Parents: Take the School Pictures CHALLENGE

IMG_6463I asked my kids last night about School Picture Day. “It’s coming up, you know,” I said. “We should make plans! Want to do that now?”

But instead of the cheers and accolades I expected, my kids groaned. And moaned. And rolled their eyes. And schlumped in their chairs.

“Argrhuffslottle,” they said, or something like it, and I was offended. Offended, I tell you, because they were busy griping while I wanted major mommy props for thinking ahead. For planning. For being on top of the school schedule for once. But is that what I got? Noooooooo. I got argrhuffslottle from their ungrateful little selves. And schlumping. LOTS of schlumping down in chairs.

“What’s wrong with Picture Day?” I asked. And I followed that with a powerful, “I always LOVED Picture Day,” knowing my experience as a child is always paramount in their thoughts and super relevant to their experience. I am here to tell you, though, you should not ask questions unless you want to hear the answer, because my kids told me exactly what’s wrong with Picture Day, and apparently it’s me.


I am what’s wrong with Picture Day, they said, and they told it like this:

“See, Mom, you always make us wear stuff we don’t like very much.”

I do not.

“Sometimes it itches.”

Like a tiny bit of itching in order to LOOK NICE ONE DAY A YEAR is a huge sacrifice.

“Yeah, Mom. We never get to wear our favorite shirts just because they’re stained.”

Well, of course I can’t let you wear something dirty to Picture Day. I mean, GEEZ.

“And you make us not play at recess that day.”

That’s not even a little bit true!

“It IS true, Mom. You tell us not to play at recess very hard ’cause we’ll mess up our hair.”

Oh. Yeah… I do say that…

“Sometimes, Mom,” they concluded, “we just want to look how we like to look. Even in pictures.”

And then they delivered the clincher, “How come you don’t like the things we choose?”



Well… argrhuffslottle. And ppffffttttt.

I was stumped, truth be told. Dumbfounded. I had no idea what to say to them, really. How come I don’t like the things they choose? Is that the message I’ve been sending them?

But when I thought about it — actually thought about it hard — I had to conclude it is. That’s exactly the message I’ve been sending my kids, and I don’t like it. Not at all.

It turns out, I made my kids’ School Picture Days a way for ME to express MYself; kids coiffed the way I like, outfits picked with my brand of parental precision, stains and tears and foibles erased for a day to have a record that reflects what like and who I am, and, if I’m going to do a ruthless inventory of why I’ve done that, I have to confess I’ve used Picture Day as a way to measure my success as a mama; as though I’m saying, “Sure, I don’t have my poo together the other days, but I can pull it together for Picture Day, momrades! See??” Or, “I can send my children to school — clean — for one day a year, teachers!”

Here’s the thing I keep thinking about over and over (and over and over) today: we say we want our kids to be authentically themselves. We encourage them to be the people they were uniquely created to be. We beg our kids to think, to be confident and bold, and to follow their hearts. We tell them they’re the authors of their own stories, and that we need their stories in our world. We encourage our kids to stand up for what they believe — to stand up for kindness and for each other — starting in Kindergarten and even in Preschool, but then we don’t allow them to choose the outward expression of who they are inside; not when it’s going to be documented for posterity, anyway. Not when it’s going in the record books! Not when we’ll look back at these pictures which define their childhood school experience. I guess it just seems a little… off… to me when I think about it that way. A little off, and a tiny bit sad, this mixed message I send.

So I have this crazy idea, parents.

This CRAZY, RADICAL idea, and now I’m wondering if anyone out there is crazy enough to join me.

I’m calling it, “Let’s let the kids look however they want for school picture day.” And, by that, I mean however they want. Like, hair however they want, and clothes however they want; even jelly on their faces if they want.

Look; I don’t want to be extreme or dramatic or anything here, it’s just, oh my gosh, you guys. Oh my gosh! I’m pretty sure I’m onto something.

Instead of a School Picture Day about me, my kids can have a School Picture Day about them. A moment in time that captures exactly who they are, as they choose to be, and to receive the message from their mama — loud and clear — that that’s what I want on record.

Of course, if we do this, our kids’ pictures may look less like this…



… and a little more like this.


A little less like this…


… and a little more like this.


Which, let’s be honest, is the greatest school picture of all time, anyway. ALL TIME. And my personal favorite.

Of course, the BONUS in all this is we don’t have to do JACK SQUAT for Picture Day this year. We don’t have to do JACK, and we can do nothing NOBLY. For a GOOD CAUSE. Because we’re being RAD PARENTS who CARE MORE ABOUT OUR KIDS THAN OURSELVES. It’s a win/win, friends. A win/win, I tell you!

So, I’m on a need to know here, parents. What do you think? Too crazy to do? Or are you doing it with me??


ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
  1. I gave up on dressing nice for school pictures, after preschool, mostly because I forget. Plus, the bad pictures are always the favorite – lopsided pigtails, gymnastics leotard, stained tshirt. I always buy them because I love those ridiculous memories. Now, if we could just get the photgraphers to offer a decently priced package that didn’t include 127 wallet sizes that we will never use….reading those order forms requires an engineering degree. And a magnifying glass!

  2. I can completely relate to this story. I too started my kids school years wanting them to look their best for picture day. Then I realized I wanted pictures to preserve this moment in time. Luckily I realized this after the first picture session! I want to preserve THIS moment, however they are right NOW. And I want to preserve WHO they are in this moment. So they pick out their favorite out fit & do their hair as they wish. Last year, my son, who was 8, had pictures after recess. He is a “play hard” kid. After recess he is literally dripping in sweat! I had volunteered to help with picture day. Sure enough, he came in with his face as red as a cherry. He had wiped the sweat from his face, but his hair was wet around his face from his recess activities. I wished for a moment that his pictures were before recess, but quickly realized this is such a part of who he is, I’m thankful to have this captured in pictures. When we received the pictures I was almost disappointed. They really didn’t capture how hot & sweaty he really was. They were good pictures but I’ll remember & share how he was as he was going in to have those pictures taken!

  3. Our son is wearing a faded Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup t-shirt in our favorite of his senior picture shots. My father-in-law said that it was such a nice shot, it was too bad he was wearing that shirt. Well, that is his FAVORITE shirt, and the photographer wanted him wearing something that was really HIM for some poses. And years from now, we will not only enjoy the beautiful photo, but we will talk about how much Alex loves Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and how much he loved that shirt even though he normally won’t touch the color orange. Let your kids be themselves….who recognizes those coiffed well-dressed kids anyway?

  4. Firstly, thank you, everyone, for all the other comments which have had me in stitches. Most primary schools in the UK have a strict school uniform policy so no scope for dressing up/arguments over what to wear. Some of the best photos we ever had of our (almost) 8yo were from nursery school. I had completely forgotten that it was photo day and had let her choose her own clothes (she has had weather-appropriate choices since she was a toddler, made getting dressed less of a trauma). She was wearing a worn out pair of khaki cords and a red t-shirt. The photographs were beautiful and looked just like the real girl!

  5. Last year for school pictures my daughter really wanted to wear her costume, so we let her. So that day for school pictures she was Sailor moon, so what if it’s a costume it’s just a dress. Put her hair in buns with red dot Bobby pins and done. Nothing says an expression than being your favorite superhero.

  6. My first grader had school picture day and I didn’t have a clue we even missed it… who does two per year?!! Well, when she brought home the “free proofs” … there she was…hair all undone, white shirt under an even less white shirt, with a squint like “you want me to do WHAT?!!”. I kept them for future use when she decides, “Mom, I know how to pick my own clothes.” and “I always bring you my papers from school.”

  7. AMEN! As a photographer, I don’t even bother with my kids school pictures… haven’t since Kindergarten. He’s taken to wearing a jersey (usually a Scotland Football strip top, Celtic football Strip top, or, of course, Seahawks) and Haven’t regretted it.

    He’s always dressed in a new clean, HIS CHOICE outfit the first day of school, so I lug out the big camera and embarrass him then instead… And I get the bonus of real smiles, (albeit a few smirks and REALLY MOM looks too) but the real smile when he sees his buddy for the first time since June, or the blush when he sees the girl he had a crush on last year. WAY MORE FUN, and personal and frankly real.

    But seriously, as a photographer, I see what parents put their kids in for photo shoots, and often, you know MOM picked it out. And, the kid isn’t comfortable, can’t walk in it (in the case of toddlers in big tutus…cute, but hard to walk when it’s longer than their adorably chubby legs). And it shows in the photos. It’s not real smiles, or real’s stiff, and takes for-ever.

    My favorite shots of my kids, and of kids I shoot are 90% of the time, the one where someone is picking their nose, or making a face, or reacting in a real way to the annoyance of my camera in their face… and then, the perfect ones sometimes are, that awesome giggle as I start talking like elmo and it totally makes mom laugh, so the kids laugh, or if they look super focused at me because I just told them that Rainbow Dash just waved at them from inside my lens… but it’s real.. and it’s at me, and they at least look happy to be there.

    and you know what, THIS IS WHO THEY ARE RIGHT NOW. 🙂 And I think about my little man, who is quirky, and geeky, and you’d think would want to be in polos and button ups, or geeky t-shirts, but would rather wear a jersey 24/7 like a total jock. And I think, sometimes, you just got to do you… even if it doesn’t “fit” the look, you think they should have… it’s them. And that is beautiful.

  8. Three years ago, first grade picture day: my little one was all perfectly arranged in dress and tights, and wearing a little flower headband to keep the hair out of her face. When the pictures came back, there she was, beaming at the camera with the headband pulled down low across her forehead. Just a big flowered stripe over her eyebrows.

    I really agonized over whether or not to retake (and seriously, the photographer couldn’t have helped a mommy out here??), but in the end we kept them because she liked them, and what more could we want?

  9. Ha! One year after school picture day I had a panicked call from the PTO photo coordinator. My son had crossed his eyes in every single class picture, she said. The photographers could photo shop it out. Should she have them do it? I didn’t hesitate. I told her that that was obviously how he wanted to look in the picture, so leave it alone. Hopefully, it didn’t offend the parents with the perfectly coiffed and turned out kids.

  10. We compromise. School shirts are picked as a group before school starts, the kids pick what they want and we make sure they coordinate. Then they’re hung up in the closet until picture day so they don’t get stains. After that the kids wear them in their regular rotation. Kids get what they want, parents get what they want. Won’t work for everyone, but works for us.

  11. I am kinda with you…. I need to find the fine line between self expression and pure laziness. I do let my kids choose their clothes and we have had some beauties (Lily one year looked like Hello Kitty threw up on her), but my oldest won’t choose what she likes or what she feels expresses herself, she just grabs what is one top because she is too lazy to look, and won’t brush her hair because its too much trouble. We are going to land somewhere in the middle, I suspect. PLEASE POST YOUR KIDS PICTURES! I am giddy waiting to see them!

  12. Well, Poop…on a stick…TODAY was picture day, and I’m just now reading this feeling like a heel because my son, who doesn’t mind dressing up…didn’t like the shirt I bought him…I had him wear it anyway…with a Tshirt under it…but still…oh well, I’m in the camp of 2 days a year won’t hurt him 🙂 so…he can show his kids one day the goofy clothes his mom made him wear. LOL…

  13. I have always let my kids wear what they are comfortable in! They are the children’s pictures, not ours. Let their photo reflect who they are, not what you want others to see! Great article!

  14. I never remember picture day so my kids are the usual slobs they are One year, my youngest had something weird going on with his hair, so he totally looked like Rod Stewart. The oldest freshman year work a stretched out teeshit with a big rattlesnake on it. It turned out to be a great picture because he was laughing so hard.
    Trust me – I am a more incompetent parent than any of you. Their school had a debate once about adopting school uniforms, and my youngest (who was in first grade) decided he wanted to speak. So he got up on stage in snow boots (it was May I think) that were three sizes too big, sweatpants with one leg push up over his knee because “it was itchy” and a teeshirt of his brother’s (who is 4 1/2 years older than him.) He was speaking against it of course. He looked like a reason to have uniforms.

  15. I’m not sure I can totally be on board with this. My thinking is along the lines of, every other picture that gets taken during the year is an “as they want to look” picture (and there are those in plenty), and one formal picture seems not a lot to ask. However, school photos are probably not the ideal venue for said formal portrait, so if you can afford and organize a different one, it would probably go better.

  16. Oh I like this challenge – it’s easy for me. It’s what I do every year! My boys look handsome all the time, well okay other than the dirty faces etc., lol. I wish someone would hand them each a wipe before pictures maybe so they could clean themselves a bit, but I never care about them dressing up – I want their pictures to reflect who they were that year as much as possible. I don’t think they even own button up shirts or anything to dress up in anyways!

  17. You know, I had a conversation about this topic with my therapist. Not even about picture day, but just about dressing for school in general. I had (have) a “you must wear a shirt from your closet” rule for school. And the shirts in the closet are polo shirts, and shirts with no logos. Boring shirts. And he wanted to wear a space tee shirt to school. And he had a huge fight before school about it. And my therapist basically said “Why do you care? This space shirt is making him happy. Why is it so important to you that he not wear it?” So, now guess what shirts live in his closet? All his awesome space shirts and astronaut shirts. And he wears them to school every day and comes down so proud of what he chose.

    And I was, actually, prepared to have him wear a polo shirt from his closet to picture day next week. But THANK YOU for this. Because it’s my therapist all over again. Why do I care, really? How about I just let him wear what makes him happy.

    So – thanks for being my on-line therapist. Waaaaaay cheaper than my other one! 🙂

  18. “It turns out, I made my kids’ School Picture Days a way for ME to express MYself; kids coiffed the way I like….to have a record that reflects what I like and who I am”.

    …I’m not sure why you have a problem with this. Where I come from, we call forcing everyone to get in uncomfortable clothes to please other people and being unable to enjoy ourselves ‘family time’, and it made us the quirky, charming neurotics we are. It’s been going on so long we also call it tradition. Are you OPPOSED to tradition and family? As for me, I have no intention of denying my daughter this important piece of her heritage. Part of the tradition includes phrases like:

    “Because I’m the parent and I say so!”

    “All the sacrifices I make, and this is the thanks I get.”

    “I just want ONE picture a year to make us look like we’re not bums!”

    “Fine. I see. Okay. Do WHATEVER you want. What I want isn’t important.”

    “I ask for so little–SO little. But do I even get that? Of course not. I’m just a parent. I’m just here to give and give and give…!”

    “I spend hard-earned money buying you a few nice things and wan some proof you wore them at least once before we have to give them away!”

    “Someday I hope you have a child who treats you the way you treat me. Then you’ll understand. I’ll probably be gone by then. I just hope you can live with yourself.”

    These are classics, and I believe in exposing my daughter to the classics.

    1. I too believe in exposing them to the “classics.” LOL I frequently tell my kids that it is my job to torture them and they should just learn to accept it.

  19. I had sort of the same epiphany this year as well, just yesterday as a matter of fact! I decided that the only reason I wanted school pics is so that I could use the 8×10 for my scrapbook and then the 5×7’s to give to the grandparents. But do they sell just the 8×10 and 4 5×7’s? NOOOOOOO. So, I am stuck paying for a bunch of pics I will never use and spending a whole lot of money. Remember, I have 5 kids too although I sent the eldest off to college this fall so only 4 kids that still have school pics. I thought, if I were to save up all the money that I spend on school pics each year (About $35 per kid) and put it in a pot, I would have enough by the time they are juniors to do their senior pics!!!! What a thinker I am!
    At any rate, school photos have been forever banned in this household and will be from this point forward taken by Mom, in whatever they want to wear, wherever they want to take them. Kinda like senior pics every year for each kid! Shouts of joy were heard in my house and not just from the kids but from me too!
    Way to be a rebel and I am happy to rebel alongside you!!

  20. I gave up on picture day a long time ago. Which is why my son came home with a picture that looked FANTASTIC till you pulled it all the way out of the envelope and you realized that the t-shirt he was wearing said “SARCASM” in huge print. Fortunately, thats kind of our family motto, and it made for an epic FB post. Win Win.

  21. My kid’s daycare does picture day twice a year (what the heck right?) so I always make my son wear my choices in the fall and don’t plan to buy the pics from the spring, in fact I forgot to even think about it in the spring. So they took his picture anyway that day last spring, wearing sweatpants and his favorite t-shirt and sent me the proof of the picture. He was smiling the most genuine, perfect smile in his favorite clothes. I of course had to buy the picture and its my favorite ever, even though there were no collars, nice pants or hair combing involved. Lesson learned, he wore a hoodie this year for fall pics and they turned out awesome.

  22. My child wants to wear green. What’s the matter with that you ask? We have a green screen so the background can be changed. He just wants to be a floating head!

    1. Oh. Oh. Shoot. Now I am wondering if I shouldn’t send my kid in a green shirt. Because we get to pick different backgrounds too.

  23. Mrs. Woosley,
    This is a great idea. I get the joy of being with your twins everyday. As an educator, I hate picture day for the very reasons you stated. I work with these hooligans ALL DAY LONG and think parents are cheating them out of great memories by changing who “they really are”. I can promise you, as a member of the staff, my pictures will reflect my true self this year. Thanks for standing up for your kids and helping to nurture their self expression. Can’t wait to see what the boys come up with! PS your blog helps keep me doing what I do. Thanks for the honesty and the laughs.

  24. I think this is one of those things that will sort themselves out through peer pressure. (Yay, peer pressure (for once)). I figure if I let my son go to school on picture day this year however he pleases, next year he is going to remember the “what’s up with your hair?” questions and will self-correct. Especially when he starts to care what his love interests think! So it is for his own good.

    Or he won’t care and it will still be a win-win for me, because my sons will be independent, non-vain, trend-bucking people.

    But I will still want them to go to school with clean faces and clean teeth. Because that is the rule every day.

    So, yeah, this is quintessential good parenting. I’m on board!

  25. I’m with you! I had this conversation with my 9 y/o the other night…. He wants to dress like Dr. Who for his school picture and that is what we will do. And if the girl doesn’t want to brush her hair and practice smiling her nice smile, not the cheesy one that looks like she’s constipated.. we can go with the constipated smile too. We can!

    1. Which Doctor, because that would be a pretty awesome school picture!

      As for me, I consider it a win if I can get my boys to wear a plain t-shirt instead of a Minecraft/Star Wars one. (I wouldn’t be opposed to those if the whole shirt would show in the picture…) I gave up on any sort of ‘nice outfit’ YEARS ago.

      1. He’s claiming he wants to resemble the 11th.. with the bow tie… It’s Star Wars and Minecraft the other 364 days a year 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.