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Why Sugar Coating the History of Slavery Is a Bad Idea If We Want to Empower Our Kids

“The difference between a lady and a woman back in colonial times was that ladies had more power and influence because of the number of slaves they owned.” These were the words spoken to my family while on a recent tour of the Peyton Randolph House in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.


Peyton Randolph was elected the presiding officer of the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia in 1774 and the Speaker of Virginia’s House of Burgesses in the years leading to the Revolution. He and his wife Betty Harrison Randolph owned 27 slaves. This now historic site is set up to educate visitors about the stark contrasts between freedom and slavery at the house of one of America’s most prominent families.

As we left the tour, I pondered how I was going to explain the concept of slavery to my young white children. It is not exactly a common conversation topic at our dinner table. Nonetheless, I know deep in my heart how critical it is that they learn about this awful part of American history. If they don’t know what happened in the past, how will they ever work towards a better future and ensure that we never go back to those dark times?

I asked my 9-year-old son what he thought of the tour and if he knew anything about what was discussed. He immediately linked the idea of slavery and racism to what he learned in school about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. I was proud that his school incorporated these lessons into their social studies curriculum. Not all schools are brave enough to delve into such challenging topics.

I can remember how shocked I was in college when I sat in my Women’s Studies history class to discover that much of the history I was taught in high school and earlier completely left out women’s roles in important historical events.

Given the current tension in America between people of different backgrounds, such as the horrific showing of hatred in Charlottesville, I have to wonder what role we as parents must play in order to ensure our children get an honest education about history – without frightening them too much.

Are they too young to learn about slavery?

The answer is a resounding “no” from experts at Scholastic. They explain that conversations about skin color typically start in preschool as children become more curious about other people and the world around them.

Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania, said children are not waiting around for adults to talk about these issues. She found that kids are ready to discuss these topics early and are already doing so whether we realize it or not.

Unfortunately, many parents shy away from talking about the world’s ugliness with their kids, hoping that they will stay naïve and innocent for as long as possible. Thomas says this is not the best approach to take. It is more effective if we are in touch with our children earlier on and address these issues together as they grow.

It may be difficult to find the appropriate time or place to bring up slavery. Keep an eye out for opportunities that pop up, like a TV show, a book, a song, or an event that touches on the topic. Or maybe your young child notices that someone else has darker skin than they do. The more subtley you broach the topic, the easier it will be for both you and your child.

An article in Parenting magazine offered a really clever way to begin the conversation with young children. Invite them to help cook some eggs with you in the kitchen. Be sure to have some white eggs and brown eggs. Ask your child what they notice about the eggs. What is different about them on the outside?

Then crack the eggs together and ask them what they notice about the insides of the eggs. Point out how they are the same inside. Then make the link by explaining how eggs are just like people – they come in different shades, but they are the same on the inside. We should not judge someone by their appearance.

Tips for teaching children about slavery

Because talking to our kids about slavery is such a challenging task, I scoured the internet for expert advice on how best to address it. Here are some amazing tips to consider:

Examine your own biases first

Before you even begin to talk to your children about slavery and racism, take some time to look inside yourself and acknowledge your own experiences, biases, or privileges that may influence how you address these issues.

Don’t be afraid to share your own struggles about these topics with your kids. You can tell them that you are not an expert and want to work together with them to learn more. Consider taking the online test about bias created by Harvard experts.

Tell them the truth

Slavery is a very complicated issue that tends to be over-simplified to the detriment of children’s education. Be sure to use correct definitions and tell the whole story.

Many resources only cover the Underground Railroad or the Emancipation Proclamation, but there is a lot more to the history of slavery. Turn to expert resources, like the Teaching Tolerance website that will walk you through the most effective ways to talk about the details of slavery.

Avoid generalizations and stereotypes

Choose your words carefully. Not every Northerner was an abolitionist, and not every Southerner supported slavery. Although the North ended slavery decades before the Civil War, the people there continued to profit from it by manufacturing the whips, lashes, and chains used to enforce slavery in the South.

Also, be careful not to say that people were “born a slave.” Nature does not make people slaves; people enslave other people. Slaves were people treated like property and tortured for profit.

Celebrate the positives

There are tons of awful details about how slaves were treated that we do not want to dwell on too much with our children. Be sure to also focus on some of the heroes of that time who fought for their freedom, such as Arnold Cragston, a slave by day who rowed others to freedom by night, and Milla Granson who taught fellow slaves to read and write.

Encourage them to express their emotions

Learning about slavery can be very distressing. Give your children a safe space to reflect on how it makes them feel. Their emotions can range from anger, shock, frustration, sadness, hopelessness, and fear. Then ask them to look for ways to transform those negative emotions into positives, like hope and activism.

Link history to present time

The most important reason to study the awful parts of history is to ensure that it does not repeat itself. Take time to draw links between slavery then and racism and slavery today.

Human trafficking and forced child labor are examples of how slavery is still going on today. Sadly, racism is still entrenched in American culture. Explain to your children that slavery caused racism, and people are still fighting it. (Unfortunately, there are all too many examples in the news every day to point to.)

Be a good role model

Many Americans think people are “naturally” racist, that racism is genetic. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. According to experts, humans are not born racist. Instead, racism is a product of history. Our children are watching and listening to us.

Dr. Beverly Tatum, psychologist, educator, author, and past president of Spelman College, suggests that the best way to reduce children’s prejudices is to model an inclusive home, demonstrating that we have friends of all backgrounds. She explains that “parents who have learned to lead multicultural lives, connecting with people different from themselves, are more likely to have children who develop those important life skills at an early age.”

Resources

Fortunately, we have plenty of well thought out resources to turn to when it is time to talk to our kids about slavery.

Books

Books are a wonderful way to initiate a discussion about slavery with children. Young readers can safely experience scary, sad, and uncomfortable issues through reading. Here’s a list of recommended books for kids about slavery:

  • “Now Let Me Fly: The Story of a Slave Family” by Dolores Johnson
  • “If You Lived When There Was Slavery In America” by Anne Kamma
  • “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” by Terry M. West
  • “If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad” by Ellen Levine and Larry Johnson
  • “Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad” by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson
  • “Lest We Forget” by Velma Maia Thomas
  • “Unspoken” by Henry Cole
  • “Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky” by Faith Ringgold
  • “Frederick Douglas: The Last Days Of Slavery” by William Miller
  • “Nettie’s Trip South” by Anne Turner
  • “Many Thousands Gone: African Americans From Slavery To Freedom” by Virginia Hamilton et al.
  • “The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery” by Dennis Brindell Fradin, Judith Bloom Fradin, and Eric Velasquez

Films

As children get older, it is helpful to sit with them and watch documentaries or movies that address slavery and racism. “Roots”, “12 Years a Slave”, “Amistad”, “The Underground Railroad”, and “A Woman Called Moses” are some of the most popular ones to explore.

Common Sense Media also has an online database of suggested African-American experience films.

Field Trips/Museums

Visiting hands-on exhibits like the one at Colonial Williamsburg offers experiences that your children will remember forever. Here are some museums to visit that address slavery:

Hope is on the horizon

The best news of all is that after our visit to Colonial Williamsburg, my son found the idea of slavery so ridiculous and unbelievable. The concept of treating people differently because of the color of their skin is so foreign to him. He plays with kids of all backgrounds at school and would never dream of it being any other way.

We can only hope that this next generation will be color blind and never put up with intolerance of any kind.

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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

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As any parent knows, newborns need to eat a lot to keep fuel in those tiny tummies. For breastfeeding mamas, that can translate to nursing sessions anywhere, any time of day—which can make it feel like a full-time job. So, what's a mama to do when she has other things on her to-do list?

Let's take a look at some celebrity mothers who are showing the world that mamas have legendary multitasking skills. 👊

Jessie James Decker is a backseat breastfeeder

By the time her third child was born, Jessie James Decker had a few tricks up her sleeve when it came to breastfeeding on the go—including how to get situated in the backseat of the car to nurse her son while he was strapped into the car seat.

Decker doesn't recommend mamas go without a seatbelt like she did, but sometimes, a bad day out with the baby calls for extreme measures. When little Forrest couldn't stop crying on the way home from his mama's photo shoot, his mama did what she had to do.

"I hopped in the back seat with Forrest and fed him with boob out leaned awkwardly over the car seat to calm him down," Decker says. "On the way home I cried, I got stressed and anxiety, and I was just a mom trying to do my best just like we all are no matter the situation."

Pink takes a hike

When son Jameson was a baby, Pink proved that breastfeeding didn't have to mean sitting at home in a glider. With some assistance from a baby carrier and a perfect position for Jameson, the multitasking mama was able to go about her hike like it was no big deal.

Gisele Bündchen 'grammed her breastfeeding glam session

In 2013, the super model proved she's also a super mama by multitasking a full-on beauty session while breastfeeding. Recognizing what a team effort it was, Bündchen captioned the post, "What would I do without this beauty squad after the 15 hours of flying and only three hours of sleep."

Tess Holliday was inspired by her fellow supermodel mama 

Tess Holliday followed in Gisele's footsteps after her youngest was born, posting this photo to Instagram. It that proves that breastfeeding mamas can not only multitask, but also don't have to conform to certain body ideals to look amazing postpartum. Any size, any shape, any time, anywhere—breastfeeding mothers like Holliday are normalizing breastfeeding and our bodies.

Padma Lakshmi proves you don't need a team

Without a beauty squad on call, Lakshmi took her multitasking to "level 💯" by using a nursing pillow to free up her two hands. It takes a brave woman to attempt mascara while breastfeeding, but the Top Chef host clearly pulls it off.

Whether a mama is trying to feed her baby on the go or while she's getting glam, it isn't always easy. Motherhood is about trying to do your best even when it feels like 100 things are going on at the same time—and yet we manage, like the super mamas we are.

[Update, September 23: This post was originally published June 12, 2018. It has been updated to include Tess Holliday's Instagram post]

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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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So many parents wish there was a way we could add more hours to the day. Unfortunately, we're stuck with just 24 of them, but we can try to make the most of the time we've got. One way more and more working mamas are maximizing the time we do have is by cutting out the commute and working from home.

It can add an hour or two back to your day, and (depending on your hours and circumstances) it can even make childcare arrangements easier. And with more big companies offering legit remote opportunities, it's easier than ever for parents to find these opportunities. As Motherly recently reported, Amazon is on a bit of a remote hiring spree ahead of the holiday season, and it's not the only one.

Williams-Sonoma is currently seeking Seasonal Customer Service Associates to work from home. It is looking for remote workers in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Phoenix, Reno, Tulsa, and near Raleigh, Columbus, Braselton, and Oklahoma City.

These work-from-home positions are part of Williams-Sonoma's plan to hire about 3,500 associates for its Customer Care Centers. The company says a "significant portion of positions" for the Customer Care Centers will be work-from-home. They're looking for remote workers who live no more than an hour and a half away from one of the Customer Care Centers as "on occasion our Work From Home associates must come to the Care Center for meetings and training with advanced notice," the company notes in the job postings.


The positions are very similar to what Amazon is looking for: Basically customer service reps who can take inbound calls to help shoppers with orders, returns and issues with finding products or deliveries of products. Williams-Sonoma is looking for people who can work 30 - 50 hours per week, and the pay is listed at $12 per hour.

Another perk is a 40% discount on most merchandise, which great because the Williams-Sonoma umbrella includes brands like Pottery Barn and West Elm as well.

Sounds like this could be a great gig for a mama with customer service skills and a high-speed internet connection.

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Plenty of modern motherhood paraphernalia was made to be seen—think breastfeeding pillows that seamlessly blend into living room decor or diaper bags that look like stylish purses. The breast pump though, usually isn't on that list.

It's traditionally been used in the privacy of our homes and hotel rooms in the best case scenarios, and in storage closets and restrooms in the worst circumstances. For a product that is very often used by mothers because they need to be in public spaces (like work and school), the breast pump lives a very private life.

Thankfully, some high profile moms are changing that by posting their pump pics on Instagram. These influential mamas aren't gonna hide while they pump, and may change the way the world (and product designers) see this necessary accessory.

1. Gail Simmons 

Top Chef's Gail Simmons looked amazing on the red carpet at the 2018 Emmys, but a few days after the award show the cookbook author, television host and new mama gave the world a sneak peek into her backstage experience. It wasn't all glam for Gail, who brought her pump and hands-free bra along on the big night.

We're thankful to these women for showing that breast pumps belong in public and in our Instagram feeds.

[Update, September 21, 2018: This post was originally published on May 31, 2018, but has been updated to include a recent Instagram post by Gail Simmons.]

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  3. Nicole Phelps pumping in an evening gown is the ultimate definition of a multi-tasking mama 👏
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