Don’t Wake the Baby! Why You Should Be Letting Your Kids Sleep Longer

Sleep Turbo-Charges the Brain

As the mother of four children I have lived through sleepless nights, toddlers who no longer nap – those precious moments when I could use the bathroom and open the mail without a “helper”, and now – teenagers whose circadian rhythms tell them to live like vampires. Sleep – the constant in our lives that we all need, but we aren’t always sure how to get, or how much we really need.

New research about sleep and children fascinates me as a parent – and is a reminder to me that when my kids are tired (even those vampire teens), that I should just let them rest. Rarely are kids actually, well, lazy, and just sleeping for the pure laziness of it. In fact, their need for sleep could signal that their brains are working overtime – and becoming stronger.

Dr. Ines Wilhelm from the University of Tübingen’s Institute for Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, along with other Swiss and German  scientists, have recently released the results of an intriguing new look at sleep in Nature Neuroscience. The results of their research shows that:

  • Sleep is when our brains process what we have learned during the day.Sleeping with book
  • Children experience this process more effectively than adults do.
  • Sleep provides the opportunity to build long-term memory storage.
  • When our children sleep, their memory function improves and paves the way for more learning activities in the future.
  • During sleep knowledge that is implied becomes knowledge that is explicit. Did you ever wonder how you came to believe a belief so strongly? Your brain was working on transferring that implied information into actual information.
  • Children tend to sleep more deeply at night, giving their brains the opportunities needed to reinforce what they have learned every day and remember it well the next day.

Dr. Wilhelm and her colleagues conducted studies where children between the ages of 8 and 11 years and a group of young adults were given a short task testing their abilities to predict which step would come next in a series based upon what had already occurred in the series. Then the subjects were tested the following day and the results showed that those subjects who had an adequate amount of sleep were much more capable of remembering the information. Those who did not sleep, or did not sleep well, scored much lower on the test.

While this might not seem surprising to you – consider how we parent, and the pace at which our society expects our children to function. If we absolutely agree that sleep improves our brain functions, why are we making the schedules of children to increasingly limit the sleep they can acquire?

It is fairly common knowledge that teens like to sleep – they just don’t like to go to bed. Studies have also shown that teenagers are naturally wired so that their bodies and brains need to stay awake later and night and sleep longer in the morning. But then we meet them with before school hockey practice, early starts at high schools, and Pep Squad meetings 30 minutes before school starts.

Homeschooled Children Have Healthier Sleep Habits

sleepy teenAnother recent study supports these findings, and is one of the first to look at a new and growing population of students in America – those who are homeschooled. Lisa Meltzer Ph.D. from National Jewish Health in Denver led a study that looked at the sleep differences among  2,612 (including roughly 500 who are homeschooled) teenagers who experience different forms of education. The results clearly showed that teenagers who are homeschooled have healthier habits for sleeping than their peers who attend public or private schools.

  • Homeschooled teenagers on average get 90 minutes more of sleep each night.
  • Students who attend public or private schools are in class an average of 18 minutes before a typical homeschooled teenager is even awake for the day.
  • 55% of homeschool teenagers get the optimal amount of sleep each night, compared to just 24% of those students in private or public schools.

Meltzer says:

“We have a school system that is set up so that the youngest children, who are awake very early in the morning, start school latest, and our adolescents, who need sleep the most, are being asked to wake up and go to school at a time when their brains should physiologically be asleep… That cumulative sleep deprivation adds up…The ability to learn, concentrate and pay attention is all diminished when you haven’t had enough sleep. But more than that, a lack of sleep can also impact a teenager’s mood and their ability to drive early in the morning.”

Meltzer reminds us as parents that it is not just as easy as sending our kids to bed earlier each night. Those biological clocks actually do know what they are doing, and sleep needs for teens typically shifts two hours later into the evening during puberty. So when my teenagers tell me, “I’m just not tired!” as I implore them to head to bed before midnight, they are actually listening to their bodies. Meltzer says that the natural choice is to let teenagers sleep later during the day.

What Can We Do?

Meltzer and her colleagues urge parents and school officials to look at the science behind the data. If we are really striving to build strong, competent, intuitive, and successful students, we need to accept that their sleep needs (and how we respond to them) will determine that.

In schools where high school start times have been adjusted to accommodate the physiological facts about teenage brains, there are several benefits reported.

  • Students are tardy less often, resulting in less wasted time in consequential activities for tardiness (i.e. detention).
  • Graduation rates are higher.
  • Children score better on tests.

So the next time I am tempted to wake my teenage son so he isn’t late for Algebra – I’m going to let him be tardy. He’s homeschooled – so I’ll just have to have a parent-teacher conference. The kids are used to seeing me talk to myself and are good with it. (But if I start to use character voices I’m sure the magic will wear off quickly.)


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Help Your Kids find Careers They Love – With or Without a College Degree

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Miserable? Bored? Frustrated? Tired?

These likely aren’t the answers we expect to hear from our kids when people ask them the ever present question about their looming futures. People expect firefighter, teacher, astronaut, football player, or superhero. We don’t want our kids to pursue paths that lead to 40 hours of boredom, where every day of the week seems like Monday. But are we really preparing them for life living out their passions? Are we living out our passions and excited to be doing whatever it is we are doing every day?

How Working without Passion Hurts Us and Our Kids

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that not even 30% of people between the ages of 31 and 61 rate their feelings toward their jobs as “very satisfied”, and the rest of respondents reported being somewhat satisfied or not satisfied at all. Other reports indicate similar dismal findings. shows an even lower overall satisfaction level among the workforce with only 15% of people being extremely satisfied with their jobs. And those kids we are raising? They are on the heels of the population with the lowest satisfaction rate (those under the age of 30 years).

Research also shows that when we are in jobs that we really can’t stand, our health declines. People who have jobs that give them low satisfaction:

  • Are at higher risks for anxiety and depressiontired dad
  • Are no more satisfied than those who are unemployed
  • Are more likely to have high blood pressure, even outside of work

According to Dr. Katharine Brooks, author of You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career, there are several different kinds of reasons why people don’t like their jobs.

  • The position is either too demanding or not demanding enough.
  • There has been a lack of training for the position.
  • There is not enough job security.
  • The relationships with co-workers are negative components of the job.
  • The job doesn’t pay well enough.
  • There isn’t an opportunity to advance.
  • There isn’t the opportunity for flexibility that allows for balancing work and personal time.
  • The working conditions are poor, or even dangerous.
  • The employee is simply burned out.

I don’t know about you, but when I lie awake at night and envision my children’s future, I dream about something above somewhat satisfied, of more than limited opportunities and poor working conditions. But how are we going to get there?

global girlHelping Our Kids Find Careers They Love

According to groups such as the Search Institute, we need to be help our kids ignite their sparks – those things in their lives that make their hearts skip a beat, get them energized, and are the “essence of who they are and what they offer to the world.”

In the Search Institute’s research, it was found that only approximately 65% of kids in grades 5 through 12 could identify at least one “spark” in their own lives, and 55% of students reported that someone (such as a teacher or parent) helped them to find their sparks and support them.

Maggie Mistal, a career consultant, agrees with this idea. She says that:

“[People] haven’t clarified their values and thought about how they’d like to use their abilities to make a difference and align their work with their purpose. Too often people assume work is supposed to be a chore so they don’t even look for anything other than that when embarking on a career.”

So if you’re like me and many other parents out there – you want to find a way to help your children be some of those extremely satisfied adults, who have a spark for their day jobs, who have learned to pursue their passions.

Will Education Bring Job Satisfaction to Our Children?

It used to be the sentiment that those students who worked hard in school, got amazing grades, passed tests with flying colors, and attended a four-year college, would be guaranteed success. Now, however, a college degree guarantees a large loan more than anything else, and too many students are graduating with degrees that don’t necessarily align with their passions.

Before you make the assumption for your child that his spark will turn into a full-fledged flame of career enthusiasm because he attends college, spend some time getting to know what those sparks even are. Maybe your child doesn’t even know yet because he has been too busy putting in time in education and not enough time putting in effort and enthusiasm for learning.

  • Get to know your child’s school. There are other options out there if you find your child’s school is not nurturing the sparks of students. If we continue to put our kids in the same box of education, we will get the same results. Adults who are not very satisfied with their careers (and when you consider how much time goes into a career, they are not very satisfied with their lives).
  • Get to know your child. This might sound silly, but do you know your child’s favorite color, what she thinks about when she is staring out the car window, and how she imagines her “perfect day” as an adult?
    • Spend one-on-one-fun time with your kids.
    • Read the same books your kids read (and then talk about them later).
    • Ask them questions – and don’t provide judgment in your answers.
  • Give your kids opportunities to job shadow. In schools such as those in Germany, high school is not complete without several internship possibilities that put students front and center with careers for several weeks at a building
    • Take your child with you to work for a day.
    • Ask your neighbors and family members if your kids can job shadow them.
  • Help your kids find mentors in the areas where they have their sparks. This helps them learn networking skills, gives them the inside scoop on the latest trends, and provides a support system for your kids’ dreams.
  • Ask your kids if college is something they want. You just might be surprised at what they say when given the opportunity.

Have you noticed that only one of these items was related to school education? Grade point averages and test scores do not equal success. This doesn’t mean that I am an anti-education fanatic. I have one child who is completing her sophomore year of college, and who plans to continue for many years. I should hope so – she wants to become a veterinarian and I’m guessing that most pet owners would like her to receive proper medical training. However, I also have a son who is an avid history buff, loves media, and hopes to also own his own business one day. While I value education for the opportunities for learning, I don’t know if college will help him achieve his dreams. So today he competed at a Regional History Day competition. He is offering classes for his favorite hobby – yo-yoing, and he is pursuing his passions. He has a spark I have the joy of seeing every day.

I was recently going through a family genealogy book and came across stories about my relatives when they ventured to this country for the first time. They weren’t satisfied with the lives they were living in another country, so they endured travel and terrain unlike any they had ever encountered, and they came to a town barely inhabited – with almost nothing but their determination. They were seeking their own happiness, guided by their own expectations, and ready to face the challenges that were along the paths to their dreams. Let’s get back to a place where we value ingenuity and self-direction. Let’s raise children who will venture on their own, who will be able to mark that box for “extremely satisfied” in life.


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Taking Amazing Childrens Photos

Taking Amazing Childrens Photos

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As a professional photographer in Bend Oregon I’m constantly asked for advice on how to take photos of kiddos.  The category “kiddos” is distinct from newborn and older children and ranges from the age of 1 to about 5 years of age.   This article is aimed towards the average mom or dad who doesn’t have a fortune invested in camera gear!

Subject matter

Obviously the subject is your child.  Don’t be distracted by things going on around your child.   Make your child the focus of the picture, not the sunset behind them.

A trick for making sure your kiddo is the center of attention in your photo is to switch your camera into Aperture Priority mode. This will get you more depth of field.  Depth of field simply means that the subject of your photo will be in focus and the background will be fuzzy.  Make sure when in Aperture Priority mode you have the lowest F-Stop available.  This often sets apart an amateur from a professional.  If your camera doesn’t have aperture priority mode – it might have a ‘portrait’ mode that will assist with those nice fuzzy backgrounds.

Finally, get down on their level.   I often lie down on the ground to get the shot.   Make the camera level with their eyes or even slightly below – do this and you’ll get much more intimate shots.


Although backgrounds can give context they can also be distracting.  The obvious solution for distractions is to physically remove the distraction if possible.   If this is not possible, try moving the angle of the photo – sometimes this will remove the distraction from the frame.   You can also try moving closer to your child.  Remember, too much clutter can take away from the subject matter of your photo.  The best photos are simple and clean.


Unless you have lots of time and access to editing software, make sure your child is tidy.  Wipe those noses, comb the hair, look for spots on clothing etc.

Make it natural and candid

Catch your kiddos while they’re doing something.  Your kiddo lives in a world filled with the joy of discovery and make-believe. This is what you want to capture.  Choose places where your kids have fun, where you can show them in their natural playful environment.

If they’re in the stage of saying “cheese” with the phony smile, distract them with the following tricks:

  • You know them better than anyone – what are their favorite things?  Have a discussion with them while taking the photos.  This works every time!
  • Another trick is to ask them “not” to smile, or play “hide and seek.”  The key is distraction!
  • Showing kids photos after you’ve taken them also lets them be involved and less anxious about the picture taking. The more relaxed they are the better.
  • Play “peek-a-Boo!”

I’ve outlined just a few key points in taking successful kiddo photos.   Obviously, photographers have many tricks to making a shoot productive and successful.  If you have tricks you would like to share, please reply to this article at or visit our Facebook Page.  We will make sure our readers receive your advice!

This shot was taken in the middle of a conversation between the photographer and the kiddo.  Notice the engaged eye contact.  This is also a great example of depth of field.  Thanks to Lisa Armstrong From for providing this great article!

Conditions: Cloudy with sun peeking through.

Exposure: 1/125 sec; f/2.8; ISO 100.

Camera: Canon EOS 7D.


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