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We got this cardboard box in the mail. Dad emptied out last night and we sailed out into the middle of the sea."


– Justin Roberts, Lyrics from song “Cardboard Box," Jungle Gym, 2010

In 2005, the cardboard box was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. The first induction class wasn't until 1998, so I'll cut the Hall some slack. But in my opinion, that was seven years too late.

We had a steep hill behind my apartment complex where I grew up. The one thing every kid I knew loved to do most was to slide down that grassy slope using a flattened box as a sled. It was rare for us to get good sledding snow, but we had plenty of grass and boxes to keep us entertained almost year-round.

The cardboard box has everything a child and a parent could want in a toy. It's versatile, cost-effective, easily accessible, lightweight yet (relatively) durable, and recyclable. This means it won't sit in the corner for years taking up space after your kids have decided to move onto other entertainment.

But the true beauty of the cardboard box is the way its artful simplicity sparks the imagination and exercises motor skills. Whether kids fold it, cut it, draw on it, glue it, paint it, build with it, sit in it, on it, or under it, a plain cardboard box presents endless possibilities – all of them within their control. This is probably why kids spend as much time playing with a box than they do with what came packaged within it.

Bottom line: Give a kid a cardboard box and you give them the world.

A recent Gallup study suggested the value of unstructured, open-ended play is lost on many parents. According to decades of previous research, however, it is the most developmentally enriching kind of activity for kids of every age.

For 100 years, toy manufacturers have challenged themselves to produce the next great…cardboard box – or at least make a toy with as much versatility and ability to hold kids' attention, from one generation to the next.

Since the turn of the 20th century, relatively few manufacturers have achieved this “holy grail" of toy making. Those few have claimed a coveted spot alongside the timeless box in the Toy Hall of Fame.

The best toys for open-ended play, which have stood the test of time

Jump to your childhood

The 1950s | The 1960s | The 1970s | The 1980s | The 1990s

Parent Co. partnered with Tenka Labs because they believe the best toys leave something to the imagination.

Toys from the 2010s

Circuit Cubes (2014)

Designed by STEM educators and FIRST LEGO League coaches, these electronic building blocks from Tenka Labs bring kids' creations to life. They were built from the ground up to fully integrate with LEGO®-style building blocks, but can be used with any materials kids can imagine, from vintage toys to recycled milk cartons.

Circuit Cubes teach the basic fundamentals of electronics. Their unique transparent design enables kids to literally see the connections they make when they light an LED, power a motor, or activate a switch. Circuit Cubes can also be used vertically, horizontally, and diagonally to accommodate any design.

It may seem like we are eons away from the relevance of something as simple as an empty cardboard box. Yet even the most current toys mentioned above share something critical in common: They allow a child's imagination to burgeon in that creative space where possibility always wins the day.

Osmo (2013)

This amazing learn-to-code kit incorporates the physical world of open play toys with the digital experience. In fact, Osmo has re-energized Hall of Fame-caliber toys like blocks, puzzles, Hot Wheels cars, and various drawing utensils by integrating them with applications on the iOS platform.

Minecraft (2011)

This three-dimensional “sandbox" game has taken the traditional linear approach to gaming – where the goal is to win by defeating a series of challenges and/or end “bosses" – to a whole new level. The platform allows kids to freely build, change, roam, and even destroy worlds of their own making.

The 2000s

Magformers (2008)

We've had these since our kids were about four and just beginning to build things. They were always so proud to walk up and show one me one of the octagonal orbs they'd created almost like magic in the palm of their little hand.

Scratch (2007)

In 2007, Mitch Resnick and his MIT Media Lab research group launched this programming language. Since then, tens of millions of kids around the world have been empowered to create their own interactive stories, games, and animations and to share their evolving projects within a safe online community.

KEVA Planks (mid-2000s)

These are the next generation of dominoes, the centuries-old card-like tile game and open-ended building toy. The uniform wooden tiles are used by kids and adults, students and professionals, in homes, museums, libraries, and schools at every level of education.

No glue, no magnets, nothing to distinguish or hold them together but the user's imagination. They're used for hands-on learning and creating everything from architectural marvels, like this world record tower at the National Building Museum, to playful Rube Goldberg-style machines.

Rory's Story Cubes (2004)

The ultimate story starters for kids and adults! I've used these over the past two years as an Odyssey of the Mind coach for warm-up exercises to encourage my eight- to 10-year-old team members to think more creatively.

1990s

I gotta say, I'm proud (and relieved) to have been a kid of the 70s and 80s, because the 90s were a bleak wasteland devoid of enduring, open-ended toys.

Sure, the 90s saw the launch of Nintendo's Game Boy in 1991, which, of course, was just a portable version of the already wildly popular NES gaming system from the 80s. But little else emerged from the decade that would stand the test of time.

To give you an idea of just how dismal the toy landscape was during the 90s, Toy of the Year Awards were given to short-lived fads, such as POGS (1995), Furbies (1998, an award shared with Beanie Babies), and the uber-irritating, feed-me-now Tamagotchi (1997).

I pity you, 90s kids, I really do. At least you still had plenty of mainstay toys from the 80s to help you survive.

1980s

Transformers (1984)

A puzzle and action figure in one! The Transformers line of toys is produced by American toy company Hasbro, who purchased the distribution rights to the molds of Japanese company Takara Tomy's Diaclone and Microman toy lines in 1984.

Rebranded “Transformers" for distribution in North America, the shape-shifting Autobot and Decepticon toys are well-known for their “robots in disguise!" tagline. A whole suite of movies soon followed.

Rubik's Cube (1980)

This legendary 3D puzzle not only offers a great lesson in problem-solving, but also invaluable lessons about perseverance and learning through failure.

Erno Rubik recently shared the story of how he eventually cracked his own code. Now kids (and adults) have whole YouTube channels dedicated to the challenge.

Micro Machines by Galoob (1980s)

Tiny vehicles of all kinds, interlocking cityscape sections, and so much more. In fact, Hasbro began producing its Star Wars line of play sets in the mid-90s with the release of the series prequels, episodes I through III.


1970s

Dungeons & Dragons (1974)

The uncontested pioneer of the role-playing game genre. I used to spend days designing and drawing my heroic characters so that I could test their skills against the most evil and fantastic beasts. My next-door neighbor was usually the Dungeon Master, which made me the lone player fighting for my life – not the ideal D&D; set up, but we enjoyed it anyway.

With a few diagrams, some bare-bones descriptions, and a set of distinctive dungeon dice to provide parameters, the name of the game was always imagination.

1960s

Etch-A-Sketch (1960)

It takes some steady hand-eye coordination, but if you're up for the challenge (and what kid isn't?), you can create amazing things with an Etch-A-Sketch, even if that thing is just a well-placed staircase. If you don't like what you made, then just shake it up and try again.

The company has now added many new ways to sketch. There's even a smartphone app for iOS and Android.

Hot Wheels (1968)

According to the National Toy Hall of Fame and Mattel, “Mattel has produced upwards of three billion cars, outdistancing the combined output of the Big Three automakers. More than 800 models and 11,000 variations of Hot Wheels have been manufactured."

With those kinds of numbers, there's more than enough horsepower to fuel kids' creative need for speed, not to mention their interest in pretend world building and/or mechanical engineering.


1950s

Pretend Play Sets (1950)

Whether it's a play kitchen, restaurant, workshop, doctor's office, or grocery store, pretend play sets are a kid's 3D gateway to adventure and creativity. They're also an important part of a child's development. They enable kids to role-play, explore, and build confidence as they learn social skills in a make-believe world that approximates the real one.

Colorforms (1951)

These vibrant sets of semi-sticky cut vinyl shapes help kids storyboard their own adventures, over and over again, with a variety of characters and objects that can be repositioned as many times as they like.

The first sets, developed by art students Harry and Patricia Kislevitz in 1951, featured basic geometric shapes and bright primary colors on black or white backgrounds. The first 1,000 sets were spiral-bound and hand-assembled by the husband and wife team and sold to FAO Schwartz. In 1957, Popeye became the first licensed Colorforms character.

Play-Doh (1954)

This modeling compound was first manufactured in the 1930s and sold as wallpaper cleaner. Then a happy accident led to the material being used by a nursery school class to make inexpensive Christmas ornaments. And the rest is history.

Pre-1950s

Little Green Army Men (1930s)

Plastic Army men evolved from metal soldier figurines, which date back to ancient times and have even been found in Egyptian tombs. Toy soldiers were used in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries by military strategists to plot tactics and track opposing forces on real battlefields.

In 1893, a British toy company, William Britain, revolutionized the production of metal toy soldiers with its hollow casting technique. The first American plastic toy soldiers were made by Bergen Toy & Novelty Co. in 1938.

Following World War II, Army men were sold unpainted and made of green plastic to correspond to the standard U.S. Army uniforms of the time.

LEGO (1916)

What's not to love? I don't know a child who isn't familiar with LEGOs. As evidence of their enduring influence and staying power, much like Erector Sets (1911) and Tinkertoys (1913) before them, LEGO have served as the foundation upon which other advances in building and engineering fields are based. This recent breakthrough in electronics is no exception.

Crayons (1903)

When kids dream of their next creature, invention, or adventure, are they dreaming in black and white? Of course not.

A box of crayons and a blank canvas of any kind – cardboard, construction paper, notebook paper, whatever! – is an immediate catalyst for creativity. These colored sticks are usually made of paraffin wax but can also be made from charcoal, chalk, or other materials.

The word “crayon" dates from the mid-1600s and comes from the French word for “chalk" (craie) and the Latin word for “earth" (creta). In 1903, the Binney & Smith Company invented the Crayola crayon and would later change its name to match the iconic product.

Wooden alphabet building blocks (1800s)

Alphabet blocks have ancient roots. Their concept and form grew from the dice used in board games as early as 5000 BC.

Alphabet blocks were first described in 1954 by English writer Sir Hugh Plat in a book of inventions titled “The Jewell House of Art and Nature". The book described the blocks as possibly made of bone or wood and a “ready way for children to learn their A, B, Cs."

English philosopher John Locke helped popularize the general concept in the late 1600s. Since then, kids have used blocks to spell, count, sort, build, stimulate tactile sensation and motor coordination, and even learn the periodic table of the elements.

Puppets (2000 BC)

Evidence suggests that puppets have been used for storytelling and to communicate ideas since 2000 BC. Their use and influence has touched cultures across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

The first puppets are thought to have been used in Egypt, where ivory and clay puppets have been found in tombs. Puppets were mentioned in writings as early as 422 BC and, in Ancient Greece, both Aristotle and Plato referenced puppetry. Many historians believe puppets even predate actors in the theater.

Parent Co. partnered with Tenka Labs because they believe the best toys leave something to the imagination.

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Starting your child on solids can be a daunting process. Between the mixed advice that seems to come from every angle ("Thanks, Grandma, but pretty sure one dessert is enough…") to the at-times picky palates of our little ones, it can be tough on a mama trying to raise a kid with a sophisticated palate.

But raising an adventurous eater doesn't have to be a chore. In partnership with our friends at Raised Real, here are eight tips to naturally encourage your child to nibble and taste with courage.

1. Keep an open mind. 

As the parent, you set the tone for every bite. So stay positive! Raised Real makes it easy to work new and exciting ingredients into every meal, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to practice modeling open-minded eating. Instead of saying, "You might not like this" or "It's okay if you don't like it" from the start, keep your tone upbeat—or simply serve new dishes without any fanfare at all. (Toddlers can smell a tough sell from a mile away.) Either way, let your child decide for themselves how they feel about new dishes.

2. Show mealtime some respect. 

Spend less time in the kitchen and more time together at the table with Raised Real meals, which come prepped and ready to steam and blend. They're even delivered to your door—because they know how busy you are, mama. Think about it: Do you enjoy a meal you've had to rush through? Keep meals relaxed and let your child savor and taste one bite at a time to take any potential anxiety out of the equation. (This may mean you need to set aside more time than you think for dinner.)

3. Serve the same (vibrant) dish to the whole family.

Don't fall into the "short-order cook" trap. Instead of cooking a different meal for every family member, serve one dish that everyone can enjoy. Seeing his parents eating a dish can be a simple way to encourage your little one to take a bite, even if he's never tried it before. Since Raised Real meals are made with real, whole ingredients, they can be the perfect inspiration for a meal you serve to the whole family.

4. Get kids involved in prepping the meal.

Raised Real's ingredients are simple to prepare, meaning even little hands can help with steaming and blending. When children help you cook, they feel more ownership over the food—and less like they're being forced into eating something unfamiliar. As they grow, have your children help with washing and stirring, while bigger kids can peel, season, and even chop with supervision. Oftentimes, they'll be so proud of what they've made they won't be able to wait to try it.

5. Minimize snacking and calorie-laden drinks before meals. 

Serving a new ingredient? Skip the snacks. Hungry kids are less picky kids, so make sure they're not coming to the table full when you're introducing a new flavor. It's also a good idea to serve in courses and start with the unfamiliar food when they're hungriest to temper any potential resistance.

6. Don’t be afraid to introduce seasoning!  

Raised Real meals come with fresh seasonings already added in so you can easily turn up the flavor. Cinnamon, basil, turmeric, and cumin are all great flavors to pique the palate from an early age, and adding a dash or two to your recipes can spice up an otherwise simple dish.

7. Make “just one bite” the goal. 

Don't stress if your toddler isn't cleaning their plate—if he's hungry, he'll eat. Raised Real meals are designed to train the palate, so even a bite or two can get the job done. Right now the most important thing is to broaden their horizons with new flavors.

8. Try and try and try again. 

Kids won't always like things the first time. (It can take up to 20 tries!) If your child turns up her nose at tikka masala the first time, that doesn't mean she'll never care for Indian food. So don't worry. And be sure to try every ingredient again another day—or the next time you get it in your Raised Real meal box!

Still not sure where to start? Raised Real takes the guesswork out of introducing a variety of solids by delivering dietician-designed, professionally prepped ingredients you simply steam, blend, and serve (or skip the blending for toddlers who are ready for finger foods)—that's why they're our favorite healthy meal hack for kids.

Raising an adventurous eating just got a whole lot simpler, mama.

This article is sponsored by Raised Real. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I wasn't supposed to be a stay-at-home mom.

Or, to put it another way, I wasn't supposed to be a year-round, stay-at-home mom. My husband and I live in Los Angeles, and our rent and monthly bills require two paychecks.

By the time our son Ryan was born, I had been teaching for seven years. And there was no question that I'd continue to teach. Other teacher-moms told me that teaching was the "perfect" career for parents.

"Once he starts school, you and your son will have the same hours each day."

"You'll always be available when he's got a random day off from school."

"You'll spend vacations together."

"You know what your schedule is year-round. It's not like other jobs, where your schedule changes on a weekly basis."

Like my husband's schedule. Paul's retail career didn't provide the same consistent schedule, week after week, that my teaching career did. While Paul's schedule could be erratic, I would provide Ryan with a reliable, fixed routine.

And my colleagues were right.

Aside from a few exceptions, such as Parent-Teacher Conferences and Back-to-School Night, Ryan and I would have dinner together each night. I imagined us doing "homework" together each afternoon—Ryan doing actual homework, me grading my students' homework.

Because there are 180 school days, theoretically, that means that the other half of the year, I'd spend with Ryan. But again, there were some exceptions. I usually spent quite a bit of time each summer attending conferences, workshops, and professional developments. I always returned to my classroom several days before the start of the new school year to get everything ready.

Still, teaching would continue to provide our family with a needed second income, feed my passion for teaching, and allow me the opportunity to spend considerable time with my son each day, all year long.

If Ryan attended the same small, local elementary school where I taught, I'd never have to choose between my students and my son. We'd come and go to school together, I'd watch him walk with his class in our school's Halloween Parade, and he'd watch me walk with mine. I'd hear him and his class sing holiday songs during our winter performance, and he'd hear my class.

That was the plan.

But while Ryan was a preschooler, the plan changed.

I got sick with a "mystery illness" that took doctors almost a year and a half to diagnose. Eventually, my rheumatologist determined I suffered from Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease, an autoimmune disease. I tried to pretend that my disease didn't impact my life or require any major lifestyle changes. But I couldn't keep up the pretense. So, in 2013, after a 12-year teaching career, I retired due to a disability.

I wasn't merely forced to give up my career. I had to give up my passion. I was now thrust into the role of year-round, stay-at-home mom, and I wasn't completely sure how to do it.

Thankfully, my disability check would continue to provide us with some income and the matching schedules Ryan had grown accustomed to would continue as well. But there were a lot of changes.

I had never before been the person to take Ryan to preschool. That job had always fallen to either our nanny or Paul. Now, I had to learn the timetable for breakfast, and the morning routine of getting washed, dressed, and out of the house.

I also had to figure out what to do after preschool. When I was teaching, I came home in the late afternoon. Ryan and I had some play time and shortly after that, we would begin our nightly evening routine. Now, with preschool ending at two o'clock each afternoon, we would have hours together before it was time for dinner.

How would I fill that time?

I knew how to lesson plan for a class of 30-plus students. I knew how to fill school days with a mix of whole-group instruction, independent work, and cooperative group work. I had a pacing plan to adhere to, standards and concepts that I was mandated to teach on a

timetable to prepare my students for periodic assessments and yearly standardized testing. But how would I organize a single day that involved just Ryan and me?

Many colleagues told me to find the silver lining. I had a disability, but I had also been given a gift—the opportunity to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. While that was true, it came at a price.

I felt confused because I wasn't accepting my new role with complete enthusiasm and pure delight. I alternated between feelings of guilt, anger, and frustration because it wasn't my choice. My doctor and the state of California told me I could no longer teach. And when someone tells you that you can or cannot do something, it means something entirely different than when the choice is your own.

While I love my son and am honored to be his mother, I didn't know how to reconcile the fact that mothering had now become my primary job every day. I wasn't sure how to accept and make sense of my new identity. Disabled woman. Former Teacher. Stay-at-home mom.

I've slowly come to realize that I'm still a teacher, but now my student roster consists of one, my son, and my classroom isn't always a room. Sometimes it's the library. Sometimes it's our kitchen. Sometimes it's our backyard.

Sometimes it's enough. Sometimes it isn't. But it is always an adventure.

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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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Jessica Simpson will soon join the mom of three club! The singer-turned-fashion mogul announced on Instagram today that she is expecting a baby girl.

"This little baby girl will make us a family of five," said Simpson, who shares 6-year-old Maxwell and 5-year-old Ace with husband Eric Johnson. "We couldn't be happier to announce this precious blessing of life."

The news may come as a surprise to Simpson's fans, considering she's been pretty vocal about feeling as though her family was complete. "I have two beautiful children, and I'm not having a third," she told Ellen DeGeneres in 2017. "They're too cute. You can't top that."

Earlier this year, Simpson revealed to Entertainment Tonight she had developed a case of baby fever, but said it would "definitely have to be a miracle" to have a third baby. Today's joyful announcement is proof that plans can change and that's part of the fun of life. All that really matters is that Simpson's family—including the two big siblings—certainly seem excited.

Besides, the designer of a line for Motherhood Maternity shouldn't have any problem with being just as fashionable as ever through her third pregnancy. 😉

Congrats to the growing family!

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Pumpkin spice lattes are here and the weather is getting chillier. That can only mean one thing—Halloween is near! Whether you're a fan of the holiday or not, there's simply nothing more precious than dressing up your baby or toddler in an adorable costume.

Today only, Target has up to 40% off Halloween costumes for the entire family. We rounded up the cutest picks from the baby + toddler departments—check 'em out. 😍

Toddler Halloween Costumes: Shark

Shark costume, $15.00 (was $25.00)

BUY

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