How to Guide Your Kid's Inventive Spelling

Encouraging your child to use invented spelling will help her become a successful student, even if the immediate results look disastrous.

Invented spelling – young children’s attempts to write words by recording the letter sounds they hear – has long been common in early childhood classrooms, but new research has brought it into the spotlight this year. A recent study suggests that engaging regularly in this analytical process is more effective at preparing children to read than focusing on word memorization.
What does this mean for parents? Well, for one thing, you can stop worrying that a note from your five-year-old that says, “U R A GRT MOM” means she’ll forever be reliant on spell check. Encouraging your child to use invented spelling will help her become a successful student, even if the immediate results look disastrous.
It also means you might struggle with how to best help your beginning writer. The following tips come from my experience as a kindergarten teacher and have passed the true test: I have a five-year-old inventive speller at home.

Take yourself back to kindergarten

As a proficient reader and writer, your brain works differently than a young child’s. You have a massive mental bank of words you read and write automatically. So it’s understandable if you’re out of practice at relying heavily on letter sounds.
It will be easier for you to help your early speller (and read what she writes) if you temporarily suspend your knowledge that the ending “shun” is often written as -tion or that care written without the “e” would technically be pronounced as the word meaning automobile.
Go back to the ABCs. Consistency between home and school is always helpful, so find out how your child’s teacher introduces letter sounds. Many teachers use a keyword carefully chosen to teach each one, as in this common phonics program. Instead of “E is for Elephant,” it’s Ed, to make the “short e” sound crystal clear. No xylophones or x-rays, either. The keyword for X is fox to teach the ending /ks/ sound.
For extra credit, watch this video clip to confirm you’re pronouncing each sound correctly when helping your child.

Set up for success

You can avoid some common pitfalls by being ready with supplies and ideas when your child wants to practice writing. It’s hard for new writers to plan use of space, so squeezing words into small areas will likely be frustrating. My son always chooses the tiniest scrap of paper, so I try to quickly swap it out for something with plenty of room.
Consider ditching the standard no. 2 pencil, also. Pencils break at the wrong moment and erasing can easily become a messy obsession. These nifty crayon rocks are a fun alternative. They come in a velvet bag, which makes them feel treasure-like, and have the added bonus of a shape that encourages a correct pincer grip. Many teachers also favor these felt tip pens, which slide easily across the paper.
It can be frustrating for everyone when adults can’t read what a child laboriously wrote. If you encourage a new writer to label an item in a picture or an actual object, you have a giant clue as to her intended message. Give your child a stack of large sticky notes and have her label things around your home. “Dangerous!” by Tim Warnes is a hilarious picture book about labeling that inspired my son to whip through an economy-sized pack of Post-Its.
There are many authentic contexts for writing lists, which are a logical next step after labeling. Suggest grocery lists, real or pretend menus, to-do lists, top 10 lists, and so on. You’ll have the list’s context to help you decipher each word. My son spent all summer getting ahead of the game and writing wish lists for Santa. A tad consumer-driven for my taste, but he was highly motivated to include as many sounds as possible so his message was legible.
Finally, if you encourage your child to attempt writing short sentences within a functional framework, the task feels worthy enough for him to see it through, and you’ll have something to go on when you try to read it. Encourage him to write thank you notes, signs, birthday cards or a caption to accompany a picture he drew.

Help, but not too much

So much of parenting is about striking the balance between giving help and leaving enough space for independence. Once your child gets the idea of saying words slowly and writing down letters for sounds she hears, let her go for it.
Constant correction or giving into to “How do you spell…?” requests quickly creates dependence. I find it useful to suddenly become very busy in another room when my son is trying to write something. When I’m out of sight, he trusts himself more.
At the same time, new writers need to maintain momentum. If your child is stuck on a sound, especially if it’s one you’re sure he doesn’t know yet, just supply it so he can move on. It’s okay to provide tips like how to spell the ending “ing” or “it takes s and h together to start shell” without lengthy explanations. My son often gets hung up on people’s names, which can be phonetic minefields anyways, so I just write them on a piece of scrap paper for him if he asks.
Like potty training, training wheels, and Velcro shoes, invented spelling spans just a short phase in your child’s development. I keep reminding myself to appreciate (rather, APRESHEAT) the window it offers into my child’s thinking. I know that, soon enough, the only notes I’ll get from him will be texts that he won’t be home for dinner.

Picture Books That Teach Self-Confidence and Individuality

How do we talk to our children about being comfortable in their own skin? These books can help.

When I was growing up, being self-assured was always one of my biggest struggles. Not surprisingly, as a parent, it has been one of the hardest things for me to teach my kid.
All of us, adults and kids alike, at one point or another struggle with being confident in who we are and comfortable with the things that make us unique. To some extent, we all want to fit in, but sometimes we just don’t – at least not with everyone – and that’s okay. But it still doesn’t make it fun or easy to come to grips with.
My seven-year-old son definitely marches to the beat of his own drum. He is silly, loud, and extremely stubborn, but he is also sensitive and tends to get his feelings hurt when other kids don’t understand or accept him. He wants to have friends, and I desperately want that for him. More than that, I want him to remain true to himself and be okay with who he is, however goofy or off-center that may be.
How do we talk to our children about being comfortable in their own skin? How do we help them see how amazing they are in spite of what bullies or peer pressure may say? How do we build confidence and find a way to converse with them about this big, real life struggle in a way they can understand right now?
My solution to this (and to many of life’s other problems) is books. Kids of all ages genuinely love having someone read to them and with them. Don’t believe me? My husband’s years as a high school English teacher and mine as a school librarian beg to differ.
In his book, “The Read-Aloud Handbook”, Jim Trelease argues that children who are read aloud to from a young age learn to associate books with being loved and cared for. The act of being snuggled up with a book before bed (or at any time) promotes closeness and openness between child and parent. This, in turn, fosters a love of reading and promotes confidence in themselves as readers, in addition to developing their fluency and vocabulary.
Reading books together is a great way to connect with your kids on a level they understand. It gives you a chance to slow down your busy life and just be in the moment. This time also creates space for healthy dialogues, providing a much needed chance to talk and really listen to each other. And who doesn’t love an excuse for a good snuggle session?
Here are some of my favorite picture books that teach self-confidence and encourage individuality in our kids. They are wonderful conversation starters and just plain fun to read.

Giraffes Can’t Dance

Author: Giles Andreae
Illustrator: Guy Parker-Rees

This is perhaps my favorite children’s book of all time. In this stunningly illustrated story, Gerald the giraffe spends his life watching as every other animal in the jungle dances beautifully. They tease him because he, as a giraffe, cannot dance.
But what Gerald learns with the help of a friendly cricket, is that everyone – including him – can dance if they find the right music. Gerald wows the other animals when he emerges at the jungle dance with his amazing new moves. As Gerald says, “We all can dance, when we find the music that we love.”


Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon

Author: Patty Lovell
Illustrator: David Catrow

Molly Lou Melon is small and not very graceful. She also has big teeth and a funny voice that sounds like a bullfrog. At her new school, Molly Lou finds herself the prey of the class bully. This doesn’t bother Molly Lou though. She follows her grandmother’s advice and stands up for herself.
This book is a great way to talk to your kids, not just about being self-confident, but also about dealing with bullies.


Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed

Author & Illustrator: Mo Willems

Mo Willems is, hands down, one of the best children’s authors of this generation. He is funny and relatable. His stories meet kids where they are, but never talk down to them. This book is no different.
As you would assume, naked mole rats are supposed to be, well, naked. However, this book is all about Wilbur, a naked mole rat who secretly loves wearing clothes. Reading it is a funny, light way to talk to your young kids about being who they are and doing what they love, even if other people (or mole rats) don’t understand them.


The Dot

Author & Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds

Vashti doesn’t believe that she is a good artist until one day when her teacher urges her to just “make a mark” on her paper. The teacher makes such a huge deal about the beauty of Vashti’s dot that it encourages her to make more dots – lots of dots! Vashti becomes more creative with her dots and her creativity inspires others to make their mark, too.



Author & Illustrator: Kevin Henkins

Chrysanthemum has always loved her name. At least she did until she started school and realized that not everyone thought her name was so amazing. The other girls tease her for being named after a flower and even encourage others to smell her.
Ultimately, Chrysanthemum overcomes the bullying thanks to the love and support of her music teacher and family. This is great book for kids with unique names, but really for any child who has dealt with being teased because they are different.



Author: Kyo Maclear
Illustrator: Isabelle Arsenault

Spork is neither a spoon nor a fork, and he doesn’t truly fit in with either group. He often feels left out from the other utensils. Spork tries to be just a spoon or just a fork, but nothing feels right until he finds his special purpose as a SPORK.
This book is as cute as it is clever. It could serve as a great resource for biracial families or families of mixed cultural or religious backgrounds.


A Bad Case of Stripes

Author & Illustrator: David Shannon

Camilla is a girl who loves lima beans, but she worries that others won’t understand and make fun of her. She is so concerned about trying to please her peers that she comes down with a bad case of stripes.
The cure for her stripes is finally being true to herself and not caring what others think. This is definitely one of the longer, wordier picture books on my list, but it is wonderful for older elementary schoolers.


The Hueys in the New Sweater

Author & Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers

Hueys are funny little creatures that are all very much alike until one Huey, named Rupert, decides to knit himself a sweater. Rupert loves his new sweater, but the other Hueys aren’t so sure about someone being different.
Eventually, Rupert’s sweater inspires other Hueys to be different as well. This book is short and sweet.

Not All Princesses Dress in Pink

Authors: Jane Yolen & Heidi E. Y. Stemple
Illustrator: Anne-Sophie Lanquetin

This book empowers girls to value their unique qualities. Being a princess and wearing a tiara doesn’t mean you can’t like to climb trees, play sports, or get dirty. Being who you are and doing your very best is the most important thing for any girl and the best way to reach your full potential.
Whether your daughter is a girly-girl or a rough and tumble tomboy, this book is a great, refreshing read.

Calvin Can’t Fly: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie

Author: Jennifer Berne
Illustrator: Keith Bendis

Calvin isn’t like the other starlings. All of his many, many brothers, sisters, and cousins are interested in finding worms and learning to fly, but Calvin only wants to read and visit the library.
When it comes time to migrate, he hasn’t learned to fly yet. In the end, it turns out that all of his book learning comes in handy. It’s a good thing that Calvin did all that reading despite what anyone said.

Tacky the Penguin

Author: Helen Lester
Illustrator: Lynn Munsinger

Tacky is a very odd bird. All of the other penguins are annoyed by his obnoxious clothes and weird habits. Until one fateful day, when Tacky, in all of his strangeness, saves the day – and the other penguins.
This is a fun book that is sure to get some laughs from your little ones, but it’s also a great story of about being yourself, no matter how weird or tacky you may be. Also, if your kids love Tacky, he has lots of other adventures to read about.



Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrator: Scott Magoon

Alright, so I may have a thing for utensil-themed children’s books, but I promise, this one is also fantastic! Spoon is the adorable story of a spoon who envies all of the other types of utensils and all the fun they have.
Later in the story, Spoon finds out how much the other utensils envy him! This book really highlights the fact that we all have a purpose and that it’s completely fine (in fact, it’s amazing) that we aren’t all the same.
Many kids struggle with being confident and happy with themselves. We need to find ways to encourage self-confidence and individuality as positive character traits in our kids.

Short-term action plan

● Go to your bookshelf (or the bookshelf at your local library) and find one of these amazing books or another great title. You can also order one from Amazon right from your phone.
● Find a time in your super busy week to read books with your kids.
● When the book is over, ask them what they thought about the story. Did they like the characters? Have they ever felt like any of the characters? What would they do if they were in the story?

Long-term action plan

● Make reading together a daily (or at least a regular) thing for you and your kids.
● Go to the local library or bookstore together and choose books for these reading times.
● Investigate more titles that help you engage in conversations with your kids about whatever it is they are going through.
● Read the books first to give yourself time to think through what kinds of questions or morals you might want to talk about with your kids.
● Make your reading time a special and ‘sacred’ time. Put away your phone. Get out the biggest, comfiest blanket in the house. Maybe even plan a reading date that involves lots of books, snacks, and a cup of cocoa.
● Reading with your kids is a valuable, memorable, and inexpensive way to spend time together. Don’t treat reading like homework, for you or your child. Have fun with it!

13 Crafts for Little Artists That Aren’t a Pain to Clean Up

If you’re the one picking up from the latest art explosion, here are 13 crafts that will make your job easier and allow your little artist to be creative.

I think there’s still glitter on my floor. From five years ago. Arts and crafts have a way of sticking around, and while I want to encourage creativity in my kids, I hate cleaning up the aftermath.
Yes, we can make them clean up. I know. But seriously. Do they ever really clean it all up? If you’re going to be the one picking up from the latest craft session, here are 13 crafts that will make your job easier and allow your little artist to be creative.

1 | Melissa & Doug Deluxe Combo Scratch Art Set

I love this. Still. And kids are drawn to it. Scratch through the black surface to reveal amazing colors. Reveal as much or as little as you want. This favorite comes with 16 boards, two stylus tools, and three frames. Kids love the rainbow and metallic backgrounds.

2 | Boogie Board Jot LCD eWriter

A small notebook sized LCD drawing panel, the Boogie Board Jot is perfect for drawing anywhere, even in the car. No mess and endless possibility. Kids love the erase button and the ability to start fresh. Great for keeping in your purse for kids to play with on the go.

3 | Made By Me Build and Paint Your Own Wooden Cars


This one does involve paint, but it’s all pretty self-contained. Spread a piece of newspaper and grab a cup of water. Kids put together small wooden cars and then decorate using the stickers and paints provided. This one is great for keeping boys busy and giving them a chance to create.

4 | Fashion Angels Portfolios & American Girl Doll Fashion Design Portfolio Set


Kids design outfits and unique looks on the doll like outlines provided. Tons of great activity books with stencils for those who love to create fun fashion looks. Makeup, fashion and even home decorating books give kids great ways to draw and imagine as they get older.

5 | Melissa & Doug Paint with Water


Sometimes the little ones just want to paint. A great compromise that just involves water. Watch images and colors appear magically as your little artists swipes a wet brush across a page.

6 | Alex Toys Craft Color a House Children’s Kit


Cardboard box play taken to the next level, kids can easily construct a house and then decorate it with crayons. Toddlers love this and it keeps them busy for hours.

7 | Crayola Color Wonder Magic Light Brush & Drawing Pad


Half the fun of this amazing toy is the magic! Kids use the special brush to paint on their paper. It lights up with each color they pick and they create a masterpiece. Plus, it doesn’t leave marks on hands, the table or clothes.

8 | Rainbow Wikki Stix

These bendy, twisty sticks quickly become a favorite of kids and adults. You can link them together, twist and create without making a mess to clean up. Another great toy for the traveling creative.

9 | Sidewalk Chalk


Let nature take care of the cleanup! Kids love the ability to leave their mark and draw outdoors. A bucket of sidewalk chalk fits the bill, and all you have to do is wash hands when it’s done.

10 | Creative Hands Foam Kit Beads 2 Lace


Fun and great for fine motor development, Beads 2 Lace give kids the chance to string chunky foam beads in different shapes and colors to create one of a kind masterpieces. While there are a lot of pieces, this one is easy to clean up. You can even make a game out of tossing the foam pieces in the bucket when you’re done.

11 | Alex Toys Little Hands Mosaics


Using the color coded stickers kids place them on the template and create a beautiful picture. These are great for hanging up when they’re complete. Also offers fantastic color and shape matching and fine motor development.

12 | Crayola Model Magic

Softer and airier than the traditional play-doh, Model Magic is a great way to let kids mold and shape with less mess. It also air dries solid, giving little artists the chance to create forever masterpieces.

13 | Crayola Bathtub Finger paint and Crayons

When you can’t avoid the mess, at least make it in the easiest place to clean up. Finger paints and crayons specifically designed for the tub, give kids the chance to make a mess. And cleaning up when they’re done is contained and fun.
What mess free crafts do your kids love?
We’ve selected these items because we want these great products to be on your radar! Parent Co. is an Amazon Affiliate Partner, and we will earn a small share of revenue if you decide to purchase a product using one of these links. By supporting us through this program you are helping to keep the lights on and the banner ads off.

Date Nights in the Parenthood Era

I want to feel like my husband and I have left our date nights like we used to before we were parents.

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

This is not the opening exchange at an Indecisives Anonymous meeting. (I’ve never actually been to one, I can’t decide if I should go.) This stimulating conversation is the exchange that begins date night with my husband.

A long time ago, in the land of skinny jeans and carbs, my husband and I could ponder the, “What do you want to do tonight?” question for hours and still come up with something fun to do and have a great time doing it. Since we’ve become parents, this question has a pressure for which I was unprepared. We’ve got to figure out what to do with our precious date night time right now. We must connect! We must have fun! We must make our Golden Time remarkable!

These days, my brain is too overworked from answering tough questions like which brand of kids’ fruit snacks is less deadly, and will our toddler’s Spiderman costume turn him into a spider. For date nights, I’d like to suggest a romantic evening of staring at the wall, but I know my husband and I need time to connect, so I’m not sure that’s going to suffice. The best plan my tired noggin can think up is dinner and movie. Admittedly, this is not very creative or exciting. Unless it’s a movie with Chris Pine, then it’s very exciting! (My husband loves Chris Pine.)

Dinner and a movie gets us out together, but oftentimes we find ourselves rushing through the dinner portion of the evening only to find me falling asleep through the movie portion of the evening. It feels hurried and forced. I only have a limited amount of time to prove to my husband that I’m still that fun gal he married – that I can totally stay up past 9:30, laugh at his jokes, and use words like “gal” easily in a sentence. I’m scoring very high on using words like “gal” in sentences, but I keep falling asleep in the middle of his jokes. Our Golden Time in not very golden.

I want to feel like my husband and I have left our date nights like we used to before we were parents – full of each other, the kind of happy-full I feel like after I’ve eaten that ridiculously enormous chocolate cake from Claim Jumper (don’t ask me to share). Mostly, though, I leave our time together feeling hungry like I’ve eaten my toddler’s portion of vegetables (ask me to share). I want more him. I want more us. I want more chocolate cake.

In an effort to help us connect more, I started trying to come up with different ideas for our date nights. Maybe the dinner and a movie thing just wasn’t conducive to connection. We tried staying home and catching up on TV like we used to. We tried going out for long dinners with no other plans like we used to. We tried heading out the door with no specific itinerary except maybe to get dessert like we used to. None of these helped me feel more in tune with him. Now that we were parents, was this just the new norm – me falling asleep face down in our appetizer in the middle of his punch lines? Had we changed that much?

I’ve definitely changed, and it isn’t just my wardrobe. Yes, elastic pants have replaced tight-fitting jeans and 9:30 PM is my new midnight, but I feel my insides have shifted, too. As a stay-at-home mom, my days are filled with my child. My focus is all-kid-all-the-time with only an occasional adult-alone break to use the bathroom, and even then I occasionally have a toddler-sized chaperone. I’m constantly a mom, always tuned into that mom-channel within. Maybe the problem isn’t with us, the problem is me.

I keep looking for time with my husband to be like it was, and that’s the true problem. I’m not the same person I was before I had a child. Why would our date nights feel the same when I don’t? I was slow to figure it out (I’ll blame that on lack of sleep for over a year), but once I stopped expecting our Golden Time to feel the same, an immense amount of pressure dropped away. Our time together began to have a lightness that sparked that connection for which I’d been searching.

Date nights with my husband aren’t what they were, but I am cool with this. Releasing the heavy expectations of our previous time together has freed up space to allow them to be what they are: a reflection of us now. Sure, my husband might prefer I stay up later than 9:30, but we are a couple with a kid. I may not get there. However, this doesn’t make me any less great of a “gal” or us a less fun couple, it just makes us partners with a kid. Enjoying our time together for what it is has made all the difference. That and starting our dates at 4:30 pm.

Behold the Wonder of a Book Nook

A book nook can be fancy or simple, so long as it can transport you to the places in your book and escape real life for a little while.

After a school day, my boys need some quiet time on their own. We live in rural Arizona in a spread out ranch style house, so space isn’t the problem. They’re just magnetically drawn to each other and are very likely to start fussing and fighting.
My solution? Transforming the bedroom closet into a tiny reading space. Bean bag, battery powered push lights, plastic milk crate, and some throw pillows. My eight-year-old or his 12-year-old brother can climb in to read or just be away from everyone else for a little while.
A book nook can be fancy or simple, but the most important elements are these: privacy and comfort. You want to be able to transport yourself to the places in your book and escape real life for a little while.

via Pinterest

I love the simplicity here, and the functionality. You could set up as many of these little tents as you need to for the kids on hand, inside or out. And each kid still feels the delicious sense of being in her own world.
via The New York Times

This may not be the most practical, but without a doubt, this design by Japanese furniture designer Sakura Adachi is my favorite reading spot I’ve seen. Even better? There are sizes for adults, children, and even pets. Imagine your public library shelves with built-in spots for reading. This book nook may lack some privacy, but it is so well integrated you might not even see your child after a while.
via Houzz

With a home renovation, just a few square feet were captured to make this reading space in a hallway or landing area. That’s the beauty of a book nook – small spaces are preferable for feeling secure and cozy.
via Pinterest

This igloo-like construction doesn’t cost a penny and could easily be made with children. If your family drinks a lot of milk, you might be able to gather the supplies yourself. Otherwise, it could involve a little community outreach. The dome structure provides the isolation a book nook needs, though the jugs do take up a little more space than other materials.
via Archello

I love these reading pods for their vertical design and how they don’t take up floor space. They are used in a school here, but could certainly be utilized in a home with some structural support. Book nooks create an opportunity to think about space in different ways, and they don’t have to be a permanent structure.

Another simple way to create a discrete space is with sheer curtains. A few pillows suddenly seem isolated, special, otherworldly, and way more fun than sitting on the couch to read.
via Houzz

This is my life dream book nook. Doors that close. A mini library, space for books. A little funky, a little cool. When I get paid for that up-and-coming bestselling series, this will be on the top of the list.
Till then, I’ll enjoy the perfect reading chair I finally found.

What Happened When I Shut off All Electronics for a Day (You'll Be Surprised)

Electronic devices had finally taken over my family, and not only was I irritated, I was concerned.

They were scattered in the living room, motionless, staring blankly at their iPad, smart phone, and TV screens, drool forming at the corners of their mouths.

“What do you want for dinner?” I asked.

Not a peep.

“What do you want for dinner?” I tried again, this time clapping my hands.

The cats ran. The humans? Nada.

“Great! I’ll make fried liver smothered in mushrooms and onions. Excellent choice!”

If you knew my family, you’d know they’d rather endure root canals without novocaine over eating liver. Yet they continued to stare at the pixelated content that had placed them in a trance-like state. They had no idea I was present and asking them an important question. One that meant edible food over the “How could you do this to us?” liver option.

The moment was a wake-up call. Electronic devices had finally taken over my family, and not only was I irritated, I was concerned. Addiction runs strong in our bloodlines and I didn’t want this to become a perpetual cycle. I was worried about their eyes. And their physical health. And what about fresh air and playing outside? The concerns grew as I quickly unplugged the master power cord and the room went dark.

“Hey!” they shouted in unison. Finally.

That following Saturday, I did the unthinkable. I shut off all electronics. They were forewarned, but gravely unprepared.

First came the tears and the tiny bodies rolling on the floor. “Noooo! Please don’t do this!”

Then came the teenage rebellion. The folded arms and the scowl. The “I’ll try to guilt trip you into giving in” tactic mastered by the pubescent.

And then there was the husband. “Well, this, sucks,” he said, itching to check his fantasy baseball scores.

I was pleased. We, as a family, would go the day without the normal suite of electronics that kept our household lit and electrical meter spinning in an infinite loop.

Through the wails and the sighs, I suggested that we go outside or play a board-game or sing campfire songs. Anything to keep our commitment and achieve our goal (well, my goal). At this point, the resentment ran deep and I was shunned by each person in my presence. I was the bad guy that had turned their Apple-infused world into Little House on the Prairie.

Soon, the shock wore off and boredom set in. Boredom became irritability. Irritability became pacing. And then…

“Mom, can we pull out all the stuffed animals and turn the yellow room into a zoo?” My two youngest spent the better part of the morning playing with toys they hadn’t touched in months. For them, it was like finding hidden treasure.

My teen overcame his grumpiness and put his cooking skills to the test. He whipped us up some blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs while my husband and I repainted the bookshelves in the living room. We were all busy, yet still interacting with one another. There was laughing and stories. The sound of voices over the pings and pangs of video games was music to my ears.

The rest of the afternoon everyone did their own thing, without any prompting from me. They relearned how to keep themselves busy without electronic devices preoccupying their time. That evening, we went for a walk as a family, something we hadn’t done in ages. There was no rush to get home. No one worried about missing the start of a TV show or if Guava Juice or some other YouTuber had uploaded a new video.

What really surprised me about our little test was that it carried over to the next day. No one reached for an iPad or turned on the TV as soon as they opened their eyes. The kids resumed playing with their newly-rediscovered toys. My teen put his laundry away and vacuumed his bedroom. And my husband and I sat there in state of disbelief. It was a good disbelief, trust me. We drank coffee and questioned things like, “What is a black hole?” and “Did the chicken come before the egg?” Things we couldn’t do before with the clash of multiple electronic devices waging war in our ears.

Since that one fretful-turned-fantastic Saturday, electronics have been used less in our household. I don’t know if this is by design or default, but it’s been a welcome change. We go entire days without the TV on. We forget about our phones and iPads. We talk more and click less.

And, even though they never heard me, I haven’t had to threaten them with liver ever since.

The Pictures You'll Want to Have

This phase of motherhood, although it can be exhausting and overwhelming, I don’t ever want to forget.

I woke up the other morning and found this picture on my phone.

You see, right now I’m in the trenches, the newborn trenches that is. That night it was my husband’s turn to get up with the baby, and after changing, feeding, and putting the baby down, he snuck this picture of me and my daughter (who crawled into bed with us at some point during the night).

Normally when I see a picture of myself that I haven’t posed for, I never post it and I generally get annoyed at whoever took it, but not this time. This picture was different.

These past few weeks have been rough. You forget how much work babies are and how exhausted you become, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Add two more kids to the mix and you just feel drained. All. The. Time.

My days are filled with changing diapers, rocking babies, wiping tears, cleaning spills, doing laundry, washing dirty dishes, and endless snack times. I don’t get a shower in every day. My eyes are puffy and have bags from the lack of sleep. My clothes most likely have some sort of spit-up or food stain on them. My hair is in a permanent mom bun. My makeup is nowhere to be seen.

This picture shows it all. It’s not glamorous, but it’s a picture of one of the hardest jobs there is: motherhood. I want to remember this phase of my life. I need this picture to remind me, because sometimes when you’re in the trenches, you forget that you’ll miss it someday.

I won’t necessarily miss the sleepless nights, but I’ll miss holding my babies and rocking them to sleep, feeling their little chests breathe in and out, while their little fingers wrap around mine. I won’t necessarily miss the crying fits, but I’ll miss the ability I have to calm my children down with just an embrace and a kiss on the forehead. I won’t necessarily miss cleaning up the spilled milk, but I’ll miss the ability clean up their messes with only soap and water. I won’t necessarily miss waking up with a sore neck and back from sharing the bed with my children, but someday, I will miss waking up to their faces next to mine. I will miss waking up to those morning cuddles.

This is the phase I want to remember. This phase of motherhood, although it can be exhausting and overwhelming, I don’t ever want to forget. So remind your spouse or your partner. Remind them to take these pictures of you. Be proud of these pictures because these are the ones you’ll want to remember.

This post was originally published here.

8 Instructional Art Books for Your Aspiring Picasso

If your child loves to draw or paint, consider arming them with a supply of how-to books and take their early tinkering to a whole new level.

Between budget cuts and high-stakes testing, there is less room today for the arts in our educational system. Parents who value the arts or who want to support their child’s creative endeavors are often forced to seek out expensive after-school programs such as art classes and music lessons.
But there is a cheaper, and in some cases, better way. Books! If your child loves to draw or paint, consider arming them with a supply of how-to books. They’ll learn new techniques, feel inspired, and take their early tinkering to a whole new level.
Here are eight art books for your aspiring Picasso:


“Draw 500 Series”

by Quarry Books

Quarry Books’ “Draw 500” series for the little artist in the family is a winning collection of guidebooks. These pocket-sized gems are filled with 500 illustrations covering everything from faces and features to nature and animals.
These are not step-by-step books, but a reduction of the elements that make up each piece so that a child can take the “pieces” in the future and create their own, one-of-a-kind designs.


“20 Ways to Draw Series”

by Quarry Books

Also from Quarry Books, the “20 Ways” series features a wide variety of instructional sketchbooks. With illustrated examples on over a hundred themes – trees, flowers, sea creatures, cute little animals, and more – your eager artist will never have a shortage of inspiration.
No extra paper needed either. There’s room on the pages for your child to practice their creations. Each example is simplified, modernized, and reduced to the most basic elements, showing how abstract shapes and forms create the building blocks of any item your child wants to draw.


“Botanical Line Drawing”

by Peggy Dean

Line drawing is an easy art form that resembles doodles. The form is perfect for kids because there are no challenging techniques to learn. Line drawing looks amazing as a standalone piece, but also works well when incorporating watercolor, hand lettering, etc.
“This book has very clear instructions, and I love all the variety. An ‘artist’ at any level would be able to master the pictures with some practice,” says one Amazon reviewer.


“The Art of Drawing Dangles”

by Olivia A. Kniebler

Dangles are a new, fun art form for people who love to color. And kids love to color! Featuring 50 projects, “The Art of Drawing Dangles” teaches kids to add charms and pretty embellishments to letters and artwork to create a dangle.
Dangles can transform oopsies trash-bound pieces into unique works of art. Each project is easy to follow and includes simple instructions.


“If You Can Doodle, You Can Paint”

by Diane Culhane

Doodling is a first step toward drawing and painting bigger creations. Since doodling flows naturally from a person, “If You Can Doodle, You Can Paint” is the perfect primer for young artists.
The book is filled with easy-to-follow exercises, which lead up to the grand finale of how to transfer a doodle to something much, much bigger.


“Abstracts in Acrylic and Ink”

by Jodi Ohl

If your child is excelling in drawing or painting, it might be time to introduce them to a more complex area…abstract art. There are 22 fun-to-follow projects with insider tips on creating incredible abstracts in “Abstracts in Acrylic and Ink.”
Children can dabble with graffiti-style art, learn to add a stain, and achieve modern image transfers. “A wonderful book of clear instructions on step-by-step creative exploration of materials and abstract expressionist tips,” says one Amazon reviewer.


“Illustration School: Let’s Draw Cute Animals”

by Sachiko Umoto

Created by one of Japan’s most popular artists, this book provides detailed and complete instruction for illustrating fun and appealing characters and elements that celebrate life (back cover). Author and artist Sachiko
Author and artist Sachiko Umoto’s distinct style offers simple, fun, and playful designs that pop from a page. The method he uses is so simplistic that even young kids will quickly catch on. In this book, they’ll learn to draw cute animals using his whimsical style.


“Star, Branch, Spiral, Fan: Learn to Draw from Nature’s Perfect Design Structures”

by Yellena James

This gorgeous flexibound book makes it an ideal addition to your budding artist’s library. Inside, they’ll learn how to observe the structure of nature’s forms so they can draw the things they see outside.
Using a bit of math, natural objects come to life: “the radial star at the center of snowflakes, fruits, and flowers, and the arms of starfish; spirals at the heart of nautilus shells, unfurling plants, and swirling storm systems.”
Which books for the aspiring Picasso would you add to this list? Share in the comments below!

How to Make the Sensational Memories of Summer Last

We have to enjoy every second of summer because it seems to come to an end before we’re ready to see it go.

In Minnesota where I’ve lived my whole life, summer has a special quality to it. It brings a sense of excitement and an active energy that opposed the restlessness of winter. It seeps into frozen bones and forces me out after six months of hibernation into the open air to feel the sun on my face, the sand between my toes, and the wind in my perpetually untamed hair. It is amazing.

Summer in Minnesota, like anywhere else, is not to be squandered. My favorite tidbits are the deep evergreen pines up north, the iridescent blue of the 10,000 lakes you can find outside virtually any front door, and the beautiful bike trails, patios, and sidewalks beckoning people to come and sit. There are only three months of this transcendent time when the sprinklers on freshly-mowed lawns try to keep ahead of the scorching sun, catching rainbows in their misty spray. Communities hold parades, carnivals, and cookouts, and there is a festival in some corner of the state every night. There are outdoor concerts, movies in the park, and the ice cream truck runs on a perpetual loop. There are always fireworks on the fourth of the July. We live on hot dogs and s’mores, and we love it so much. Even dark summer storms with rolling thunder and lightning are incredible.

We have to enjoy every second of it because it seems to come to an end before we’re ready to see it go. Three months to squeeze in every slice of watermelon and every slap of a mosquito. When you look at it by weekends, there are only 12 pairs of Saturdays and Sundays to soak up like the cool clear water of a swimming pool on a scorching day. I want these days to last forever.

I know they won’t. The long hot days of summer are beginning to cool and shorten. The barefoot children in the street every evening soon will be for loading backpacks and headed for early bedtimes. When the fireflies and hummingbirds flutter by a little less often, I start to take an inventory of my time. I look back on the three little months empty of school and homework, and I sit still and listen. I ask myself, “Did I use my time well this summer?”

It’s not like I have an actual bucket list of things that qualify as a good summer. It’s more of a general feeling that I try to tap into, a sense of quality over quantity, of easy tempo and pace, of lackadaisical freedom I fondly remember from my own childhood, that tells me if I spent my summer wisely, calmly, and memorably. Through my self-appraisal I have found two basic hallmarks are the keys to living summer well and making memories that last.


The simplest things in life are often the most magical. The experiences that we make important over and over again are the ones that we will hold the dearest. A cabin weekend every summer, a camping trip, the big fourth of July parade, a picnic at a lake in the same spot every first weekend in August. It doesn’t matter what it is, how big or small. Make it specific and put it on the calendar every year. How special will it be to have those memories? To hear your kids say, “Remember that one year it was windy enough to fly the kites? And the one year it was pouring rain so we had to eat in the car but then that beautiful rainbow came out?” These summers go by fast, you don’t have to make the whole thing memorable, just make one thing memorable every year.

Saying yes

There is so much to be said for making plans, but there’s even something more amazing about making no plans and just doing whatever comes to mind. The key is spontaneity. Being tuned into the moment and being ready to say yes, Jumping on a bike and going for ice cream, walking around the block as the sun sets with tunes playing on your phone, letting your kids bike through every sprinkler on the block, attending a random parade you come upon in a small town while going to that awkward family reunion, or spending an endless day visiting friends’ cabin when they text you the night before to “just come up!” These will be the times you and your kids will remember more than anything else you do.

Summertime brings lazy days, late moonlit nights, cool grass, hot sun, and the feeling that every moment is priceless. The experiences that arise unplanned and unfettered are like little drops of perfection that last forever.

So as this summer winds down and the sun sets a little earlier every night, I hope you can look back and say you know two things for sure: you made some plans, and you made no plans at all and let the day take you. If you can’t say so for sure this year, there may still be time. Either way, put stock in next summer. I have a feeling it will be the best one yet.

Rules for Surviving the Public Pool

If certain rules of basic conduct and human decency were observed by all my fellow swimmers, our sanity would no longer circle the pool drain.

The public pool: sanctuary for the overheated or scourge for the overwhelmed? Having spent the better part of the summer parked poolside with my kids (and about two-thirds of the town population), I’ve come to the conclusion that if certain rules of basic conduct and human decency were observed by all my fellow swimmers (myself included), our sanity would no longer circle the pool drain.

1 | Do not bring the following items to the pool

  • Stuffed animals
  • Bubbles
  • Chapter books
  • Doritos
  • A battery-operated light saber
  • A hamster

2 | Swim diapers

Babies should wear swim diapers. If you’re not sure if it’s a swim diaper or not, put your baby in the water. If the diaper swells up like Jiffy Pop and then explodes in a sea of polyethylene, it was probably not a swim diaper.

3 | Horseplay

There should be no running, horseplay, running with horses, or cosplay on the pool deck.

4 | Bathroom break

If your child needs to use the pool bathroom, please make sure her feet do not make contact with the sludgy floor at any time

You may want to bring a spare towel for her to stand on for the 20 minutes it takes her to roll down her wet bathing suit and then get it back on afterward.

5 | Scented sunscreen

Please don’t use the sunscreen that smells like coconut. Every bee within a five-mile radius will swarm your family until you flee back to the locker room.
seeking freelance writers to submit work about families, parenting and kids

6 | Only claim the chairs you need

Limit the number of lounge chairs you claim for your family. While the three of you are leisurely spread out over six chairs, my family of four is stacked on one chair like a bunch of soggy nesting dolls.

7 | Diving

No diving, unless the lifeguards aren’t looking and you’re really good at it.

8 | “Look at me!”

For heaven’s sake, please look at your child when he demonstrates his swimming skills! By the sheer number of times he’s requested your attention, he must be up to some serious Michael Phelps-level moves. Turn your head and look!

9 | Tech

If you’re looking to work on your laptop poolside, maybe don’t sit right next to the cannonball competition.

10 | First aid

First aid kits are located near the lifeguard stands. If you can’t find one, you can probably find a used band-aid stuck to the pool drain or the underside of your flip flop.

11 | Lifeguards

Please do not distract the lifeguards while they’re on duty. Things that are considered distractions are: asking to see their CPR certification, addressing them as “David Hasselhoff,” parading around wearing an N’Sync World Tour t-shirt un-ironically, or borrowing their megaphone to communicate to your husband by the snack bar that he should get extra cheese sauce on the nachos.

12 | Kiddie pool

The small pool over there is a kiddie pool, not a jacuzzi. The fact that it’s super-warm and bubbling tells you all you need to know about venturing in there.

13 | More sunblock

Do not let your kid use sunblock sticks. She will use it to write on her body and will have the word “butt” sunburned onto her forearm for the rest of the summer.

14 | Laps

The lap lanes are for disgruntled adults training for triathlons or channeling professional frustration through the butterfly stroke. Definitely not the right place for your ‘tweens’ handstand contest.

15 | Give up

When the chlorine, constant whistle-blowing, and whining about water being “too splashy” finally get to you, promise to take your kids to the beach tomorrow. That’s totally less stressful.