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This morning, I watched through the kitchen window as my four and five-year-old deftly built a bridge over a sea of lava. They laid long planks across the bubbling fire, nudging them together until they were lined up perfectly, side by side. Then, they worked together to haul some large stumps into place at each end, pinning the planks into place.


The bridge was only about two feet off the ground, but still I found myself holding my breath as my older son urged his little brother to “Try it out, see if it works!”

Little brother, always game, leapt onto the bridge dramatically and traversed it with comical gesticulation and wide eyes as he narrated his dangerous crossing of the lava below. Then, midway through his successful passage, he jumped from the bridge, plummeting to the lava below.

“Nooooooooooo,” he cried, flailing on the ground as his brother, ever the hero, laughed and kicked mulch on him.

The lava game has been going on for almost a month now. For kids whose normal attention span is not one second longer than an episode of Octonauts, that’s some pretty serious staying power.

Of course, it may have something to do with the LAVA CROSSING PLAY SET – BONUS EDITION that I spent a fortune on at Christmas, but, just kidding, no – they don’t play with anything they got for Christmas anymore. That stuff is so six months ago.

Nope, the lava game is the product of stuff most people would consider junk, and it has taken over our backyard with the materials being used again and again in a hundred different ways. The lava game is a product of our Backyard Revolution, and I highly encourage you to get onboard.

Last summer, I reached my breaking point. Our yard, which is already on the small size and completely fenced, was overrun with plastic. It had started with a little plastic climber that I’d bought secondhand for my oldest when he was around a year.

The next summer, as he got a little older, we added a big plastic playhouse with two stories, supposedly built to look like a treehouse. Soon, a red ladybug sandbox followed, along with a giant plastic tugboat that arrived when my oldest turned four and asked for “a tugboat just like daddy drives.”

Add to that chaos an assortment of toy trucks, tiny lawnmowers, and plastic gardening tools more commonly used as weapons, and before we knew it, we were living in a sea of plastic. We had accumulated nearly every yard toy known to modern children.

Yet still, the boys were bored.

We’re all for outings and adventure, but I am a full-time, work-from-home-mom, so keeping the kids engaged and content in the yard where I can see them is a workplace essential for me. In my naivety, I had greeted their boredom with shiny new things to keep them occupied. What do kids like to play with, after all, if not a brand new toy?

Each new piece of backyard play equipment was greeted with initial excitement and quickly became the center of attention. The boys would fight over it, clamor over it, and regale me with sickeningly sweet compliments about how I’m the best mom EVER.

Then, just as quickly, each became old news. The climber gathered fallen leaves that rotted into a slimy film at the top of the slide. The playhouse sheltered cobwebs and slugs. The tugboat gathered rainwater and became an ecosystem of its own, breeding mosquitos at every opportunity. The yard was littered with discarded, plastic debris.

Something had to give, so we began a project lovingly referred to as Operation Plastic Eradication.

We emptied the yard of plastic junk and replaced it all with raw materials. The area that once housed the climber and playhouse is now our nature playground. There are logs, sticks, bricks, rocks, ropes, wood chips, and hay bales. We rigged up a few pulleys and a rope ladder from the fence. We added slabs of slate and fresh wood chips. A few blocks of solid oak paired with a jar of nails and a small hammer rounded out the space.

Part lumberyard, part fairyland, part scrapyard, it was a hit when we set the kids loose.

All kids have a deep need to feel accomplished at the end of the day. My boys feel accomplished when they set their minds to a task and work toward its completion. In the natural playground, they move rocks, build structures, tie ropes, and clear debris – both together and independently.

In their minds, they are doing something much more than simply playing. They are working, imitating the real-world work they see around them. To move a log, they may try three or four techniques before they get it right. They build pathways, experimenting with different surfaces and distances. They “plant trees” by digging holes and burying stumps in them. They engineer bridges over lava and skyscrapers made of stones.

They “work” tirelessly at play. Without the context provided by their previous toys, their options now are as endless as their imaginations.

The natural playground is the only playground you need. Still not convinced? Here are a few facts to get you thinking:

1 | When natural elements, such as logs and rocks, are incorporated into a play space, children are more active in their play and stay engaged for nearly twice as long.

2 | Children who play on a natural playscape are more likely to engage in inquiry and observation-based play.

3 | Open-ended, loose materials, such as sticks, stones, sand, and plant materials inspire more creative play in young children than does fixed playground equipment.

Ready to get started? Building your own natural playscape is more simple than you might think.

First, choose a space in your yard. Ideally, it should have a combination of open space with a few natural features already present, such as a tree or some hearty bushes. Remember that whatever exists within this space will likely become a play piece, so it’s best to locate it away from fragile plants (e.g. your heirloom rose garden).

Next, purge the plastic. We gave away, tossed, or sold most of our yard toys. We kept a few standby favorites, like the Tonka trucks and soccer balls, and sourced a large deck box to store them in when not in use.

Add fill if necessary. If your area is already grassy, that’s a great start. Ours was not, so we put down wood chips to pad falls and provide some natural definition to the space.

Source natural materials. Most of these can be found locally, and you might already have some. Our playscape includes:

  • Short, large diameter logs and longer, small diameter logs from trees we had cleared
  • Sticks gathered from the woods
  • Old bricks
  • Large stones found around the yard and neighborhood
  • Shells from the beach and leftover shellfish (just rinse and leave in the sun until clean)
  • Lumber scraps from our barn and from disassembled bed slats
  • Ropes
  • Pulleys
  • Cross sections of a cedar trunk
  • Slate stepping stones leftover from a patio we had removed.

Locate the materials so that they are visible and accessible. Don’t stack all your materials in a corner where the kids will have to dig through a pile of bricks to discover the ropes and pulleys. Instead, spread out the materials so your kids can see them all at once and easily choose which to use at any given time.

Finally, set the kids loose and put your feet up. They may be too busy exploring, creating, and working to thank you, but the ensuing silence should be thanks enough.

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While breastfeeding might seem like a simple task, there are so many pieces to the puzzle aside from your breasts and baby. From securing a good latch, boosting your milk supply and navigating pumping at work or feeding throughout the night, there's a lot that mama has to go through—and a number of products she needs.

No matter how long your nursing journey may be, it can be hard to figure out what items you really need to add to your cart. So we asked our team at Motherly to share items they simply couldn't live without while breastfeeding. You know, those ones that are a total game-changer.

Here are the best 13 products that they recommend—and you can get them all from Walmart.com:

1. Medela Nursing Sleep Bra

"This fuss-free nursing bra was perfect for all the times that I was too tired to fumble with a clasp. It's also so comfy that, I have to admit, I still keep it in rotation despite the fact that my nursing days are behind me (shh!)." —Mary S.

Price: $15.99

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2. Dr. Brown's Baby First Year Transition Bottles

"My daughter easily transitioned back and forth between breastfeeding and these bottles." —Elizabeth

Price: $24.98

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3. Multi-Use Nursing Cover

"When I was breastfeeding, it was important to me to feel like a part of things, to be around people, entertain guests, etc. Especially since so much of being a new mom can feel isolating. So having the ability to cover up but still breastfeed out in the open, instead of disappearing into a room somewhere for long stretches alone to feed, made me feel better."—Renata

Price: $11.99

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4. Lansinoh TheraPearl Breast Therapy Pack

"I suffered from extreme engorgement during the first weeks after delivery with both of my children. I wouldn't have survived had it not been for these packs that provided cold therapy for engorgement and hot therapy for clogged milk ducts." —Deena

Price: $10.25

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5. Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump Wipes

"Being a working and pumping mama, these quick clean wipes made pumping at the office so much easier, and quicker. I could give everything a quick wipe down between pumping sessions. And did not need a set of spare parts for the office." —Ashley

Price: $19.99

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6. Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter

"This nipple butter is everything, you don't need to wash it off before baby feeds/you pump. I even put some on my lips at the hospital and it saved me from chapped lips and nips." —Conz

Price: $12.95

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7. Medela Double Electric Pump

"I had latch issues and terrible postpartum anxiety, and was always worried my son wasn't getting enough milk. So I relied heavily on my breast pump so that I could feed him bottles and know exactly how much he was drinking. This Medela pump and I were best friends for almost an entire year" —Karell

Price: $199.99 Receive a $50 gift card with purchase at walmart.com

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8. Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads

"I overproduced in the first couple weeks (and my milk would come in pretty much every time my baby LOOKED at my boobs), so Lansinoh disposable nursing pads saved me from many awkward leak situations!" —Justine

Price: $9.79

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9. Haakaa Silicone Manual Breast Pump

"This has been a huge help in saving the extra milk from the letdown during breastfeeding and preventing leaks on my clothes!" —Rachel

Price: $12.99

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10. Medela Harmony Breast Pump

"Because I didn't plan to breastfeed I didn't buy a pump before birth. When I decided to try, I needed a pump so my husband ran out and bought this. It was easy to use, easy to wash and more convenient than our borrowed electric pump." —Heather

Price: $26.99

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11. Milkies Fenugreek

"I struggled with supply for my first and adding this to my regimen really helped with increasing milk." —Mary N.

Price: $14.95

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12. Lansinoh Breast Milk Storage Bags

"I exclusively pumped for a year with my first and these are hands down the best storage bags. All others always managed to crack eventually. These can hold a great amount and I haven't had a leak! And I have used over 300-400 of these!" —Carla

Price: $13.19

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13. Kiinde Twist Breastfeeding Starter Kit

"The Kiinde system made pumping and storing breastmilk so easy. It was awesome to be able pump directly into the storage bags, and then use the same bags in the bottle to feed my baby." —Diana

Price: $21.99

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

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While you're gearing up for (or in the middle of) back to school season, Halloween may seem like it will never get here, but it's only a couple of months away. And if you can barely wait for the leaves to fall and temperatures to drop, Disney and Amazon are here to get you in the spooky spirit.

Enter: Disney's Halloween shop on Amazon. 🎃This curated collection features tons of items for the season and we love that many are nods to some of our favorite festive movies. Think: Hocus Pocus and A Nightmare Before Christmas.

From Halloween costumes for kids to ghostly mugs for mama, these are the best items for the entire family:

1. Disney Jack Skellington Mug

skellington mug

If you're a fan of Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas, this will be your favorite mug to sip your coffee or tea from.

Price: $12.99

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2. My First Halloween Board Book

disney amazon halloween shop

Halloween doesn't have to be scary, mama. This touch and feel board book introduces baby to the season.

Price: $8.99

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3. Anna + Elsa Costume

anna else costume

Get a head start on your costumes by adding this one to your cart. Bonus points for having accessories that can be used for playtime year-round.

Price: $16.01-$28.99

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4. Minnie Mouse Sequin Ears

minnie mouse ears

If you don't want to fully dress up to trick or treat, add on these ears to feel festive for less.

Price: $11.99

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5. Hocus Pocus Women's Tee

hocus pocus tee

Hocus Pocus will always be a favorite. For a humorous take on being a mama, add this one to your wardrobe.

Price: $16.99

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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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Ashley Graham is having a baby! The supermodel recently shared the exciting news on social media — and it didn't take long for her to make an important statement about pregnant bodies.

Ashley shared a beautiful photo featuring something nearly every woman on the planet has: stretch marks. The photo, which features Ashley nude and seemingly unfiltered, is kind of revolutionary—because while it's completely normal for a woman to have stretch marks (especially during pregnancy), we don't often get to see celebrities rocking this reality on magazine covers or even in social media posts.

That's probably why Ashley, who will welcome her firstborn with husband Justin Ervin, is earning so much praise for the photo, which she posted on Instagram. The images shows the model's side with the caption "same same but a little different".

One follower who is loving this real look at a pregnant body? Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, who writes "My Lord, THANK YOU for this."

Ashley's post touches another user in an unexpected way: "I'm such a wimp. I'm pregnant, hormonal, and going though so many body changes. This made me tear up. I really needed this today," she writes.

Another user adds: "I showed my husband this photo and he said, 'See! She's just like you' I am almost 21 weeks pregnant and I've been struggling with my changing body. I love how much you embrace it. I've always looked up to you and your confidence. ❤️ Congratulations on your babe!"

Yet another follower adds: "This is what girls need to see. We need this as a reference for real and relatable. Women young and old. Thank you!"

Of course this is social media we're talking about so a few hateful comments make their way into the mix—but Ashley's many advocates shut that down. We have to applaud this stunning mom-to-be for showing the world how pregnancy really changes your body.

Women everywhere can see themselves in this photo of a supermodel (and how often does that happen?). That's powerful stuff—and it just might make it a little bit easier for the rest of us to embrace the changes we see in our own bodies.

One follower sums it all up best, writing: "I CANNOT WAIT for you to be a mother and teach another human being that ALL bodies are beautiful. You're going to be such an amazing mother."

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For a lot of families, summer is a season where rules relax and bedtimes get pushed back a little later than usual. But with school starting, weekday mornings are about to start a lot earlier for many kids, and parents might be wondering how to reset the clock on bedtimes.

According to Terry Cralle, an RN, certified clinical sleep expert and the spokesperson for the Better Sleep Council, a new school year is a good opportunity for families to get a fresh start on sleep routines.

"We have to start with really making sufficient sleep a family priority [and] having some discussions about the importance of sleep with our children," Cralle tells Motherly. "It shouldn't be at bedtime when everyone's cranky and tired. It should be during the day that families really discuss the importance of sleep for all family members."

If you need to have a conversation about getting enough sleep for school, try the following tips from Cralle.

1. Be positive about sleep

Make sure that younger children, especially, understand that sleep is a positive, not negative thing, and don't use the threat of bedtime as punishment.

"What we want to do is, ideally, change how children perceive sleep because children can see sleep as a great big timeout where they're missing out on things," Cralle explains, suggesting that parents instead try to present sleep and bedtime routines as "with positivity and as just a non-negotiable part of our lives."

Cralle wants parents to make sure they're talking with their kids about how a lack of sleep can impact one's mood, health and academic ability. Just as we teach our kids about the importance of eating healthy, we should be teaching them about the importance of sleeping healthy, and from an early age.

2. Empower your children with choices

According to Cralle, it's really important to empower children with choices around bedtime, because the one thing they can't have a choice in is the fact that they do need to go to sleep.

"They're going be more accountable, more responsible, and hopefully, develop good sleep habits and practice good hygiene early in life," if we empower them through simple choices, Cralle suggests.

"So we can say, what pajamas do you want to wear to bed tonight? What book do you want to read? Let them participate. If they can pick out their color of their pillowcase, let them do it. Whatever's age appropriate."

3. Let them do their own bedtime math

Instead of just telling kids when they need to go to bed, involve them in figuring out an appropriate bedtime.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine lists how much sleep kids need depending on their age. Have them look up how much sleep a kid their age needs, and then show them the National Sleep Foundation's online bedtime calculator. Kids can choose how many hours of sleep they need and when they want to wake up, and it will show them when they need to go to bed.

It's not an arbitrary decision mom and dad made, it's science and math, and you can't argue with that.

4. Add one sleep item to the back-to-school shopping list

Cralle says adding one sleep-related item to the back to school shopping list can really help children understand the importance of sleep as they head back into the classroom. A conversation about how getting a good night's sleep is important for school success, combined with a shopping trip for a new pillowcase or comforter can really help children see sleep as an important priority, and give them something to look forward to using at bedtime.

5. Provide an environment conducive to sleep

When our kids are infants we're really good at setting up rooms that can help them sleep. But as our children age out of cribs and start to accumulate a lot of possessions and playthings, their rooms can become a less ideal sleeping environment.

According to Cralle, it's not uncommon for kids to get up after bedtime and start playing with toys in their room. She recommends removing stimulating toys or storing them in another area of the home, and never putting televisions, tablets or smartphones in a child's room.

6. Enact a media curfew

At least an hour before bedtime, screen time should come to an end and other, more relaxing activities can begin. Cralle says families can designate a certain hour as DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time, or move from away from brightly lit screens and towards a board games or puzzles, "things to do to get that blue light out of their eyes."

A family-wide media curfew can be a good thing, says Cralle, as it helps parents "walk the walk" when it comes to sleep hygiene. "Don't be looking at your iPad and tell your child to put it away," she explains.

7. Remember: It's never too late for good sleep habits.

According to Cralle, age 3 is the ideal time to start reinforcing the importance of sleep for a child's health, but older kids and even mom and dad can reverse bad bedtime habits if the whole family buys in. That may mean curtailing your kids' (and your own) caffeine consumption, says Cralle.

"We're seeing younger and younger age groups of school children walking around with their Starbucks cups, with coffee, late in the afternoon," says Cralle, who thinks a lot of parents just don't have good information on how caffeine consumption can impact sleep—for our kids and ourselves.

She recommends limiting the number of caffeinated beverages available in the house if you've got tweens and teens at home, and watching your own consumption as well.

"We have to say 'Here's how we're all going to approach it.' It's sort of like seat belts with children, we never would buckle them in and get into the car, and not do it ourselves."

This may be the season to tweak your own sleep habits mama. Here's to a well-rested September.

[Correction: August 24, 2018: The sleep calculator was created by the National Sleep Foundation, not the Better Sleep Council.]

[A version of this post was originally published August 23, 2018. It has been updated.]

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Learn + Play

Finding out that you are having multiples is always a surprise, but finding out that you're in labor with triplets when you didn't even know you were pregnant, well that's the mother of all surprises.

It happened to Dannette Glitz of South Dakota on August 10. The Associated Press reports she had no idea she was pregnant and thought the pain she was experiencing was kidney stones.

"I never felt movement, I never got morning sickness, nothing!" Glitz explains in a social media post.

"Well this was a huge shock"

When Glitz posted photos of her triplets to her Facebook page last week one of her friends was confused. "What? You really had triplets?" they asked.

Glitz (who has two older children) started getting pain in her back and sides in the days before the birth, but it felt like the kidney stones she had previously experienced so she brushed it off. Eventually, she was in so much pain all she could do was lay in bed and cry.

"It hurt to move and even breath[e]," she wrote, explaining that she decided to go to an Urgent Care clinic, "thinking I'm going to have to have surgery to break the stones up."

A pregnancy test at Urgent Care revealed Glitz was pregnant—that was the first surprise. The second surprise happened when a heart monitor revealed the possibility of twins.

'I need another blanket, there's a third'

Glitz was transferred to a regional hospital in Spearfish, South Dakota. "And in about 2 hours they confirmed twins as there was 2 heart beats," she writes.

Glitz was 34 weeks along and four centimeters dilated. She was transferred again, rushed by ambulance to the hospital in Rapid City and prepped for a C-section. When the C-section was happening she heard the doctor announce that Baby A was a boy and Baby B was a girl.

"Then [the doctor] yells 'I need another blanket, there's a third' ....I ended up having triplets, 1 boy [and] 2 girls," Glitz writes.

Glitz and her husband Austin named their surprise children Blaze, Gypsy and Nikki and each of the trio weighed about 4 pounds at birth. Because the couple's older children are school-aged, they didn't have any baby stuff at home. Friends quickly rallied, raising over $2,000 via a Facebook fundraiser to help the family with unexpected expenses.

A family of seven 

The family is getting used to their new normal and is so thankful for the community support and donations. "It's amazing in a small town how many people will come together for stuff that's not expected," Glitz told KOTA TV.

Her oldest, 10-year-old Ronnie, is pretty happy about a trio of siblings showing up suddenly.

"One time I seen a shooting star and I wished for a baby brother, and I wished for like two sisters for my little sister because she always wanted a little sister, I knew this day was always going to come," Ronnie told TV reporters.

Ronnie may not have been surprised, but everyone else in this story certainly was.

Congratulations to Danette and her family! You've got this, mama.

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