Tag Archives: Parenting School Years magazine

Making Christmas card

How to Take Great Holiday Family Photos

‘Tis the season for taking family photos for Christmas cards. Parenting School Years magazine offers four tips for snapping the best pictures of your crew this holiday season.

Chances are you’ve got plenty of holiday photo postcards of friends and family peppering your refrigerator–or you soon will. With Christmas just less than a month away, families will be striking poses in the hopes of getting that perfect picture to grace their holiday card.

More and more, families are opting for natural settings and incorporating their personalities, sending that super-posed photo to the wayside.

Parenting School Years magazine cornered some professional photographers, who offered advice like abandoning the pose–and more–for help on how to score the ultimate family photo. Here’s what they have to say.

1. Say no to the pose. Posed family photos are awkward and impossible to make happen anyway. The trend now is to go with unposed shots. Says Charleston, S.C., photojournalist Joshua Drake, “Candids let you capture those intimate, honest moments that happen in everyday life that best reflect your child’s mood and personality.”

2. Keep them in their native environment. If you want the kids to look relaxed and happy, then it might be better to photograph them in their natural habitat–amongst all their toys. “Kids feel most comfortable on their own couch or on their playroom floor,” says Carmel Zucker, a photojournalist from Boulder, Colo. And nothing gets them more delighted or animated than a favorite toy–I know, a blow to the ego for sure.

3. READY, set, click! Just last night I was wishing I’d had my camera nearby to capture my twin girls holding hands and singing. Of course, the minute I move for the camera, they follow me. “You should always have a camera sitting around the house that’s ready to go,” Zucker says. And out of reach of sticky fingers.

4. Snap away! Brent Clark, an award-winning photojournalist based in Raleigh, N.C., confides, “Small facial movements can make or break a photo.” What about redundancy? Clark suggests moving around the room to get different angles, even “lying on the ground or standing on a chair.”

Perhaps the best advice is to let go of so many ridiculous expectations for the perfect family photo. Aside from hiring a professional photographer and paying a fortune, it just might not exist. Besides, the best photographs help us remember special moments and phases of life–none of which will be, “Remember that awesome day we spent taking a family portrait?”

Tell us. What’s your secret for capturing the best family photos?

Is Single-Sex Education Right for Your Child?

Is Single-Sex Education Right for Your Child?

Parenting School Years Feb. 2012 cover

Parenting School Years Feb. 2012

Parenting School Years magazine takes a look at the benefits and potential setbacks of limiting your child’s exposure to the opposite sex.

In grade school, little boys and girls often choose to play separately. Who can blame them when the other is so positively “yucky”?With the occasional exception of a stolen kiss in the schoolyard, Jack and Jill are quite happy to steer clear of one another, thank you very much.

Of course, those aversions all go to pot with the introduction of hormones. Now, instead of encouraging girls and boys to play nice, their parents are keeping closer tabs on them: Does Jack like Jill? Are they a distraction to each other in the classroom?

A growing number of parents and educators believe so. Single-sex schools are popping up all over the nation, and the February issue of Parenting School Years magazine takes a look at a recent study on this new trend. The results? Well, they’re a mixed bag.

“Often same-sex schools with strong academic performance have other advantages as well,” says Penn State Professor of Psychology Dr. Lynn Liben, a participant in the study. Sure the curriculum is more rigid, and there’s the benefit of a discipline system that can actually remove a repeat offender from a classroom, but Liben says she also believes the act of dividing students up reinforces the belief that boys and girls are different.

What’s more, Liben and her colleagues found that even the slightest suggestion of division by a teacher–like telling the boys in a classroom to line up first–led those boys and girls in just two weeks to play together less. This can lead boys and girls to believe they learn differently and have different interests, which isn’t necessarily true, as we all know boys (like my musician husband) who sing and girls who grow up to be engineers.

Still, as a former middle school teacher, I can’t help but tout the improved test scores and academic performance that can surface without all those pesky gender distractions. It’s hard to control a classroom of hormonal teens, and we’re lying to ourselves if we say our kids aren’t distracted. I’ve witnessed more than enough grand and oh-so-awkward gestures by students to impress the opposite sex. But then, they learn from the best.

Did you attend a same-sex school? Are you sending your kiddos to an all-girl or all-boy school? What have been the benefits for you?

Parenting School Years magazine's December 2011/January 2012 issue

7 Surefire Ways to Boost Your Child’s Creativity

Parenting School Years magazine's December 2011/January 2012 issue

Parenting School Years magazine's December 2011/January 2012 issue

Today’s kids are forced to memorize facts for standardized testing instead of learning to think creatively and problem-solve. These simple tips from Parenting School Years magazine will help them tap into their inherent creativity.

For years, creativity was summed up as the ability to fashion something pleasing to the eye. Dumb that down to the public school system and you’re left with an arts-and-crafts project. Not that we don’t love having a sweet ornament to decorate the tree or some nice artwork for the fridge, but does that really prove your child is creative? And does it even matter?

Today, creativity is thought of as “divergent thinking,” or the ability to think outside the box. Mark Runco, Ph.D., director of the University of Georgia’s Torrance Center for Creativity & Talent believes that ability is universal. He tells the December/January issue of Parenting School Years, “We all have creative potential. Our job as parents and teachers is to help kids fulfill that potential.”

Picasso famously said, “All children were born artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” As a former teacher of middle school kids, I can vouch for that statement. With mandates for standardized testing being passed down from the government, kids are merely responsible for regurgitating information that will appear on a state test. Some school districts even require teachers to adhere to a script when “teaching,” as if our kids are nothing more than robots.

But Parenting School Years magazine has some suggestions for what you can do as a parent to help counteract all that multiple choice. So study up with the magazine’s “Creativity Playbook.”

1. Make up stories together. Begin with a descriptive story sentence, and allow her to finish it. Get ready for a novella and accompanying artwork to burst forth.

2. Encourage persistence. When your child is confronted with something particularly challenging, like a really engaging puzzle, resist the temptation to step in and “fix it” for him. Creative problem solving is highly sought after in the corporate world of today; best get some practice now.

3. Let them play with everyday objects. Pots and pans are an instant set of drums. A mop is a stand-in horse, while a bucket can manage as a fashionable hat. This creative play will help him exhaust all possibilities for creativity–and it’s free.

4. Get cooking. While it’s certainly good to teach kids how to follow a recipe, open yourselves up to experimentation in the kitchen. Kids become more aware of where food comes from, and if you can remain open to discovery, you might just find yourself a fine sous chef.

5. Limit screen time to two hours each day. That includes phones, computers, TV and video games. Encourage them to fill up their time with imaginative play: building forts, performing mock battles, etc.

6. Offer up your time and resources to your child’s classroom teacher. Teachers are swamped with the task of “teaching to the almighty test.” Alleviate some of the pressure by offering your time and resources for some creative projects. You coming in a couple of times a month for an art project that complements a unit of study would be a huge boon for any classroom.

7. By all means, let them color outside the lines. Help them see the possibilities beyond the “right” and “wrong” answers and “A, B, or C.” When it comes to creative play, the answers can always be “all of the above.”

Discovery Toys Air Swimmers Clownfish

10 Hot Holiday Toys Bound to Please the Kids

Struggling with gift ideas for children? Help is here, as Parenting School Years magazine recently released it’s must-read list of toys of the year.

This time of year, parents are spending a near fortune purchasing gifts for under the tree. Good thing Parenting School Years has done all the research for you, making your holiday shopping a sure-fire hit with the kids.

It’s officially crunch time in the holiday shopping department. Black Friday ushered in a whole new wave of frantic “must buy now!” deals, causing many of us to make a few impulse buys. I was relieved to see that Parenting School Years magazine has come out with its annual “Parenting Toys of the Year” list for 2011. The December/January issue is chock-full of ideas for what to get the short set in your life. Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, get ready to score some accolades from Junior for being “hip” to the “cool” stuff this year.

1. Animal Planet Air Swimmers. Easily as fun to look at as an animated fish (sorry, Nemo!), this blown-up clown fish glides through the air via remote control. ($50, toysrus.com)

Discovery Toys Air Swimmers Clownfish

Air Swimmers Clownfish (Photo credit: Toys R Us)

2. Hasbro’s FurReal Friends Cookie My Playful Pup. Not ready to welcome the real Fido into your home? This is your answer to the endless pleading for a dog. Cookie will bark, wag her tail, and even chew her bone. This so would’ve made it on my own kiddie Christmas list. ($45, toysrus.com)

FurReal Friends Puppy, Cookie My Playful Pup

FurReal Friends Puppy, Cookie My Playful Pup (Photo credit: Toys R Us)

3. (Toy) Larvae. Junior will be all about these lifelike Larvae scurrying about and changing direction on their own when they hit something. Totally gross–and sure to be a hit. ($13 each, hexbug.com)

Toy Robot Larvae

Toy Robot Larvae (Photo credit: Hexbug)

4. Crayola ColorStudio HD app and iMarker. Here’s one more reason to put the iPad on your own holiday wish list. Your tablet will become a portable easel, with preset coloring pages and blank pages for scribbling. Because coloring books are so 2010. ($30, griffintechnology.com)

Crayola ColorStudio HD

Crayola ColorStudio HD (Photo credit: Griffin Technology)

5. Fisher Price Doodle Bear. If your kid is anything like mine, then you’re trying to keep her from drawing all over every surface in the house. But this sweet bear can be scribbled, stamped, and colored upon without all the heartache. Just drop her in the wash (during nap time, of course!) for new blank canvas to doodle upon. ($20, toysrus.com)

Fisher Price Doodle Bear

Fisher Price Doodle Bear (Photo credit: Fisher Price)

6. The Art Quadrat Puzzle. So much for trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. This puzzle actually encourages creativity by providing ending possible “solutions,” which also makes for a fantastic modern art display. ($42, MoMAstore.com)

Art Quadrat Puzzle

Art Quadrat Puzzle (Photo credit: MoMA)

7. The RC Spinning Lights Car. It can ride on two wheels, pop a wheelie, and complete a pristine 360–all while displaying a rainbow light show. ($25, discovery.com)

RC Spinning Lights Car

RC Spinning Lights Car (Photo credit: Discovery Toys)

8. Master Builder Academy Space Designer. Warning: This play set may awaken adults’ inner Lego maniac. With more intricate construction secrets and three designs, Junior will be busy for hours. That’s some serious bang for your buck. ($30, lego.com)

Lego Master Builder Academy

Lego Master Builder Academy (Photo credit: Lego)

9. Cécile, the latest American Girl Historical Doll. Straight from New Orleans, 1853, comes this Southern belle who will charm any little girl with her teal green dress, frilly boots, gloves, and hat–I do declare! ($100, americangirl.com)

Cecile historical American Girl doll

Cécile historical American Girl doll (Photo credit: American Girl)

10.  Jakks Pacific Spy Net Video Watch. Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? Junior will have all the proof he needs with this watch, which boasts a built-in microphone and camera with up to 20 minutes of footage. Better yet, buy two. ($50, toysrus.com)

Spy Net Secret Mission Video Watch

Spy Net Secret Mission Video Watch (Photo credit: Toys R Us)