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Role-playing games (RPGs) are so much fun to play, and they give your children a chance to work on their problem-solving skills, math skills, and story-telling abilities all while letting their imagination run wild and free.

RPGs tend to be a bit involved to set up, because, unlike a video game where someone else does the story creation and character designing for you, you have to do everything yourself. So if you want to help your budding adventurer and her buddies to go on a quest of epic proportions, here are seven steps to guide you along your way to being an amazing game master (GM).

1 | Know your players

First of all, you need to get to know your players. Are they into sports? What TV shows, movies, or video games do they think are the greatest? Do they prefer Han Solo or Rey? Are they nitpicky when it comes to rules? Knowing this kind of information will help you design a campaign that’s interesting to all of them, because you can draw on stories and characters they already like.

When my husband was just starting to play D&D, his friend’s father set their campaign in Middle Earth because “The Lord of the Rings” movies just came out, and my husband and his buddies were enthralled. While they didn’t destroy the One Ring like Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship set out to do, they were able to go on other adventures in a familiar place with familiar people (or elves and dwarves).

2 | Pick your genre

There are so many different role-playing games out there, and they each cater to a different genre. For instance, D&D v.5 and Pathfinder are your medieval quests with dragons and knights. whereas Chronicles of Darkness is good for people who are into horror films.

If your players are “Star Wars” fans, they’ll probably appreciate Force and Destiny. If they’ve always dreamed of being a superhero, like Batman or Captain America, you can try Mutants and Masterminds.

Finally, if you are running a campaign for a younger crowd, RPGs designed for ages four to 10 like Hero Kids and Mouse Guard are great options.

3 | Gather your supplies

To play an RPG you can use as many or as little items as you want. At the very least, you’ll need a rule book, some character sheets, dice, pencils, and paper. You should also have a GM screen to keep your notes and dice behind. Everything else will simply help bring the game to life.

For the first few times you play, it would be nice to have maps with a one-inch grid and some tokens to mark where all of the player characters (PCs) and non-player characters (NPCs) are. Even if the map is just a large sheet of grid paper with a poorly penciled-in path on it and the tokens are different coloured buttons, it will help you and your PCs visualize where everyone is during a combat so they can see if they are able to duck around the werewolf to flank him.

Once everyone is hooked, you can buy 2D pawns or miniatures from tabletop war games to represent each of the characters, monsters, and NPCs.

4 | Create your story

There are three ways you can do this. You can use a pre-created campaign from the game you chose, you can make one up all on your own, or, like my husband’s GM, you can steal the plot from your players’ favorite TV show, movie, book, or video game.

At first, your child and his friends might find role-playing to be a bit tricky, so think of the favorite plots as gateways into your players’ imaginations. Because they already know what General Leia looks like, it will be easier for them to become immersed in the Star Wars universe if she’s the one who gives them a mission to help overthrow the First Order. Then, once they’re enmeshed in the world, it’ll be easier for them to use their imaginations to tell their characters’ story.

Even if you are making up a campaign from your head or from loved stories, you can use the NPCs that RPG games have premade. You can leave them completely the same or change their names, genders, race, etc. to make them suit your narrative better.

5 | Set some ground rules

Once you and your child’s friends are all together, it’s important for you to set some ground rules. For instance, you should decide whether or not your group is okay with talking out of character. This way, everyone will already know if it’s okay for them to go out of character and start talking about so-and-so’s party or how their awful teacher gave them tons of homework for the weekend.

You can also discuss whether or not they want to role-play in the first person (as I sneak past the ogres, I think, “Please don’t let me trip on something”) or third-person (Heotene sneaks past the ogres and prays that, for once in her life, she doesn’t trip over something). Third-person is probably easier to start with, especially if they chose a character who isn’t like them. That way, they can avoid actually trying to come up with what their character said when they were convincing the innkeeper that there wasn’t another loaf of bread on the counter a moment ago.

6 | Fudge the dice

In video games or role-playing games, death is always on the line. It’s part of the thrill of making decisions and praying that you are strong enough or smart enough to defeat whatever monster or challenges the GM throws your way.

However, you want to find a balance between a little bit of risk and paralyzing your PCs into inaction because they don’t want to lose their character. This is why you want a GM screen. It gives you the freedom to ignore (a.k.a. fudge) the dice to save someone’s life, or alternatively, to give someone a heroic send-off if one of your players wants to try a new class or race.

You also don’t want to render your poor PC unconscious for the entirety of the adventure. In one of my friend’s first campaigns, her character was taken out by a giant bumblebee in the first quest. They didn’t have a strong enough healer to revive her (or enough money to pay someone else to do it), so she spent the rest of the adventure being dragged on a litter while the rest of the kids became heroes.

While she brought herself into the game by having her character talk in her sleep with helpful advice when her friends were stuck, she still felt sad that she didn’t get to participate more when we talked about it in university. Don’t do that to your kids. Fudge the dice.

7 | Let each child shine

As you are guiding them through the story, make sure you set up different opportunities for each of the PCs to shine.

If one of them is a smooth-talking rogue, give that person the chance to convince the city guards they should be allowed into the town after the gate has been shut. Maybe one of their characters is really good at fighting giants. In that case, you want to bring in a giant for them to clobber. Or perhaps one of them is really good at tracking. Let her guide the rest of the team to the wounded unicorn or lost child before it’s too late.

The main thing is to mix it up when it comes to challenges. Otherwise, the kids will lose interest.

If you have two (or more) kids who really want to be fighters, try to get them to stylize their characters differently. For example, think of the different ways that Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli fought. One was a highly skilled swordsman, another excelled at archery, and the last one was unstoppable with his axe.

Don’t be discouraged if your first meeting together doesn’t quite go as you envisioned it would. Remember, while you might be the guiding force in the story and sometimes need to railroad your PCs to get them where they need to be, an RPG is a collective game and the story is as much theirs as it is yours.

Plus, some children might need a bit more help than others creating their characters or not feeling silly role-playing. So grab a bunch of snacks, be more prepared than you think you need to be, learn from your mistakes, and have fun.

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99


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

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As any parent knows, newborns need to eat a lot to keep fuel in those tiny tummies. For breastfeeding mamas, that can translate to nursing sessions anywhere, any time of day—which can make it feel like a full-time job. So, what's a mama to do when she has other things on her to-do list?

Let's take a look at some celebrity mothers who are showing the world that mamas have legendary multitasking skills. 👊

Jessie James Decker is a backseat breastfeeder

By the time her third child was born, Jessie James Decker had a few tricks up her sleeve when it came to breastfeeding on the go—including how to get situated in the backseat of the car to nurse her son while he was strapped into the car seat.

Decker doesn't recommend mamas go without a seatbelt like she did, but sometimes, a bad day out with the baby calls for extreme measures. When little Forrest couldn't stop crying on the way home from his mama's photo shoot, his mama did what she had to do.

"I hopped in the back seat with Forrest and fed him with boob out leaned awkwardly over the car seat to calm him down," Decker says. "On the way home I cried, I got stressed and anxiety, and I was just a mom trying to do my best just like we all are no matter the situation."

Pink takes a hike

When son Jameson was a baby, Pink proved that breastfeeding didn't have to mean sitting at home in a glider. With some assistance from a baby carrier and a perfect position for Jameson, the multitasking mama was able to go about her hike like it was no big deal.

Gisele Bündchen 'grammed her breastfeeding glam session

In 2013, the super model proved she's also a super mama by multitasking a full-on beauty session while breastfeeding. Recognizing what a team effort it was, Bündchen captioned the post, "What would I do without this beauty squad after the 15 hours of flying and only three hours of sleep."

Tess Holliday was inspired by her fellow supermodel mama 

Tess Holliday followed in Gisele's footsteps after her youngest was born, posting this photo to Instagram. It that proves that breastfeeding mamas can not only multitask, but also don't have to conform to certain body ideals to look amazing postpartum. Any size, any shape, any time, anywhere—breastfeeding mothers like Holliday are normalizing breastfeeding and our bodies.

Padma Lakshmi proves you don't need a team

Without a beauty squad on call, Lakshmi took her multitasking to "level 💯" by using a nursing pillow to free up her two hands. It takes a brave woman to attempt mascara while breastfeeding, but the Top Chef host clearly pulls it off.

Whether a mama is trying to feed her baby on the go or while she's getting glam, it isn't always easy. Motherhood is about trying to do your best even when it feels like 100 things are going on at the same time—and yet we manage, like the super mamas we are.

[Update, September 23: This post was originally published June 12, 2018. It has been updated to include Tess Holliday's Instagram post]

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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So many parents wish there was a way we could add more hours to the day. Unfortunately, we're stuck with just 24 of them, but we can try to make the most of the time we've got. One way more and more working mamas are maximizing the time we do have is by cutting out the commute and working from home.

It can add an hour or two back to your day, and (depending on your hours and circumstances) it can even make childcare arrangements easier. And with more big companies offering legit remote opportunities, it's easier than ever for parents to find these opportunities. As Motherly recently reported, Amazon is on a bit of a remote hiring spree ahead of the holiday season, and it's not the only one.

Williams-Sonoma is currently seeking Seasonal Customer Service Associates to work from home. It is looking for remote workers in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Phoenix, Reno, Tulsa, and near Raleigh, Columbus, Braselton, and Oklahoma City.

These work-from-home positions are part of Williams-Sonoma's plan to hire about 3,500 associates for its Customer Care Centers. The company says a "significant portion of positions" for the Customer Care Centers will be work-from-home. They're looking for remote workers who live no more than an hour and a half away from one of the Customer Care Centers as "on occasion our Work From Home associates must come to the Care Center for meetings and training with advanced notice," the company notes in the job postings.

The positions are very similar to what Amazon is looking for: Basically customer service reps who can take inbound calls to help shoppers with orders, returns and issues with finding products or deliveries of products. Williams-Sonoma is looking for people who can work 30 - 50 hours per week, and the pay is listed at $12 per hour.

Another perk is a 40% discount on most merchandise, which great because the Williams-Sonoma umbrella includes brands like Pottery Barn and West Elm as well.

Sounds like this could be a great gig for a mama with customer service skills and a high-speed internet connection.

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Plenty of modern motherhood paraphernalia was made to be seen—think breastfeeding pillows that seamlessly blend into living room decor or diaper bags that look like stylish purses. The breast pump though, usually isn't on that list.

It's traditionally been used in the privacy of our homes and hotel rooms in the best case scenarios, and in storage closets and restrooms in the worst circumstances. For a product that is very often used by mothers because they need to be in public spaces (like work and school), the breast pump lives a very private life.

Thankfully, some high profile moms are changing that by posting their pump pics on Instagram. These influential mamas aren't gonna hide while they pump, and may change the way the world (and product designers) see this necessary accessory.

1. Gail Simmons 

Top Chef's Gail Simmons looked amazing on the red carpet at the 2018 Emmys, but a few days after the award show the cookbook author, television host and new mama gave the world a sneak peek into her backstage experience. It wasn't all glam for Gail, who brought her pump and hands-free bra along on the big night.

We're thankful to these women for showing that breast pumps belong in public and in our Instagram feeds.

[Update, September 21, 2018: This post was originally published on May 31, 2018, but has been updated to include a recent Instagram post by Gail Simmons.]

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  2. Behati Prinsloo shamed for 'pumping and dumping' during date with hubby Adam Levine
  3. Nicole Phelps pumping in an evening gown is the ultimate definition of a multi-tasking mama 👏
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