on your relationship together on your own timeline.

LEARN MORE

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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