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Enter the Bright Schools Competition and Learn About the Links Between Light, Sleep and Health

Seven tips for healthy sleep habits



Sleep is vital for our brains, perhaps especially for the brains of growing teens. Lack of sleep can limit our ability to learn and concentrate, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Drowsiness affects every aspect of our health, from our propensity for illness and our ability to manage stress to our food choices, behavior, and driver safety. At the same time, natural light during the day has been shown to positively impact students’ sleep, health and school performance.

So, what can we do to ensure that the children and teens in our lives get the sleep their bodies and minds need? Here are seven habits that have helped my family with sleep.

Establish and stick to a bedtime routine

Many children appreciate predictability in their schedules. Saying good-bye to the day in a peaceful and consistent way can set the tone for restful and rejuvenating sleep.

Try to enact a predictable bedtime with routinized, calming activities, such as a warm bath, transitional songs, lullabies, bedtime stories, or a special and consistent way of tucking your children in. It’s never too late to start a new routine, and you may be surprised at how comforting this habit remains into the teen years. Of course, we allowed for occasional late nights, but we found that having a routine helped us all with sleep as well as family bonding.

Allow enough transition time at bedtime

Transitions are harder for some kids than for others. Be sure to include enough time to wind down and enough time to sleep.

Older children need time for transitions, too. Try to have them stop their homework, turn off technology and leave a half hour for quiet reading, reflecting or family sharing before bed.

Get enough hours of sleep

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens get approximately 8-10 hours of sleep. Most teens not only fail to get the recommended amount of sleep, but tax themselves with a full slate of academics and extra-curricular activities, which requires extra sleep. If your kids seem tired during the day, consider saying “no” to more activities, in favor of getting adequate sleep.

Don’t neglect to lead by example – be sure to get enough sleep yourself.

Follow the patterns of natural light

In traditional cultures, people’s daily rhythms matched those in nature, and it’s still best to imitate this as closely as possible. Bedrooms should be dark and quiet in the evenings. Use eye shades and ear plugs if necessary. Likewise, natural light in the morning signals your body to wake up.

This is something we’ve always done in our house, but through the Bright Schools Competition, I also learned that natural light is especially important for mental alertness during the day. One study showed that natural light in the classroom improved students’ test scores by as much as 26%.

Ensure that bedrooms are technology-free

For most kids, computers and phones in bedrooms are so tempting that they’ll pass up sleep in order to stay on their devices. Even if they’re not in use, the blue light from computer and other screens can prevent the body’s release of melatonin, which is crucial for sleep. Keep the devices outside of the bedrooms, to charge up overnight as you do. Consider using inexpensive travel alarm clocks instead of phone alarms.

Tackle your problems before going to bed

Give some thought before bedtime to your to-do list and anything that’s bothering you, to prevent those thoughts from keeping you awake. Jot notes on a pad to read in the morning. Likewise, try to prepare as best you can for the morning – have backpacks packed and permission slips signed. Lay out kids’ clothes. Make ahead what you can for lunch.

Advocate for later school start times

Between their natural circadian rhythms, which keep them up late, and early school start times, teens are perpetually sleep-deprived, according to the National Sleep Foundation. We can help them by ensuring that they get all the sleep they can in the time allotted by their schedules and by teaching them to budget their time to prevent as many late-night homework sessions as possible.

Read more tips for getting a good night’s sleep.

Read more about teens and sleep.

Learn more about how light effects sleep.

Learn more about and enter the Bright Schools Competition for students in grades 6-8. Winning teams will be awarded as much as $5,000 per team member, and teachers of winning teams will be awarded as much as $3,000 in prize value.

Bright Schools Competition materials have been created by the National Sleep Foundation and the National Science Teachers Association and include lesson plans to help students explore the effect of light on sleep and circadian rhythms, while participating in important STEM education. Teams can engage in original research to create videos, reports or advocacy campaigns.

Put together a team and spread the word about the Bright Schools Competition today!

The Bright Schools Competition is designed for students in grades 6-8. Registration is now open and the submission deadline is January 29, 2016. For more information on the competition, including eligibility requirements, visit www.BrightSchoolsCompetition.org.


This content was made possible by Volunteer Spot and the Bright Schools Competition. Views expressed are my own.


Small Moments Can Add Up to a Rich, Hands Free Life

HFL book cover

Do you have 10 minutes? You can spend that time worrying or tending to your to-do list, or you can spend that time thanking a friend or family member for their kindness or noticing the changing features on your daughter’s face.

That’s the underlying premise behind much of Rachel Macy Stafford’s heartfelt and thoughtful new book, Hands Free Life: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, & Loving More. Stafford had introduced readers to some of her gentle ideas and the aha moments that had led her to greater clarity in her earlier book, Hands Free Mama. Now, she gives us more concrete and thought-provoking ideas and exercises to truly make the most of our time with family, community and ourselves.


Stafford touches eloquently on a topic I’ve written about, which is that we often miss opportunities for closeness when we think only about the peak experiences, the vacations and large events. She writes, “There are moments in between life’s obligations when we are in the presence of our loved ones that can be made sacred.” These small moments–singing to the car radio, walking around the block, sharing meals, helping with music practice–offer multiple daily opportunities to be present and to experience joy.

Children are naturals at this, and Stafford shares multiple wise offerings that her children say and teach by example. But we can learn, too, to turn off the distractions–whether that means literally turning off a technological device or turning off the marching thoughts in our heads–and choose to be truly present in the seemingly small, everyday moments of our lives before they drift away.

Another gift Stafford gives parents is to truly see life through the eyes of our children. When we do this, we can’t help but release some of our adult standards of perfection, which are largely responsible for the voices in our heads that cause us to pressure ourselves or hold ourselves back. To use two of Stafford’s examples, our children don’t see our “fossilized college T-shirt and sleep deprived eyes” when we soothe away their bad dreams in the middle of the night. They don’t notice that our favorite bed pillow could use a laundering. They notice, with love, that the pillow “smells like mama.”


The book is divided into nine chapters: “Fill the Spaces,” “Surrender Control,” “Build a Foundation,” “Take the Pressure Off,” “See What Is Good,” “Give What Matters,” “Establish Boundaries,” “Leave a Legacy” and “Change Someone’s Story”. Each of these is broken into inspiring and thought-provoking chunks, with personal stories and habit builders to help readers gain perspective, forge meaningful connections, remove judgment of ourselves and others, and be present for and attentive to the small moments that make up our days.

If you have 10 minutes, you can tuck a kind note into a lunchbox, learn something new about a family member, listen to a friend without distraction, or say yes to one more bedtime story. What might you do with your 10 minutes? With your distraction-free, love-filled life?




How to Raise Readers in the Digital Age

A lot of us parents worry that the expansion of digital technology into our children’s lives will result in them reading less than kids of previous generations. It turns out that we needn’t worry at all. Children today are reading more than ever, in both digital and print forms, says a Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report.

What steps can parents take to ensure their kids become enthusiastic lifelong readers?

Embrace the e-Book

Half of children ages 9-17 say they would read more books for fun if they had greater access to e-books, according to the Scholastic report. E-books, in particular, are motivating boys and reluctant readers, who are reading e-books for fun in record numbers. E-books needn’t replace the printed book – 80 percent of kids who read e-books still read print books for fun. Having multiple options simply means more reading opportunities in many children’s lives.

Take your Reading with You

Tablets and e-readers make it easier than ever to take your reading along wherever you go – in the car and during other travel, in waiting rooms and local parks. And there are increasingly more great devices for reading e-books. The digital subscription service Bookboard provides access to a library of children’s books (audio and non) for the tablet, in a playful system that harnesses the natural interest kids have for technology and helps motivate them to read by rewarding them with books appropriate for their age, reading level and interests. Audio books, in particular, have proven a very effective tool for kids who have difficulty reading.

Use your Public Library

Libraries are still extremely popular, says a Pew Report on Library Services in the Digital Age. As many as 91 percent of people say that libraries are important to their communities and families. Libraries provide early literacy programming to support parents’ role as their children’s first teachers. They serve as community hubs and help bring families together. They invite hands-on experiential learning that prepares kids for reading and school. They provide access to technology and support digital learning in a way that may not be available to families at home. All this makes libraries a great place for readers and pre-readers alike to enjoy the array of services and foster a lifelong love of reading.

Look for “Readable” Moments

Books aren’t the only places kids learn to read. Reading opportunities are all around us. When you’re walking with your child, point out letters and read signs out loud. Make a game of this by searching for certain letters and words (or have children search while they’re in the car). When your baby or toddler is playing or when you’re performing chores at home, narrate what you or they are doing. “You’re building with blocks.” “I’m washing the dishes.” It might seem silly at first, but children initially learn the skills that lead to speaking and reading by listening to you.

In addition, kids often enjoy making lists. Even if the “words” consist of scribbles and lines, that’s the way they begin to read and write. Lists can be used to make menus for playing restaurant or receipts for playing store. Older children can help read recipes and make shopping lists and then help read the items in the store.

Set a Great Example

One of the most effective tools for encouraging kids to read is to be readers ourselves. Try to set aside time for your own reading where your children can see you (and read side-by-side with them when they’re older). Read a variety of media. Make a habit of reading to your kids as often as possible. Some of my family’s fondest memories involve bonding over childhood books. Bedtime is a natural time for winding down and cuddling through reading, but some kids enjoy bath time so much that that can be an ideal time to share a book. Young children treasure time with their parents and when you spend some of that time reading, they’ll associate it with your presence and physical closeness and the sound of your voice.

Enjoy fostering your child’s lifelong interest in reading.

This post originally appeared in Dot Complicated.

Tech/Life Balance? It’s Dot Complicated!

For all the ease and wonder that technology has granted us, how many times have you lamented that it’s also made life more complicated? We deal with tremendous amounts of email clutter to rival our closet clutter. We wonder if our kids are experiencing too much technology too soon, and at what expense. We find ourselves bleary-eyed and twitchy-fingered as we check various online news outlets and events one more time, for fear of missing something important. We reveal a little too much to our co-workers and about ourselves and our significant others.

For fleeting moments, the life of a few decades ago appears so much simpler. People had time to compose long letters at writing desks; to visit with friends, make lovely meals, and play simple games by a lake or a hearth. Of course, it’s easy to romanticize such a life as well. When so much of the world is literally at our fingertips, it can be tricky to choose which aspects of technology and modernity to embrace and which to let go of to make room for that which is simple, personal, tactile and ultimately leads to a fulfilling and connected life.

This is the spirit with which Randi Zuckerberg launched Dot Complicated, an online community that aims to help us explore and untangle our modern, wired lives — together. I had the great fortune of meeting Randi and a few like-minded fellow bloggers at a lovely luncheon, and then I got to return to the Zuckerberg Media Studios, to chat with Randi, Beth Blecherman of TechMamas, video blogger Lizzie Bermudez and Veena Goel Crownholm of Tiaras to Babies, The conversation was wonderful and warm, ranging from our attempts to unclutter and manage our lives and households to the ways in which we find happiness and take care of ourselves.

Beth, Me, Randi, Lizzie, Veena

You can see our four video segments.

I also had a short session with Randi, in which I shared How to Make a Paper Boat, one of the 300+ projects in Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World which are designed to give families ideas and instructions for simple activities, many of which can be done spontaneously and with little equipment on a free afternoon or during a low-key gathering. The paper boat was one of our favorite things to make as a family and sail, either in a local creek or a bathtub. I recently got to share origami boat making with a younger generation of boat-makers, which was delightful, and which I recounted for Randi.

Watch the video here:

Often us parents think we have to plan unusual, elaborate or expensive activities for our kids. Many of us would be surprised at the simple activities and small moments that instead become our children’s fondest memories. Sailing paper boats is one such example for us. Others include picking fruit on long summer days and coming home and making jam, mixing a bucket of bubble solution and enjoying giant bubbles for days, playing tag in the park, making and eating homemade soft pretzels, keeping a moon diary, and watching the night sky for meteors.

I believe that the more technological our lives become, the more we yearn for tactile activities like crafts and cooking, as well as activities that help us gather in families and communities to experience the wonder of the seasons and the natural world and to bond through important play time, down time and family time.

For more simple, fun and memorable things to do with your kids this summer (and a couple of attitudinal changes that might help make summer go more smoothly and joyfully) see my Dot Complicated blog, 7 Secrets to Make Summer Last Longer.

Looking for still more simple, even retro, family fun? See 8 Fun Things to Do While it’s Still Summer.

Thanks again to Randi and everyone at Dot Complicated for being such an important voice for simplifying our lives and for bringing together so many wise and passionate people who desire the same thing.

Beth Blecherman, Hillary Frank and Veena Crownholm on the set

Lovely fellow bloggers and Dot Complicated staff



New Bookboard App Helps Inspire a Lifelong Love of Reading

Our whole family adores books. Especially children’s books. And with that comes delightful, but groaning, shelves (and piles and boxes and an attic full) of books.

What if there were a way to cut down on the volume but still enjoy current and classic children’s books that were available as easily as streamed movies, that challenged our children to grow and discover new titles, and that made books as accessible, interactive and fun to use as the latest game app? There is. Bookboard brings you all of the above and more in a well-designed new system that lets kids read books and participate in fun online progress metrics that they unlock through their reading achievements. Book titles are based on personalized suggestions and are immediately available for download, the same way Netflix movies are available for screening.

Parents can also follow their children’s progress and help them find new titles. Bookboard encourages many of the traits that help create lifelong readers, even among those who are reluctant. These include variety and choice of materials, social interaction, and both new and familiar experiences.

On a test-run, we found Bookboard’s books and graphics attractive and its interface appealing and easy to use.

As a book-loving mom in a family of lifelong readers (hence the groaning bookshelves), I’m thrilled that there are new opportunities for new generations to enjoy reading and books in a way that is comfortable, natural and appealing. Neither Michael nor I would give back any of the hours that we spent with Anna, reading her multiple bedtime stories night after night. The time we spent reading together helped create an intense bond that lasts to this day, a bond due both to our physical closeness and to the wonderful books we all discovered together and still talk about.

Bookboard is free for a limited time. A subscription service is planned.

Sign up and read a book from Bookboard between now and February 11, 2013,  and you’ll be entered in a giveaway for an iPad Mini. When you sign up, you’ll have access to Bookboard (and their current slate of titles) free of charge for one month. See Bookboard for rules and details.

This post is sponsored by Bookboard. The opinions expressed are my own.

Images: Paper Tigers, Bookboard

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