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?
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What You Need to Know for Taking Professional Outdoor Photos This Fall

Preparation and realistic expectations are key for those wanting memory making moments to be captured on film by professionals.

The autumn season makes for a beautiful backdrop when it comes to outdoor family pictures. Fall is the most in-demand season for professional photographers because the weather is typically great and the sunset lighting is magnificent. The changing of the leaves adds background color, while the gentle harvest breeze distracts the bugs from biting. Family photos taken during fall also have a practical essence because proofs can be ordered in time for the gift giving season or to be mailed as holiday cards.
As pretty as autumn is, it cannot dismiss the stress associated with booking a photo shoot, especially when extended family members need to be involved. Young children make pictures great, but they are still prone to tantrums no matter the time of year. Autumn also means school days are in full swing, as well as hectic extra-curricular activities. Preparation and realistic expectations are key for those wanting memory making moments to be captured on film by professionals.


The best way to be prepared for a photo session is to talk about it beforehand with the photographer and all of the adults planning to be in the picture. Things will go smoother if everyone is on the same page regarding date, time, and the length of the shoot. Most photographers like to have a pre-session consultation, which lets the professional behind the lens know exactly what a customer wants. This type of meeting can be short and take place in person, over the phone, or via email, text messaging, or social media. The photographer will be better prepared if details and expectations are shared.
Here is a list of items and questions that should be discussed with a photographer in advance:
1 | The number of people attending the photo shoot must be known because location and backdrops can change dramatically if too many or too few people are in a shot.
2 | The ages of children involved is important data to share for scheduling purposes, and also for establishing the amount of time needed to complete the session. Photographers often try to avoid nap times or meal times when dealing with younger children. They may also stage it so different families come at different times in order to avoid a lot of standing around time for all involved.
3 | Is the photo shoot for an immediate family consisting of just the parents and children? Or is it a multigenerational photo with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents? A photographer needs these answers beforehand in order to create a rundown list that accommodates all requests. Multigenerational photo sessions may include several families, plus pictures of just the grandparents with the grandchildren. By knowing the family dynamic before picture day, a photographer can be sure to take all of the necessary group poses.
4 | Is there a preference between candid or formal shots? What is the overall look hoping to be achieved? A photographer wants to know a person’s style and a good photographer never wants to waste time (or precious lighting) taking unwanted pictures. Outdoor family photos are meant to resemble the style and dynamic of the individuals being photographed. The poses and staging need to reflect a personality that is recognizable to the photo subjects.
5 | What kind of final print images are wanted? If there is anything specific one wants from a photo shoot make it known early and often to avoid disappointment when proofs are made available. A photographer needs to know when a person wants a large, rectangular canvas for over the fireplace because he or she can then take multiple shots that fit this desired horizontal look.

Clothing and hair

What to wear can be the biggest stress when it comes to getting family pictures taken. Matching outfits is never mandatory, but coordinating colors is a plus. The family member that is hardest to shop for should be the starting point for all of the other outfits. Find something for him or her and then work to get everyone else dressed in similar styles and complimentary colors.
Women should be cautious about wearing dresses or skirts because they make sitting difficult. They can also inadvertently add a few pounds to a person’s look due to an unflattering angle or sudden gust of wind. Little girls look cute in dresses, but getting them to sit with their legs together can be an impossible feat. Sometimes these unladylike poses are adorable and sometimes they are irritating.
Everyone wants great hair on picture day, so try to keep it simple. Ladies should avoid ponytails because pictures taken from straight ahead can give the look of having short hair. Pigtails are very cute and photograph well on young girls. Guys with spiky or parted hair may want to use gel to keep the look in place. However, above all else be natural because a family does not want to be unrecognizable due to fancy hair.


Outdoor pictures include grass, dirt, and sticky tree branches. Bring a blanket along or ask your photographer to have one on-hand so that clothes and body parts do not become stained or dirty during the photo shoot.
Props are typically welcomed by photographers, but it is a good idea to discuss what items need to be brought and their importance so the photographer can make them a priority. If a family picture is to include a sports theme, than it would be smart to bring balls and equipment from home. Photographers typically have a stash of props they can bring, as long as they know to do it. Seasonal items, vintage decor, and more can all make a family photo cozier.


The best time for an outdoor photo shoot is the late afternoon leading up to sunset. Many professional photographers describe this time as “the golden hour” or “the magic hour” because the sun puts off a beautiful glow that is great for a variety of skin tones. If a photo session cannot be booked during this magical hour, than a spot with a lot of shade should be used so that photo subjects do not have to squint or worry about being washed out by brightness.
Weather cannot be controlled, so when a person plans an outdoor photo shoot they need to be flexible and realistic. Rain, fog, clouds, and extreme temperatures can all put a damper on pictures taken outside in the elements.


Ultimately family pictures should be celebrated and during the photo shoot it is important to try to have fun and let go of the worries. There is definitely stress associated with planning for professional photos because everyone wants to look their best. However, the goal is to capture the beautiful moments in life that are happening right now. A child’s toothless grin, a grandmother’s distant look, and the laugh lines (that may actually be wrinkles) make for great photographs. Childhood is fleeting and everyone ages, but professional photos lead to hard copy proof that a family cared enough to make the time and get together.
Capturing a family’s bond against the backdrop of changing leaves and harvest sunsets will showcase a moment in time that cannot be lost.

Practice for Discipline and Enrichment, Not Perfection

Practice is only one of many other personal factors that predict how much kids learn.

Practice makes perfect as the old adage goes, yet cases of failure abound, despite copious practice. Science now suggests that while practice will definitely make your kid better, it won’t necessarily get him to perfection.

A recent study analyzed the performance of more than 11, 000 participants in music, games, sports, and educational and occupational domains, and found that those who regularly practiced performed better than those who did not. However, the researchers also found that practice was only one of many other personal factors that predicted just how much was learned. Here are a few tips to help your kid make the most out of practice.

1 | Practice, yes, but the right way

Practice will always produce results. There is no doubt that practice will improve your kid’s performance. However, the type of practice makes a lot of difference.

A recently concluded study suggests that how we practice matters as much as how often we practice. The study examined over 800, 000 gamers to determine how practice affected their gaming performance. The researchers found that, despite practicing for the same amount of time, some players performed better than others. In other words, these players learned more efficiently than others. It was found that high performers spaced out their practice better and used more varied approaches to practice.

A different study came to the same conclusion. It found that kids performed better in math when problems were spaced out and mixed. In other words, learning was optimal when students were presented with problems drawn from different lessons rather than practice problems on the same topic. According to the study, mixing problems (many practice sets and problems on different topics) helps kids learn better because it’s more demanding and requires that kids pay greater attention to the problems presented.

2 | Don’t forget the “space effect”

Spacing out practice sessions also helps, as many studies have demonstrated. Evidence suggests that spacing reduces the rate of forgetting over a wide range of ages, settings, and tasks. Spaced practice improves retention, problem-solving skills, and the ability to assimilate new knowledge more easily. Instead of scheduling two-hour practice sessions, schedule four 30-minute sessions over a longer time frame.

3 | Not everyone will be perfect in the same thing

In a recently published study, neuroscientists examined the brain activity of 15 young adults and found that practice did not account for all learning. In other words, the researchers found that individual talent had a significant impact on how much was learned. After examining participants’ brain structures, the researchers were also able to accurately reveal those who learned quickly and those who didn’t, irrespective of practice. The study found that participants’ predisposition largely affected how they learned.

A different study came to similar conclusions. After analyzing chess players and musicians, the researchers found that it takes more than deliberate practice to become an expert, and that practice accounted for only about a third of observed differences. In other words, hard work can make us good, but it will not necessarily make us great.

The researchers suggest that accurately assessing people’s abilities and whether or not they are able to achieve their goals given their abilities gives them a realistic chance of becoming great. In other words, working from your kid’s abilities and interests will lead to greater success than forcing kids to consistently practice for something they have neither the skills nor the interest to undertake. Although encouraging your kid to practice her violin lessons will improve her performance, it will not make her perfect if she’s not inclined to the violin.

4 | Work on your kid’s self-confidence

A study published earlier this month examined the extent to which kids self-perception was linked to their performance over time. Drawing from a large-scale data set, the researchers found that kids who had a positive view of their ability in math and reading performed better in these two domains. In other words, the kids’ concept of their ability had a significant impact on both their motivation and performance. (Self-concept is defined as the perception of the capability to succeed.)

Much evidence suggests that kids who are confident in their abilities generally perform better than those who aren’t. When kids are motivated, they also perform better socially, academically, and psychologically. Motivating your kid is, therefore, the first step toward helping him develop his self-concept of ability. What does he know? What is he capable of doing? How do you set reasonable expectations? How do you ensure those expectations are being met? These are some of the issues that can help you guide your kid toward greater performance.

37 Ways to Entertain Your Kid That Won't Bore You Out of Your Skull

When your day with little ones stretches endlessly before you and you’re out of ideas, try some of these.

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It is not even noon, and you’ve watched a movie, done a puzzle, read books, and everything else you can imagine. When your day with little ones stretches endlessly before you and you’re out of ideas, try some of these:

  1. Write a letter or draw a picture for a faraway relative. Address and stamp today so you make sure to send it.
  2. Visit your local hospital cafeteria for lunch.
  3. Make a collage of things you like from old magazines.
  4. Go to the shelter, and give the animals a little one-on-one attention.
  5. Armed with $1 each, go to a store and have each person pick out a snack to share.
  6. Make paper bag puppets or costumes.
  7. Call the fire station and arrange for a tour.
  8. Look at baby pictures or home movies.
  9. Act out a favorite picture book.
  10. Make a word search with the names of friends and family.
  11. Get out the flashlights, turn out the lights, and explore the house.
  12. Have each family member take a picture of the five things he or she would rescue in a fire. Write a sentence or two about why each item is so special.
  13. Make a map of your block. Include as much detail as possible.
  14. Make a big pan of Jello Jigglers (see the box for a recipe). Cut puzzle pieces and try to put it back together.
  15. Visit the library with a list of things everyone must find: something blue, a book with turtles, a newspaper, etc.
  16. Use a few basic food supplies to build towers or houses. Graham crackers and marshmallows are a great place to start, with frosting as an adhesive.
  17. Tell a few sentences of a story. Say “and then…” so the next person can continue the story. Go around in a circle a few times till you come to a natural ending.
  18. Break out the microphones! Hairbrushes or vacuum attachments work well. Turn on some great dance music and sing your hearts out – extra points for stage presence.
  19. Use tissue paper and Mod Podge (or thinned out white glue) to decorate anything wood. Picture frames work well. Rip off pieces of different colored tissue paper, wet it thoroughly to stick, and add layers. Dries overnight.
  20. Search the internet or cookbooks for a fun new recipe and give it a shot.
  21. Put on swimsuits, add extra bubbles to the tub, and have a family bubble bath. See who can cover themselves the most in suds.
  22. Play a memory game. Put 10 objects on a tray, cover it after 60 seconds, and then see who can remember everything. If that is too easy, go for less time or more stuff.
  23. Go bowling. It never fails.
  24. Make a piñata: Blow up a balloon. Cut newspaper into one-inch thick strips. Coat with glue or ahesive mixture and cover with wet strips. Leave a small (2” x 2”) section blank. Dry overnight and pop balloon. Paint or decorate the exterior. Fill with small goodies through the hole and seal with duct tape or a sturdy piece of cardboard wedged in. Then go to town.
  25. Take a sightseeing trip to find heavy equipment. See how many machines you can identify (and bring along reference material if possible).
  26. Let the kids ask you 20 questions about your childhood.
  27. Clear off the dining room table, cover with a sheet or two, and all climb into the fort.
  28. Give each child a list of words or a set of pictures to use in a story or poem.
  29. Visit pbs.org or another television website for interactive games and activities relating to favorite shows and characters.
  30. Plant some seeds in a window box and make labels for what each thing will become.
  31. Using towels, sheets, dishrags, or anything else you can think of, become a family of super heroes. Invent your own superpowers and work to rescue things around the house.
  32. Take turns doing portraits of each other. Have one person sit for 10 minutes while everyone else draws, then switch. Make a gallery of your work.
  33. Have a silly string or whipped cream fight in the kitchen (or maybe the bathtub).
  34. Learn about tools. Find some things around the house that can be safely taken apart with screwdrivers or wrenches.
  35. Practice gargling together. See who can do it the longest, who can talk while gargling, or even sing a song.
  36. Bring out your animal side. Say “hocus pocus…rabbit,” and everyone has to act like a rabbit. With another “hocus pocus,” you switch. Take turns being in charge of choosing the next animal.
  37. Look at a globe or map and figure out a location opposite from you: opposite side of the world, opposite side of the country, anything. Research that place and put together pictures and words to tell about it.

A Most Important Request to Parents From a Teacher

I find myself in a position where I am left with no other choice but to wear my heart on my sleeve and ask a favor.

Dear Parents,
These words don’t come easily. I find myself in a position where I am left with no other choice but to wear my heart on my sleeve and ask a favor.
Could you please give your child time to play?
I want to provide this for them in school. I miss the days of a dress up trunk and play kitchen. I miss the block corner and a craft table. Your children need these things, and I can no longer provide them.
As you know, the day is busy. We are in a new era of education. Opinions on that aside, I want you to know I recognize the change. The academic rigor is good, but it pushes other things out of the picture.
Your child is learning higher level mathematical concepts at a much earlier age. Algebra is introduced in first grade now. But there is a cost, and exploring geometry through Legos and wooden blocks just doesn’t fit in.
The writing your child is doing is amazing. There are insights and opinions and text-based evidence, but I had to let something go to make room for this. Unfortunately, we don’t really have time for the creative writing we used to see so much of. It’s not gone, but it feels that way sometimes.
Complex texts and more non-fiction is filling our day. This provides amazing connections with social studies and science. But we lose much of what was familiar about grade school. We don’t learn the 50 states and capitals anymore, and the solar system study is no longer about making models of the planets.
The technology is amazing. Computers are putting more information at their fingertips than we could have found in any encyclopedia. But it does mean more time in front of screens, and typing trumps cursive. I know that’s hard to swallow, but it’s just the best use of our time.
Art and music and physical education are still there for most of us, but not in the classroom. They are one session a week as a “special,” but I just don’t have the time or resources to pull the paints out in the classroom anymore. I’m not sure how I could justify it with everything else that must be taught.
Thankfully, reading is still an essential part of our day. We read books and articles and primary sources. It’s wonderful to open up new worlds of information. But it had to take the place of something and reading for fun seemed to be the thing that fell away. It breaks my heart, but this is why I need you.
I need you to bridge this gap with me. When your children come home please fill these voids.
Let them be messy with glitter and paint. I know it’s hard, but they need time to be creative.
Let them be loud. Let them run and get dirty outside. I know there is not a lot of time, but their bodies need freedom to move.
Let them read a book just because it’s beautiful. I know you’re busy with dinner and homework, but the beauty of words can inspire them to dream.
Let them try new things. Go places. Visit the library just because. Play tag. Build a tower. Let their imagination run free.
Kids need this. Play will only help them become better learners, thinkers, and creators. No matter how old or young they may be, please make time for them to play.
I will do my best for them in the classroom. I will provide academic rigor and teach all that I’m supposed to. On top of that I’ll try to squeeze in opportunities for all that’s been pushed aside. I’ll do what I can, but I need your help.
Please, give them time to play.
A Teacher Who Wants the Best

Understanding the Emptiness of Pep Talks

Praise and pep talks are empty. Whatever is compelling my daughter to feel “less than” will not be satiated by my efforts to cheer her up.

I am notoriously hard on myself. After my first semester of high school at a private, all-girls school I got a 3.8 GPA. I was devastated. I felt angry at myself for not achieving a 4.0. I beat myself up for not studying more and I couldn’t escape my own negative self-talk.
20 years later I’m the proud mother of a beautiful five-year-old girl who’s turning out to be her own worst critic. Dripping in sparkling preciousness, my daughter has an emotional depth that’s mystifying. Her connections to the world and observations about life astound me regularly.
I’ve stood on the sidelines and watched with wonder while she has navigated kindergarten. I see how hard she works to sound out words and how frustrated she gets when she can’t figure it out. After struggling to learn to read, she recently proclaimed, “I’m dumb. I’m stupid.”
I reacted emotionally as her mother and number one cheerleader. “No, you’re not,” I said. “Why would you say that about yourself? You’re the smartest little girl I know. You’re so creative and talented.”
She looked at me through glossy eyes and replied forcefully, “Then why can’t I learn to read like everybody else?”
I stared at her blankly and held her as her exasperation flowed into tears. Later that night I thought about all the pep talks my parents gave me throughout my childhood. They fell on deaf ears. Nobody could say anything to cheer me up when I didn’t make varsity basketball my sophomore year of high school. I had my heart set on that goal and I fell short of it.
My dad tried to lift my spirits by saying that not many sophomores made varsity and that I was a good athlete. I couldn’t hear him. No matter how rational the argument he presented, he could never win over the voice in my head. His words of encouragement weren’t enough to silence my inner critic.
The trouble with being my own worst critic is that at times it has prevented me from feeling joy. I’ve focused on all the wrong things. Instead of focusing on my 3.8 GPA and celebrating the hard work that went into that outcome, I felt disappointment. Instead of being thrilled that I made the junior varsity team and that I had the opportunity to play high school sports, I felt not good enough for myself.
This feeling and my inner voice has followed me into my adulthood. It took me a while to realize the damage I was doing by not allowing myself the grace to let go and inhale the richness that makes up my beautiful, imperfect life.
We parents see parts of ourselves in our children. As I watch my daughter’s young, inner voice come out in such a raw form, I hear my own critic in her words. I wonder how I can influence her to ignore that negative voice and develop a positive one. There’s nothing more soul-crushing than listening to a five-year-old girl berate herself.
Praise and pep talks are empty. Whatever is compelling my daughter to feel “less than” will not be satiated by my efforts to cheer her up. I know it won’t equip her to chase away the negative chatter in her head or have her feel like who she is naturally is enough for the world. I can’t talk my daughter out of what her heart feels.
I can certainly relate to how she feels, however. Empathy is a powerful parenting strategy. My daughter was working on an art project recently and ended up in tears and anger.
“Mom, I don’t like my art,” she said. “I want it to look different. I want it to be perfect.”
I resisted my instinct to praise and come back to her with a canned mom response. Something along the lines of, “Oh, your art is beautiful. I love it. I don’t know what you don’t like about it.”
Instead, I looked at her sincere blue eyes and I said, “I understand. I know exactly what it’s like to want something to be perfect.”
She looked at me, bewildered. “You do?” she asked.
“I do. It took me a while to learn that there is no such thing as perfection. It doesn’t exist,” I explained. “All we can do is be our best selves and work hard. Did you work hard at your artwork?”
“I did, Mom,” she said. “But I want to try again.”
“Go for it,” I said. “I’m proud of you for working hard and being willing to try again.”
She walked away with a fierce, determined look in look in her eye, a look I couldn’t help but recognize.

When is "Good Enough" Better than Perfection?

Some people are perfectionists. I have never been accused of such a thing.

Some people are perfectionists. I have never been accused of such a thing. I’m very comfortable knowing there’s no such thing as perfect. “Good enough” works for me. Cooking, cleaning, writing, even driving. Mostly doing it right? No one gets hurt from meat that cooked a bit too long or the layer of dust on my baseboards.
When my mother taught me to sew, my disinterest in perfection was a big problem. Basically it drove her crazy. Why pin every few inches? That seemed like a waste of time when I could just hold things mostly straight. How many people actually look at the seam of your flannel pajama pants anyway?
Finally my mama gave up and sent me to sewing class with a local woman. Mrs. Tibor wasn’t mean (probably). However, she wouldn’t let me touch a machine until she’d approved my pinning. It was horrible! I worked on a complex red and black silky top for orchestra performances. For weeks I struggled with the fabric, especially since my teacher wouldn’t just let me go for it. I didn’t get the smug satisfaction of learning the right way to do it either – a new year started and I stopped lessons before ever finishing.
My ever-creative mother punished me as a senior in high school by forcing me to make a quilt. It was a log cabin pattern, with endless strips that required sewing tiny pieces into larger pieces into the whole. My crime? Staying out late – very, very late – on Halloween. There was a car accident, in my defense. Two flat tires. (Really.) And extreme cold and ice and I thought we might die. In the house I grew up in, those sorts of things didn’t matter. Being late did.
I suffered through the peach and green quilt, thinking I could avoid pinning. I could eyeball two inches and use one hand to pull the corners taut without any problem. Slowly the thing grew larger and larger. By the time I was ready for borders, I realized I’d have to pin or face certain doom. I finally did it, 100 yellow headed pins along one side of the king sized quilt.
I hated that quilt. I still hate it. It sits in the bottom of my linen closet. I want to get rid of it, more than you can imagine. For a while it gave me a sense of accomplishment. Last time I got it out during a cold snap, I took a careful look at the pattern. I saw how many seams were frayed or pulled apart, letting the white batting show through. All those rushed moments, trying to progress and get done with my sewing. They’d held for a while but now the truth was showing. This giant project that had consumed so many hours was falling apart.
I’m creeping up on age 40. There are things about myself I can’t avoid any longer. I will never have arms that don’t look 20 years older than me. I will never be an astronaut or date a rock star. I just have to accept that.
I’m trying to be more honest with myself as well. I’m not a perfectionist but I could work at it a bit more. Taking time to do something right isn’t a bad thing. “Good enough” is appropriate in some situations but not all of them. I certainly don’t want my doctor doing a good enough job operating on me – even if the outcome is basically the same.
I won’t be going back and fixing my big old quilt. But I am starting a small project, llama pajamas for the kid. If I was ambitious I’d start a company and take over the world. Instead, I’ll make one lopsided pair. He’ll be happy if they are a bit misshapen. Instead I’m going to try to execute as perfectly as possible. I’ll know that I gave it my all, even if no one else does. Every time he wears them, I’ll remind myself about not taking short cuts, of the virtue of actually trying my best.

Hold the Cheese: How to Photograph Your Kids as You Actually See Them

As parents, we want to remember everything. But how do you capture the essence of childhood. The images that truly tell the whole story?

Feature image: Tim Topple Photography. All rights reserved.

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap] have a wild child. She’s a free spirit, a free thinker, often pants-free, and she never sits still for more than 30 seconds at a time, max. She has long golden curls that hang to just above her bottom but you wouldn’t know it if you saw her in action because they are always flowing out horizontal behind her as she runs here, ducks there, or scoots away from me when I try to scoop her up and back into her bedtime routine.
I could say part of the reason we don’t have as many pictures of her hanging on the walls as we do of her older brother and sister is because she’s the third baby, doomed from the start to a lifetime of missed opportunities for the careful chronicling of firsts, lasts, and major milestones. But that’s only half of the truth. The other half is this: When she sits quietly for a second or two with her hands in her lap and smiles a gap-toothed, head-cocked smile at me, the result might be a gorgeous photograph, but it’s not her. It’s not who she is at heart, deep in that space where she’s always a little bit on fire and molten and always, always moving.
We cleaned out the attic the other day, me and her, and she helped me sort through a box of the kinds of things attics are made for: old pictures and odd mementos, baby clothes I can’t part with, and the rare cast off jeans that might once again fit someday. Stuck to the bottom of the box was a picture of a girl, caught mid-stride in a run, her curls straight out horizontal behind her and her head thrown back, laughing.
“Is that me?” She asked, holding it up to the light. It was starting to curl up at the edges and yellowed in a spot at the corner with age.
“It’s me,” I said, and watched her face as she tried to make sense of that.
“I knew it,” she said, setting the picture down carefully in my hand and bolting suddenly out of the room at full speed for an undetermined destination. “Just who exactly do you think I got it from?” she called back over her shoulder.
So how do you capture that? The essence of these small but mighty spirits roaring into the world?
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We asked Tim Topple, whose portrait of his daughter has been shortlisted in Sony’s World Photography Awards for insight.

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As parents, we want to remember everything. The dimples on the backs of their hands, the T-shirt they wore every other day until they couldn’t squeeze into it anymore. But how can you photograph the aspects of their personality that aren’t physical?

I often focus on the imprints children leave on the things around them and their environment, rather than the children themselves. These things can reveal so much about their personalities; the particular way they left toy animals lined up, the items they deemed worthy of stuffing into one of my pockets before I left for work, other people’s reactions to their behaviors, and so on.
It’s also good to use your parental instinct – if, say, you took several shots of your child playing or dancing, there may be one that looks perfect, but another that talks to you. It could be something intangible, an expression that to you is just so them, something that radiates their essence. This is the picture I’d choose over the perhaps more visually perfect one. It’s these little pieces of magic that make family photographs special.

Tim Topple photography
Tim Topple Photography. All rights reserved

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kickee pants kid jumping into bed

Parent Co. partnered with Kickee Pants because we know the most precious memories are fleeting.

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How do you best capture a moment without ruining it?

Because of the nature of my work I’ve always used small, inconspicuous cameras. It also helps to get to know your camera extremely well so you can use it without too much fuss. Nothing stops people acting naturally more than when you leave the moment to fiddle with settings, point a big camera in their face, or stare at the screen to review the photos. Learn to take pictures without drawing attention. Also, kids soon get used to being photographed if it’s not a big, distracting event!

Tim Topple Photography
Tim Topple Photography. All rights reserved

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What are 3 simple tips for non-photographers to help them take better photographs?

1 | Stick with one camera and one (non zoom) lens – this way you get to truly know your camera and using it becomes second nature. And sticking with one focal length/lens helps you learn how to predict how a picture will look without using the viewfinder or the screen – great for candid shots.
2 | Applying filters or heavy processing won’t make a bad photograph into good one. If the picture has nothing interesting about it to begin with, no amount of processing or filters will change that. Keep it simple.
And, I know it’s often repeated, but what I consider the most important tip is:
3 | Spend money on photography books instead of equipment. The best way to improve is to look at others’ work, think about what you like about it and why it grabs your attention or makes you think. Spending on new cameras because you think it will somehow make you a better photographer is perhaps the biggest mistake. Image quality, sharpness, megapixels – none of these have any bearing on what makes a great photograph!
Tim Topple Photography
Tim Topple Photography. All rights reserved

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Given that we’re living in the age of the iPhone and most people are never farther than arm’s length from a camera, how do you suggest we resist the urge to photograph EVERYTHING?

To spend all your time taking pics leaves no room for considered reflection. Think about what you want to photograph – what gaps in the story of your family need filling – and work towards capturing those moments. By all means, be prepared and ready to photograph at all times, but do so with a purpose. If you do find yourself with hundreds or thousands of pictures at the end of a month, then I recommend spending time editing, deleting, cutting down to a manageable number. And then repeat! No one will bother looking back through folders on a computer with thousands of images in them, but to edit down to a few dozen or less a month and spend a few pennies on getting prints will pay huge rewards in the future.
And although it may seem some people DO photograph everything, it’s mostly the pretty, positive, and Instagram-friendly aspects of life. In this age of social media, it’s become a sad norm to curate our own lives and put a dishonest spin on how we live, but to look back on a lifetime of fake or overwhelmingly positive images would be a hollow experience, in my view. Don’t shy away from capturing the less happy aspects of family life!
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 photography tips from Parent Co.

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Pick a focus. Get specific with tight shots or depth of field. 

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Consider composition and be deliberate about when you click the shutter. 

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Try a different perspective.

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Chase the good light and something interesting will often happen. 

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Childhood is in the mundane and the candid moments too. 

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Parent Co. partnered with Kickee Pants because we know the most precious memories are fleeting.

The Secret to Lin-Manuel Miranda's Success? Standing Ovations From His Parents

The pieces of his life that struck me most, though, weren’t the obvious. It was watching a video of him holding court as a little boy.

I came to my obsession with Lin-Manuel Miranda much later than most people. I didn’t discover him until well after tickets to “Hamilton” had reached mortgage payment levels. So I tried my best to catch up without actually ever seeing the play. I searched news stories and YouTube videos about him, and – if I do say so myself – I did pretty well at becoming a fan of the first order without, you know, being a complete stalker.
The pieces of his life that struck me most, though, weren’t the obvious. Not the trips to the White House, or the interviews where he told about his dismal days as a DJ at Bar Mitzvahs in Queens, or how his bus driver taught him old-school rap on his long rides to and from school in New York City. It was watching a video of him holding court as a little boy.
My favorite is when he is about eight years old. He is doing a video book report on “The Pushcart War.” As narrator, he’s dressed in a little boy suit and tie, reading from copy. He changes into costume several times as the plot progresses. His father is behind the camera, his sister in charge of cue cards. In one extended scene, his mother, his abuela, and his great-grandmother play the parts of striking teachers, marching around the room, holding signs and chanting. Convincingly.
When I was eight, book reports were relegated to pencils and lined paper. But I recall with great clarity, the times I got it into my head that I could sing or dance (usually at the same time) with the likes of Doris Day or Peggy Lee. I would prance down the stairs into the living room, where my parents would already be seated on the couch, waiting for my rendition of a song I’d heard on the radio. Standing ovations every time. It never once occurred to me I was mediocre at best. Never once. That realization came to me much later, slowly, when I had moved on to my next potential occupation. I decided I’d be a writer instead. My parents changed course accordingly.
These days I spend lots of my time with a little boy who’s four. He is partial to acting out fairy tales in great detail, with voices and inflection we marvel at. He’s not shy about giving out (or abruptly rescinding) speaking parts to the adults in the room. We’re all thrown into the narrative, whatever it is at that moment. We have no idea if he will still be loving this so much in another year, or if we’ll be riding another train with him by then.
Broadway was a long way off on the day of Lin’s video book report. But everyone in the room knew their parts by heart and played them with relish anyway. They circled around him, holding their props, reciting their lines, and saying – without saying it directly – “This is the most terrific kid ever.”
I turned out to be a pretty pitiful singer and dancer. On the other end of the spectrum, Lin-Manuel Miranda is finding the world crazy in love with his talent. Isn’t it funny, then, that he and I have something in common. Those moments when you remember their beaming faces, taking a bow, hearing the applause: We both came from a home of standing ovations.
This article was originally published in Huffington Post.

Maximize Your Kids' Executive Function to Help Get to School on Time

It might be time to focus less on what’s going on in your house every morning and more on what’s going on in your kids’ brains at any given moment.

You made lunches the night before. The kids picked their outfits and laid them out before lights out. Backpacks are ready and waiting by the front door. Your younger kids have a picture schedule. Your older kids are capable of telling time. Everyone knows what they need to do and when they need to do it in order to get to school on time.
It should be simple, but somehow it’s not. Despite your best planning, you’re rushing, maybe even yelling, as you herd people toward the door. You are stressed, and your kids are late. Again.
If this sounds familiar, it might be time to focus less on what’s going on in your house every morning and more on what’s going on in your kids’ brains at any given moment.
The brain’s frontal lobe is responsible for executive function, which includes time management, impulse control, planning, organizing, shifting attention, and multitasking. Executive function may be the difference between a stressful morning and a tardy slip versus a pleasant morning and a punctual arrival at school.
Strong executive functioning also means getting homework done on time, remembering to wear sneakers on phys ed. days, and starting a project long before it’s due. While some of these skills develop naturally as kids mature, there are things parents can provide to help maximize their kids’ executive function at any age.

Healthy food

A 2016 study from the British Journal of Nutrition proved what we’ve known for generations: You are what you eat. Or at least, your diet plays a large role in the way you think and act. Researchers found a strong correlation between a healthy diet and cognitive function in children and adolescents.
According to experts, filling your child’s plate with foods found along the grocery store’s perimeter and avoiding items from the center aisles, like sugary beverages and processed snack foods, is best. They cited fish and foods high in fiber (whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) as particularly beneficial.
On the other hand, foods high in saturated fat, like red meat and dairy products, were found to be negatively associated with cognitive function.

Limits on screen time

A 2011 study published in Pediatrics found that watching as little as nine minutes of fast-paced television impaired preschoolers’ executive function. In this study, subjects spent nine minutes doing one of three activities: watching fast-paced television (“Sponge Bob”), watching an educational cartoon (“Caillou”), or drawing.
The children who watched “Sponge Bob” performed significantly worse on tests of executive functioning after the intervention. (I’m sorry if I am the first to tell you that “Caillou” would be a better choice for your child than “Sponge Bob”. I know which one I’d prefer.)
Meanwhile, MRI’s have confirmed that excessive screen time damages the structure of the brain responsible for executive function. A 2013 study in the European Journal of Radiology compared the brains of healthy adolescents with adolescents diagnosed with online gaming addiction (OGA). Researchers found significant gray matter atrophy in the brain’s frontal lobes of those with OGA, as compared with the brains of the healthy subjects.
Additionally, there was a positive relationship between the degree of atrophy and subjects’ scores on a standardized test of internet addiction. In other words, the more time subjects spent in front of a screen, the more likely they were to experience shrinkage of brain tissue in the frontal lobe – the center for executive function.

Opportunities for exercise

It’s no coincidence that most adults find it easier to sit at their desks after a sweat session at the gym. Science has proven what we know to be true over and over, and it turns out the benefits of exercise apply to children, too.
A 2010 literature review published in Developmental Review concluded that aerobic exercise unequivocally promotes children’s executive function. While any form of exercise helps, researchers found that forms of exercise that engage the mind (e.g. team sports, dance, martial arts) are more beneficial than those that do not. The amount of exercise can also positively impact executive function.
Subjects in a 2011 study were placed in one of three groups: a control group, a group that exercised 20 minutes per day, and a group that exercised 40 minutes per day. Using standardized testing and a functional MRI, researchers found that both groups of exercisers performed better on executive function than the control group, and that those who exercised for 40 minutes did better than those who exercised for 20 minutes.
If you’re worried that your child is so mentally disorganized that he is exercise-proof, fear not. One study found that the children who benefit most from exercise were those with the lowest executive function at baseline. And if the argument for exercise isn’t somehow compelling enough, a kid who plays a sport, dances, or practices Tae Kwon Do is, by definition, not in front of a screen.
If you find yourself scrambling to help find your daughter’s left shoe two minutes before the bus comes, remember your focus might be misplaced. When it comes to getting to school on time, putting your best foot forward might just start with the brain.