Reflections on the First 30 Days of Parenthood From Dads Who’ve Been There

We discussed fears, coping, breastfeeding, partnerships, and advice with five rad dads. While each have different stories, many sentiments remain the same.

Fatherhood is an amazing experience … but it doesn’t always start out that way. That’s as true for first-time dads as it is for first-time moms. The moment your child comes into the world, you’re responsible for the survival of a living, breathing, constantly excreting creature.
Between the jarring change to your everyday routine, the sleepless nights, and the nagging suspicion that you’ll never be even remotely as important as Mom, most new dads experience at least a few moments of “What the hell did I just do?!” in those first weeks.

Meet the dads

Parent Co. Studio recently spoke with five dads: Mike (five-year-old son and a new baby arriving any day), Andy (10-month-old daughter), Don (two-month-old son), Jon (five-year-old and two-year-old daughters), and Ben (13-month-old son).
We discussed fears, coping, breastfeeding, partnerships, and advice (tap a topic to jump). Here’s what we learned:

What was the most unexpected thing about becoming a new parent a.k.a. what freaked you out the most?

There’s a popular stereotype about dads being these big dumb oafs who are simply too lazy, too stupid, or both to worry about the myriad dangers facing their babies. (A Google search of “Don’t Leave Babies With Dad” yields 155 million results.)
The dads we spoke with, however, were not only hyper-aware of the sheer responsibility of their new role; they were worried about EVERYTHING. The temperature of the baby bottle, the security of the car seat, the minefield of that first bath, and, of course, the innumerable dangers out of their control all registered like a 7.0 earthquake on the Dad Richter Scale.
Each of these dads also cited the challenges of their limited role in those early days, especially if their partner is exclusively breastfeeding.
But the doubts and fears do eventually fade. One response perfectly illustrates the reason for the anxiety – and why it doesn’t last long:
ANDY: You ask yourself a million questions constantly in the beginning because you don’t want to screw the baby up, but the good news is, you go from knowing nothing to being relatively confident fairly quickly with a new baby.
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Parent Co. partnered with Babybay because they know the role of Dad is one you grow into.

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How did you cope with the crying and the sleep deprivation?

When you combine a wailing baby with the interrupted sleep that accompanies an infant’s constant feeding schedule, you tend to feel pretty crappy.
One of the dads we spoke to was lucky enough to have a unicorn baby – a rare, mythical creature who sleeps soundly from the get-go. This outlier dad wisely didn’t talk about his good fortune around his fellow fathers.
For the rest of the lot, sleep deprivation is very, very real. Yet it was also the one thing they’d been most prepared for in anticipation of their new baby. As a result, they either pushed through it like a marathoner whose feet start to ache around mile 11, or they leaned on their community and slept whenever they could find a couch and fit it in – even if only for 10 minutes here or there.
Jon: I think the sleep deprivation thing is a bit overblown … there was so much build up to it, so many people saying how terrible it was, that I didn’t think it was all that horrible by the time I got to it. Kind of like “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
The crying was harder to handle for the new dads, which kicked their problem-solving, stress-reducing instincts into high gear because there is simply no worldly equivalent to that nails-on-the-chalkboard screech-howl:
Don: For the crying, I rely on my fitness and my breathing to help keep me calm and composed. Box breathing is a great technique to add to your daily routine. (Don is the owner of Bucktown Fit, a personal training business that specializes in physical and mental strength training.)
Ben: You learn very quickly what’s going to pacify your baby in that first month. Whatever works, just give it a whirl. Usually, it was the boob. The boob is the greatest pacifier ever.
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What was your role in the breastfeeding process during those first 30 days? How did that make you feel?

Due to the insane demands of breastfeeding, the dads felt a lot of pressure to make life a little bit easier for Mom.
They made themselves human gophers (“I’ll do it!”), they jumped at any opportunity to give the bottle, they took on all the household chores…. In short, these guys tried their darndest, tapping a level of empathy that would make even the most demanding psychologist proud.
They also struggled mightily in the process, experiencing feelings ranging from guilt and anxiety to a tinge of jealousy.
Mike: The hardest thing for me was trying to make myself feel useful. I had a difficult time connecting with my son, and I felt like the third wheel. I was there in a helper capacity as opposed to feeling that it was our family we just created.
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How did the baby change things between you and your partner? How did your perception of your partner change after seeing her as a mother?

As the saying goes, “having a baby changes everything” – for better and, at least temporarily, for worse.
While one of the dads met his partner just three months before she got pregnant (for these two, their love was never stronger than the 30 days of the new baby’s life), the rest of group weren’t so lucky. Relationships were tested, fights ensued, and roles shifted dramatically. One dad said it feels like they’re exclusively their son’s parents now.
At the same time, seeing their wives and partners give birth and step into the role of a new mother was an amazing experience for the new dads. Phrases like “awe-inspiring” and “life-changing” were used to describe that feeling, and many said it reminded them of falling in love with their spouse all over again.
Ben: Taking an A/B relationship and adding C – and C just happens to be something B grew in her body for nine months – your A/B relationship gets put to the side, and you have to accept that.
Mike: Your relationship is tested. You’re not doing the things that made you a couple, and the experiences that made you a couple are stripped away, so you’re bound to ask, “Is this gonna be okay?”
Jon: My wife’s instincts – she’s incredibly nurturing and warm – are so strong, and she’s also smart, hard-working, and competent. These are things that attracted me to her in the first place, but I realized after we had a baby that I couldn’t live without those attributes.
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What advice would you offer new dads for those first 30 days?

Mike: That vision you have of being a dad – of running errands and going to the park with your little guy or girl by your side – that takes a while to happen. Hang in there. Time is what makes the bond. By the time my son was a year, it was all dad, all the time.
Andy: Whenever you can, bring your child into your life instead of trying to completely bend your life to your child’s.
Don: Communicate with your wife/partner in a 100 percent open and honest manner from the start. You’re going to need to look out for each other more than you ever have.
Jon: Whether it’s changing diapers and swaddling or just preparing bottles, take pride in everything you learn. I was eager to prove that the stereotype of the helpless dad is lame, sexist and, in most cases, flat-out wrong.
Ben: The routine WILL become second-nature more quickly than you think. But be careful: Time speeds up when you settle into a routine. If you’re not careful, all the magical moments blend into one. Take it slow, enjoy every milestone, and break the routine when you can.
There’s a saying about becoming a new parent that goes something like this: Before you have your children, all your friends with kids tell you about how amazing it is. Then, when you finally do have a baby, those same friends say, “Don’t worry, it gets better.”
For many dads trudging through the muck and mire of those first 30 (or more) days of fatherhood, this saying may hit a little too close to home. If you’re in that boat, remember the words of the seasoned dads we spoke to. After all, each of them not only made it safely to the other shore, but they also made it there a little wiser – and were more than willing to share their wisdom.
While each of these guys has a vastly different background and story, they share many common sentiments about becoming a dad. Perhaps the most important of all:
It only gets better – much, much better.
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How to Cope When Your Baby Totally Hates the Car

The following tricks can help you to find a solution for the pain and trauma of car rides.

There are two types of babies in the world: those who love the car seat and those who scream bloody murder at the mere sight of a car seat. My children fell into the latter category, so I spent years deciding whether or not it was even worth it to leave my house knowing a car ride full of wailing awaited me.
I’m not the only one. Parents are constantly searching for the elusive trick that will make being strapped in a car seat pleasant for an infant. Proper use of car seats helps infants in car accidents, and the rear facing design protects babies’ heads and spinal cords in case of a crash.
Unfortunately, babies don’t understand these benefits. They just know they can’t see mom and no one is holding them.
Screaming babies are hard to deal with all on their own, but the distracted driving that comes with a wailing child in the car seriously augments the problem. We imagine distracted drivers as those who use cell phones while on the road, but a survey found that more than 90 percent of parents admit that a baby crying is a major distraction in the car, on par with cell phone use.
It’s no wonder. Research proves that all humans – not just parents – have a hard time ignoring the sounds of a crying infant. We are primed to help, according to scientists. A parent stuck in a car with a crying infant will likely feel panic, sadness, and fear that can manifest in an increased heart rate and stress. The stress may cause mom or dad to cry as well, as many parents admit to doing when their child’s wailing just won’t stop.
Dr. Teri Mitchell APRN CNM IBCLC explains why a baby’s cries are so hard on parents and babies in these situations. She says the kind of cry a child emits when separated from a caregiver is specific in its demands. “There’s a name for this particular type of cry: the separation distress cry,” Dr. Mitchell says. “It’s nature’s built-in way of making sure that mothers go to their babies and ensure that they feel safe.”
Children whose separation distress is not tended to because parents are stuck in rush-hour traffic will continue to do what is normal for them in this situation: scream. Dr. Rakesh Radheshyam Gupta says that “crying may lead to vomiting in infants and may cause hoarseness of voice.”
The sound of a crying infant is about all a person can handle while driving a two-ton machine at 70 miles per hour. The following tricks can help you to find a solution for the pain and trauma of car rides.

Start strong

Babies who become upset the minute they are placed in the car seat are unlikely to calm down for the remainder of the ride. That’s why it’s important to start off strong by making the seat as comfortable as possible right from the beginning.
Don’t let a baby lean back on the seat straps while loading him. The sudden feel of those obtrusive items on a baby’s back can startle him or cause discomfort, and this can be enough to remind him that he hates the car seat. Instead of trying to juggle a baby with one arm while holding both car seat straps out of the way (impossible, by the way), use LulaClips made by LulaKids.
LulaClips pin to the car seat straps to hold them out of the way while loading or unloading a child from the car seat. This makes the process fast and easy, and it can also help keep a sleeping baby from waking up during the transfer from mom’s arms to the seat.
This ingenious product was one of PopSugars top products of the year, and moms commonly put these items on their must-have lists for little ones.
If your older baby still hates the car, incorporate frequent trial runs into your week while your baby is awake to create a positive association. With the car in park, sit in the backseat and play with baby while she’s strapped in. Move to the front seat for short stints after she gets used to the setup.
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how to keep a baby happy in a carseat
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Parent Co. partnered with Lulakids because they know those first hundred car rides aren’t always peaceful.

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Dress for success

Temperature can be a problem for babies when in car seats, but not in the way most parents expect. As opposed to being too cold, many babies struggle in the car because they are too warm.
Babies should never be placed in a car seat wearing a jacket. Not only will they overheat, but the bulk of a jacket keeps the car seat straps from working properly.
Take the weather into consideration, of course, but since the car is temperature controlled, dress the baby in normal clothes and save the jackets or extra layers for when it’s time to get out of the car.

Belt it out

Parents swear by music as a soother for kids who hate the car. One woman confessed to singing “The Ants Go Marching On” over and over again on a short road trip to soothe a screaming infant. Another mom said Christmas music all year long calmed her little one, as long as mom sang along.
Researchers support the idea of using music to calm babies. They found in one study that babies exposed to music stayed calm twice as long as babies exposed to baby talk or adult speech.
Cueing up a playlist of baby’s favorite songs can work, but singing to the baby along with the music has benefits for all involved. Besides calming the baby, researchers think that singing can also calm parents.  Focusing on the rhythm and the lull of the music helps ease the tension that rises when stuck in the car with a screaming infant. It’s a win-win.

Plan around gas

Sure, make sure you have enough gas in the car to get to where you want to go, but also plan around a baby’s gas. A baby who experiences major gas after a meal is not going to like being stuck in a car seat. Plan car rides long enough after meal times for a baby to get the gas out at home when moving around is possible.
Children with reflux also have unique challenges in car seats. Car seats don’t allow them to move freely. They will have problems getting comfortable if they can’t find the right position due to stomach or reflux pain.
One mom found that her son’s reflux took care of itself around the six-month mark, and car rides suddenly weren’t a problem anymore. Waiting for reflux to fix itself is difficult, however, so talking to a pediatrician or finding natural ways to deal with it are preferable. It’s possible that controlled reflux will equal peaceful car rides for all.
Children do grow out of the screaming-in-the-car phase, but these tactics can help move them towards happier car rides sooner. With a little advanced planning, peaceful car rides may be around the next bend.
Lulakids seatbelt bloc for kids and carseat clips

Parent Co. partnered with Lulakids because they know those first hundred car rides aren’t always peaceful.

Does Your Home Feel Imperfect? Congratulations, You’ve Mastered an Ancient Japanese Aesthetic

You don’t have to hire a decorator or scour the internet for ideas, products, or advice to create a wabi-sabi infused home.

family eating together with kintsugi
Kintsugi is the Japanese practice of honoring a treasured object’s history by repairing cracks with gold or silver.

When my husband suggested we move the old, blocky, wood veneer table from his bachelor condo to our shared home, I agreed, mainly because I assumed we’d replace it soon enough. Eight years and two kids later, I find it hard to imagine our home without it.
The table is covered with nicks and scratches. It’s orange-y brown, and the imperfections show up in light yellow. It comfortably seats the four of us, but we can easily squeeze a couple more chairs in when Grandma and Grandpa come for dinner. For special occasions, it expands to fit 12.
We can barely open the refrigerator door when all 12 seats are full, but that’s okay. Limited fridge access has never interfered with the conversations and laughter we’ve shared with family and friends over Thanksgiving dinners, Passover seders, or birthday parties.
I’ve grown to love that table and the memories it holds.
Wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection. The ancient aesthetic acknowledges that objects are beautiful, not in spite of signs of wear and tear, but because of them. Wabi-sabi appreciates the way an object’s aesthetic appeal develops over time and with repeated use, inextricably linking the concepts of beauty, utility, economy, austerity, and intimacy.
Though I never intended to embrace wabi-sabi (I’ve only recently become acquainted with the term), I’ve inadvertently adopted the aesthetic, not just in my kitchen, but throughout my home. I like how my favorite jeans have thinned at the inner thighs. I regularly toss things I don’t use. I delight in watching my daughters play with the Cabbage Patch doll my grandmother stood in line for in 1985.
In short, you don’t have to hire a decorator or scour the internet for ideas, products, or advice to create a wabi-sabi infused home.
Using the things in your home well, and being intentional with those that you let go of or choose never to have in the first place, will naturally create a home that you love.
Here’s how you can put that intention into action.
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wabi sabi aesthetic and snuggle me infant bed
Wabi-Sabi (わびさび) in Japanese kanji

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Parent Co. partnered with Snuggle Me because they know there’s beauty in simplicity.

Limit what comes in

According to wabi-sabi, the beauty of a thing is not in its shiny newness. Just the opposite, an object’s radiance rests in the meaning and memories it holds, as well as its utility.
To avoid the temptation of filling your home with new and unnecessary items, follow the following steps:

Don’t go overboard with your baby registry. Consider the things you really need: a cozy place to snuggle, clothes that fit, and a great carseat.


Keep a running list of things you’d like or need to acquire to help you stay focused and avoid impulse purchases when you’re shopping.


Unsubscribe from email newsletters that stay in your inbox unopened or those you immediately delete.


Put catalogs you never shop from straight into your recycle bin or your kids’ art bin for future collages.


Self-impose a “waiting period” when shopping online. If you can live an extra day without the items in your shopping cart, you might decide you don’t need them at all.

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Kanso Kangi meaning simplicity
“Kanso” (かんそ) is the Japanese word for “Simplicity”

De-clutter what you already own

Most of us have more stuff than we need or want – things we’re saving for some special occasion, items we might need someday, dust-collectors with sentimental value. For one reason or another, most of us have trouble letting our extras go.
Here are a few tips for embarking on a de-cluttering mission:

Start small. In her book “Better Than Before,” Gretchen Rubin recommends committing to just 10 minutes of any imposing task. If you’re drained when your timer goes off at the 10-minute-mark, give yourself permission to stop for the day. If you feel energized and you have time, keep going.


Toss anything you haven’t used in the past year.


Remember that Grandpa wouldn’t want you feeling bogged down by the birdfeeder you made together, which is now taking up valuable real estate in an overstuffed closet.


Take pictures of sentimental items before letting them go.


Limit duplicates. If it’s hard to be objective about how many scarves (or shoes, hammers, or guitar picks) you actually need, ask yourself how many your neighbor needs, and let that number guide you.

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kintsukuroi the japanese practice of filling cracks with holes
“Kintsukuroi” or “Kintsugi” (きんつぎ) is the Japanese practice of filling cracks in broken objects with gold or silver.

Find beauty in what you have

Leonard Cohen wrote, “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Though he may not have had home decor in mind when he penned those famous lines, the idea behind them is consistent with the principles of wabi-sabi. Take another look at your things. Ask yourself if they are useful.
Then ask yourself if they are beautiful, remembering that beauty isn’t defined by the perfect home featured on your favorite design blog. According to wabi-sabi, an item’s true beauty is in its scratches, its dings, its story.
As a newlywed, I created a Pinterest board called “home decor” and filled it with images of the kitchen tables of my fantasies. They were modern and sleek, with smooth reclaimed wood surfaces and hairpin legs. Unblemished, they beckoned me, promising a life just as perfect as they were – if only I owned such a table.
I haven’t pinned any new tables to that board since our first child was born nearly six years ago. In that six years, my version of “perfect” has entirely changed as well.
My husband’s old wood veneer table is as wabi-sabi as it gets. It serves it’s purpose for our growing, evolving family. It’s where my kids have sat in their bouncy and bumbo seats. It’s where we’ve clipped high chairs and and pulled up booster seats to feed first bites of banana, first tastes of chocolate chips. It’s there that we’ve blown out candles celebrating the first year, the fortieth year, and lots of years in between.
I look forward to all the celebrations that lie ahead, many of which will likely happen around that beautifully imperfect and ever-changing hunk of a fridge-blocking bachelor-pad table.
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Parent Co. partnered with Snuggle Me because they know there’s beauty in simplicity.

How to Arm Yourself to Go out to Dinner With Kids Without a Screen

From better family connection to simply teaching your children important social skills, there are many compelling benefits to a device free dinner.

It’s a special occasion, you have visitors in town, or you just can’t face cooking tonight. You want to take your family out to eat, but as a family with small children, the thought of a meal at a restaurant might induce panic. I still shudder at the memory of a dinner with out-of-town relatives that stretched on for hours when my oldest was a toddler.
The temptation to rely on screens to entertain children in restaurants is understandable. You’ve no doubt seen a child glued to a phone or tablet while the adults at the table enjoyed appetizers and civilized conversation. Maybe you thought, “I’d never do that.” Or maybe it was more like, “That looks amazing,” as you wistfully mopped up a drink spill.
There are so many compelling benefits to a “device free dinner,” though, from opportunities for family connection and better conversation to simply teaching your children important social skills.
From start to finish, here are some tips for an enjoyable, screen-free restaurant experience:

Do some restaurant reconnaissance

Call to confirm the restaurant has high chairs if you’ll need one (and by default, determine whether the place you’ve chosen welcomes little guests). Scout out menu options and pack baby food or toddler snacks if needed. To avoid waiting with starving kids, feed them a snack before you go, or plan to order an appetizer right away.
baby with People toy mirror ball at restaurant
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Parent Co. partnered with People Toy Co. because they know the right toys can make otherwise tedious moments fun and easy.

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Pack kid-friendly supplies

Babies

Spill-proof drink cups and appropriate utensils go a long way towards baby and toddler restaurant success. For kids likely to overturn plates, a placemat that sticks to the table can be a game changer. This one is easy to wipe down at the end of a meal and rolls up to fit in your bag.
Pack a few teething or tactile toys that can be attached to a baby’s wrist, clothing, or carrier handle to save yourself from crawling around on a food-strewn floor to retrieve dropped items. For a child who uses a high chair, an engaging toy that suctions to the table is a great option, like the Brain Builders: Magic Reflection Ball from People Toy Company.
toys and products to distract babies at restaurant
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Preschoolers

A small set of interlocking or magnetic building toys is the perfect choice for preschoolers at the table. Packing something for little hands to do discourages alternatives, like silverware symphonies or salt-and-pepper snow.
People Toy Co. magnetic blocks to distract preschoolers at restaurant
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Older kids

Mess-free art supplies, like Scratch Art, Magna Doodle, or a small container of beads with pipe cleaners for stringing them are fun additions to the standard provided crayons.
art supplies for older kids at restaurants
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Teach restaurant behavior

Dining out is an opportunity to teach children how to be polite and speak for themselves. Even a toddler can say, “Pizza, please!”
To teach children to engage appropriately with others at the table, it helps to have a few conversation starters at the ready. Go around the table to ask each person, “What was your favorite part of today?”
The Family Dinner Project has a long list of other ideas. Plus, if you’re dining with your perpetually single college roommate or stoic great aunt, this gives other adults a little help interacting with your kids.

Make waiting fun

It’s helpful to establish a few standby waiting games, because the chances are slim that new ideas will dawn on you while sitting in a crowded restaurant with fidgety kids. Games that can grow with your family – or the amount of time it takes for your meal to arrive – are especially useful:

What’s Missing?

Set up five small items from your bag or from the table – yes, condiments and blunt utensils are now up for grabs – and take turns secretly removing one so others have to guess the missing object. Gradually include more items.

I Spy

Once your kids know the general principles of looking for something of a certain color, you can mix it up. Try, “I spy something striped,” “I spy something that rhymes with moon,” or “I spy something that starts with the same sound as Mommy.” You could also hunt for letters, words, or items on the menu or signs.

The Question Game

Whether you limit it to 20 or not, asking yes-or-no deductive questions is another easily expandable activity. Start a small category and suggest helpful questions for your child. “I’m thinking of a pet. You could ask if it has fur.” Expand to other topics, like sports, foods, or favorite characters.
 

Tell a Story

Once again, the salt and pepper, or any of their counterparts, can be the stars of the dinner show. Establish “characters” using items on the table, imagine a setting, and work together to tell (or gently act out) an original tale.
For all of these games, you’ll want to model how to participate first so your kids understand how to join in effectively. If you play often, you’ll likely notice an improvement in their vocabulary and reasoning skills, which is a nice bonus to passing the time until the chicken fingers arrive.

Quit while you’re ahead

As pleasant as it can be to linger at the table after a delicious meal, this is an unrealistic expectation for many small children. If you want to continue the fun after everyone eats, plan to take a walk or move on to another venue. Or, just head home with the promise of another meal out soon.
Going out to eat with children screen-free can be done (your parents likely survived such outings with you, after all), and everyone involved can emerge satiated and unscathed. The occasional infamous evening of spills, botched orders, and angry sighs from other patrons who don’t seem to remember life with small children will happen regardless.
But rest assured that, with some advance preparation and tricks up your sleeve, you’ll be the one basking in the glow of other diners’ compliments, which may feel just as good as savoring that uninterrupted tapas platter.
 
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Parent Co. partnered with People Toy Co. because they know the right toys can make otherwise tedious moments fun and easy.

 

Making the Case for the Middle Name

A carefully selected middle name can discharge an obligation, preserve history, and appease in-laws all at the same time.

The question everybody asks soon-to-be parents after “Is it a boy or girl?” is “Do you have a name?” If they have picked a name and are willing to share it, the exchange goes something like this:
You ask the name. They hesitate, glancing lovingly at each other. Then one of them (usually the mother-to-be, because: labor) trots the two-piece title out like a brand new flavor of ice cream.
You pause, repeat the name aloud, and say how much you love it, after which they are compelled to explain how they chose it. It’s rarely a simple explanation either, so if you’re in a hurry, don’t even broach the subject.
The first name is usually an indulgent pick, maybe from a favorite movie or book, or after a childhood friend or an obscure British poet, or maybe it’s just a name the couple likes. But the middle name…the middle name is an entirely different story.
The middle name serves a purpose beyond semiotics (the study of sign and symbols), being that it’s not the primary signifier we identify with. It connects the prénom and surname, adding a layer of syllabic texture and intrigue.
A carefully selected middle name can discharge an obligation, preserve history, and appease in-laws all at the same time. It can carry the weight of tradition and fulfill the dying wishes of Great Grandma who always wanted a namesake, without sentencing your kid to a lifetime of answering to “Grizelda.”
The triad template we use today for names actually dates back to the Middle Ages, when Europeans were torn between giving children a family name or a saint’s name. The formula – given name first, baptismal name second, and surname third – emerged as a solution to this dilemma.
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Babybay with mother and baby cosleeping
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Parent Co. partnered with Babybay because they know some decisions are more difficult than others.

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After the American Revolution, immigrants arriving in this country continued the practice of three names. Since it was originally associated with royalty and aristocrats, giving a child a middle name was emblematic of aspiring to the upper class. The trend took off, and within 100 years, middle names were commonplace.
The first U.S. government document that had a space for a middle name was the World War I enlistment form. Other official forms followed suit, requiring at least a middle initial, which remains the standard format to this day.
The use of categorical religious middle names expanded to include family names – often maiden surnames – and soon, any name was acceptable. From a records-keeping standpoint in a country with a booming population, this additional differentiation was a welcome one.
The function of modern middle names continues to evolve, telling a story far more complex than, “I come from a long line of old ladies.” For parents, middle names can be the repository of a shared past, like NSYNC alum Chris Kilpatrick and his wife, Karly, who named their son Nash Dylan after the folk singer Bob Dylan, whom they listened to on their first date.
A middle name can be a reminder of unique circumstances surrounding the birth, as it was for the baseball fan who went into labor during a recent postseason game and named her son Logan Bauer, after Cleveland Indians pitcher, Trevor Bauer. Or it can be a grateful tribute, as it was when Jessica Braddock chose Dallas as her daughter’s middle name to honor the city’s incredible hospitality after Hurricane Harvey.
Middle names are often a means of compromise for parents who can’t seem to agree, as was the case with musicians Ashlee Simpson and Peter Wentz who named their son Bronx Mowgli after neither would concede to the other’s first choice. Though the middle name seems like a consolation prize if your goal was to be first, some parents prefer its understudy role and embrace the opportunity to flex their creative muscles. It’s like a braver, livelier, more whimsical version of your child’s permanent identity.
Another option is to use the middle name as a generational connection, passing down one specific name as an intangible keepsake. This works well for indecisive parents who have difficulties coming up with one name, let alone two.
My own family has done this with my middle name, Louise. While I wasn’t crazy about the name as a kid, as an adult, I cherish sharing something with my grandmothers, aunts, a niece, and now my daughter.
Parents-to-be are inundated with major decisions on every front – from feeding, to sleeping arrangements, to childcare, to finances. They need to find a good doctor, read up on the latest safety concerns, figure out how to install a car seat, and stock up on baby clothes, the right gear, and supplies.
On top of all this, they need to come up with a name that blends with the last, has meaning, carries tradition, and won’t lend itself to embarrassing nicknames in grade school.
No pressure, parents! Your kids can always go by their initials.
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Parent Co. partnered with Babybay because they know some decisions are more difficult than others.

The Toys That Have Captured Kids' Imaginations For Decades

For 100 years, toy manufacturers have challenged themselves to produce the next great…cardboard box. These, which have stood the test of time, come close.

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

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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

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

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Toys from the 2010s

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Circuit Cubes wacky wheel set

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.
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osmo

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.
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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.
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The 2000s

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Magnaformers

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.
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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.
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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.
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 rorys story cube

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.

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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.

boy playing with toy car imagining city

1980s

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transformers

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.
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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.
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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.

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1970s

dungeons and dragons

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.

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1960s

 
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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.
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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.

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1950s

 
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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.
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colorforms toy

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.
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playdoh
 

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.
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 Pre-1950s

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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.
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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.
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crayons

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.
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alphabet blocks

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

4 Amazing Discoveries Made by Kids Just Like Yours

From astronomy to paleontology, kids have been making scientific discoveries for centuries, long before they could drive.

When you’re a kid, every day is a new discovery. When my son was in the thick of the “why?” stage, I was constantly taken aback by how much knowledge I take for granted. Seeing the world through his eyes reminded me how much there is to learn about the world around you before it becomes commonplace.
Eventually, our kids’ scientific curiosity shifts from trying to figure out how the world works (Where does the sun go at night? Why is snow cold?) to investigating how they can change it. Kids tinker and experiment as much as scientists in labs do. Their experiments just might be more along the lines of “How fast can I make this toy car fly across the living room?” or “Do peanut butter and cheese sandwiches taste delicious or disgusting?”
Many parents are seeking out STEM-focused toys and activities to encourage and develop this natural curiosity in their kids. But they may not have to wait very long to see results. From astronomy to paleontology, kids have been making scientific discoveries for centuries, long before they could drive.
These four kids became scientists, not because they were uncommonly brilliant or because their parents were, but because they paid attention and kept asking questions.
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Parent Co. partnered with Tenka Labs because they believe every kid is born curious.

 
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Mary Anning, Paleontology

Mary Anning was a paleontologist fossil collector who grew up poor in England in the 1840s and lost her father at age 11. When she was 12, she and her brother found the first Icthyosaurus skeleton – a Temnodontosaurus platyodon. They sold the skeleton to a paleontologist, who wrote the first ever scientific paper about the ichthyosaur. Because Mary and her brother were children, and poor, they received no credit in the scientific paper.
Mary continued to collect and sell fossils in order to support her family for the rest of her life. Even though she did not have the same educational opportunities that other scientists had, she threw herself into studying anatomy and eventually became an expert in fossil removal.
When she was 24, she discovered the first Plesiosaurus skeleton. While she never was fully recognized as a scientist by the elite of her day, she did eventually gain fame and recognition. Two species of fish, Acrodus anningiae and Belenostomus anningiae, are named after her.
 
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Kathryn Aurora Gray and Nathan Gray, Astronomy

In 2010, Kathryn Gray turned 10 years old and also became the youngest person to ever discover a supernova – a record that had, for a time, been held by her own father. Amateur astronomy was a family hobby for the Grays, and Kathryn had been asking her dad to show her how to search for supernovae.
The Grays used a computer program that compared images of the night sky taken through a telescope by a family friend. The program layers old and new photos of galaxies, and if an image is not present in both pictures, it will appear as if it is blinking.
Within 15 minutes of looking at the pictures, Kathryn noticed a blinking light. That light was a supernova, which has since been verified and named 2010LT. The supernova is roughly 240 million light years away, in the constellation of Camelopardalis in galaxy UGC3378.
The youngest supernova discoverer title, however, now belongs to Kathryn’s brother, Nathan. In 2013, Nathan found a supernova in the constellation of Draco in galaxy PGC 61330. He was 33 days younger than his sister at the time of his discovery.
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Matthew Berger, Paleoarchaeology

Finding an old bone would be the highlight of any nine-year-old’s summer vacation, but discovering a new species of hominids is a whole different story.
Matthew Berger was on an archaeological dig with his archaeologist father in South Africa in 2008 when he made his discovery. He found pieces of a partial skeleton of a young male, and his father soon found the skeleton of an older female nearby.
The team of archaeologists later determined that the fossils were a new species of hominids – early precursors to humans – and named them Australopithecus sediba. It turns out that the fossils Matthew discovered were nearly two million years old.
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Ethan Manuell, Technology

Experimenting with toys for a school science fair led to a discovery that helps improve the lives of people who wear hearing aids. Fourteen-year-old Ethan Manuell, who has worn a hearing aid since he was four, converted some vibrating toy bugs he found in his toy box to work with zinc hearing aid batteries. He found that the batteries, when left exposed to oxygen for five minutes before installing, lasted 85 percent longer.
The typical hearing aid battery lasts two to seven days, but Ethan’s five-minute discovery means some models can last up to three days longer, saving hearing aid wearers $70 a year.
icon about invention science and discovery
Like Mary, Kathryn, Nathan, Matthew, and Ethan, all children are equipped with innate curiosity and can benefit from the opportunity to make discoveries, regardless of their parents’ professions. Whether an astronomer, a carpenter, a Certified Public Accountant, or a stay-at-home parent, there are countless ways to cultivate your kids’ natural scientist streak.
Encouraging a ton of free play outside is a great place to start. Building forts, digging holes, damming streams, constructing miniature fairy worlds in the undergrowth, or just laying around on the grass long enough to notice the sounds of crickets and birds all add to a child’s stockpile of wonder. These kinds of activities also create opportunities for skill-building and success that are completely free from the constraints of “failure.”
Exposing children to new and challenging situations (why not tackle that big kid Circuit Cubes set or try a new instrument?) both stretches their skills and shows that you believe in their abilities. It’s also important to help them see that there’s no one right way to do things, whether playing a sport, making a potato cannon, or helping out with dinner.
Your kids will become flexible thinkers and be more likely to experiment if they are given the agency to test, tweak, miss the mark, and try again. Together you can explore the many ways to tackle a single question or problem (e.g. are we better off today that we were 100 years ago?) and teach them to look at “facts” from multiple angles.
Allow your kids the freedom to follow their natural whys and how comes, and they will become keen observers of the world, well poised to uncover the next five-eyed insect, or maybe just fall in love with the world that surrounds them – which might be the best thing you can offer them.
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Parent Co. partnered with Tenka Labs because they believe every kid is born curious.

Why Blocks Are the Ultimate Toy for Kids of All Ages

Knowing block play has cognitive benefits that extend beyond the toddler years, how can we encourage kids to stay engaged and interested in them?

My six-year-old recently returned from a birthday outing with his grandparents, proud to show us his fresh-off-the-shelves 1,003-piece Lego set, prominently labeled AGES 9-14.
“I chose it myself!” he beamed.
My husband and I exchanged tired glances and spent the better part of the next week making excuses for why it wasn’t a good time to open the box. Weeks later, as we tagged out in our rotation between roles as lead Lego set builder and lead defense line against our resident four-year-old, my husband smiled and whispered, “I kind of like this.”
I nodded. I did, too. The truth was, there was something immensely satisfying and even cathartic about playing with Lego bricks again.
This wasn’t the first time we’d found ourselves fully involved in our kids’ toys, either. It had happened early on with their set of perfectly nesting cardboard boxes, then again with their smooth wooden blocks, and yet another time with their Magnatiles.
With each toy, we’d followed their lead in starting the play, but then found ourselves perfecting our creations long after the kids had moved on to something else. I suppose age knows no boundaries when it comes to playing with blocks.
Circuit cubes logo and blocks

Parent Co. partnered with Circuit Cubes because they know play and learning go hand in hand.

Why should our kids play with blocks?

The value of blocks as both a toy and a learning tool has been recognized since the 17th century, when philosopher John Locke referred to “dice…with letters on them to teach children the alphabet by playing,” presumably documenting the use of the now ubiquitous alphabet blocks for the very first time.
In the early 19th century, when Friedrich Froebel founded the first formal kindergarten, he included in his curriculum a series of educational toys known as the Froebel Gifts, comprised almost entirely of blocks.
Indeed, blocks have earned their place as both endless entertainment and timeless education tools, landing in the modern toyscape with multiple inductions into the National Toy Hall of Fame and as much staying power as they held in 1693.
The consistency with which blocks have been offered as both toy and tool hasn’t wavered, in large part due to their proven ability to build important skills. Blocks are known to build central knowledge beginning as early as infancy with the concepts of object permanence and basic hand-eye coordination.
By preschool, children who play with blocks have more refined visual-spatial skills and more varied and creative approaches to problem-solving than their peers who don’t. Even more impressively, children who practice more complex building skills using blocks and Lego bricks from a young age achieve at higher levels in math into their high school years.
 
girl playing with wooden blocks

How can we encourage beneficial block play?

Knowing that block play has far-reaching cognitive benefits that extend well beyond the toddler years, how can we encourage our kids to stay engaged and interested in block play?
The key is to provide age-appropriate, stimulating toy blocks – a job made easier by the rapidly expanding toyscape that encompasses them. Here are some ideas to engage and captivate your kids with block play at any age:

Ages 0 – 18 months

Parents can begin block play before their babies can even hold a toy.
Start with large, lightweight blocks made of fabric or cardboard. Show your baby a block, cover it with a blanket, and then pull the blanket off to develop your child’s sense of object permanence.
Older infants will be able to participate in simple building and toppling games. Try stacking two blocks on top of each other and then tell your baby, “Your turn!” as you hand her the blocks. She might not perfect the stacking game for some time, but it’s still fun to try.
As your child approaches a year, you can count three blocks as you stack them together. Allow your child to knock them over and then count them again as you stack the same three up again. Exclaim, “There are still three blocks!” to help develop number sense and continuity.

Ages 18 months – 3 years

By toddlerhood, many children are ready to use smaller wooden blocks, pattern blocks, or even Magnatiles to begin construction play and pattern-making.
Play games like “Can you build what I built?” to develop spatial and mental rotation skills. Inspire creativity with challenges, such as “Who can build a castle?” or “Who can build a parking garage?”
Also allow plenty of time for free play and independent exploration to encourage your child’s unique interests.

Ages 4 – 7 years

In preschool and the early elementary years, many children begin to use construction blocks, like Mega Blocks, Duplo blocks, and eventually Lego bricks, in addition to the other blocks they’re already accustomed to. Construction blocks strengthen math skills, build creativity, and refine problem-solving skills.
A simple math game to play starts with one long brick of single width. Challenge your child to see how many different ways he can create a piece of the same length using two bricks. Help your child communicate these solutions through language:
“The long piece has 10 bumps on it. You covered it just right by using one piece that’s seven bumps long and another piece that’s three bumps long. Good job!”
In older kids, translate these into number sentences by saying, “Look, you showed me that seven plus three equals 10!”

Ages 8+

Lego toys used to signal the end of the line when it came to the complexity of block building, but new block toys integrating more complex STEM skills are changing that.
The market continues to expand for block-based online games, such as Minecraft and even the old-school Tetris, which help kids fine-tune mental rotation and spatial awareness. Monitor online use, but encourage your child to challenge herself or join local clubs to play with others who share the same interests.
For the Lego-aficionado who’s ready to take it to another level or for the aspiring young engineer, Tenka Labs’ Circuit Cubes offer an even more engaging aspect to traditional building block toys. Kids can make circuits and incorporate motors and lights into their own freestyle creations. Tenka Labs has also created sets to build motor-powered cars, working light circuits, and moving sculptures.
Best of all, the pieces fit with traditional Lego bricks, encouraging kids to extend the use of their undoubtedly expensive and expansive Lego collection.
Blocks are a timeless toy, representing endless possibility and extensive educational benefits. These increasingly complex, STEM-oriented toys give our kids the opportunity to benefit from block play throughout childhood.
With so many new and engaging options on the market, you might just find yourself caught up in block play all over again, too.
circuit cubes product

Parent Co. partnered with Circuit Cubes because they know play and learning go hand in hand.

Families Struggling With Addiction – Here’s How to Help the Kids You Love

This article is the third in a 12-part series about the U.S. addiction crisis. In the interest of compassionate conversation and eliminating stigma, we’ve chosen language that’s cultivated by the Research Recovery Institute and hope it inspires you to as well.
Childhood is the foundation on which our entire lives are built. It’s a time when children should be able to explore, learn, and feel loved in a supportive and uplifting environment.
Unfortunately, many children’s lives are shattered when a parent struggles with addiction or a substance use disorder. Chaos and dysfunction are common in such households, and children are usually the most deeply affected.
In the United States, more than eight million children live with a parent suffering from a substance use disorder. This number includes 14 percent of children younger than two, 12 percent aged six to 11 years, and 10 percent of youth between the ages of 12 and 17. With the opioid crisis, now responsible for nearly two-thirds of overdoses, that number continues to grow each day.
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Parent Co. partnered with Aspenti to share this insight because substance use doesn’t have to destroy a family.

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Although people react in different ways to substance use disorder as it relates to their role as a parent, addiction and substance use often wreak havoc on the afflicted person’s ability to engage with and take care of their children.
But we should never blame the parent. Substance use disorder hijacks the survival mechanism of the brain known as the reward circuit. When this area is overtaken, substance use mimics a survival strategy and moves to the top of the survival list in the brain – sometimes even above nurturing children.
“For this reason, it is fairly easy to explain how a parent can begin to appear to choose the addiction over the children,” says Julie Dostal, PhD, Executive Director of the LEAF Council on Alcoholism and Addiction and a National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) board member. “It is difficult to accept when a parent appears to choose the addiction over a child, but brain science makes it clear why this happens. We see this shift in survival priorities in a variety of ways, and the severity of the impact on the children typically corresponds to the severity of the addiction.”
Many spouses and partners are unsure how to help the other parent, but it’s critical that you not only support your loved one battling substance use disorder, but also provide a source of stability and guidance for your children. The first step is deciding when and how much to tell them about the other parent’s illness.
Dostal says that children tend to believe that everything is about them. When substance use disorder has progressed to the point that it has an impact on the family, it’s time to have a talk. The kids know something is wrong. It’s important to validate their observations so they don’t think that “something” is them or anything they’ve done.

support communication

The Seven Cs can help you talk to your child about addiction and substance abuse:

I didn’t Cause it.
I can’t Cure it.
I can’t Control it.
I can Care for myself
By Communicating my feelings,
Making healthy Choices, and
Celebrating myself.

National Association for Children of Alcoholics

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After the initial conversation – if deemed appropriate – supporting your children’s relationship with their other parent while keeping them safe should always be your number one priority, Dostal explains. “Safety includes both emotional and physical wellbeing. If the child’s emotional and physical safety cannot be assured, then the children should not live in the same household as the addicted individual until the disease is in remission,” she says.
Picking up the pieces after an emotional blow-out does not define safety. Limiting children’s exposure to emotionally harmful situations is ideal. Regardless, always show respect toward the other parent. Support any healthy, self-preserving behavior that you observe. When your children see you supporting their mother or father, they learn empathy and acceptance. This can help them better process their own emotions and how they might react toward stressful situations in the future.
Try to maintain as much structure as possible. Sticking with normal routines, such as specific wake-up and bedtimes, helps children become more self-reliant and aware. Attending school regularly, participating in after-school activities, and maintaining their friendships give children the stability they need to build social skills as well as the ability to cope with stressors in a healthy way.
Develop and maintain positive family rituals. Continue with family game night or designate another night as the kids’ “special night.” Let them choose an activity or plan the menu. With these healthy routines, good resources in place, and a strong support network, children can combat the influences that may cause them to follow in their parent’s footsteps.
Parents with, or suffering from, a substance use disorder have many treatment options. Intensive counseling and group therapy are often very beneficial. Other parents choose inpatient therapy at a long-term treatment facility or detox center. Either way, make sure your child stays in contact with their parent. Many programs also offer counseling for family members or accommodate patients who have children, making it easier for kids to stay in touch – an important part of the recovery and healing process.
Substance use disorder does not have to destroy a family. Small steps, and compassion, can serve as stepping stones toward helping your child navigate this difficult time, while also supporting the other parent.
Aspenti Health logo

Parent Co. partnered with Aspenti to share this insight because substance use doesn’t have to destroy a family.

Families Taking the Vibrant Road Less Traveled

Being a parent doesn’t have to mean saying goodbye to adventure. These inspiring families are proof it’s possible to keep on keeping on.

Becoming a parent means parting with all kinds of luxuries. Gone are nights of uninterrupted sleep and afternoons spent devouring a novel. But being a parent doesn’t have to mean saying goodbye to adventure.
We caught up with three families who refused to abandon adventure once they welcomed children. Professional musicians Enion Pelta-Tiller and her husband David Tiller employed creativity and a road nanny to bring their son on tour before he’d even cut a tooth. The Nolan family described the sense of liberation they’ve experienced since embarking on a full-time RV journey. Karon and Rob Dickinson spend much of their time at desks as a marketing consultant and a software developer, but for their summer vacation, they took their three kids into the Colorado backcountry.
Though these families approach their adventures differently, they all possess creativity, a strong sense of personal values, and a passion for exploration.

Tap an icon to jump to a family’s story (or just keep scrolling)

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An extreme summer vacation

This fall, the Dickinson kids returned to school with a unique answer to the question, “What did you do this summer?” Karon and Rob Dickinson took their 13-year-old daughter and six-year-old twins on a backpacking trip in Colorado’s wilderness. While it might sound insanely adventurous to most, it was the most natural thing in the world for a couple who met through the Colorado Mountain Club and had been taking their kids camping since their eldest was four months old.
Parent Co: What inspired you to take your kids backpacking?
Karon Dickinson: We wanted to teach them the skills we had learned [from outdoor adventures] – resilience, responsibility, preparation and planning skills, trust, and emotional maturity.
PC: What were the most challenging parts of the trip?
KD: We carried two tents, five sleeping bags, five pads, cooking gear, extra clothes, and of course food for five, which meant my husband and I ended up with a lot of extra weight. Our six-year-old son cried for the first half hour until he got used to his pack. It rained for hours, and the trail ended up being three miles longer than the guidebook “suggested.”
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Ems for kids earmuffs and vibrant family lifestlye

Parent Co. partnered with Ems for Kids because they believe kids are the best partners in adventure.

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PC: What were the best parts of the trip?
KD: Watching my 13-year-old carry more weight than me and entertain the twins on the long trek down. Getting back to the car, all three kids started yelling, “We did it!” and “Family hug!” We shed our heavy backpacks and hugged in the parking lot. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life.
PC: What do you think your kids got out of this experience?
KD: I think my twins grew closer to their sister, and she was more patient with them.
PC: What advice would you give other parents contemplating a similar trip?
KD: The lag time for medical emergency evacuation is formidable as there is no 911 in the backcountry. I highly recommend outdoor education classes. Also, give yourself plenty of time to prep. I spent at least 40 hours planning, shopping, preparing food, and packing for the trip.
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Embracing #vanlife

Sarah and Ryan Nolan ditched most of their possessions and took what matters most – their sons, Kevin, age five, and River, age seven, plus their shared passion for adventure – on the road. As homeowners with stable jobs, Sarah and Ryan thought they were living the dream until they realized, “we were bored and felt our spirits squashed with the minutia of corporate life,” says Sarah.
Currently, the Nolans and their Airstream are in New Hampshire. As temps drop in New England, they’ll head south to Key Largo to help with hurricane relief. Stops in 2018 include San Diego, Arizona, Texas, the Pacific Northwest, and Colorado. This winter, they’ll leave their RV to fly to Hawaii where Sarah will lead a retreat. The Nolans have no plans to end their RV journey for the foreseeable future.
Parent Co: What has been the best part of your journey so far?
Sarah Nolan: Our family coming together around a common purpose. Also, the energy at the campgrounds has been great. Families in the full-time RV community have created a culture of following their dreams and living off the beaten path.
PC: What are your kids are taking from this experience?
SN: They’re learning how to make friends wherever they go and how to function as part of a family team. They also benefit from constant outdoor time and increased independence. They get to grow up with the belief that they can do anything. They’re making plans to start their own businesses, which will be part of their homeschool curriculum.
PC: How has this experience has enriched your life?
SN: I love the simplicity. We have very few possessions, which means minimal cleanup and little incentive to spend time inside.
PC: What advice would you give other parents contemplating a similar journey?
SN: Make a plan and set a date. It may seem daunting, but you can make this happen. It’s a pretty inexpensive way of life. You could RV full-time for a year for $25k. My kids’ courage and confidence has increased, and it’s changing how they see and experience the world.
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He’s with the band

Aesop, now nine, went on tour with his parents’ band for the first time at two months of age and hasn’t stopped since. His mother, Enion Pelta-Tiller, is a violinist/fiddler and singer. She writes for music publications and teaches music when not touring with Taarka, the band she and her husband David Tiller, a mandolinist/guitarist and singer, co-lead. Although the family has been touring a bit less lately, they spend up to three weeks on the road about four times a year, staying with friends, in hotels, or in their Sprinter van.
Despite being on the go, says Enion, “Touring has always been a grounding experience for me. Before having a child, I could work more on the road – practice, write, do band business – but there was also more time to get involved in personal drama, stay up too late, and not take care of myself as well as I should. The rhythm of caring for a child brought a new kind of order to our lives on the road.”
For the first few years of Aesop’s life, his parents depended on a nanny while touring. By the time he turned four, Enion recalls “shows where he set up his entire Thomas the Tank Engine set on the stage behind us, and others where he ‘played’ ukulele or harmonica with us.”
Now that Aesop is older, he’s content to read a book or spend a little time on the iPad while his parents perform. If the venue is family-friendly, Aesop has no trouble finding and befriending other kids. Schoolwork also keeps him busy. Currently enrolled in public school, his teachers keep him up to date with homework assignments to complete while on the road.
Parent Co: Did you ever imagine taking a more traditional path once you became parents?
Enion Pelter-Tiller: We are both lifer musicians. It has never really felt like an option not to continue doing what we do, though the shape of it has changed over the years.
PC: What do you love most about touring as a family?
EPT: We enjoy the stops in beautiful places where we’ve camped for the night. Our son will often participate in the setup and breakdown of shows, or he’ll make sure we’re getting on the road on time. He’s even (voluntarily) done some business communications for us! The integration of our work and family lives has a feeling of tradition to it that I think is positive for us and our kid.
PC: What are your greatest concerns about touring as a family?
EPT: Oddly, the same thing that I love is also a concern – that our work and family lives are so integrated. In this era where individuality is so celebrated, the potential to have our child begin to create his own path seems like it could be limited.
PC: In what ways do you feel taking your son on tour has enriched your life?
EPT: Getting to spend so much time with him when he’s at an age that most kids end up spending more time away from their parents.
PC: What advice would you give other parents considering a similar path?
EPT: Plan ahead, but don’t go overboard. Kids are better than adults at rolling with what you give them. The best thing you can do is ensure that your child’s experience is full of joy, diverse experiences, and good food, whether on the road or at home.

Your Adventure Toolkit

Safety whistle, earmuffs, travel potty, quick-dry towels, binoculars, a kid’s camera, and headlamp.

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Ems for kids protective hearing earmuffs