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Interview with DIY on how Minecraft, Legos, and duct tape will prepare kids for future careers

My daughter divides her free time into making comics, playing Minecraft and Lego building. She’s obsessed with these activities. Adults may not always “get” childhood obsessions with Minecraft, duct tape or Legos, but what’s important is creating a space where all kids can learn, fail, experiment, and take risks through the passions they value.


This concept led Vimeo founder Zach Klein to build DIY, an online community and app with over 400,000 young users where kids can nerd out and gain badges in skills like astronomy, beatmaking, game development, meme hacking, sailing, urban design, and yeti. That’s right. Your kid can be a yeti expert.

“My objective with this wide-ranging set of skills, and involving the community so closely in their development, is to give kids the chance to practice whatever makes them passionate now and feel encouraged –– even if they’re obsessed with making stuff exclusively with duct tape,” said Klein in a recent edsurge post called How Minecraft and Duct Tape Wallets Prepare Our Kids for Jobs that Don’t Exist Yet.

“It’s crucial that kids learn how to be passionate for the rest of their lives. To start, they must first learn what it feels like to be simultaneously challenged and confident. It’s my instinct that we should not try to introduce these experiences through skills we value as much as look for opportunities to develop them, as well as creativity and literacy, in the skills they already love.”

Parent Co. contacted Chalon Bridges, Director of Learning and Partnership, to learn more about DIY Camps. Bridges hires all DIY counselors and works with them to design dynamic curriculum and learning experiences. She also dedicates much of her time to forging alliances with school partners and youth organizations likes 4H, identifying possibilities for ways the app could be used with different communities of kids to learn.

You can follow Chalon Bridges @chalonbridges and DIY @DIY on Twitter.

Parent Co: A few of us at Parent Co. are using DIY Camps with our kids. We look for something a little different that’s not only a safe place for kids to be, but teaches them skills they’ll need for the future. My seven-year-old daughter thrived with Lego Master Camp last month. She’s starting Film Director Camp this week!

Chalon: Good! Oh, that’s so great!

Parent Co: Absolutely! We’re both thrilled DIY doesn’t end after the summer.

Chalon: DIY Camps and diy.org are both year-round. We’ve had a bunch of schools that love the tools that we have created, and their teachers will be using to create their own version of camps this fall.

Parent Co: Can you tell us a little bit about how DIY Camps work?

Chalon: Fundamentally, it’s about participatory learning and kids learning by doing. Every morning, a counselor posts a new video. There are three different categories of videos from counselors: challenges, how-to and pro tips.

Challenges are creative prompts to do and try something. Often it’s something they’ve never done before. We’re trying to create a safe place for them to experiment and try.

How-to videos teach basic techniques that help kids learn new skills. Pro tips are more advanced techniques.

Over the course of a month the rhythm of a daily post from the counselor sparks kids to post their video response. That starts a communication thread where the counselors can provide mentorship and feedback, and where kids within the community can also provide feedback and encouragement to each other.

We hire the world’s best mentors, no matter where they live on the planet, who are passionate about the topics that they’re leading, and pair them with kids who are interested in that topic. Kids emerge with a new skill set plus, hopefully, with some new friends.

Parent Co: It’s a really exciting time for education and online learning. I think something like DIY really opens a new door, that it’s modeling what the future of learning and education could be.

Chalon: I spent the first twenty years of my career in formal ed. Teachers remain my heroes, and there are so many teachers who are trying valiantly to innovate within the system. But change is sometimes slow, and it’s going to take time until we get all schools really preparing kids to be creative and innovative. I feel like there’s this amazing opportunity in informal education to solve that problem now, to move fast, and to figure out how to make passion-driven learning possible for kids immediately. It’s a really nice complement to all of the innovation efforts that are going on within schools today.

Parent Co: It’s fascinating to watch my seven-year-old use video and social media tools for the first time. She gets really excited when she gets a comment from another kid or a counselor, and she loves giving feedback to others. I’m curious, what have you learned about the way kids interact with video and social media from DIY?

Chalon:  In my first week, when I joined forces with Zach, we sat down and did an analysis of the comments and what kids are saying within our community. What was most striking was that we had a 99.8% kindness rating on our comments, which is stunning. That just doesn’t happen in a lot of online social communities.

I credit Zach for creating the rules that established such a kind community. First, kids only share original creations and work. There’s a level of respect and appreciation for each other’s work, and it breeds kindness in the comments they post.

Second, we have a “no jerk” policy. If somebody is unkind they get warned or suspended – and we toe the line on that in order to establish a safe space for kids to be creative.

Parent Co: What else makes DIY Camps different from other online learning spaces for kids?

Chalon: It’s free-range learning. There are no grades. It’s really fascinating to see what kids opt to do when it’s just about what they want to learn.

We have a really unique approach to using technology. That is, most apps try to get kids hooked on the screen. We almost do the opposite. We send them back into the real world, and the bulk of their learning actually happens from them responding to our challenges in the real world. They use our app to share the results of their challenge with the community. It creates this interesting interplay between technology as a tool to help you interact in meaningful ways in the real world.

Finally, we’re ad-free, so kids get a safe space to learn about social media without being exposed to ads.

Parent Co: What does the future hold for DIY Camps?

Chalon: We’re hoping we’ll have hundreds of camps within the next year. We’re a small company right now. We have twelve people on staff. Since launching DIY Camps, I’ve hired nineteen counselors, and we think we’ll go up to sixty by next year. We want to make sure that our offerings for camps span a wide array of topics and interests for kids. What you’re seeing today is really a starting place, and it’s far from the ending place that we’re imagining.

Parent Co: That’s incredible!

Chalon: The other thing that we really love is that we’ve got a lot of international kids within our camp. In one of our private beta camps early on, we had in one session a kid from Australia, another from Ireland, another from Chicago, etc. It creates this great learning environment and global connection between the kids. About 25% of our kids right now are international, so I think there’s room for growth there.

Parent Co: What a great way for kids to engage with others around the world. Well, we’re loving what we’re seeing at DIY and can’t wait to see what the future holds!

 

Each DIY Camp lasts four weeks. Instructors post daily videos, and kids can post as little or as often as they like. First camp costs $10. Subsequent camps cost $39. Parents can track progress and view projects, and kids names are kept private. There are no chat options on this site. Kids can also earn digital and real-life skills badges in the mail!

 

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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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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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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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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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I was feeling off the other day. Something wasn't right, and I couldn't seem to put my finger on it or kick it for that matter. As the day progressed, it didn't get much better. It was a typical day for us, with the usual 2-year-old meltdowns and chaos that happens when you have two babies close in age.

Nothing was out of the norm, but I just wasn't feeling completely like myself. And right after getting my daughters to bed, when I was alone with my thoughts, the feelings intensified. Through the silence, I heard a soft and familiar voice criticizing my mothering, telling me "You don't do anything right." "You are failing your kids."

My anxiety was attacking me, knowing I am weakest on my own. But I knew what I needed to do. So I took out my phone and dialed, listening to the ringing on the other end.

Waiting for the person who always comforts me.

Who always makes everything better.

Who has the magic words when it comes to calming my soul.

"Hi." She answered the phone.

"Hi Mom," I said, as my voice cracked. I can mask my pain for everyone—but her.

"Everything is going to be okay," she reassured me from over the phone as I broke down to her. I hung up feeling so much better. Because—truly—there is nothing in this entire world like a mother's reassurance. I know that not everyone has this kind of relationship with her mother. That, I am indeed one of the lucky ones—but we can all hope to become this for our own children.

And you, mama, contract that magic right when you give birth.

This magic doesn't make you perfect and all-knowing. No, you don't have all the answers. No one has that. You just need to be you—your sweet baby's mama. That title comes with that last push or lift out of the womb. It could also come if your baby is handed over through adoption or surrogacy.

It doesn't matter the means, the magic comes the second your baby is placed into your arms. It comes with a force so strong it leaves a mark on your heart. It transforms you into a mother. You are enough just by being that person who opens her arms and accepts this baby as yours forever.

Your soft-skinned newborn is placed on your chest, shrieking, tears dripping down her cheeks and onto her pout. The little muscles in her chin trembling with such force, her face is on the verge of turning bright red. Then you cuddle her close and feed her. "Everything is going to be okay." She finds peace in the warmth of your body, her skin on your skin.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When your baby becomes a toddler, and he falls and gets his first scrape, screaming, because it's a new kind of painful sensation—an open wound. "Everything is going to be okay," you say to slow his tears and scoop him up into your arms. You clean that scratch out and apply Neosporin.

You put a Band-Aid on, sealed with a kiss, and wipe away his tears. You will always be there to pick him up when he falls—literally, now...and figuratively, in the future when he is grown.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When she goes to her first day of preschool, and you have to separate from each other. She cries as you hold your tears back, as you assure her, "Everything is going to be okay. Mommy always comes back." And of course, you do, and you hold onto those words yourself—repeating them to stay strong.

Because when you are together, everything is right again. You let her go because it's the right thing to do.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When he gets his heart broken for the first time, he will feel like the only person that truly knew him has abandoned him. He'll feel as if he will never find that again. He may not have the proper coping mechanisms yet to deal with that level of pain.

He comes to you in tears over losing the love of his life. You comfort him and assure him "Everything is going to be okay." Because you know this as fact because he is the love of your life. And, one day, if he has a child—he will feel the same way.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When life kicks her in the rear-end. When she is struggling to find her place in this wild world, feeling so alone. When she needs support. She doesn't ask you directly, but your mom intuition whispers to you, pulling on that mark on your heart, and so—you make the call.

"Everything is going to be okay," you say into the phone. The sky won't fall and Chicken Little will not witness the world ending because she can't figure it all out right this second. Finding her place in this world will take time, but it will happen. Right now, and for always, you are her safe place, her landing pad.

One day our babies may have babies of their own. When they are sad they will say, "Everything is going to be okay."

They will know that sometimes all our children need is reassurance from us—their safe place. Their soul-soother. Their heart.

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