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Watch a group of preschoolers working in a garden. It’s cute, right? But it turns out they’re learning more than you’d think. According to our new NSF-funded report, STEM Starts Early, co-published by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and New America, there’s growing evidence that very young children from all backgrounds — even children from birth to age 8 — learn important science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills and habits of mind from everyday play and early learning activities. For example, by growing their own fruits and vegetables or even building forts and stacking blocks, children collect data, begin to develop strategies, solve problems, and learn to adjust their approach when things do not go as expected. These activities, when facilitated well, aren’t only laying a foundation for future STEM learning; they’re allowing kids to actually be scientists, here and now.


Who knew that such young kids were capable of this kind of scientific inquiry? There are lots of common misconceptions about how young children engage in STEM learning — and that’s important, because adults’ attitudes about STEM learning profoundly influence children’s own beliefs about STEM learning, as well as their abilities. Take a look at these four facts everyone should know about early STEM learning, and consider what you can do about them.

1. STEM benefits all children, regardless of their innate abilities or backgrounds.

What the research says

It’s a common myth that STEM is only for certain kinds of kids — those who are naturally gifted or driven in STEM subjects. But in fact, the research shows that STEM is important for all children and for all subject areas. Think of it this way: As we learn new skills, our brains weave skill strands into ropes we can use to solve problems, meet challenges, and, in turn, acquire new skills. STEM skills are vital in many kinds of skill ropes: When kids have opportunities to collect evidence and solve scientific problems, they build strong ropes that can be used in many ways, both now and later in life.

Take, for example, the profound ties between STEM and language learning: Early STEM instruction results in higher language and literacy outcomes, and the reverse is true as well. For example, exposure to more spatial language during block play in infancy and early childhood increases children’s spatial abilities when they’re older. Furthermore, math skills and reading skills at kindergarten entry are equally predictive of reading skills in the eighth grade; and background knowledge about the world and how it works (much of which falls within the realm of STEM concepts) is critical for reading comprehension once children are able to sound out the words they encounter.

What you can do

If, like many teachers, you find yourself wondering where you could possibly find time to add a STEM block to your full schedule, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Remember that you can weave STEM into almost anything you’re already doing. There are curricula available for this — for example, research has shown that using the IDEAS model, an integrated science-and-literacy instruction block, leads to better reading and science scores (and more positive attitudes about both) than using traditional, separate literacy and science blocks.

If you don’t see yourself or your school adopting new teaching models or curricula anytime soon, consider how you can casually weave STEM into everyday situations in the classroom. For example, let’s say a child is trying to get something she can’t reach. Instead of reaching it yourself and handing it to the child, talk her through a problem-solving scenario: “Hmmm, let’s stop and think about why you might not be able to reach it. Oh, you’re not tall enough? What can we do to make you taller?” Support the child as she works through the problem herself, encouraging her as she communicates and tries some different solutions and offering suggestions if she becomes frustrated. In these simple ways, you can foster independence, critical thinking, STEM and oral language development, and more.



2. Children are born scientists and need adult support to realize and expand their natural STEM capacities.

 What the research says

Many people believe very young kids can’t do real STEM learning and should be focused on learning the “basics” first. But, as one researcher we interviewed put it, the reality is “[y]oung children are quite capable of doing, at a developmentally informed level, all of the scientific practices that high schoolers can do. They can make observations and predictions, carry out simple experiments and investigations, collect data, and begin to make sense of what they found.” In fact, researchers have documented children conducting systematic experiments as early as the first year of life!

For example, babies, only hours after birth, experiment with cause and effect as they realize that putting their own thumbs in their mouths makes them feel better; toddlers push their sippy cups off the edges of their high chairs over and over and over again to test the limits of gravity; and preschoolers are eager to understand why their clothes no longer fit (life sciences) and are obsessed with the fair distribution of communal snacks (math).

What you can do

Children need adult support to both realize and expand their natural capacity for STEM. Think back to the example of a child trying to get something that’s out of reach. By simply scaffolding the child’s critical-thinking process during this challenge moment, you’re encouraging math by comparing heights, science by encouraging experimentation, technology by helping her think about tool use, creativity in imagining a solution, and engineering by letting her make her imagined solution into a physical reality. And, on top of all of this, you’re giving her great practice in executive functioning skills such as self-control and sustained attention. It’s STEM and so much more.

Adults can encourage children’s STEM engagement by noticing when it’s already taking place, realizing that the child is not only capable of attaining the goal (getting the object) but also of meeting the challenge (solving the problem) with your support, and then taking advantage of that opportunity by engaging the child in an interaction that encourages their scientific inquiry. STEM learning moments aren’t only for special activities; they happen all the time, everywhere. Our job is to draw out that inner scientist, give them the tools they need to make important connections, and encourage them to keep trying and not give up.

3. Children need STEM immersion as early as possible to gain STEM fluency.

 What the research says

A common misconception is that “real” learning happens in the classroom, as opposed to informal settings such as museums, libraries, and summer camps. However, the research shows that just as people need to be immersed in a language to become fluent, children, too, need to be given many opportunities in many different settings to become fluent in STEM subjects. You can think of STEM learning opportunities like charging stations that power up kids’ learning. If we increase the number of STEM charging stations in kids’ environments, we will see more interest and fluency in STEM. Our current system is patchy; this explains why some children never develop STEM fluency, which has significant consequences for their overall learning.

What you can do

To bridge informal and formal learning, educators can encourage parent and family engagement in STEM learning. Parents, as long-term influences in children’s lives, can help them make connections between in-school and out-of-school STEM learning, as well as among their learning experiences over time. Parents can activate a child’s in-school learning by engaging in related activities at home or outside the home, such as taking trips to a STEM museum or to a library with STEM resources or enrolling the child in STEM-relevant after-school activities (e.g., Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts or a coding club). This kind of parental support has a strong, positive effect on children’s participation in math and science activities.

Teachers can encourage this involvement by sharing local STEM resources — library events, museum experiences, and educational technologies — with parents and encouraging them to charge up their children’s STEM batteries at multiple locations outside school. Communicate to parents what supporting their children’s STEM learning really looks like: They don’t need to do massive science fair projects at home every night or be experts in STEM topics. They can radically support their children’s STEM development by connecting STEM throughout their lives, by engaging in these out-of-school experiences or simply by showing curiosity in daily situations by asking their children the “wh” questions: who, what, when, where, why?

4. Parent and teacher attitudes are incredibly influential for children’s STEM outcomes.

 What the research says

We often hear people say things like, “I can’t support a child’s STEM learning — I’m not a STEM person!” Both teachers and parents can feel intimidated by STEM topics, and many feel anxious about supporting children’s STEM learning. Almost one-third of parents, for example, do not feel confident enough in their own scientific knowledge to support hands-on science activities at home. But parents’ and teachers’ beliefs about STEM have a profound effect on young children. When they believe that it’s too hard or it isn’t as important as other topics, children pick up on this and come to believe it themselves.

The good news is that supporting children’s STEM development doesn’t mean you have to be an expert. In fact, one of the most important things adults can do is model genuine engagement and curiosity about the world around them. By asking questions and demonstrating wonder, by taking the role of co-learner and guide, and by encouraging children’s own curiosity, you are instilling in them the motivation to explore and experiment. Ask lots of questions — and instead of feeling pressured to have the answers, just be willing to learn alongside them and participate in trying to figure out the answers. This is the foundation of the scientific method.

What you can do

Support your own and parents’ confidence as STEM guides by taking advantage of some of the free resources available online. Common Sense Education has reviewed a number of terrific tools for early STEM learning, which they’ve collected in their list Best Picks for Early Childhood STEM Learning.

In addition, two of my favorites that do a great job of guiding parents and teachers in leading STEM activities also have great research support. BedTime Math helps families introduce math as a fun part of their daily routines, as easily as reading bedtime stories. Research is showing that using BedTime Math at home significantly boosts kids’ math performance and is especially helpful for children whose parents are anxious about math, even when it’s used as little as once a week. For teachers, STEM from the Start is a free curriculum resource for teaching STEM content to students in grades pre-K–2. It blends animated adventures with guided activities and is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards. Preliminary research is showing that the lessons are engaging and effective, and they’ve had remarkable success engaging English-language learners and students with attention challenges.

When parents or teachers believe these common myths about early STEM, those attitudes transfer to children. So spread the word: STEM is great for all children, it starts early, kids need opportunities to explore across all aspects of their lives, and you are completely capable of supporting their STEM progress. Be confident STEM guides, and have fun exploring the world around you with your little ones!

For more information about early STEM learning, see the new report STEM Starts Early from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and New America.

Written by Elisabeth McClure for Common Sense Media

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.

While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.


Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).


Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.


Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!


Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.


Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!


Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.


Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!


Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.


Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.


Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.


Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.


Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!


Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.


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

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There's a lot of discussion about the importance of early education—but what about soft skills like respect and kindness? How can mamas teach children important values like cooperation, gratitude, empathy or politeness?

These values are basic, foundational beliefs that help us know right from wrong, that give balance and meaning to life and that enable us to form community bonds with one another. These soft skills are crucial for kids to learn at any age, and it's important for them to be reinforced, both in the classroom and at home, throughout their childhood.

Here are fundamental ways to build character in your young children:


Performing random acts of kindness can have a positive influence on both the individual showing and receiving the kindness. As a family, think of ways that each one of you can show kindness to others. Some ideas may include baking cookies for the mail carrier, donating an unopened toy to a local charity, purchasing canned goods for a homeless shelter or leaving notes and drawings for the neighbors. Include your child in the process so they can see firsthand the joy that kindness can bring to others.



Children have a strong desire to mimic adult family members. Encourage your child to help complete simple chores in and around the house. Children feel a great sense of accomplishment when they can do their share and feel that sense of responsibility. Two-year-olds will enjoy folding towels, putting books away, putting paper in the recycling box and tending to the garden. Older children may enjoy helping out in the kitchen or with yard work.


Patience is the ability to demonstrate self-control while waiting for an event to occur. It also refers to the ability to remain calm in the face of frustration. This is a skill which develops in children as they mature. While it is important to practice patience, adults should also be realistic in their expectations, evaluate daily routines and eliminate long periods of wait time from the schedule.


Schedule a time when the whole family can sit down together for dinner. Model good manners and encourage older siblings and other members of the family to do the same. Use phrases such as, "Can you please pass the potatoes?" or "Thank you." Be sure to provide your child with guidance, by explaining what to do as opposed to what not to do.


Change your routines at home to encourage children to be flexible in their thinking and to try new things. Try being flexible in the small things: enjoy breakfast for dinner, eat ice cream with a fork, have your child read a bedtime story to you or have a picnic in the living room. Let your child know it is okay to do things in a different way.


Children are beginning to understand different emotions and that others have feelings. Throughout their childhood, talk about their feelings and share one's own feeling with them as well. By taking the time to listen to how children are feeling, you will demonstrate to them that you care and reinforce with them that you fully understand how they are feeling.


Coordinate playdates or take your children to events where they can practice introducing themselves to other children, and potentially with adults. Find games and other activities that require turn-taking and sharing.


Encourage your child to spend five minutes every day listing the things they are grateful for. This could be done together just before bedtime or after dinner.


As parents, our goal is to teach children to recognize that even though people have different likes and dislikes or beliefs and ideas, they must treat each other with manners and positivity. Respect should be shown when sharing, cleaning up, and listening to others. Always teach and model the Golden Rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated. Also remind children that respect can be shown towards things in the classroom. Treating materials and toys correctly shows appreciation for the things we have.
Learn + Play

Medical researchers and providers consider a woman's postpartum period to be up to 12 months after the delivery of baby, but too often, health insurance doesn't see it the same way. Nearly half of the births in the United States are covered by Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and while the babies who are born during these births are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP for a year, their mothers often lose their coverage 60 days after delivering their child. There is clear data showing 70% of new moms will have at least one health complication within a year of giving birth.


This week, members of Congress' Subcommittee on Health met to mark up H.R. 4996, the "Helping Medicaid Offer Maternity Services (MOMS) Act of 2019, and it was favorably forwarded to the full Committee.

What does this mean? It means that while this bill still has a ways to go before it potentially becomes law, its success would see states get the option to provide 12 months of continuous coverage postpartum coverage to mothers on Medicaid. This would save lives.

As we at Motherly have said many times, it takes a considerable amount of time and energy to heal from birth. A mother may not be healed 60 days out from delivering. She may still require medical care for perinatal mood disorders, breast issues like thrush and mastitis, diabetes, and the consequences of traumatic births, like severe vaginal tearing.

Cutting off Medicaid when her baby is only 2 months old makes mom and baby vulnerable, and the Helping Moms Act could protect families from dire consequences.

The United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and according to the CDC, "about 700 women die each year in the United States as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications." This is not okay, and while H.R. 4996 is not yet signed into law this bill could help change this. It could help address the racial disparities that see so many Black mothers and Native American mothers dying from preventable causes in the first year of motherhood.

A report from nine American maternal mortality review committees found that there were three leading causes of death that occurred between 43 days and one year postpartum: cardiomyopathy (32.4%), mental health conditions (16.2%), and embolism (10.8%) and multiple state maternal mortality review committees have recommended extending Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum in order to prevent these deaths.

Basically, making sure that moms have have continuous access to health care the year after a birth means doctors can spot issues with things like depression, heart disease and high blood pressure at regular check-ups and treat these conditions before they become fatal.

The Helping Moms Act is a step forward in the fight for maternal health and it proves that maternal health is truly a bipartisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the value in providing support for mothers during the postpartum period.

The Helping MOMS Act was was introduced by Democratic Congresswoman Robin Kelly of Illinois, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust. It was co-lead by Texas Republican Michael Burgess (who is also a medical doctor), as well as Georgia Republican Buddy Carter, Washington Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler and Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ayanna Pressley from Massachusettes and Lauren Underwood of Illinois (both Democrats).

"Incentivizing postpartum Medicaid expansion is a critical first step in preventing maternal deaths by ensuring new moms can see their doctor. I'm proud that my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, came together to put an end to the sad reality of American moms dying while growing their families," said Kelly. "We can't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. This is a good, bipartisan first step, but it must be the first of many."

It doesn't matter what your political stripes, reducing America's maternal mortality stats should be a priority.


Whether you're having a low-key Friendsgiving with your closest friends or prepping to host your first big Thanksgiving dinner with both families, figuring out all of the menu details can be the most overwhelming step. How much should I cook? What ingredients do I need? How does one actually cook a turkey this big?

But, don't worry, mama—HelloFresh is lending a helping hand this year with their Thanksgiving box in collaboration with Jessica Alba. Because you already have enough on your plate (and we're not talking stuffing).

Here are the details. You can choose from two Thanksgiving boxes: Turkey ($152) or beef tenderloin ($132). The turkey box serves 8-10 people while the beef one will serve 4-6 and both are $6.99 to ship. We got to try both and they're equally delicious so you can't go wrong with either one, but the turkey does require a 4-day thaw period so keep that in mind. And if you're wondering what the sides are, here's a sneak peek:

  • Garlic mashed potatoes
  • Green bean casserole with crispy onions
  • Ciabatta stuffing with chick sausage and cranberries
  • Cranberry sauce with orange, ginger and cinnamon
  • Apple ginger crisp with cinnamon pecan crumble

While someone still has to do the actual cooking, it's designed to take the stress out of Thanksgiving dinner so you can focus on spending time with your loved ones (or watching Hallmark Christmas movies). You don't have to worry about grocery shopping, portion sizes, recipe curation or forgetting that essential thing you needed to make the meal perfect. Everything is super simple to make from start to finish—it even comes with a cooking timeline.

Orders are open through November 21 and can be delivered anytime through November 24. Even better? You don't need a subscription to order.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


My mother's death propelled me to start the process of becoming a parent as a 43-year-old single woman. As my connection to her remained strong in spirit after her death, I was ready to experience the same bond with my own child. I began the journey with Intra Uterine Insemination (IUI), and after three failed attempts at getting pregnant, I decided to adopt.

The adoption process is a lengthy and humbling one—one that includes fingerprints, background checks, references, classes, doing a profile of yourself and your life that birth parents eventually use to choose adoptive families.

After my application was approved, a young couple chose me just a month later. I couldn't believe my fortune. But I had to get to work and prepare the house for my baby's arrival. I bought the best of everything—bassinets, clothes, diapers, car seats… the list goes on. I told close friends and family that it was finally happening.


But all of this was in vain. The day I was supposed to pick my daughter up, I learned that the birth parents had changed their minds. They no longer wanted to give their daughter up for adoption. As time passed, it was difficult to endure no interest from potential parents but the faith in believing what is meant to be continued. To increase my potential, I enrolled with a second adoption agency.

A few months later, as I was getting ready to try IVF for the first time, I received a phone call to let me know that a woman had selected me to adopt her child. So I opted out of IVF and found myself in a hospital delivery room with the birth mother, assisting her in the delivery of MY child. It was a boy! I was so thrilled, and he was just adorable.

After six years of losses and disappointments, I was able to bring him home and awaited the final word that the mother and father have given the needed consent. I was getting ready to watch the Super Bowl with him dressed in football gear, I got a phone call.

Once again, the adoption agency informed me that the birth mother had changed her mind. That evening, I had to return the baby to his birth mom. I was heartbroken, and my hopes were shattered.

What now? Going back to IVF meant starting from scratch, and that would take a minimum of six months before being able to really start getting pregnant. I was 49 years old, and the clock was ticking. I really wanted to be a mom by the age of 50.

I was in Chicago, recovering from a collapsed lung, when I received yet another phone call from the adoption agency. An expecting mom had chosen me and had already signed over all of her rights. This little girl was mine. For real, this time. But I had to get to Southern New Jersey by Thursday to pick her up from the hospital.

After negotiating with my doctor to give me the green light to leave while recovering from my condition, I hopped on a train, and 22 hours later, I arrived to New York City in a massive snow storm. I took longer than expected to get to her, but after navigating the icy roads of New Jersey, I met my daughter!

She is now 2 years old, and she has changed my life in ways that just can't be fully described. What I can say is that I now understand my mother's love even more and her devotion to me and my siblings, and as I am sharing the same with my daughter, my bond to my mother keeps on growing.

Becoming a mom at 49 was never what I had envisioned. But whether you are trying to conceive or have decided to adopt a child, the road to becoming a parent is rarely easy. I know that inner strength and believing in what was meant to be kept me moving forward.

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