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.







Parent Challenge: Reactivate and Celebrate Imagination

I have been lucky to have had Elizabeth Eames as part of the Portraits that Move family for the last couple years. Liz has helped me to clarify and  communicate my vision for the company with leadership and with love and I am so happy when she shares some of her thoughts on parenting, life and joy with us on the blog, as she did here, and as she does today.

This piece is a reminder to our children, and to ourselves, that we can dream and we can achieve, whether we aim to be the first female president, to make art that moves people's hearts, or to do things, big and small, that make this world a better place.

Do you ever have one of those moments when you think that kids have it all figured out?  A moment you are sure that, even though we are the ones making the lunches and the appointments, registering for all the classes, finding the best this and researching the right that, that it’s our kids who possess a certain kind of wisdom that we lack?  A wisdom that we may have had, once, but can’t seem to access or to activate?

I had one of those moments this Halloween, walking through my neighborhood that had been transformed into a series of haunted houses and pumpkin patches, a place that seemed to have been taken over by the power of imagination and a collective desire to tell stories, and to play.

And our children led this transformation.  On Halloween, we give our kids license to let their imaginations run away with them, more so than we seem willing, or able, to do on the average Monday afternoon.  And they embrace it, they take to it like it is their natural state.  Because, perhaps, it is.

They pull on their costumes and it is less about knocking on doors and asking for candy and more about embodying the stuff of their imagination, becoming the wolf, or the tiger, or the superhero of their dreams.

Halloween tips parenting imagination creativity portraits that move elizabeth eames

As I watch my friends who have children older than mine, for whom fall has come to mean middle school and high school open houses, test preparation, and weighty decision after weighty decision, I am all the more aware of what a special day Halloween has become, of what a treat it is to allow our children to imagine, and to play. All too quickly, the time of vivid imagination and abandon fades as our kids move from one stage to the next. As adults, we end up having to relearn how to connect with imagination and how to let go if we want rich, creative lives.  If we want the kind of lives we are working so hard to build for our children.

This week, as you are cleaning up candy wrappers and marking down all of the November events on your master calendar, take this challenge with me. Try to contain your anxiety about your children’s future, about what they will do, about who they will be, and revel in what they are doing now, truly look at who they are right now, in all their messy, wonder-filled glory.  Put the brakes on competition among our children and among ourselves.  Use the moment that they are running down the street a little farther from you than they could have last year, skipping and singing, roaring and clanging their imaginary swords, to realize that they are exactly what they should be.  They are children, finding perfect joy in a perfect moment.  And we should, too. 

- Elizabeth Eames, November 2016

Getting Back on the Bike and a New School Year

While on my summer vacation, I decided to do something I had not done in over twenty years. I rode a bicycle.

I am not sure why I ever stopped riding, I loved it as a kid and often rode throughout my suburban neighborhood. It became one of those things where, the longer I went without doing it, the more fearful I became. I am not clear on what I was afraid of exactly. It was not an active pervasive fear, more like something I just did not think of doing.

back to school bike ride

In any case, I LOVED IT!!!!  The joy I felt in the freedom of coasting with the wind in my hair was immense. I felt like a ten-year-old again. It made me want to buy a bike and to spend more time feeling that freedom. I giggled and the satisfaction of overcoming my worries was powerful.

It also got me thinking about other fears that are subtle. And transitions. This time of year there are plenty of both for our children and for us. Our children may have anxieties about new grades, homework and routines. And if we are being honest, we likely have our own anxieties. How will it all go? Will the new schedule work?  Will the re-connection with friends be smooth? Perhaps we have anxieties about our children growing up too fast. I certainly do.

bike path back to school

We need to push through these fears, to ignore them and release them. We need to get back on our own bikes of freedom and enjoy the moment. Be present, share in the joy, be fearless. It will be worth it for them and for us.

I wish you all immense ease with the beginnings and transitions of this academic year. And if you need me, I’ll be on the bike path giggling with my son. 

How We are Celebrating Volunteer Week at Portraits that Move

I have been trying to teach my son about the value of service, of giving back and volunteering.  National Volunteer Week is a great time to put those lessons into practice for him, for me, and for Portraits that Move. 

I have vivid memories of volunteering with my synagogue as a young child. We went to an elderly care center and performed for the senior citizens there. It was moving and emotional and made me feel proud to have added some joy to their day.  And that lesson of going into the community and sharing joy and support stays with me to this day. 

 

As a parent, I am often trying to find ways to weave this lesson into our daily life. This week, my son and I and made sandwiches at a soup kitchen. It was fun, easy and meaningful. He told me that he was happy that the men would not have to look for lunch that day and that it made him feel good to have helped them.

 

In the collaborations for Portraits That Move, we make it part of our mission to give back and to inspire others to contribute their time, attention and compassion, too. Recently, we created a Kickstarter campaign video for a local family who is opening a children’s book store in Brooklyn.

 

Inspired by our work with Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, we walk in the Alex’s Million Mile event every fall and hold lemonade stands throughout the summer to support this organization that helps bring joy and hope to so many children and their families.

 

 

We also support the Kids In Need Foundation, an organization that supplies schools supplies to kids who would not otherwise be able to have them. 

 

Volunteering teaches kids that the world is bigger than they are and that it is important to give back to those who are in need. Ultimately, volunteering, and participating in Volunteer Week in whatever ways we can, is a gift we give to ourselves.  And it is easy to incorporate into our lives.

 

How do you and your family give back? What suggestions do you have for others looking to do the same?  Share with us! 

DIY Craft Stick Conversation Starters for Kids and Tweens

Talking with kids never ceases to amaze - and inspire - our Portraits that Move team.

This weekend, we had the pleasure of participating in the Runnin' Wild Toys Pop Up Book Fair on Court Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

popsicle stick game diy mason jar projects kids

In addition to chatting with neighbors and friends about Portraits that Move and our work making moving portraits, snapshot films and our new video alternative to holiday cards, we set up a fun activity for kids.  And as we so often find, it was just as much fun for us as it was for them.

Here is a quick rundown of our activity and some tips for making your own DIY conversation starters for kids and tweens...

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

conversation starters for kids diy game

How to play:
Write one conversation starter question on each craft stick and fill one mason jar.

Invite your kids to pull out a craft stick and read and answer the question.  Place that stick in the other mason jar and continue the game.

This fun activity engages kids, helps them overcome shyness, and encourages them to share their ideas and their experiences in a way that makes everyone smile.  It worked so well for us at the Book Fair and would surely be a fun addition to classroom activities, team activities and around the table during dinner or over the holidays.

Tip: Get the kids to help come up with some of the questions.  They will feel proud to hear others read and answer their questions and you will get more insight into what they like to talk about.

Sample Questions

If I could fly, I would…

When I hear music, I…

If I could be a book character I would be...

What I love most about my home is...

I am most proud of….

The hardest thing I ever learned how to do was…

The superpower that I have is….

Who is your best friend and why?

diy craft stick mason jar projects kids

Share Your Stories with Us
Join us on facebook and share your photos, questions, answers and video clips!  We would love to hear about all the fun you have creating conversations with your kids.

Be a Leader and a Follower - Advice from Grandma Rose

  

My grandmother, Rose Ludwig, was an extremely wise woman. She lived to be almost 93 years old and had a great deal to teach all of us about life, love, and relationships. She studied psychology and was interested in what makes people tick - especially when it came to matters of the heart. She was happily married for 45 years, so I guess, she knew what she was talking about.

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We were very close. One day she said to me, “In every relationship one person is a leader and the other is a follower and it is important that these roles should be able to shift and each person is able to switch places.”  The other day it occurred to me that this is an important theory in regards to how we do our work.

When we show up at someone’s home to shoot a portrait or a snapshot, we have a plan. We have spoken with your family ahead of time and have a structure in mind. We have a system, one that we have carefully created. However, when we get there if the kids want us to know something other than what we have planned, we follow their lead. We let them guide us- we let their truths be the path. We listen carefully to the child, to their needs and to the needs of all of those involved.

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The listening can become almost meditative. It is about openness, feeling, sensing and then following. Listening is an empowering act. And ultimately one from which you can derive tremendous knowledge and power. If you listen carefully enough you will know the answers to make the best decisions. One has to be able to follow in order to lead well.

This is important in parenting as well. We are our best selves when we listen, when we take in and absorb what our children need. In listening, we are empowered to be the best parents we can be.

I remember when my grandmother gave me her advice about being a leader and a follower.  I thought, who would want to ever be a follower? She was right though, and I have come to understand that sometimes following is the clearest path to leadership and to our truth.

A space for All of Us - In Front of the Camera

I have spent more than two decades behind the camera. As a young child, I wanted to be an actress, a performer and a singer.

I loved being on stage, but quickly found out that, even though I was driven, I was not particularly talented.

When I was fourteen I got lucky. The high school I attended had a public access television station, and I enrolled in a class to learn about video production.

My life changed.

I felt the creative rush of making something that the world could experience without having to be the one in front, performing. I could make decisions, have a voice and lead a project in a new way. I was hooked. I loved all aspects of producing.  I still do.

Later, I went to film school and graduate film school, embarking on the journey of learning how to be a good producer.  In the early days of my career, the voice of a film was really that of the director. The producer’s job was to stand behind the director and the on-camera talent - to be the support and power behind the public representation of a project.

I felt at home in that role, knowing I could make a difference while supporting the people with whom I worked. I could create a safe space for everyone involved with the project.

I could help them find and tell their truths, and share the message of the film.

Interestingly, now, after twenty years of that work, I am faced with a shift in roles, thanks to the launch of Portraits that Move – and this blog, specifically. I’m excited but, frankly, a little nervous to put my own voice out there, my image, and my ideas. It feels weird and unsettling to be in front of the camera instead of behind it, but it is exactly where I need to be.

Why? First, I believe that we should try things that scare us.  The other side of that risk is empowerment. Second, if I am asking people to be in front of the camera and tell their truths, then I need to do the same. This kind of trust, this type of dialogue is what we need for the authenticity and accessibility of Portraits that Move.

Sharing our feelings unites us and makes us feel closer.  A recent conversation with my cousin reinforced that perspective and suggested that this blog be a conduit for connection.  So, in that spirit, I hope that this space will be just that, a place for us to feel closer, to share in joy, and to be in this together.

Thank you in advance for the support and feedback, as I step out from behind the camera.  Looking forward to our continued conversation, and exploration of truth, connection and fearlessness together. 

~ Susannah Ludwig, March 2015

Remembering Albert Maysles - Father of the Modern Documentary - and Mentor

I want to take a moment and pay tribute to Albert Maysles, who passed last week. Albert was considered the father of the modern documentary and even more than that, he was a beloved husband, father, friend, teacher and mentor to so many young filmmakers.

Albert Maysles, photo via IMDB

I had the wonderful blessing of working with Albert on two films and being in his presence was life changing. He was full of light - his energy and enthusiasm for life lit up a room and were contagious. He loved filmmaking and people and the fact that he got to spend his life making films about people. He was warm and loving and filled with fun. He had more energy than most people I know, even people much younger than he. Most of all, Albert Maysles had a strong passion and commitment to truth, to intimacy in filmmaking and to beauty.
 
His philosophy was to “get close,” and to “love your subject.” When you watch his films, you can feel that. Every frame is filled with love and admiration for them.  It is beautiful and heartfelt. This philosophy has certainly influenced our approach at Portraits That Move. We love every child we have the great opportunity to spend time with. I feel lucky to have been able to get to know Albert Maysles, to learn from him and to bask in a few moments of his beauty.

Thank you, Albert, what a gift your life has been.