3 Organization Projects to Tackle While Kids are at Camp

When the kids are away at camp it’s an ideal time for you to tackle some home organization projects that help tone down the clutter and allow you a few moments to spend walking down memory lane.

We have put together three simple organization projects that, with a small amount of time and effort, can help you get more organized and create systems that make documenting your family life (and not the mess that comes with it!) easier.

Organize Old Clothes

Kids grow so quickly, and that means the piles of outgrown clothes can easily take over the space in drawers and closets. To tame the clothing clutter, we suggest sorting old or outgrown clothes into two boxes.

Fill the first box with clothes that you can donate to local organizations like Goodwill, centers for women and children in need, or non-profit groups that help refugees. When you are donating clothing, make sure that it is still wearable and comfortable. Remember, no matter a person’s level of need, they still deserve to have items that remind them that they are special and cared for. For clothing that is not wearable, along with old sheets and towels, think about donating to a local animal shelter.

Fill the second box with those pieces of clothing that mean the most to you and your family. These don’t have to be the most stylish, or best quality pieces. They can include the t-shirt your son wore when he took his first steps, or your daughter’s favorite dress that she wore every day until she grew out of it. Gather all these treasured items and send them to a company like Project Repat, and have a blanket made.

Organize Photos

If you’re anything like us, you have thousands of digital photos across multiple devices. To make sure that you don’t lose photos of the moments and memories you most want to document, create a file organization system that works for you. We suggest organizing by folders. You can sort by year, and create sub-folders based on time (monthly, quarterly, etc.) or you can organize by favorite places, milestones, or themes.

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Do you vacation at Cape Cod every summer? Consider making a Cape Folder. Within that folder, create sub-folders for each year. That way, you can see how you and your family have changed, how special places have changed, and how the most important thing have remained the same. Think of the act of organizing your photos as a way of documenting and honoring the moments those photos capture.

To organize printed photos, consider using albums or decorative boxes for the photos you haven’t framed. Keep these boxes and albums around the house in family areas so that they are always available for you and your kids to take out and look at together.

When organizing photos, keep in mind how you plan to use them in the future. Make it easy to find your favorites and the photos that best tell the stories of your kids’ lives and your family life so they are on hand when it’s time to create a Mitzvah Montage or to add to a Portrait Video.

Organize Toys

Organizing toys goes a long way to cutting down the clutter, but it can be a difficult experience for kids. Take some time while they are away at camp to sort through toys, starting with those that they haven’t played with much, or toys and games that they never even opened.

Don’t get rid of too much without their consent. It’s important to make sure that your kids feel involved in, but not overwhelmed by the process. Sort the toys as best you can without them, then look through individual boxes or bags - with no pressure - after they come home.

Come up with some strategies that make letting go of old toys easier. This can include putting together a pile of toys to pass along to younger relatives and friends. Find organizations together that your kids would like to donate their gently used toys to (check what organizations accept what kinds of toys - many will not take stuffed animals). Set aside some toys for your kids to sell to help reach their savings goals. They could join up with friends and do a group yard sale or stoop sale - the other moms will be thrilled that you are helping them clear their clutter, too!

When you are organizing, try to be intentional. Consider it part of acknowledging your family’s history and experiences. Feel confident putting things back into the world, after their time of service to you is over. But don’t feel bad about wanting to hold onto a few things, to turn them into memory pieces, or to keep them close to help you remember the moments that have meant the most to you.

Summer Snaps with Portraits that Move!

We’re sharing Summer Snaps throughout the season to help us remember to be mindful of all the moments the season has to offer.

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For us, this is a fun way to share our mission to celebrate every moment because every moment matters. And it’s a great way to stay in touch with each other and gather joy from our collected adventures, discoveries, and quiet moments in time during one of the most beautiful seasons of the year.

Photo by #PTMsummersnapper  @elizabeth.eames

Photo by #PTMsummersnapper @elizabeth.eames

So, take us along on your adventures! Snap a photo and share on Instagram. Tag @portraitsthatmove #ptmsummersnaps so we can all celebrate together. If we all join in, the PTM Team will launch a special contest with a super fun promotion in August… so stay tuned, and start snapping!



3 Questions to Ask Your Kids to Connect to Nature and Each Other

The weather is beautiful in NYC today! Take a moment when you can (or even when it’s so busy you feel like you can’t) to ask your kids these three questions. They’ll help you connect to the beauty around you, and to each other.

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So power down those screens, and encourage your kids (littles and bigs) to look up, down, and around. They’ll discover the beauty, the simplicity, and the power of the natural world around them. And you are very likely to be reminded of the beauty, simplicity, and power of the children you are raising. It’s all about those small moments that matter, friends, as we head into Earth Day, and EVERY DAY.

Look Up - What shapes do you see in the clouds?

This one never gets old, but how many times do we stop and ask it? Finding shapes in the clouds is the first step to creating and sharing stories. '

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Before you know it, your kids will be scanning the sky for characters to add to their tales. And you will be joining right along with them. Suddenly, the walk home from school, or the trip to run errands won’t have you feeling so sluggish. You, and your kids start to feel energized by the stories you are creating, the world you are discovering, and the nature all around you that provides an endless source of inspiration.

Look Down - How many sprouts do you see?

Have no fear, city moms, this question is just as much for you as it is for our friends in the suburbs and out in the country. Get your kids to look down at the base of trees as they’re walking along the sidewalk. Ask them to peek in people’s front yards (no matter how small), and even the cracks in the concrete.

How many sprouts can your kids see? Are some of them crocus plants, are others grass? Have them guess what is growing, how big it will get, what color it will be.

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Let their imaginations run wild! Is that little weed you see growing between the sidewalk cracks going to grow up to be a tree? If it did, and we climbed it, where would it go, what would we find? How many birds would call it their home?

With a mix of imagination play and nature learning, you will be amazed by how much creativity and joy you awaken - for your kids and for you!

Look Around - How does this street look different today than it did yesterday?

The world around us is always changing, especially during springtime. Try to catch as many of those moments as you can by taking stock of the space around you and recognizing all the little changes that happen in such a short time.

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This exercise is a great way to get conversations going with your kids, and to challenge them, and you, to really LOOK at everything around you. At first, you may not notice that there are more blooms on the tree, or that the petals are starting to give way to summer style leaves, or that the buds have started to turn into flowers. But when you ask about it, and start to look for changes, and talk about what you see, you and your children will realize everything that happens in a day, and just how lucky we are to be able to experience it.

And that, friends, is a moment that matters.







Thanksgiving Conversation Starters

We are big fans of Thanksgiving at Portraits that Move because it brings together our favorite things - family and gratitude (and food!).

There is nothing like gathering together around a table to share stories and relish in the small moments that make our lives, especially our family lives, rich and memorable. But, as natural as it is to have conversations with our loved ones, the conversation doesn’t always flow naturally.

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Don’t worry. We’re here to help you get the conversation started and keep it going this year at your Thanksgiving table. Try these tips for a fun, stress-free Thanksgiving for families of all ages and sizes. Our conversation starters and Thanksgiving table games are guaranteed to bring joy to your table, and to teach you things about your family that you never knew.

Make the Alphabet Game the Gratitude Game

I’m thinking of something that begins with the letter…

We all know the popular road trip game, where you work your way through the alphabet, guessing something that begins with each letter of the alphabet while the person who is “it” provides clues to the guessers.

Customize this game for your Thanksgiving table. Take turns going clockwise around the table (or starting youngest to oldest). The first person who is “it” says “I’m grateful for something that begins with the letter A.” Each person around the table guesses what that is based on hints.

This is a fun, easy, and interactive way to share what you are thankful for. It is also a natural way to start a conversation around gratitude, and to teach you what little things matter to your loved ones.

Popsicle Stick Conversation Starters

Craft stick conversation starters are one of our favorites! We have a complete DIY guide to creating these fun, reusable conversation starters that are perfect for Thanksgiving table games and throughout the year.

DIY Popsicle Stick Conversation Starters for Kids and Tweens
What you need:
2 mason jars
1 pack of large craft sticks
markers (we chose brightly colored and metallic Sharpies to make it extra fun)
a list of creative questions for kids

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See more suggestions and tips for creating your own craft stick conversation starters. For Thanksgiving, you can customize the colors, add festive stickers and coordinate your sticks to go with your table and decor themes. It’s a great way to get the kids involved in holiday prep and to keep their hands busy while you are finishing up your last minute cooking and decorating!

Favorite Things and Follow-Ups

After everyone is seated at the table, instruct them to put their place cards in a hat (or a pumpkin, cornucopia or Thanksgiving themed cup!). The person at the head of the table pulls out one name at a time and asks that person to name one of their favorite things.

After that person shares a favorite thing, encourage everyone else around the table to ask questions about it so they can learn more. Questions can include “has that always been one of your favorites?” “What makes you like that so much…”

Other favorite things follow-ups should include things like “That’s a great book! When I was your age, my favorite book was…”

This is an easy way to learn more about each other. Favorites and follow-ups is a particularly good game if you have tweens and teens at your table who want to share but don’t always know how, and who sometimes feel too on the spot when they are barraged with questions. The key to getting kids to talk honestly and openly is to create space in which they feel comfortable, rather than exposed.

Cheers to comfortable spaces, laughter around tables, and conversations that create memories well beyond the holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving!

3 Ways to Create Memorable Moments that Build Confidence and Communication Skills

Every moment matters, and during the summer, we (ideally) have a little more time to share moments and make memories together.  To celebrate the official start of summer in New York City, we are sharing three ways to create moments that foster conversation, engage creativity and create space for your children to connect with you and with others, and to share their stories and ideas with confidence.

Write to a Summer Pen Pal

Sit down with your child to choose a pen pal to write to throughout the summer.  Your child might opt to write to a friend from school who is away at camp or on vacation, a grandparent, a cousin, or someone special in their lives.

Writing to a pen pal, whether it is through snail mail or email, gives your children the opportunity to express themselves, to share their stories and relay their observations.  Receiving mail (especially traditional mail) is exciting for kids.  It gives them something to look forward to, teaches them about delayed gratification, and shows that someone took time to listen to, care about, engage with and respond to their words.  This is a powerful gift that builds confidence and helps your children develop their voices.

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Make sure that you know and trust the person with whom your child is communicating before embarking on a pen pal project.  If your child is corresponding by email, review cyber safety rules before logging on, and confirm that your child has the correct address for his/her pen pal.

Start a Family Book Club

A family book club is an ideal way for kids to connect with parents and siblings.  It gives you a shared activity to do together that revolves around observation and communication – key elements of meaningful moments shared through stories (both those you read and those you tell).

Take turns selecting a book for the family to read and discuss.  Let your kids pick the books first so that they can share something they love with you, and can lead the initial book club discussions.  A family book club helps with skill building during the summer (we see you, Summer Slide) but even more, it creates a pathway to conversation.  Book clubs are safe spaces to connect over ideas and events that you read about.  Inevitably, this gives your children the comfort and the confidence to talk about issues or concerns they face in their own lives in a way that feels more natural, and more open, than direct questioning about how they are doing or what they are feeling on a given school day afternoon.

Consider holding each of your book club meetings in a different location – the living room, in the backyard or out in a park, in one of your children’s bedroom to allow them to play host.  Changing your environment helps to set different tones for conversations and can make those conversations flow more energetically.

Put a New Spin on Old Games

Reinvent Game Night in your home by kicking up the creativity and re-imaging favorite games based on your child’s or your family’s favorite hobbies, characters or teams.  Our list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a great place to start!

Minecraft Charades

Played like traditional charades, but with categories unique to Minecraft, this serves as the perfect way to bring your kid’s screen life into real life.  Your kids will be happy to take the lead on this one, sharing their insight on their favorite game.  You will learn more about something they love and why they love it.

Giving children the opportunity to be experts on something creates memorable, enjoyable moments for your family.  It also gives them the chance to flex their leadership skills, to build confidence, and to realize that they have things to teach you and that you are willing and open to learn from them.  That is the hallmark of open dialogue and good conversation in families.

Character Tic-Tac-Toe

Create a tic-tac-toe game that replaces the Xs and Os with your child’s favorite storybook characters.  To make the pieces, your kids can draw or print out images.

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During the making and playing process, you will be amazed to see how your child begins to talk about the characters and the stories, why they like them, what happens in the stories, and how they connect to their own lives.  Children are natural sharers and they love to welcome us parents into their world.  The busy pace of life often makes that difficult, but slowing down even for a moment to share a simple project and play a simple game like this can be the missing piece of meaningful, simple connection that we often struggle to find.

Build Your Own Chess Set

Ideal for older children or larger families, building and playing with a customized chess set can be a fun, creative summer long activity full of moments for the whole family to enjoy.  Using items found around the house, from the recycling bin to the craft closet, build a chess set around a theme your family enjoys.

You might make a set based on rival baseball teams, characters from favorite TV shows or movies, or places that are special in your family history.  Once again, the act of making the pieces and the game board is full of opportunities for communication and connection.  Working on a creative project together forges your bond as a family and builds your child’s leadership, listening and teamwork skills.

This summer, take as many moments as you can to try activities like these to give your children the space they need to connect and share with you, and to give yourself the gift of time well spent.

- Elizabeth Eames, June 2018

Road Trip Tips for Great Conversations with Kids

Now that we have kicked off the unofficial start of summer, we are planning ahead for road trips, vacations, and summer travel with kids.  Travel with kids can be the perfect time to reconnect with them and to start meaningful, fun, creative conversations.

Our Portraits that Move Team put together three easy and fun road trip games that get the kids - and you - talking, sharing, and laughing.  We know that every moment matters, and we are here to help you enjoy and document yours.  Here's to good times, good talks, and a great summer!

I Spy a Story

Try this new take on a familiar game.  Have each person in your car take a turn describing something they see.  

The next step is where it gets really fun.  In addition to describing it, have your child invent a story about it.  When it is the next person's turn, have that person do the same, using the thing they spy as a new character in the story that you are creating together.

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If I were...

This is another game that involves taking turns, using imagination and telling stories.  Go around the car, to the right, starting with the driver.  

Have the first person say to the second, "If you were a..." and pick a person, place or thing.  The person whose turn it is then has to answer a series of questions from that point of view.  Ask three or four questions to each player.

Example:
Mom: "If you were a monkey, what would your favorite food be."
Sam: "Banana ice cream!"
Mom: "If you were a monkey, what would your favorite color be, and why?"
Sam: "Brown, because it matches everything and it makes it hard to play hide and seek."
Mom: "If you were a monkey, what would your favorite song be?"
Sam: "Hmmm...."

Twenty Questions

This old favorite is a good way to build communication skills and to learn how your child understands the world around her.

Each person takes a turn thinking of something.  The other players ask questions (up to twenty) to determine what that person is thinking of.

All of these activities do more than pass the time while you are traveling with kids.  They help to connect you to each other by strengthening the bonds of communication.  You are sure to laugh, to go on some wacky tangents, and to discover new things about each other.  And isn't that what time away with family should be all about?

Activities with Kids that Spark Conversation

Engaging our kids in activities that make them feel comfortable, creative, inspired and open encourages them - and makes them feel comfortable  to have good, honest conversations with us.

Because celebrating the real voices of our kids, their insights, dreams, observations, and joy is so much a part of our mission as filmmakers, we have come up with some ideas for fun activities that create conversation.  These are great things to do over summer vacation and throughout the year.

Play Outside

The outdoors is full of inspiration for kids and adults. As stimulating as the out of doors is, it is free of the distractions of home.  You won't be tempted to try and put away all the toys in the playroom or check your email "just one more time" when you are outside, immersed in nature. 

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Playing a game of catch, going on a nature walk, collecting shells, or searching for the perfect shady spot in the park all provide opportunities to ask and answer questions about the world around us and to get insight into what is on our children's minds and in their hearts.

Go For a Walk

Again, you are limiting the distractions that try to steal attention away from our kids, and you are limiting the distractions that prevent kids from focusing on their thoughts and engaging in conversation with us (it's pretty difficult to answer a question fully when they are indulging in some screen time).

take a walk together stop and smell the roses

Walking together gives your child the chance to fill you in on his or her day.  If possible, walk home from camp or from school.  Ask a mixture of precise and open-ended questions to remind them of different moments in the day, and to get a sense of what they enjoyed, what they didn't, and what those moments made your child think about and feel.  

Questions like "what was the best part of your day" or "who did you sit with at lunchtime" are easier for kids to answer than "how was your day."

Build Something Together

When we work on something together we need to communicate and to focus.  All of this helps to create a comfortable environment for conversation and for sharing.  We feel connected when we are working on a project together and kids gain confidence and feel proud when they are able to build something from start to finish. 

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Get out some puzzles, look through craft books and science experiments and find a project that is challenging but not intimidating, that is collaborative and fun.  Talk with your kids first and let them help you choose what project you want to do together.  Talk about why you are choosing that project and talk, as you go, about what comes next, how the steps connect, and who should do what to make your project work.

Learn Something Together

It's good for our kids to see that we can still learn something.  Kids feel less shy when they see that we also need to go step by step and they feel excited, right along with us, as we make progress to learn something new.  

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Learn simple sign language, or try another new language (especially if your child is taking lessons in school or through an afterschool program).  Discover facts about animals or regions of the world, try out some new dance steps, or go to a music class together.  Learning something new together gives you a sense of shared accomplishment.  You can practice together and discover together, all the while nurturing an environment of communication, trust and support.

Cook a Meal

Integrate conversation and special time with your kids into your daily life.  Cook breakfast or dinner together.  Let your child help you choose what to make and include him or her in the preparation process.  Reading recipes and measuring ingredients helps younger kids build literacy and math skills and making a meal together sets the stage for good conversations.

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If you are making breakfast, talk about your plans for the day.  If you are making dinner, talk abut your favorite moments of the day.  Talk about ingredients, flavors, and family traditions.  Preparing and eating food is a time honored way of connecting and sharing with others.  Using this time intentionally with our kids passes along traditions and infuses an everyday task with joy.