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Short-sightedness is epidemic. The solution? Teach kids outside.

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A widely-read article in Nature by Elie Dolgin reports that short-sightedness “now affects around half of young adults in the United States and Europe — double the prevalence of half a century ago.”


Many ophthalmologists and endocrinologists believe there is a simple solution to this ongoing “myopia epidemic”: increasing children’s exposure to daylight. However, the solution is only apparently a simple one; finding ways to do so on an everyday basis is, in fact, a major challenge for schools, education professionals and parents.

This article discusses that challenge, suggests a quick and practical solution and offers three simple ideas to help school administrators, teachers and caregivers increase both quality learning and outdoor play time for young and very young children.

 The Three-Hours-a-Day Challenge 

The number of short-sighted young people is rising fast. It is tempting to blame the situation on the overuse of electronic devices and prolonged screen time; however, the core of the problem lies first and foremost in the spaces where each of us now lives, learns and works.

As Dolgin writes in his article, “The Myopia Boom”, “Retinal dopamine is normally produced on a diurnal cycle — ramping up during the day — and it tells the eye to switch from rod-based, nighttime vision to cone-based, daytime vision. Researchers now suspect that under dim (typically indoor) lighting, the cycle is disrupted, with consequences for eye growth”.

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Scientists are conducting research on the production of retinal dopamine in children who tend to spend most of their time indoors — both in school and at home — at a maximal light exposure of 500 lux, whereas, according to Ian Morgan, a researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, “children need to spend around three hours per day under light levels of at least 10,000 lux to be protected against myopia.”

Ophthalmologists have now issued a challenge to school directors, early education professionals, teachers and parents worldwide. They are asking us whether it is possible to expose the children in each of our countries to three whole hours of daylight every day based on the children’s — and our own — current lifestyles. Think about it: three hours a day, day in and day out, even in the wintertime. For many it seems an impossible goal. How can we achieve it?

 Investing in Quality Time and Different Learning Goals 

“Man is not shaped by his brain, but by the collective whole of all his organs,”

German pedagogue, Hugo Kükelhaus (1900–1984), liked to say.

If you are a teacher, I’d ask you to think for a moment beyond your program or curriculum. If you’re a parent, I’d like you to focus on what learning means over and above the acquisition of knowledge. Ophthalmologists are warning us that something has been disrupted in the organs that are responsible for the correct functioning of young people’s visual systems.

These organs have to relearn how to do their job properly; in fact, it isn’t just the brain that’s capable of learning, but the entire body, including each of our organs. So if you find the idea of a “myopia epidemic” disturbing, you might want to consider investing some time in finding innovative ways to help your young students nurture their own health, including the development of their bodies and organs.

Parents, too, can think up similar “projects” to undertake with their children.

Getting back to the three-hours-a-day challenge, some of you might wonder exactly how and what we can teach kids outdoors, and — in a real, practical sense — for how long. Personally, I believe it would already be a great start if each of you could find a way to work with your students out in the daylight even for just one hour a day.

Why not do a test run, investing 20 minutes of your class time once a week as an initial experiment? I’d like you to reflect on how much more children could learn and experience in the daylight, through simple actions to stimulate their vision, than you might have previously thought.

Set up a learning environment in advance by choosing a mix of materials from your classroom and from the nature outdoors. Think about how you feel in the daylight, far from the classroom, and observe what is going on with your students outside those same four walls. If the sunlight is too bright for them (or for you), you can change your location so that everyone can enjoy the light while keeping focused on the activities.

 If it rains, let it rain! 

You’re going to need to train your own consciousness of space and time outdoors in order to teach there effectively, ensuring quality time in the daylight for children. But as soon as you find a way to get them outdoors, you will already have begun to increase their exposure to daylight, and their bodies and organs will immediately become more active in response.

It’s natural, in fact, for kids to look for hands-on learning experiences on their own. You won’t need to invent specific exercises to strengthen their vision; the daylight will be enough.

To help you with your “test runs” I’ve provided some simple, no-cost, hands-on ideas below. Observe the kids, play with them and enjoy!

 Three Simple Ideas for Setting Up an Outdoors Learning Environment for Pre-K to Third Graders 

“The Humming Bucket”

Remember Peek-a-boo? While the goal here is not to help kids grasp the concept of object permanence, the Humming Bucket does make use of the psychomotor basics of that game, alternating light and darkness, sight and invisibility, and presence and absence. Here’s how it works: a child starts out by observing a bucket sitting on a tree stump outside in the daylight. She then puts her head inside the bucket and begins humming or buzzing to herself, experimenting with her auditory perception and feeling her body’s vibrations. She might choose to close her eyes to “look at” or simply concentrate on herself.

Afterwards she will experience the joy of “resurfacing” into the daylight. The “humming bucket” construction can also be used to improve children’s communication and language skills, and to help them find their way to resilience. All you need is a plastic bucket (or a large vase or soup pot) and a tree stump!

Advanced variations: The bucket gives children the opportunity to use their creativity to learn about shapes, circles, cylinders, cones, measurements and quantities; with the tree stump they can learn about rings, circumferences and numbers.

“The Cretan Labyrinth”

This is a place/space that kids can explore in all sorts of ways: barefoot for experimenting with their tactile sense, balancing on the edges, moving backwards, forwards and sideways, going inside and coming back outside, discovering shortcuts and playing with their sense of direction. The most fantastic thing for children, though, is actually building the labyrinth. They can use sticks, stones and ropes to do so, or dig it in sand, mud or grass.

Advanced variations: You can accompany children as they hunt for natural tools for measuring the length of sticks or ropes, weighing the stones, and counting or estimating the length of their labyrinth in feet (or human steps). Designing labyrinths challenges children and helps them discover the complexity within simplicity.

“The Outline”

Children love rocks! They love throwing them, rolling them and using them to build things. «While the child builds up the tower, she is actually building herself too,» wrote Kükelhaus in his reflections on the ways that bodies are able to learn. How about giving children an opportunity to compare natural shapes with their own shape?

Feeling comfortable in space is something children need to experience starting with their own proprioception. Learning in outdoor spaces allows them to explore how their body feels comfortable in relation to the earth and gravity.

Advanced variations: Using materials such as tree slices, bricks or bales of hay or straw, you can “sketch” a huge body on the ground and work on imagination and storytelling, or teach children about the human body by walking on the outline.

Sharing to Save Children’s Vision

It doesn’t matter what the area outside your facility looks like; it simply has to be a place out under the open sky. So if you can, try to invest 20 minutes of your class time, choosing materials for your students ahead of time and then enjoying yourself as you observe their natural curiosity in action.

I have no doubt that each of you will find ways to implement the above-mentioned three purposeful play ideas with success. And once you’ve gotten used to working outdoors in the daylight, just imagine how many variations you could think up to teach anything you want!

Don’t forget to gradually extend your and your kids’ time outdoors to one hour a day or longer and discuss how things went with your colleagues.

In conclusion, if kids are given the opportunity to do some quality learning out in the daylight for 60 minutes or so each day, in addition to the time they already spend outdoors before and after school, plus one more hour of outdoor playtime during recess or other free moments during the school day, they’ll be that much closer to the ideal three-hours-a-day daylight goal.

What’s more, as they learn outdoors and have fun playing, they’ll also be safeguarding their vision.

If you’d tried to implement my suggestions outside of your classroom you should really let me know about your experience — even if something’s failed!

This post originally ran on Medium. To learn more about the author’s work, please visit tommasolana.com.
Photo and illustrations: Tommaso Lana

Graphic editing: Chiara Lino

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No kid is born a picky eater, but there are plenty who will give you a run for your money come mealtime. Whether it's a selective eating phase or simply a natural resistance to trying something new, getting your little one to try just.one.bite can be easier said than done.

But sometimes your attitude about eating can make the most impact. A 2017 study found a direct correlation between "mealtime emotional climate" (AKA, how positive meals are for parents and children) and a child's consumption of healthy food―meaning the difference between your child trying their green beans or not could depend on how positive you make the experience.

Not sure where to start?

Here are 10 positive parenting techniques that can help overcome picky eating and lead to more peaceful mealtimes for all.

1. Make them feel special.

Sometimes just knowing you have a special place at the table can help kids eat better. Create a special place setting with dishes just for them.

Try this: We love OXO's Stick & Stay plates and bowls for creating less mess at mealtime. Not only will the kids love the fun colors and designs, but the plates also come with a suction cup base that prevents little hands from knocking plates to the floor (or in your lap). Trust us—we've tried it.

2. Take off the pressure.

OXO Tot's Stick & Stay Suction Plate

Think about it: If someone kept telling you to take one more bite during lunch, how likely would you be to go along without bristling?

Try this: Instead, use the Satter Division of Responsibility of feeding, which lets parents be responsible for what, when, and where feeding happens, while the child is left responsible of how much and whether. Besides promoting a more positive environment at mealtime, this method also boosts your child's confidence and helps encourage better self-regulation of food as they get older.

3. Serve a variety.

OXO Tot's Stick & Stay Suction Divided Plate

It could be that your child is bored with the usual rotation. Keep things interesting by regularly introducing new ingredients, or reworking a familiar ingredient in a new way. The familiar setting might make your child more likely to take a bite without a struggle.

Try this: Sub in spaghetti squash with their favorite pasta sauce, or add in a new veggie to a beloved stir-fry. We love OXO's Stick & Stay Divided Plate for creating a "tasting menu" of new flavors for little ones to pick and choose or using the center spot for an appetizing dip.

4. Don't bargain or negotiate.

Many kids resist trying new foods or eating at all because it gives them a sense of control over their lives. By resisting an ingredient―even one they have tried and liked in the past―they are essentially saying, "You're not the boss of me."

Try this: Instead of resorting to bargaining tactics like, "Just take one bite!" or "You can have dessert if you try it!" lower the pressure with a neutral statement like, "This is what we're having for dinner tonight." There's no argument, so you avoid tripping their "Don't tell me what to do!" sensor.

5. Serve meals in courses.

Even adults are more likely to eat something when they're really hungry. When their tummies are rumbling, kids will usually put up less of a fight even when they're uncertain about a new ingredient.

Try this: Serve up vegetables or other new foods as an "appetizer" course. That way, you won't have to stress if they don't fill up because you can follow up with food you know they'll eat.

6. Make it a game.

The fastest way to get a toddler on board with a new idea is to make it more fun. Turn your kitchen into an episode of Top Chef and let your little one play judge.

Try this: Use each compartment of the Stick & Stay Divided Plate for a new ingredient. With each item, ask your child to tell you how the food tastes, smells, and feels, ranking each bite in order of preference. Over time, you just might be surprised to see veggies climb the leaderboard!

7. Get them involved in cooking.

You've probably noticed that toddlers love anything that is theirs―having them help with preparing their own meals gives them a sense of ownership and makes them more likely to try new ingredients.

Try this: Look for ways to get those little hands involved in the kitchen, even if it means meal prep takes a bit longer or gets a bit messier. (We also love letting them help set the table―and OXO's unbreakable plates are a great place to start!) You could even let your toddler pick the veggie course for the meal. And if your child asks to taste a raw fruit or vegetable you planned to cook, go with it! Every bite counts as training that will ultimately broaden their palate.

8. Cut out unstructured snacking.

Not surprisingly, a hungry kid is more likely to try new foods. But if your toddler had a banana and a glass of milk (or a granola bar, or a handful of popcorn, or a glass of juice) an hour before dinner, odds are they aren't feeling truly hungry and will be more likely to resist what you serve at mealtime.

Try this: Stick to a consistent eating schedule. If your child leaves the table without eating as much as you think they should, remind them once that they won't be able to eat again until X time―and make good on that promise even if they start begging for a snack before the scheduled meal.

9. Model good eating habits.

Kids may not always do what you say, but they are much more likely to follow a good example. So if you want a child who eats vegetables regularly, you should do your best to fill your own plate with produce.

Try this: Pick a new food the whole family will try in multiple ways each week. For example, if you're introducing butternut squash, serve it roasted, blended in soup, cut up in pasta, as a mash, etc.―and be sure a healthy serving ends up on your plate too.

10. Don't worry about "fixing" picky eating.

OXO Tot's Stick & Stay Suction Bowl

In most cases, children go through relatively consistent eating phases. At age two (when parents tend to notice selectiveness ramping up), growth rates have slowed and most children don't need as much food as parents might think.

Try this: Focus on keeping mealtime positive by providing children with a variety of foods in a no-pressure environment. And remember: This too shall pass. The less stress you put on eating now, the more likely they are to naturally broaden their palates as they get older.


This article was sponsored by OXO Tot. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Learn + Play

Over six million women in America struggle with infertility, and yet its a journey that can feel so isolating.

That's why we find Google's short video, "Becoming Mom," to be so powerful. Through anxiety-driven web searches, vlog clips, and calendars packed with appointments, this video gives a brief peek into the all-consuming reality of struggling with infertility.

Watch "Becoming Mom" here:


Candace Wohl, a fertility advocate featured in this video, writes of her experience:

"For seven years, Mother's Day was the worst day of the year for me. It was an observance that felt completely out of reach, yet commercially and socially it was a reminder that I couldn't escape. I wanted to be a mom, but I was having trouble becoming one."

As Candace and her husband felt their private life had been invaded by fertility specialists, they also felt that the outside world didn't understand what they were going through. So she found solidarity online.

"I found support groups, blogs and resources. I wasn't as alone as I thought—like many, I had been silent about my struggles with infertility. It's a less-than-tasty casserole of heartache, injections and surgeries, failed adoption placements and financial devastation."

Through her years of personal experience, Candace has since become an advocate for infertility awareness, and hopes that speaking up will help break down the barriers surrounding infertility. She was excited to see Google using their platform to further this message.

"I hope that this year, even one more person out there will realize they're not alone."

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We love how this video is helping to spread awareness of a struggle so many women experience, and importantly—how it highlights the virtual communities that help many women to find a path forward. It's a powerful reminder that there are others out there, typing the same fears or curiosities into a search bar.

We applaud Candace and the other brave women who shared their stories in this video. Their openness is helping to educate people and elevate the conversation surrounding infertility. 👏

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We grew up together, were in each other's weddings, and dreamed about the day we would raise our children in unison. Then, BOOM. Kids arrive, and it doesn't take long to realize that, whoa, my best friend and I have very different approaches to this parenting gig.

The odds of her letting her babies “cry it out" are about as high as me co-sleeping with mine, and by that I mean not a chance. That's not the only thing that makes us very different in terms of parenting.

I enforce strict bedtimes, while her kids are catching a 7 p.m. movie at the theater. My little ones eat most meals from a box or the freezer, and hers have palates more developed than most adults.

We're both teachers. She cries when August rolls around at the thought of leaving her kids to go back to work. Me? I'm itching for “me time" and aching for conversation with someone above the age of five.

Sure, we're both trying our best to raise happy, respectful, and kind children, but when I'm faced with a grumpy 4-year-old whose mood rivals a teenager, I choose to send her to her room for quiet time. My best friend tickles the grouchies away.

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She has endless patience while I'm nearing the end of my fraying rope by noon.

I'll never forget one day when my daughter was having an epic tantrum, and I said to my friend, exasperated, “Ugh, sometimes I just want to scream 'Shut up!'"

Her response was one of shock, her eyes wide with horror. “Jennifer!" she said, appalled.

“Of course I would never actually say that," I quickly clarified. “But c'mon, you mean to tell me you've never thought that before?"

“Never!" she replied.

Then we chuckled about how different our mindsets are.

That's the thing – it's not a secret that we're raising our kids using opposing methodologies. We know that about each other and we respect that about each other. Here's the key: there's no judging.

My friend's children are being raised with religion in the household—praying at meals and before bed, talking about God, and falling on faith to help explain many of the mysteries of the human experience. My husband and I rest pretty low on the spirituality ladder and while we have no problem explaining religious beliefs to our kids, we have no plan to incorporate religion into our family.

“Johnny included you in his bedtime prayer last night," she recently told me.

“Aww, tell him thanks," I said, “and I love him."

We don't hide things from each other or pretend to be similar in ways that we're clearly not. With such different approaches to most aspects of parenting, you'd think that it would be difficult to be friends, but the opposite is true. Honesty, empathy, and support go far in maintaining a lasting friendship.

In a culture that likes to pit moms against each other simply because of differing choices, our story proves that it doesn't have to be that way.

Many of our conversations start with: “I know you think I'm crazy, but…" Sometimes when one of us (usually me) needs to vent about an issue with our child, the other one just listens and does her best to offer advice even if it's not something that we would do personally.

In the end, it comes down to this: There's no right way to be a mom. No one hands out gold star stickers to the moms who are doing things “this" way, rather than “that" way.

So, is it possible to be best friends with a mom who has polar opposite parenting styles as me? The answer is yes. She may be the June Cleaver to my Rosanne Barr, but what can I say? It just works.

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Love + Village

Sure being a mom of three totally rocks, but it comes with its fair share of demands, too. Singer-turned-lifestyle-entrepreneur, Jessica Simpson is learning this first hand, as she recently admitted to People that mothering three children can be difficult.

"Three is challenging," says Simpson. "We are trying to get into the groove and make sure all three kids are getting equal attention … it's more than a full-time job right now."

Simpson is a mom to daughter 6-year-old Maxwell Drew, 5-year-old son Ace Knut and little Birdie Mae who is just 5 weeks old. Birdie was born via C-section on March 19, and Simpson admitted on Instagram that "recovering from a C-section is no joke!"

While in the recovery period, the new mom of three is determined to live in the moment and enjoy hugging her new baby. "We are trying our best to be as present as possible and enjoy every part of having a newborn," she says. "We know how fast the time goes and how precious it is."

But being a mom to multiples can often be overwhelming. A recent survey found that motherhood isn't just equivalent to a full-time job, but actually equivalent to working 2.5 jobs. And we know three kids is one of the hardest ratios for moms: A survey found moms of four or more are less stressed than moms with fewer kids, but moms of three are way more stressed than moms of two.

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Simspon is totally feeling this.

She tells People: "The other night, all three kids were crying at the same time, so I just joined in!" She's joking about it, but feelings of sadness after a new baby are not a laughing matter. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), postpartum depression impacts 15 to 20% of pregnant and postpartum mothers. (If you're feeling overwhelmed, seek help, mama)

No matter how many kids you have, the fact is that statistically, parents are more stressed than people who don't have kids. It makes sense. We have less free time and more responsibilities, but it is so worth it. And it won't feel like a full-time job forever.

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News

I've always felt a weird kinship with Prince Harry. We are two different races (he's white, and I'm an African American), so we're definitely not related, and technically, I've never met him, but because my mother was pregnant with me at the same time Princess Diana was pregnant with him, I feel strangely connected to Harry.

It's almost like we're distant cousins in some bizarre way. So, imagine my delight when I discovered he was dating, and later married, an American actress of African-American heritage?

"Finally, there's some color in the royal family!" I texted to a few close friends on Prince Harry's wedding day, who later joined in my delight with smiling emojis. She's a beautiful 37-year-old American divorcee with a relaxed California girl sense of style. Naturally, I want her to win.

But as much as I'm team Meghan Markel and pro black women in general, I understand that having a black woman in the monarchy doesn't change much. Let's reflect back for a moment: Shortly after the world learned Meghan was dating Prince Harry, the tabloids were loaded with racist comments. "Duchess Difficult" is a mainstay in the news that particularly stands out to me. "Oh, great another black woman deemed aggressive, ill-tempered and hostile," I remember mumbling to myself.

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The trope of the "angry black woman" has once again re-emerged and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, isn't excluded from it. According to NBC News, some British journalists say Meghan has been treated differently from other members of the House of Windsor, citing a difference in attitude towards Kate, the wife of Harry's elder brother Prince William.

Realizing this reminded me how former First Lady Michelle Obama was treated shortly after taking on the title. Michelle has spoken about the racism she faced as the first lady, noting that when a West Virginia county employee called her an "ape in heels" it cut deep.

And speaking of cutting deep, it pains me when society labels Meghan as "our black hero" because it's damaging to other black women who don't have straight, long hair, light skin, and a narrow nose. Does this mean that if you don't look like Meghan, an "acceptable" version of a black woman, then you don't quite matter? Is her version of black the only type that counts?

But even with the racism and wanted (or unwanted) labels surrounding Meghan being in the royal family, I'm thrilled to learn that her baby (whether a boy or girl) will be seventh-in-line to the throne and the first baby of African ancestry to have such a title in the history of British royalty.

I love birthing stories, and this one is extra special. This, to me, is more magical than Meghan being in the office because it means a new breed of royalty is here. It's a symbol of change, new beginnings and it disrupts white British bloodlines. I couldn't be more excited.

If I'm being honest with myself, I know the baby won't be excluded from racist remarks, but their mere presence will acknowledge that mixed families are breaking age-old boundaries of white people dominating the royal family, and creates new histories. And, that gives me a beacon of hope for not only the Brits but Americans, too.

Just like Meghan, I too am expecting a child any day. Just like Meghan, this baby won't be granted the title of Princess (unless it's a girl, who by default will be seen as such through her daddy's eyes). And, just like Meghan, I'm hopeful yet unsure of the world my little one will live in. But, I'm positive they will break their own boundaries while standing on the shoulders of black women who have come before them.

And that, strangely enough, makes me feel even more connected to the Harry and the rest of the British Royal Family.

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