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Every parent who has been through the inquisitive toddler stage is familiar with this conundrum: Young children often want to know far more about the things we forgot from our 6th grade science classes than what we remember.


“But why does water freeze when it gets cold?”

“Why does the moon change shapes?”

“What kind of butterfly is that?”

I can muddle through the first two with pseudo-scientific and possibly correct explanations, but the last one gives me pause. Often, I have to say “A yellow one,” and move on. It’s not that I want to brush off their inquisitiveness. Typically, I just don’t have the answer. Knowing the names of local plants and animals is a skill most of us have lost over the last several generations.

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But giving our children a naturalist’s education can be a powerful way to help develop science and language skills, as well as provide them with a deeper connection to the world around them.

 

 

If you think about it, we already spend plenty of time teaching children the names of animals – just not ones they are likely to see. My son’s blankets are dotted with giraffes, elephants, and monkeys. They read alphabet books where P is is for Penguin and W is for Whale. They can name a dozen dinosaurs, but I am certain they will never stumble upon one in real life.

The animals they do come in contact with on a day to day basis – tree sparrows, chickadees, European starlings – we tend to overlook. Because they are common place, we ignore them despite knowing little about them. Until a few years ago, I hardly even knew the names of any birds besides crows and robins.

Children’s brains, however, are primed for putting names to the objects that fill their environment. But as kids spend more and more time indoors, their naturalist tendencies for cataloging have honed in on corporate brands. A 2010 study found that children as young as preschool age can already recognize brands such as Toyota, Disney, and McDonald’s. Nearly 93 percent of children in the study could recognize McDonald’s Golden Arches.

In his book “How to Raise a Wild Child”, Dr. Scott Sampson asserts that children today can recognize 1,000 corporate logos but as few as 10 plants native to their area. This imbalance is not surprising when kids spend as many as seven hours a day in front of screens and less than 10 minutes on average outside in unstructured play.

Virtually any educational pursuit would be preferable to memorizing corporate brands, but there are several reasons we should prioritize learning local plants and animal. Taking a deeper look at the inhabitants of a local park or pond can benefit not only kids, but adults as well.

While we may be guilty of treating our local flora and fauna as uninteresting, our children have no reason to believe that spying the common field grasshopper is less thrilling than seeing an elephant the zoo. The novelty of each encounter a child has with nature imbues the world with wonder, even in instances we would consider mundane. We might consider dandelions to be a pesky weed, but for children, their fluffy spheres are nothing but a scientific joy.

This sense of wonder and fascination isn’t limited to children. Numerous studies have shown that spending time in nature reduces stress for adults, and can even lead to an increase in creativity. While turning on the TV for some peace and quiet at the end of a long day might be a short term solution, heading to a local park to hunt for wildflowers might be the most effective stress reliever.

There is, however, a bigger reason that children – and adults – would benefit from learning about their natural environment. Research shows that the more time children spend outdoors doing meaningful activities like hiking or fishing, the more likely they are to participate in pro-environmental behaviors such as recycling or turning off lights.

Teaching children about the intricacies of their local ecosystems can help foster a sense of connection to nature. There may not be much inherent value in knowing that a Western Hemlock is a Western Hemlock. But we may find that instead of seeing a clump of “trees” with “birds” flying about, we notice the variation around us – maples, spruce, firs, warblers, finches, hawks. The world starts to become more alive, and we become more grounded in it and more apt to protect it.

I knew little when I first started teaching my kids about the natural world, and we have learned together. With the help of a few basic bird and wildflower books, the expertise of more knowledgeable friends, some kid-friendly binoculars, and some field guide apps, we have slowly been able to put names to what we see. Children’s books about local flora and fauna might not be as common as ones about giraffes and elephants, but when we find them, we read them. Every time we learn the answer to one new plant, we notice a dozen more behind it and the search continues.

This summer, my family had the opportunity to take a brief trip to Glacier National Park. The temperatures in had been in the upper 90s for weeks, and my sons were thrilled to find themselves on a snow covered hike in their shorts and T-shirts. They saw the delicate glacier lilies, which pop up in areas snow has just melted, and the rare beargrass flower that was enjoying a particularly good bloom that year. Along the trail, they found bits of fur that mountain goats had left behind.

“I. Love. Nature!” my oldest yelled while running through the snow. And I understand why. It’s the perfect outlet for all of a preschooler’s needs: a place to discover and ask questions, and a place to burn off boundless energy. I’ve never managed to sate my children’s curiosity when we are outdoors, but seeing it blossom even more has proved to be more satisfactory.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$99.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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You may have watched your child struggle during play dates, talking over their friend, laughing when the joke is no longer funny or becoming too upset over the littlest thing, and wondered when or if you should step in.

As a mama, coaching your child to improve their social skills is the best way to help them learn. Some kids need help developing social skills that will allow them to feel comfortable interacting with others. But when a football coach is watching a football game they do not suit up and take over. They make notes to give the players at half time.

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The best thing you can do for your child is to coach them in private and then act as a silent observer when they are putting their skills into practice. Let your child take ownership over the skills and then you can discuss afterward how it felt.

Here are a few strategies to help you coach from the sidelines during play dates, mama:

1. The problem: The other child is being mean and not listening to your child's requests to play with certain toys.

Should you interfere: Yes

Reason: This is a great teachable moment. Being mean is never okay. Explain that everyone should be treated with respect.

What you can do: Ask the other child if there is something you can help with. Help the children problem solve and set expectations for things we can say or not say.

2. The problem You hear your child being rude and thoughtless.

Should you intervene: No

Reason: As long as your child is trying to practice his emerging skills, it is important for you not to interfere all the time. As long as your child or the playmate are not being mean or cruel, allowing your child and their playmate to work out sharing and meeting each other halfway is part of your child's growth. Additionally, feedback from other children help your child learn about social communication and its consequences—what's funny, what isn't, what keeps play going and what stops it. Any challenges are just showing you what you need to work on before your next play date.

What you can do: Employ a subtle cue or code word to remind your child of his mission like entering the room with snacks, suggesting a specific game or saying a code word like "popcorn."

3. The problem: The children are excited and implementing dangerous behavior.

Should you interfere: Yes

Reason: Whenever there is a safety issue you must jump in to make sure all children are safe. If children are playing with something dangerous, planning an adventure that will lead to safety issues, playing too rough or playing in a space that is not child friendly, jump in and make sure the children know what they are doing is unsafe and what your expectations are going forward.

What you can do: Reinforce safety rules. Create a space and situation where danger is removed and manage any behaviors that might cause harm.

4. The problem: A specific toy or activity is causing arguments between the playmates.

Should you interfere: Yes

Reason: This is a great opportunity to teach your child how to manage conflict.

What you can do: Limit your management of the situation by promoting problem-solving, suggesting that the children put the toy away and offer them a timer to promote turn-taking. After the play date, help your child formulate strategies to help your child learn to manage conflict with friends. The goal is to teach your child the skills to manage relationships without you.

5. The problem: Your child is being clingy and is coming to you to solve every problem.

Should you interfere: No

Reason: You want to help your child stop the clingy behavior rather than reinforcing the idea that they can constantly come back to you.

What can you do: When your child repeatedly approaches you, ask them to think about how they can handle the situation. Prompt them to problem solve, ask what is making them come back so often. Remind them of their mission. What can they do to have fun in the circumstances they're in? Explain that you expect them to try that before coming to get you.
Ultimately, your goal is to help your child generalize the new skills and behaviors—take them from the small stage of home practice to the larger one of a play date. To do so, your child needs to learn to recognize and address what's getting in the way.


Learn + Play

We know how it goes, mama: You finally start finding your footing in the new mama life, and them BAM! Baby is up again at all hours and you seriously don't know why—or when you'll ever get to sleep again. The good news: The 4-month sleep regression is normal, common and temporary. You've got this. But in the meantime, we tip our ☕️ to you!

We talked to the experts at the Baby Sleep Site. Here's what they had to say about how to weather this sleepless storm:

Sleep regressions are normal

The 4-month mark is a big milestone, because it marks the first (and usually the most disruptive and challenging) sleep regression of your baby's life. At 4 months of age, your baby undergoes some major brain developments that impact her sleeping patterns. They become more aware of the world around them. And simply put, your baby starts sleeping less like a baby and more like an adult.

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What changes can I expect?

During this time, you can expect a baby who may have been sleeping fairly well is suddenly waking up every 20 minutes during the day, and almost as frequently at night. It's also common for your little one to experience shorter naps, fussiness at nap and bedtimes and a general disdain for sleep.

Sleep regressions are different for every baby, but you can expect the regression to last from two to six weeks.

This is a challenging time, but try not to worry. Your baby will be looking to you to help navigate them through this—and there are many ways you can do that.

The solution

There is really no fix for the 4 month sleep regression; these changes to your baby's sleeping patterns are permanent and unavoidable. But don't despair. You CAN reclaim your nights by simply teaching your baby how to fall asleep without the use of any sleep associations, like rocking or feeding to sleep. That process is called sleep coaching but understand that it's not for everyone. But if sleep is a real problem in your home, then sleep coaching can be a nice option.

Sleep coaching methods include putting baby to bed drowsy but not asleep, picking up your baby for a bit when they cry and then putting them back down, sitting in a chair to provide a reassuring presence, or even allowing baby limited time to cry it out. There is no one size fits all method for babies and families, so you need to test what works best for you.

Also, understand that four months is generally the earliest you should work on sleep coaching, and it's best to use gentle, gradual methods at this young age.

Sleep times will vary

During this time, you can expect your baby to sleep 14 to 15 hours each day—11 to 12 hours at night and three to four hours during the day spread out over four or five short naps. Some babies are able to sleep eight straight hours or more at night by 4 months, but the large majority don't. In fact, one to three night feedings are still considered very normal at this age. Learn your baby and discover what works best for your little one.

Be flexible

Your baby may be ready for a more by-the-clock sleep schedule at this age, but many aren't, so be flexible. You are still learning what works for you and your baby, so give yourself grace. Know that things will get better and the discomfort of the 4-month sleep regression is temporary.

Do what works for your family and trust yourself to know your baby better than any external authority.

Learn + Play

When James and Kimberly Van Der Beek recently announced they were expecting their sixth child, we were thrilled for them. And now we're devastated to hear that the Van Der Beeks have lost this pregnancy.

The announcement came via Instagram, where James wrote that he and Kimberly are "Wrecked. Devastated. In shock."

"We've been through this before, but never this late in the pregnancy, and never accompanied by such a scary, horrific threat to @vanderkimberly and her well-being," Van Der Beek wrote. "Grateful that she's now recovering, but we've only just begun unpacking the layers of this one."

James Van Der Beek on Instagram: “Wrecked. Devastated. In shock. That’s how we’re feeling right now after the soul we thought were going to welcome into our family in…”

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This is the fourth pregnancy loss for the couple, who are already parents to 9-year-old Olivia, 7-year-old Joshua, 5-year-old Annabel Leah, 3-year-old Emilia and 16-month-old Gwendolyn.

The Van Der Beeks have previously spoken publicly about their journey through miscarriage, with James suggesting last September that the word "miscarriage" isn't the right one to describe what parents go through when a pregnancy is lost.

"'Mis-carriage,' in an insidious way, suggests fault for the mother—as if she dropped something, or failed to 'carry,'" he wrote on Instagram. "From what I've learned, in all but the most obvious, extreme cases, it has nothing to do with anything the mother did or didn't do."

The couple announced their most recent pregnancy 13 months after James made his passionate statement about miscarriage. We wish they didn't have to go through this again, but are grateful to them for speaking out about a pain so many parents can relate to, and one that too often goes undiscussed.

On her own Instagram account, Kimberly posted a video of her youngest daughter playing with a nanny and wrote: "It was a TOUGH weekend. Extra thankful right now to have help with my kids. Keeping these cuties happy as can be while I replenish at home."

Get all the rest you need, mama. We know this hurts. Our hearts are with you.

News

If you're not familiar with Birdies, Meghan Markle is a big fan (and we're a fan of anything she's obsessing over). The popular flats are incredibly comfy and can be worn as slippers at home or out and about for maximum comfort while still looking as chic as ever. The secret? The insole is comprised of seven layers, starting with memory foam cushioning and shock absorption foam and ending with a soft, quilted satin that has arch and heel support.

And now you can have a major twinning moment with your littlest love because Birdies has taken their best-selling silhouette and created four limited-edition mini-me styles.

Say hello to Little Birdies, the *cutest* shoes for your mini.

The Little Starling in black velvet

little birdies shoes

The Little Starling is available online now and comes in black, two glitter shades and a calf hair cheetah print. Easy to slide on and off, they're made just like mama's so kids can easily wear them without having to worry about buckles or laces. We're all for anything that gets us out the door quicker in the morning.

They're made for kids ages 5-12 (sizes 13-4) and range from $40-$60 depending on the print. The best part? They each have a matching adult pair.

$40

The Little Starling in cheetah calf hair

the little starling shoe

We've tried them and can confidently say the memory foam cushion sole feels like you're walking on a cloud. And, we're not alone. Meghan Markle has been spotted wearing them multiple times and the reviews are amazing. Just check out how cute they can be styled on their Instagram.

The Little Starling fits true to size, just keep in mind the initial fit is a bit snug until it molds to your foot over time. We'll take one in each color, please!

$60

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