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

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”.

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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Just because new moms aren't hitting the gym doesn't mean they aren't doing one of the most demanding workouts of all: It takes about 20 calories to produce one ounce of milk. So, with babies who down ounces upon ounces each day, that means breastfeeding mothers can easily burn hundreds of calories almost literally in their sleep.

All that hard work can result in quite an appetite, which can have new moms reaching for whatever is most convenient. But convenience doesn't have to come at the cost of good nutrition, taste and lactation-boosting powers—as proven by the delicious Booby Boons Lactation Cookies from Stork and Dove.

"Nourishing your body is just as important now as it was when you were pregnant. Not only are you recovering from pregnancy and birth, you are making milk to sustain your baby—and all the thousands of other things you do for them every single day," says Diana Spalding, Motherly's Birth Expert, midwife and pediatric nurse. "You are working so hard, mama. You deserve to fuel your body with the best—and it doesn't hurt when the best also happens to be delicious."

Here's why these little cookies are such lactation powerhouses:

Oats

The natural goodness of oats does so much more than make for tasty cookies. Considered to be a top galactagogue—or a substance that helps boost milk supply—oats are rich in iron, fiber and protein. Because low iron can reduce milk supply, mixing a scoop of oats into lactation cookies is a tasty way to give your body the boost it may need.

Nutritional yeast

For generations, nutritional yeast has been a remedy suggests to mamas looking to boost their milk supply. And for good reason: With protein, phytoestrogen and B12 found in fortified versions, nutritional yeast can provide nutrients to stimulate milk supply—while also offering a boost of energy.

Flax meal

Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed is good for the brain health of mothers and babies. Not to mention that with a nice nutty taste and great protein profile, they make nice additions to lactation cookies by helping you stay full longer.

Chia seeds

When it comes to lactation cookies and promoting brain development, varied sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are so helpful—and chia seeds deliver there. Found in some of the Booby Boons Lactation Cookies, chia seeds also deliver protein, calcium and magnesium.

Probiotics

Few things can take a toll on milk supply like when you're under the weather. Booby Boons+ Lactation Cookies provide a probiotic boost, keeping your immune system up and digestive health in check for better production—and a healthier-feeling mama.

Bonus: A sense of relaxation and ease is clinically proven to aid in milk production.

Even better, the cookies are wheat-, soy- and preservative-free! So grab a cookie, take a moment for yourself and boost that supply. Grab your cookies HERE or at Target and other fine retailers.

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

[Editor's note: This story is a letter from a woman to her husband. While this is one example of one type of relationship, we understand, appreciate and celebrate that relationships come in all forms and configurations.]

To my husband,

We met when I was 22. We started building a life together. We became each other's best friend, cheerleader, guidance counselor, and shelter from the storm. We laughed together, cried together, and stood up in front of all the people who matter to us and vowed to stay together until one of us dies.

We said the words without irony or hesitation, knowing that while we weren't perfect, the problems we could face in life would never be enough to break us.

And babe, I had no clue what our future held. But I knew I wanted to experience it only with you.

Then we got pregnant! And when our son was born, I marveled at the fact that we made a person. You and me. It honestly still blows my mind even five years later.

I'd heard women say things like, I fell in love with my husband all over again once I saw him as a daddy. I love watching you be a daddy, too—but just like becoming a mother has been transformative for me, becoming a father has been transformative for you, too. And it has taken us some time to get to know the new versions of ourselves.

We worked together—mostly on the same team—and have shared so many beautiful lessons and experiences together. Everything is new when you're a first-time parent! And this new dynamic of three definitely threw us for a loop—I wasn't used to sharing your attention with someone else, and I wasn't used to sharing my attention with someone other than you.

It took a few years to hit our stride. I think maybe we never had big things to disagree on before we became parents. It threw me off to be anything but harmonious with you. But just like we said we would on that gorgeous September wedding day, we found our way back. We stayed on each other's team.

And then I got pregnant again.

We were planning a huge life change already— moving across the country to start anew, restart your business and make a new future. I didn't have an easy pregnancy this time. And generally, for many reasons, life seemed harder than ever.

Our daughter was born and it didn't take long for postpartum depression to steal me away, for far longer than I should have allowed it to. I was scared to get the help I needed and I let it get the best of me. I'm truly sorry for that. I'm mostly sorry that I sometimes let it get the best of us.

It's easy to love a partner when it's just the two of you. Our priorities were never tested then—you were at the top of my to-do list, and I was at the top of yours. But—funny thing—this whole parenting thing seemed to make life a little more complex. And when your kids are little, and completely dependent upon you, there are many days when there just isn't much left over for anything or anyone else.

Babe, we're in it right now. Really in it. These are the parenting trenches. The baby years. These years can make or break us. And can I be so bold as to say: I think they're making us.

They're making us learn how to communicate better. How to find common ground when we disagree about real stuff, like the ways we want to raise our children. We're invested in not only the outcome but the short term effect. We're a team.

They're making us think about the future. Not just the fun stuff, but the difficult stuff like estate planning, life insurance, and college funds for the kids. They're making us challenge ourselves to provide our children with comfort and opportunities. We've always worked hard but the stakes have never been this high.

You know I'm the optimist, the dreamer, while you consider yourself the realist—but I think we can agree on this: going through some of the tough stuff with you by my side has shown me that we are stronger than the tough stuff. We can get through it. We can get through anything. As long as we hold on to each other.

Motherhood transformed me. Fatherhood transformed you. And having kids completely transformed our marriage. We'll never be who we were on our wedding day again.

Time marches forward—only forward. I miss the carefree version of "us", but I love this version even more. Because we know what we're made of now, and in so many ways we didn't before.

I'm sure that in our lifetime, many more obstacles will arise that will transform our marriage. But I've never been more confident that whatever may be, we'll find a way through it—together.

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Baking Christmas cookies together is a family tradition for many, but the Centers for Disease Control is warning parents that if your recipe contains raw flour or raw eggs, you really shouldn't sneak a bite before it is cooked, and neither should your kids.

The CDC is warning people not to eat raw cookie dough, cake mix or bread as we head into prime baking season.

The agency acknowledges the appeal of a spoonful of chocolate chip goodness but asks that we "steer clear of this temptation—eating or tasting unbaked products that are intended to be cooked, such as dough or batter, can make you sick."

Salmonella from raw eggs is, of course, a concern, and so is the raw flour. According to the CDC, flour needs to be cooked in order to kill germs like E.Coli. That's why the CDC is asking parents to "say no to raw dough," not just for eating but even for playing with.

"Children can get sick from handling or eating raw dough used for crafts or play clay, too," the CDC posted on its website.

On the Food and Drug Administration's website, that agency advises that "even though there are websites devoted to 'flour crafts,' don't give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with." Health Canada also states that raw flour should not be used in children's play-dough.

The warnings follow a 2016 E.coli outbreak linked to contaminated raw flour. Dozens of people got sick that year, and a post-outbreak report notes that "state investigators identified three ill children who had been exposed to raw flour at restaurants in Maryland, Virginia, and Texas. Restaurant staff had given them raw dough to play with while they waited for their food to be served."

The CDC worries that with flour's long shelf life, products recalled during the 2016 outbreak may still be in people's pantries (although the CDC notes that any raw flour—recalled or otherwise—should not be consumed).

If your kids do have flour-based play dough, don't worry.

Some parents are still choosing to use flour-based craft dough to make Christmas ornaments or other crafts this holiday season and are reducing the risks by A) making sure the kids aren't eating their art, and B) thoroughly washing little hands, work surfaces, and utensils when the dough play is over.

Other parents are choosing other types of craft clay over flour-based dough.


During the 2016 outbreak, the FDA called for Americans to abstain from raw cookie dough, an approach Slate called "unrealistic and alarmist," noting that "the vast, vast majority of people who consume or touch uncooked flour do not contract E. coli or any other infection."

Two years ago, 63 Americans were made sick by E. coli infections linked to raw flour, according to the CDC. We don't know exactly how many Americans ate a spoonful of cookie dough or played with homemade play dough that year, but we do know that more than 319 million Americans did not get sick because of raw flour.

Are there risks associated with handling and consuming raw flour? Yes, absolutely, but it's not something to panic over.

Bottom line: Don't let your kids eat raw dough when they're helping you bake cookies for Santa, and be mindful of raw flour when choosing crafts for kids.

(And if you have just got to get your raw cookie dough fix, the CDC notes that cookie dough flavored ice cream is totally safe as it "contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria." Sounds like mama's getting Ben & Jerry's tonight.)

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Twinkling lights are everywhere I look, and the magic of the holiday season is filling our house. The kids are growing more excited each day anticipating Santa's arrival and gifts are accumulating, ready to be wrapped in beautiful paper and bows.

Elf and The Grinch have been playing on repeat and the nativity scene has found a safe spot among our decorations. It's one of the busiest times of the year and it can be hard to catch your breath in the hustle and bustle of it all.

But then something stops you.

Maybe it's a pang in your heart or a memory of someone dearly missed. Maybe it's a familiar feeling of emptiness—of wanting this person to be a part of this magical, joy-filled time of year.

It's so easy to forget that many people are struck with sadness around the holidays and are longing for someone who's missing from their lives. We give and give to our families and friends and communities this time of year—food for dinners, and toys for less-fortunate children—but people don't always realize that another type of giving is needed.

The gift of comfort.

Because someone who is missing their mother, father, brother, sister, child, friend or spouse needs your connection and warmth. They need a reminder of their loved one is not forgotten, and maybe above all—just needs a hug.

Family traditions are wonderful and cherished, but they can also feel incomplete when someone is missing.

For me, I love the holidays, and watching my kids experience all the joys this season has to offer truly fills my heart. Yet, not a Christmas goes by that I don't think about what Kendrick (my first child lost at 2 months old) would have thought of this time of year.

Would he have loved hot cocoa like his sister and brothers? Would he have gotten into all the ornaments on the tree as a toddler? What toys would he have asked Santa for? What Christmas wishes would he have made for others?

I am left to wonder these things without answer. And even though I fully embrace this time of year and relish the holidays, I can't help but miss him.

I wanted to share my story as a reminder that even though your holiday cup may be filled with joy, someone you know may be wrestling with sadness. With all the merry and bright and cups of cheer, it's important to be mindful of this and to treat people with extra care. Reach out to someone you know who has lost someone, and let them know you're thinking of them. It won't go unnoticed.

Many of us have dealt with loss at some point in our lives, and we've learned to carry these special people in our hearts so that they are always with us. But missing someone never goes away. There are so many experiences in our lives we wish we could just snap our fingers and have them right by our sides—the holidays being one of those.

So as you check off your shopping lists, make your donations, trim your tree, or light your menorah—please don't forget to show care to those who may be hurting a little this holiday season.


They're certainly in a position where they could buy every item on their kids' Christmas lists, but Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher aren't planning on piling up the presents under the Christmas tree this year.

"So far, our tradition is no presents for the kids," Kunis said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. Mom to 4-year-old daughter, Wyatt, and 2-year-old son Dmitri, Kunis says she and Kutcher are determined to not raise entitled kids—and are learning from the mistakes of Christmases past.

“We've told our parents, 'We're begging you: If you have to give her something, pick one gift,'" Kunis said. “'Otherwise, we'd like to take a charitable donation, to the Children's Hospital or a pet... Whatever you want.' That's our new tradition."

The minimalist Christmas that Kunis and Kutcher embrace makes sense on a lot of levels: It teaches kids how to be more mindful consumers, removes the emphasis on material goods... And saves you from those chaotic trips to the mall.

Going without presents doesn't mean going without

Putting a halt on presents these upcoming holidays is one way to reinforce what the season is really about: Spending quality time together as families and cherishing what we already have. But "no presents" doesn't mean "no fun," either.

Some of our favorite non-material gift suggestions include:

  • Experiences
  • Lessons
  • College contributions
  • Coupon booklets
  • Piggy bank donations
  • Gifts for others

Or you could take a cue from Kunis and Kutcher without going all the way: Maybe you only focus on one or two quality gifts. Or pass on anything that will likely get discarded to the bottom of the toy box before next year's holidays.

Think of Christmas gifts for kids kind of like eggnog: A little goes a long way.

[Originally published October 11, 2017]

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