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Camp Songs Could Be Your New Drug of Choice

I’m 11 years old and I’m sitting at a long table in the mess hall. The primitive building has cement flooring, a raised ceiling, and enough space to comfortably hold a few hundred kids and dozens of counselors. Just as I am about to ask one of my fellow campers to please pass the ketchup, the sound of conversation and silverware against plates is drowned by the sound of a song. It’s coming from a few tables over. Before the first verse is over, every conversation has ceased. Everyone in the room is singing about the wishy washy washer woman who washes her clothes in a way that I will eventually come to realize is weirdly sexual: “She goes ‘Ooh-aah. Oooh-aah.’”


Over 25 years later, I still haven’t experienced anything else (legal or illegal) that instantly puts my brain in the same relaxed, joyful state I experienced while singing at camp. I can’t help but wonder why. Apparently, I’m not the only one wondering what’s behind this phenomenon. According to the experts, it’s not just something in the bug juice.

Singing changes your mood – and your cells

Science has actually proved that the act of singing, as opposed to the experience of listening to music, is a natural mood elevator. A 2012 study published by Evolutionary Psychology found that in comparison to simply listening to music, the active performance of music (they tested singing, dancing, and drumming) elevated subjects’ endorphin levels. Endorphins are the “feel good” chemicals your body naturally produces. They have a lot in common with opiates and prescription anxiety medications and elicit a similar sense of well-being – without any of the side effects.

Similarly, a 2004 Journal of Behavioral Medicine study found that participants who sang in a choir demonstrated increases in positive affect (i.e., subjective mood) based on self-reports and, according to saliva samples, higher levels of immune system function than those who simply listened to the choir music.

A 2010 study from Music Performance Research also found choir participants self-reported high levels of mood elevation, stress reduction, and psychological well-being as a result of singing.

Meanwhile, the benefits of singing are not limited just to the talented. They also extend to tone-deaf people like me. In fact, A 2002 paper published in Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science suggests the less serious a singer you are, the more benefits singing can offer you. Researchers found that after a singing lesson, amateurs reported elevated levels of joy and elatedness, while professionals did not. That said, both the pros and the amateurs reported feeling more energetic and relaxed after a singing lesson. Additionally, both groups demonstrated significantly higher oxytocin levels after a singing lesson. (Oxytocin, a hormone released in both men and women during orgasm and in women when breastfeeding, plays a significant role in pair bonding – including the parent-child bond and between romantic partners. Further, oxytocin deficits are thought to contribute to depression.)

More is more

We know that singing in the shower or your car makes you feel like a rockstar, and we have the science to prove it. Science also shows us that we may be wired to feel even better when we sing in a group – and the bigger the group, the better.

A 2016 study published in Evolution and Human Behavior asked participants to provide subjective reports on social bonding and had their pain threshold measurements (representative of their endorphin levels) taken before and after singing for 90 minutes. Subjects either sang in a large group (over 200 people) or a small group (ranging from 20 to 80 people).

For both groups, feelings of social connectedness improved. Even more fascinating was that for those in the large group the improvement was significantly steeper, despite the fact that many of the participants were strangers to one another. Researchers conclude that the group cohesion facilitated by singing is consistent with evolutionary theories highlighting the role of music in social bonding, “particularly in the context of creating larger cohesive groups than other primates are able to manage.”

When you’re talking to someone who has never been to camp, it’s hard to explain the connected, joyous high you feel while singing “You’ve Got a Friend” over the sound of crickets, surrounded by fellow campers. They may look at you funny when you say it’s nothing short of a spiritual experience, but you can stand your ground, knowing there is plenty of science to back you up.

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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

BUY


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

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Hey mama at the end of your pregnancy

So you feel approximately 86 weeks pregnant, everything is swollen to 14 times its original size, and no matter what you do, You. Can. Not. Sleep. Comfortably. Ever.

Sleep is an illusion at this point. It's a distant memory, and now you lie awake at night dreaming about it, as one irrelevant thought after another chases itself infuriatingly through your restless mind.

You can't even toss and turn—if only you were nimble enough for such luxuries!

But have faith—one day very soon (though you probably can't imagine it right now)— you will sleep comfortably again. One day soon, heartburn will be a thing of the past and you will no longer need the giant box of TUMS you keep within arm's reach.

One day soon you may even be able to make it through the night without needing to pee—but if you do need to go, you'll be able to spring up lithely and skip to the bathroom if you want to... rather than lying there having that agonizing debate with yourself about whether or not the relief on your bladder will outweigh the Herculean effort of getting up and walking there.

One day soon you'll be able to relinquish that enormous maternity pillow that takes up 45% of the bed and acts as an intruder in the night—a barrier between you and the husband who used to sleep with an arm around you. That's if he's even still there and hasn't decamped to the guest room to escape your snoring. (I know... we don't like to talk about it but don't worry mama—the snoring will stop one day soon, too!)

Very soon you will have your baby sleeping next to you instead of attempting amateur acrobatics inside you, using your womb as their dance floor and your bladder as their trampoline the moment you lie down to rest. One day your body will be your own again and, believe it or not, you will fall asleep the moment your head hits the pillow, the sweet snuffles of your newborn the only sound that will fill the room.

One day soon your mind won't need to play tricks on you in the dark of the night. Because you will know that your baby is exactly where they're supposed to be.

You won't have to wonder what kind of mother you're going to be and if you're up to the task—because you'll be right there in the thick of it, up to the task in every single way—surprising yourself with the strength you'll find as if from nowhere, and doing your best for that beautiful little bundle every moment of the day and night.

Yes mama, it's the truth: one day—very soon—you will sleep comfortably again.

But here's the other truth: you'll never again sleep the sleep of your past. You may never again sleep soundly.

This is something you can't imagine right now—because if you could, it would be overwhelming. Mama—everything is about to change, the stakes will be higher, and although your body will be your own again, your heart will always—always and forever—be elsewhere.

You will be more in love than you ever imagined.

You will find yourself tuned into that little person more than you ever believed possible. When he's hungry you'll respond, when he cries from reflux you'll feel his pain, and when he's wet you'll change him no matter how exhausted you are.

When she needs soothing for no reason other than that she's been attached to you for the last nine months, you'll walk as you bounce her up and down. When her tiny fingers close reflexively around yours you'll ache with the perfection of her.

This is the eternal truth of motherhood. Your body is returned to you but everything else is given away, gladly, forever. And it's hard to explain. I think that's because on some level—it's magic.

But for now, mama, prop yourself up on cushions. Be thankful for that maternity pillow. Drink plenty of water but not in the two hours before bed. Sleep on the side closest to the bathroom. Read a book that's not about babies when you can't switch off your mind.

Breathe. And wait for the magic. It's coming any day now...✨

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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 you want that Instagram-worthy nursery, but safety is a top priority? It's totally possible to have both. Fortunately, more and more brands have stepped up to provide fashion-forward furniture and décor that keep people and the environment out of harm.

Here are four ways to create a safe and stylish nursery for baby.

1. Sleep on it.

With the crib "bare is best," meaning a baby should sleep alone (no pillows, bumpers, or toys) leaving only three pieces to consider; the crib, crib mattress and crib sheet.

That doesn't mean you won't have any fun picking out those three items. However, if you're on a budget we do suggest saving on the actual crib and splurging on a healthier choice for the mattress and crib sheets. Your baby will be spending 8-12 hours a day coming in contact with those elements, so these are two places to be mindful. Plus, you can get a safe crib at every price point and every style.

Beyond being organic, check that the product you are considering is GOTS certified organic. Going with a premium 100% organic product made GOTS certified means there is nothing touching your child's skin except a safe, comfy and breathable material.

Check out the Naturepedic Organic Crib Mattress collection, the entire finished mattress is GOTS certified organic. It provides firm support and has an organic cotton filling and quilted exterior made without common allergens, flame retardant chemicals or any other questionable materials.

Next, cover the organic mattress with an equally safe, as well as stylish crib sheet. We love the photo-worthy designs by Rookie Humans like Love Blooms in organic cotton; RH Baby&Child's collection of chic prints like the organic Linen ABC design; and how fun is the whimsical Organic Milk and Cookies print made of organic flannel by Crate&Kids?


If you're a minimalist and prefer crisp, classic white, we highly-recommend a zippered sheet. The unique secure fit means it can't slip or be pulled off by baby who could get wrapped up in the loose material. We love the Quickzip organic cotton—and it's also chemical free.

2. Wall-to-wall—from wallpapers to paints.

Paint is our favorite way to transform the nursery whether that is a fresh coat of clean white or a do-it-yourself mural. The one important thing to look for is that the paint is Zero or Low VOC. VOC stands for, Volatile Organic Compounds and are often found in paints, some of which may have short and long-term adverse health effects. We highly recommend Colorhouse paint for their commitment to healthier and sustainable products for people and the plant with superior coverage.

Now if you have your eye on one of those gorgeous, trending wallpaper designs, be sure and check the product description to ensure it's made with non-toxic materials. A favorite brand of ours that checks all the boxes for style, safety and variety are the PVC-free products from Anewall. Their popular designs are printed with non-toxic latex inks that are free of nickel and other chemical pollutants.

3. Safely clean up messes.

The nursery is a place where messes happen. From spit-up to blowouts, there can be lots of things to keep clean. That's why we love products that make mom's life easier and safer for baby.

Being able to keep your flooring looking good and bacteria free is essential. Two of our go-to washable rug brands are Kroma Carpets and Lorena Canal. Between these two companies, they offer tons of on-trend designs from a cozy little cloud shape for tummy time or a larger area rug that covers and protects your knees and your hardwoods.

If you don't want a traditional fiber rug, maybe due to allergies, but still want a stylish option for a cushy place for you and babe to play, there are some really stellar options out there. Both Ruggish and Little Nomad playmats answer the call from style-conscious moms everywhere. These brands offer beautiful, on-trend designs that are manufactured responsibly with non-toxic materials.

4. Big furniture + products.

Not only do small items and décor pieces provide health conscious, designer options, but you'll also find plenty of safe styles for larger furniture and fixtures. Important, because these are the items you and your child will come in contact with daily and possibly keep around for years to come.

Brands like Oeuf and IKEA have been leading the way in non-toxic, sustainable and environmentally manufactured products. That's because they are regulated by European environmental standards that are higher than those in the United States. They also list various important and specific manufacturing details on each product's buy-page so you can easily determine what works for your home goals.

Designing a stylish nursery doesn't mean you have to skimp on safety. Make sure to do your research and read product descriptions to find the best options for you and baby. Happy decorating, mama!

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We're supposed to be the ones comforting them, but sometimes, our children are the ones comforting us. If you've ever had a bad day at work and found your stress melting away when you got to sit down with your little one, you have something in common with Serena Williams.

In a new interview with Mamamia, Williams explains that after losing to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open, it was her 1-year-old daughter, Olympia, who kissed her better.

"I got in the car, and Olympia was in the car. It was so weird, and she started giving me kisses, she never gives me kisses. She doesn't even know to give kisses, and she just grabbed me, and I was like this little baby is so smart. It's just hard to be too down when you have a little one… when you have someone to take care of," Williams told Mia Freedman for an upcoming episode of the podcast, No Filter.

"Like I have to take care of this person, and I have to do this type of stuff, it puts everything in perspective," Williams explains.

This isn't the first time Williams has talked about how motherhood has changed her perspective. Before she had Olympia her career was first. But now that she's a mom, Williams is trying to take care of all of Olympia's needs, but also recognizes that she can't ignore her own.

"I'm working on it," she told TIME. "I never understood women before, when they put themselves in second or third place. And it's so easy to do. It's so easy to do."

It is easy to do. According to a recent survey by REDBOOK and HealthyWomen (a non-profit dedicated to providing women with health information), 45% of women over 30 do not make time for their own health, and a recent study revealed that when women have time off from work, we're often spending it watching our kids or doing chores around the house.

In short, we're always making sure our children's needs are met. We're good at that. But sometimes, when they make sure our needs are met (like Olympia did with those kisses) they remind us of what really matters.

When you're a parent, your worth isn't defined by how clean your laundry is, how many promotions you get at work, or (at least in William's case) Grand Slams. Sometimes, it's found in kisses from a toddler.

Your baby loves you, mama. So you should love yourself, too.


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