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Just this week I've spoken with several parents who are concerned about their kids' writing abilities and want to use the summer to help them improve.


“Sounds like a blast!" says little Johnny. (I'm sure his mom begged her parents for a writing program when she was little.)

All too often we are teaching kids purely for the sake of school and testing. While we have their future in mind, kids don't always see it that way and tests are not great motivators for all students – they are boring for some and stressful for others. A meaningful reason is often the spoonful of sugar that's needed. (Disclosure: I have a kid who wants to do well for the sake of doing well and another who wants a good, solid, enjoyable reason to do well.)

Homer Hickam, who wrote his story in “October Sky," was destined to be a coal miner but really wanted to work for NASA. He started launching rockets as a kid and, at a certain point, he needed to figure out how high they were going. He needed calculus for that. He was successful at petitioning to have calculus taught at his school but only the top five kids were then able to take the class. He was not one of them.

So he taught himself calculus, not for the sake of school or doing well on tests. For rockets. While rocket launching is what moved his trajectory from the mines and into NASA, it was his love of it that propelled him to learn calculus. He learned it so he could use it. No small feat.

Learning can be enjoyable, and almost transparent. Most of us enjoyed more independence as children than ours do today – our activities were fun and we learned. Many of us had pen pals or wrote letters to friends or relatives. Again, it was fun and we learned. Get it?

At the very least, give your kids a good, solid, enjoyable reason to learn.

Eva Baker started Teens Got Cents when she was 15 as the “meaningful project" her mom had tasked her with during her junior and senior year of homeschool. She'd been listening to Dave Ramsey with her mom and chose to create a website and blog about what teens can do to become financially savvy. This is how she earns her living today.

Here are ideas for kids of all ages to improve their writing this summer:

Blog

Have them start a blog and request that they write an entry a week or X entries over the summer. They can even have guest bloggers from time to time and act as editor. It doesn't matter how old they are (to a certain extent). If they can't type yet (see note below), they can write it out and dictate into your iPhone. That could make them want to do it themselves. Use Weebly or Wix to set up a free site and choose a topic they love – Harry Potter, Legos, cooking, dogs, grandparents.

View other blogs with your kids that they might be interested in for content and mechanics. Simply writing is the best first step. Then you can work with them to outline their next blog – three important points plus an intro and conclusion. Show them where they can grab free images for their blog or have them take their own. They can send an email out to their relatives and friends each time a new blog is up. If their list expands, have them use MailChimp's free service. This could be the beginning of a business.

Pen pal

This could be via paper with a grandparent or a person who would enjoy it. It could be email, but it should be lengthy. Our kids correspond via email, message on phones, and through games but this is not anything of substance (it doesn't count as “writing").

At first writing anything is good but, eventually, remind them to include niceties (“How are you?" “What have you done this week?" “I was thinking of you because…"). Then go into a topic for the letter and segue into a conclusion, much like a conversation.

Journal

My daughter and I started a journal before she could even write! We'd draw pictures in a notebook and leave it on each other's beds so it would go back and forth. Writing followed quickly and we would exchange ideas, thoughts about the day, how bad the dog was, what we'd like for our birthday, and so much more. We still use the journal on occasion and, because we've kept all the notebooks we filled, we often enjoy them as bedtime reading material.

How-tos

Ask your kids to write out how to perform one of their chores should another unfortunate child inherit it. When I noticed that the trash bag wasn't actually making it into the outside trash can, I had my son write up “How to Empty Trash Cans" so that I could see if perhaps he didn't think that was part of the chore. He did. We laughed. It was interesting. I had my daughter write “How to Unload the Dishwasher." Very entertaining. Of course, I reviewed them and had them make edits, in case I decide to adopt.

Speech

Public speaking and writing are very similar – an organized, cohesive message regardless of the topic. For speaking, it's “Tell them what you're going to tell them; Tell them; Tell them what you told them." In writing, it's “Intro, Content, Conclusion." Using this same format to speak will reinforce organization in writing.

Make this fun by having them choose a topic or giving them one to use for a one minute speech at dinner. You can do it, too. “Why dogs are great." “Why dogs should eat at the table." It can be impromptu: if she delivers a “Why I Don't Need to Make My Bed" speech, you can immediately respond with a “What Happens to Children Who Don't Make Their Bed" piece.

Holiday letter

Have them write some or all of the family's holiday letter. Start this during the summer and remind them of the fun (and funny things) your family did that can be shared. Have them include pictures.

Magazines or contests

Many children's magazines have sections where kids send in responses to a question or send in a question. I had this on my daughter's “Summer Spruce Up" in the fourth grade. She responded to a question in “Discovery Girl." A year later, they emailed asking for permission to use it and for a photo! Even more exciting was that before we were able to obtain a copy, my cousin called to say that her daughter had her read this “great idea" she found in the magazine and that upon reading it, she discovered it was from Marie. Her daughter hadn't noticed that part of it since they weren't given advanced warning. It was thrilling!

Scholarship essays

For older kids, have them write essays for scholarships. FastWeb has a list of these for a variety of ages and due dates all throughout the year. You can get a trial subscription or pay a small fee to receive it. There are other ways to find these, too, of course.

Writing contests

Have your child submit something to a writing contest. There are many. Even if the deadline has passed, they can get ready for the next year.

eBook

Have your child, any age, write a book. While you could put it on Amazon, you don't have to. It can be free and as simple as converting a Word or PowerPoint document into a pdf. (Check out the eBook Eva Baker gives away on Teens Got Cents as an example.) They could even create an eBook library on a website for friends and relatives. Take a look at some child authors who self-publish, like Owen Whaley who got the word out via Next Door.

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is a free writing challenge for all ages that involves a word count goal. They also have a Young Writer's Program where you can set your own word count goal. My daughter's friend has done the adult version since the fourth grade and her dad said the first year her story was not good. But remember, we start simply by doing. Now, he says, her stories are great. He's amazed at her talent.

Reviewer

Your child can become a reviewer of books, movies, restaurants, games, or really anything they like. They could officially review books on Amazon or other sites where they achieve special status if they review enough. Or they could, again, create their own website to write reviews and then email or message friends and family the link when new ones are up. By reading others' reviews, they can perfect their writing skills.

Tip on Typing: Two of the parents I spoke with also want their kids to learn to type (notice they didn't say they want to teach their kids to type). Some of these ideas are best if one can type. My kids learned in second grade and are thankful (and I'm thankful I didn't have to teach them). Their teacher simply used Dance Mat Typing, which they enjoyed, and then they perfected it by using Nitro Type where they race other kids. I even had Nitro Type on a “Summer Spruce Up" one year where they had a word per minute goal.

Learning can be fun. You're the teacher!

This piece was also published at Family Bedtime and Medium.com.

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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

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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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Orange Is the New Black star Danielle Brooks is pregnant and frustrated. The actress took to Instagram this week to lament the lack of plus-sized options for pregnant people.

"It's so hard to find some clothes to wear today....Although I get to pregnant I still can't find no clothes. It's so hard to find some clothes when you're pregnant," she sings in a lighthearted yet serious video.

"It's so hard to find cute plus size maternity fashion while pregnant, but ima push through," she captioned the clip.

Brooks has been talking a lot this week about the issues people who wear plus size clothing face not just when trying to find clothes but in simply moving through a world that does not support them.

"I feel like the world has built these invisible bullets to bully us in telling us who we're supposed to be and what we're supposed to look like. And I've always had this desire to prove people wrong—to say that this body that I'm in is enough," she told SHAPE (she's on the new cover).

"Now that I'm about to be a mother, it means even more—to make sure that this human being I'm going to bring into the world knows that they are enough," she said.

Danielle Brooks is the body-positive hero we need right now. Now can someone make her some cute maternity clothes, please?

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In prior decades, body image issues usually didn't hit the scene until kids reached adolescence. But thanks to social media, and our culture's relentless pursuit of thinness, we now have to find creative ways to teach young children how to develop healthy body images.

Before I dive into some practical tips to help kids improve body image, I want to first diminish any shame that you might be feeling if you have body issues of your own. It's so important to remember that you downloaded every internal message from somewhere else. Of course, it's critical to work on your own issues, but it's also important to know it is not your fault that you developed them in the first place!

So, whether you are struggling with your own body image, or you love your body, here are some tools to help your child feel better about the precious body he or she lives in:

1. Break the spell

How do you know if your child has a bad body image? Perhaps they've begun making negative comments about their size or shape. Maybe they are comparing their body to others. Maybe they are avoiding foods or activities they once enjoyed because they feel uncomfortable about their body.

Often the most common response a parent has is to reassure their child that they are “fine," or “beautiful" or “perfect." And while there is certainly nothing wrong with some reassurance, it simply may not be enough to overpower the cultural messages kids are surrounded by. Reassure them that they are perfect just the way they are.

2. Unkind mind, kind mind and quiet mind

This little menu of options encourages kids to identify and differentiate between three different thinking states within themselves. I refer to them as “mind moods." Try teaching your child about these three states of mind and brainstorming examples of each. For example, unkind mind = “I hate my thighs." Kind mind = “I love singing." Quiet mind = Peacefully resting or playing.

This will raise their awareness of their thoughts and help them to choose their mind moods more consciously. As they learn to turn up the volume of their kind minds and spend more time in their quiet minds, they begin to feel more present and peaceful.

Once you have helped your child identify their unkind mind as a distinct voice, they can then try on some different responses and see which ones help bring them some relief. Try asking them to write or say all the messages their unkind mind is saying and practicing using strong, soft, silly or silent responses. Kids can learn that their unkind mind is not all of who they are, and that it doesn't have to run the show.

3. Get to the root

This concept helps kids discover what triggers their body dissatisfaction. You can help your child by asking questions or taking guesses about what might have started their bad body image. For example, I helped one 7-year old get to the root of her body obsession by noticing it started when there was a death in her family. Right around that time, her best friend started talking about dieting, so she latched onto food obsession as a distracting coping tool.

Once we uncovered this, she was able to learn about healthy grieving and truly healthy eating (as opposed to what the diet culture deems as healthy—which can actually be unhealthy).

4. Mind movies vs. really real

Try asking your child to show you some things around them that are real (i.e. things they can see, touch or hear). Then ask them if they can show you one single thought in their minds. You can playfully challenge them to take a thought out of their head and show it to you or fold it up and put it in their pocket. This tool teaches kids how to be more present.

Of course, they might use their imagination to do this, but with some finesse, you can teach your child to distinguish between the mind movies that cause them stress and the really real things around them. This is an immensely helpful tool that will not only help them with body image (since body image is one long mind movie) but will also improve the quality of their lives in general.

5. Dog talk and cat chat

Many kids cannot relate to the concept of being kind to themselves but ask a child how they feel about their favorite pet, and a doorway to their compassion, kindness and unconditional acceptance opens. For non-pet lovers, you can ask your child to imagine how they would speak to a baby or their best friend.

Dog talk and cat chat can help teach youngsters how to take the loving words and tones they use toward a beloved pet, and direct these sentiments toward themselves and their bodies.

6. Do an internal upgrade

In addition to helping your child combat the messages they receive out in the world, you can also work on the messages they get in your home. Again, if you struggle with body image, it is not your fault, but you can work on healing—and not only will you feel more peace, but your child will benefit as well.

To the best of your ability, refrain from talking about foods as “good" or “bad." Refrain from making negative comments about your (or anyone else's) weight or looks. Refrain from praising someone (or yourself) for weight loss.

Practice welcoming your child's tears and anger without trying to change their feelings before they are ready. Practice eating all food groups in moderation. Foster a positive, grateful attitude about your body.

May you and your child feel comfortable in your bodies, eat all foods in moderation, move and rest in ways that feel good, and find abundant sweetness and fulfillment in life.

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Learn + Play

After a long day of doing seemingly everything, when our partners get home it kind of becomes a habit to ask, "How was your day?" In between prepping dinner, handing off the kids, finishing your own work, we don't exactly get much value from this question. Sure, it may open up the opportunity to complain about that awful thing that happened or excitedly share that presentation you killed at work—but it usually stops there.

I could do a better job of really talking in my relationship. After 12 years and two kids, sometimes all we can come up with post bedtime routine is, "You good? I'm good. Fire up the Netflix."

Here are 21 questions to dig deeper into your marriage after a long day—see where they take you!

  1. Did you listen to anything interesting today?
  2. If you could do any part of today over again, what would it be?
  3. How much coffee did you drink today?
  4. Will you remember any specific part of today a year from now? Five years?
  5. Did you take any photos today? What did you photograph?
  6. What app did you open most today?
  7. How can I make your day easier in five minutes?
  8. If we were leaving for vacation tonight, where do you wish we would be heading?
  9. If you won $500 and had to spend it on yourself today, what would you buy?
  10. If your day was turned into a movie, who would you cast?
  11. What did you say today that you could have never expected to come out of your mouth?
  12. What did you do to take care of yourself today?
  13. When did you feel appreciated today?
  14. If you could guarantee one thing for tomorrow what would it be?
  15. If we traded places tomorrow what advice would you give me for the day?
  16. What made you laugh today?
  17. Imagine committing the next year to learning one thing in your spare time. What would it be?
  18. Did you give anyone side-eye today? Why?
  19. What do you wish you did more of today?
  20. What do you wish you did less of today?
  21. Are you even listening to me right now?

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Love + Village

Alexis Ohanian has made a lot of important decisions in his life. The decision to co-found Reddit is a pretty big one. So was marrying Serena Williams. But right up there with changing internet culture and making a commitment to his partner, the venture capitalist lists taking time off after his daughter's birth as a significant, life-changing choice.

"Before Olympia was born, I had never thought much about paternity leave and, to be honest, Reddit's company policy was not my idea. Our vice president of people and culture, Katelin Holloway, brought it up to me in a meeting and it sounded O.K., so why not?" Ohanian writes in an op-ed for New York Times Parenting.

He continues: "Then came Olympia, after near-fatal complications forced my wife, Serena, to undergo an emergency C-section. Serena spent days in recovery fighting for her life against pulmonary embolisms. When we came home with our baby girl, Serena had a hole in her abdomen that needed bandage changes daily. She was on medication. She couldn't walk."

The experience changed the way Ohanian viewed paternity leave. It was no longer something that just sounded like a good thing, it was a necessary thing for his family. It was crucial that he take it and now he is advocating for more fathers to be able to. In his piece for the NYT Ohanian points out something that Motherly has previously reported on: It is hard for fathers to take paternity leave even when their government or employer offers it.

A report from Dove Men+Care and Promundo (a global organization dedicated to gender equality) found 85% of dads surveyed in the United States, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands would do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months after their child's birth or adoption, but less than 50% of fathers take as much time as they are entitled to.

Dads need paid leave, but even when they have it social pressures and unrealistic cultural expectations keep them from taking it and they choose not to take all the time they can. Ohanian wants lawmakers and business leaders to make sure that dads can take leave and he wants to help fathers choose to actually take it.

"I was able to take 16 weeks of paid leave from Reddit, and it was one of the most important decisions I've made," Ohanian previously wrote in an essay for Glamour.

Ohanian recognizes that he is privileged in a way most parents aren't.

"It helped that I was a founder and didn't have to worry about what people might say about my 'commitment' to the company, but it was incredible to be able to spend quality time with Olympia. And it was perhaps even more meaningful to be there for my wife and to adjust to this new life we created together—especially after all the complications she had during and after the birth," he wrote for Glamour.

In his NYT piece, Ohanian goes further: "I get that not every father has the flexibility to take leave without the fear that doing so could negatively impact his career. But my message to these guys is simple: Taking leave pays off, and it's continued to pay dividends for me two years later. It should be no surprise that I also encourage all of our employees to take their full leave at Initialized Capital, where I am managing partner; we recently had three dads on paid paternity leave at the same time."

The GOAT's husband is making the same points that we at Motherly make all the time. Research supports paid leave for all parents. It benefits the baby and the parents and that benefits society.

By first taking his leave and then speaking out about the ways in which it benefited his family, Ohanian is using his privileged position to de-stigmatize fathers taking leave, and advocate for more robust parental leave policies for all parents, and his influence doesn't end there. He's trying to show the world that parents shouldn't have to cut off the parent part of themselves in order to be successful in their careers.

He says that when his parental leave finished he transitioned from being a full-time dad to a "business dad."

"I'm fortunate to be my own boss, which comes with the freedoms of doing things like bringing my daughter into the office, or working remotely from virtually anywhere Serena competes. My partners at Initialized are used to seeing Olympia jump on camera—along with her doll Qai Qai—or hearing her babbling on a call. I tell them with pride, 'Olympia's at work today!' And I'll post some photos on Instagram or Twitter so my followers can see it too," Ohanian explains.

"The more we normalize this, on social media and in real life, the better, because I know this kind of dynamic makes a lot of men uncomfortable (and selfishly I want Olympia to hear me talking about start-ups!)," he says.

This is the future of family-friendly work culture. Take it from a guy who created an entire internet culture.

[A version of this post was originally published February 19, 2019. It has been updated.]

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