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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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With two babies in tow, getting out the door often becomes doubly challenging. From the extra things to carry to the extra space needed in your backseat, it can be easy to feel daunted at the prospect of a day out. But before you resign yourself to life indoors, try incorporating these five genius products from Nuna to get you and the littles out the door. (Because Vitamin D is important, mama!)

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The thing new moms of multiples really need to get out the door? A little peace of mind. The PIPA™ base features a steel stability leg for maximum security that helps to minimize forward rotation during impact by up to 90% (compared to non-stability leg systems) and 5-second installation for busy mamas.

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4. A diaper bag you want to carry

It's hard to find an accessory that's as stylish as it is functional. But the Nuna diaper bag pulls out all the stops with a sleek design that perfectly conceals a deceptively roomy interior (that safely stores everything from extra diapers to your laptop!). And with three ways to wear it, even Dad will want to take this one to the park.

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5. A crib that travels

Getting a new baby on a nap schedule—while still getting out of the house—is hard. But with the SENA™ aire mini, you can have a crib ready no matter where your day takes you. It folds down and pops up easily for sleepovers at grandma's or unexpected naps at your friend's house, and the 360-degree ventilation ensures a comfortable sleep.

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With 5 essentials that are as flexible as you need to be, the only thing we're left asking is, where are you going to go, mama?

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


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My favorite part of every weekday is when I get home from work. As soon as I walk in the door, I hear a tiny voice scream, "Mommy, you're home!" Then my 3-year-old gives me the most amazing hug. Then a kiss. Then she grabs my hand and shows me whatever project she did in school. I always say, "I missed you today."

It's so different from my childhood.

My single Korean mother didn't get home from work until after 6 pm, so by the time she walked in the door, I was either doing homework in my room or out playing. If I was home, I'd yell a "Hi Mom!" and she would go into the kitchen to cook dinner. I knew she was tired, so I never bothered her. She rarely said a word.

I love being a mom, but it's profoundly difficult for me. I had to learn it was okay to openly express affection with my daughter. I have never felt like I deserve the overwhelming love she has for me, because I wasn't raised that way.

I love that my mother showed me how to be independent and instilled in me the value of hard work. But she was so focused on being strong that I often felt neglected. I just wanted to be loved by her.

Now that I'm a mother, I often think about how I'll raise my daughter differently than my mother raised me. It's not because I think she was a bad parent. I respect her more than anyone else in the world. I just want to make sure my daughter always feels loved.

1. I want my daughter to know it's okay to say, "I love you."

I don't ever remember my mother saying, "I love you" without me saying it first. I would hear the phrase in my friends' homes in daily conversation, and I thought it was strange.

In Jody Phan's 2016 article "Different Ways Asian Parents Show Their Love," she said her Asian parents never said it to her either. Soon, it became part of who she was, and it wasn't unnatural to not hear it.

I can say the same for me.

I tell my daughter I love her every day. Maybe it's selfish of me because I'm making up for lost "I love you's" my mother never gave me, but I like to think it makes her feel special.

2. I want my daughter to know it's okay to give hugs if she wants to.

The first time I met my best friend's family, everyone gave me a hug. When I tried to let go, they squeezed harder.

I never got random hugs from my mother. We didn't show physical affection.

In Mabel Kwong's 2014 post "When to Hug Someone. And Why Asians Don't Hug," she shares why it's a cultural thing. "In Asian cultures, getting touchy-feely with each other is frowned upon." For some Asians, it's also a way of getting dirty or catching germs, while others are just super aware of personal space.

I give my daughter massive bear hugs. The feeling of her tiny arms wrapped around my neck is something I never want to give up.

3. I want my daughter to know it's okay to have a sense of humor.

When I was younger, I remember sitting on the couch, shaking my leg. My mom said, "In Korea, they say if you shake your leg, you will shake all the luck out of your body."

She laughed loudly, and she never laughed when my brother and I told funny jokes. She was always so serious. In Elena Ruchko's article "Chinese Humor vs American Humor, and How to be Sarcastic," she says it's hard for non-Chinese people to understand Chinese humor because it's deep-rooted in cultural references that can't be translated effectively.

I see how I may not have understood her joke. I'm sure American humor, since English is not her native language, is just as confusing to her.

I make sure my daughter has deep-rooted belly laughs. It's usually when I'm dancing to the Trolls soundtrack. I want her to know laughter is the best medicine.

4. I want my daughter to know it's okay to cry.

The only time I saw my mother cry was by accident. I had walked into her room and she was sitting on the floor, weeping softly into her hands. When she heard me, she sat up and pretended nothing was wrong.

I didn't know how to react, so I walked away. I never brought that moment up because I know she would either deny it or feel embarrassed.

Was refusing to cry part of Asian culture? In Tia Gao's Medium article, "Why Chinese People Don't Cry," she says that for her parents, it was important for immigrants to maintain a positive outlook because "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." And whenever she started to cry, her parents would brush it aside because they had suffered so much in the past.

I think my mother can relate. She had lived through the Korean War. She endured starvation. Both of her parents died when she was young. She married my father and moved to an unfamiliar country, only to raise two children alone.

She didn't have time to cry.

I tell my daughter it's okay to cry. Instead of bottling emotions deep inside, I let her know it takes more strength to let them out.

5. Finally, I want my daughter to know it's okay to talk about mental health.

Years ago, I had what I called my "early-life crisis." I went into a deep depression, was put on medication and started therapy.

I was terrified to tell my mother.

When I finally told her, she reacted how I expected: She refused to believe me. I needed "to get over it." And I felt as if I failed her. She had always been so strong and here I was, so weak. So, I hid my bouts of depression from everyone for years.

But I eventually learned not to be ashamed of my mental health. I also learned I'm not alone.

There's an insightful article by Ryan Tanap titled "Why Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders Don't Go to Therapy." It helped me see my mother's point of view: "There's an underlying fear among the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community that getting mental health treatment means you're 'crazy.' If you admit you need help for your mental health, parents and other family members might experience fear and shame. They may assume that your condition is a result of their poor parenting or a hereditary flaw, and that you're broken because of them."

I don't blame my mother for refusing to believe I needed help. She had always denied her own need for help. But I want my daughter to know there is nothing weak about needing help, and there is immense strength when you finally ask for it.

There is nothing more beautiful or frustrating than being a mom. As much as I say I'm not like my mother, deep down I know I am. So I will take to heart everything I learned from her and try to be a good parent.

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Trigger warning: This essay describes a woman's emotional journey with losing a baby.

I'm used to being called names. I'm used to negative comments calling me fat, ugly and every name in between. That's life as a television news anchor—not everyone is going to like you. And that's okay. While I am good at brushing off the mean comments, when someone attacks my parenting, that's NOT okay.

I received a message that was not only hurtful, it brought me to tears, as my entire body began shaking. To the woman who called me sick because I talk about my children who died, my heart hurts for you.

As a mother who has experienced child loss, premature birth and infertility, I put my life out on full display. I write and share my family's story as a way to help others, all while getting the chance to share stories about all three of my triplets, even though two are no longer alive. Yes, the Internet can be filled with insensitivity, especially when I discuss topics that, even in 2019, are considered taboo. Most times, I can take the high road, but not today.

The woman called me "sick" for talking about my two children who passed. She told me to lay them to rest and move on, mentioning that I am dragging my husband and child through my "sick state of mind."

It's been five-and-a-half years since my triplets were born, and in all that time, never has a comment made me sick to my stomach. In the minutes after reading this message, so many emotions took over me. I wanted to yell at this woman. I wanted her to know how much words can hurt. And I wanted to know if she has ever lost a child. I tried to calm down, but that message kept coming back to me. I found myself awake throughout the night, quietly sobbing while my heart was racing and hurting at the same time.

I put my life out there on the Internet, so I have to realize that people are entitled to their opinion, even if it's negative. But here's the thing—If you've followed my family and our story for years, you would know that my life is not surrounded by grief and loss.

Social media is not an accurate view of a person's life. You only see snippets on Facebook and Instagram, and oftentimes, you only see the most glamorous, happy moments. I choose to show reality, and it's not always pretty. I share the heartbreaking moments of parenting children in both heaven and earth. Yet, I also show the wonderful moments of raising a daughter who is truly remarkable. If you've followed my story, you would know that I'm the happiest I've been in years. Yes, it's possible to find life after loss and it's possible for grief and happiness to coexist. My life doesn't revolve around grief, and no, I don't dwell over my losses every day.

My daughter is her own person, a unique individual full of joy and spunk. She will always know how special she is and we are constantly finding ways to celebrate her, along with remembering her brother and sister. Yes, my daughter is here. She's alive and present. But, I'm not going to forget that she was a triplet and I'm not going to hide the fact that I'm a mother to two angels above.

I woke up today, exhausted from a lack of sleep and worn out from the emotional toll of this cruel message I received. But, the more I think about it, the more I want to share. I have a unique platform through television and writing where I can be a voice for others. I can share the ups and downs of life and know that I am making a difference. If at least one person reads my words and feels like they are not alone, then it's worth it. For every one negative message I receive, I know that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people around the world that can relate to my life.

Life has been difficult for my family at times, but we choose to look at the positive. The loss of two of my children is not a burden, I now choose to see it as a blessing. I would give anything to have them here today, but I've learned to find the good in our tragic situation. All three of my children have shaped who I am today. My children have taught me compassion, grace and kindness, all traits this cruel woman could learn from. It's tricky being a parent of child loss, but I'm doing the best that I can and I know all three of my children are proud of me.

Originally posted on Stacey Skrysak.

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy.You've got this.

Perinatal depression (defined as depression during pregnancy and the immediate postpartum period) happens to so many mothers, 1 in 7 of us, in fact. It can make pregnancy and early motherhood even harder than it needs to be and rob new mothers of a joyful time they were looking forward to.

And now, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) says there is a way to prevent perinatal depression in the moms who are most at risk. This week the USPSTF published guidelines calling on health care providers to identify at-risk women and connect them with cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy.

These counseling interventions are effective in preventing perinatal depression, the USPSTF found, and, as The New York Times reports, the new guidelines mean the kinds of therapies that can prevent moms from becoming depressed with be covered under the Affordable Care Act.

Therapy can change and save lives, but it's often unaffordable. Now, more mothers will have access to it when they need it most.

👏👏👏

Any mom can develop perinatal depression, but certain women are more at risk. Those with a personal or family history of depression and those dealing with stressful circumstances like poverty, divorce, young or solo motherhood are at an increased risk. Past abuse or trauma, gestational diabetes, and experiencing an unplanned or complicated pregnancy also increase a mother's risk for depression during and after pregnancy.

Untreated, perinatal depression can have terrible outcomes for women, babies and families. A proactive approach—getting at-risk moms into therapy before depression hits—could actually prevent the disease and its personal and social consequences.

"We can prevent this devastating illness and it's about time that we did," Karina Davidson, a clinical psychologist and researcher who helped write the recommendations told NPR.

But it won't be easy to do that, says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Marlene P. Freeman. In an editorial published alongside the USPSTF recommendations, Freeman points out that proactive intervention is a challenging task for the current health system. "Clinicians who provide obstetrical care may not have the expertise or time during clinical visits to perform assessments and tailor referrals to women who are identified," Freeman writes. "Availability and access to care present potential hurdles, and stigma presents another potential barrier for some women to seek and accept mental health care," she continues.

The system and our society are not currently set up to help get moms into cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy, but maybe the adoption of these guidelines can change that over time.

Perinatal depression often goes untreated because mothers don't know how or when to ask for help. According to a 2017 study published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, one in five new moms experiencing postpartum mood disorders doesn't disclose her symptoms to healthcare providers.

That's why the American Academy of Pediatrics released its own depression guidelines in late 2018, urging pediatricians "incorporate recognition and management of perinatal depression into pediatric practice."

If health care providers do what both the USPSTF and the AAP suggest, American mothers could have doctors looking out for their mental health at every stage of the perinatal journey.

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