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Nicole Richie has some parenting takeaways from the pandemic.
The star is mom to daughter Harlow Winter Kate, 13, and son Sparrow James Midnight, 11, and during the Baby2Baby Back2School event at Boyle Heights City Hall in Los Angeles Wednesday, Richie, 39, shared what living in lockdown last year taught her as a mother.
"I've just learned to listen, to really take a pause and listen," she tells PEOPLE. "I've always stressed that going outside and being in nature is important, but it really became a true necessity once everyone was locked into their computers, Zoom work, all of the things. We really had to make an effort to go outside and be in nature and connect to the earth. I think that is something we have to prioritize in our lives."
Richie, who shares her kids with husband Joel Madden, adds that Harlow and Sparrow had "completely different experiences" in quarantine, however, the "one through line was — especially last school year — it was really hard."
"We were all in shock and everyone was trying to figure out how to make it work," she says, adding, "Everything was happening at once and I think everyone was just trying to make it work, and then we had the summer to kind of prepare for that new [school] year and the kids, they just did it. They gave it their all. ... It just really made me so proud of them."
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"These kids are very strong and it'll be interesting to see and hear from the future writers and creators of what this experience has been, because they've gone through something that I didn't go through at their age," says Richie. "It's really interesting."
At the Baby2Baby event, which also saw Zooey Deschanel and Katy Perry lending a hand, Stitch Fix Kids and Epic helped provide families with basic school essentials, including backpacks, school supplies, hygiene and safety items, groceries, diapers, sporting equipment and more.
Richie distributed clothing in the Stitch Fix Kids pop-up shop, where students could pick out school outfits.
"I work with Baby2Baby all the time," she says. "Because I work so closely with them, obviously their focus has been, especially in L.A., what are the areas that have been hit the hardest from COVID, and Boyle Heights is definitely one of them. A lot of these kids have not gone to school since March of 2020, and they're gearing up to go back to school and they need the supplies and the support to get them started, get a kick-off."
"I say all the time, you know, the ones who have suffered the most have been the kids. Also, just from my own experience of being a mom, I know that going back to school is really exciting but also very overwhelming," adds Richie. "In a world where we've been told to be afraid of going outdoors and being around people, this is going to be their first step into that, so having StitchFix and these other amazing companies be able to come and support them and kind of get them excited about school and really take the weight off of the parents of having to get all the necessary school supplies is something that we just needed to do."
She tells PEOPLE that giving back to others is a key element of her parenting in raising her kids.
"It's very important. The way that I was raised it wasn't even an option. It was just a responsibility that you had, and that's how we continue to communicate with our family about this," she says. "You take care of your community, and you take care of the people around you. So that's all they know."
Celebrating her daughter's 13th birthday in January, Richie wrote on Instagram that "nothing is better than watching you become the young woman you are. I am so lucky I get to be your mom." She also teased some of her quality time activities during the pandemic: "Now let's go binge watch season 3 of Grey's [Anatomy]."