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The Scrap Shoppe
This bingo card that incentivizes children to read is a summertime learning tool that Jennilyn McKenna found on Pinterest.
It really has become just this great place to collect everything you find online. Before Pinterest you had to worry about keeping emails or sorting stuff in (computer) folders or actually printing things out. —Stephanie McCratic

When Stephanie McCratic recently decided it was high time to potty-train her 30-month-old daughter, she only needed one resource to help spark her into action.

"I knew within Pinterest I was going to find exactly what I wanted," said McCratic, the Arkansas-based author of the technology-focused Evolved Mommy blog.

Accessible either as a website or an app, Pinterest is the rapidly growing social media platform designed to function like a series of virtual corkboards so that people can create, organize and share collections of images from the Internet. Whenever a user like McCratic finds something she likes — either on a webpage or someone else's Pinterest account — she can easily "pin" onto one of her corkboards a representative photo that links back to the source.

"It really has become just this great place to collect everything you find online," McCratic said. "Before Pinterest you had to worry about keeping emails or sorting stuff in (computer) folders or actually printing things out."

McCratic searched Pinterest for "potty training chart." In short order, she came across a free printable for a "Potty Chart" that aids parents in tracking and incentivizing their young trainee's bathroom performance. (In Pinterest parlance, "free printable" refers to a print-ready image that anybody can download, print out and use.) And after a couple days of directing her daughter's attention to the Potty Chart and rewarding potty performance at promised intervals, McCratic watched the child leave diapers behind for good.

"That was a couple weekends ago," she said. "And I will tell you, it worked. Our daughter is potty trained — we're done!"

Today, with more than 15 million estimated users two years after launching in March 2010 — and with site traffic that Forbes magazine reported grew by a multiplier of 30 during a recent six-month interval — Pinterest is here to stay. Indeed, it functions as a hub for the kind of user-generated aggregation that reduces the amount of time needed for best practices and popular innovations to permeate the masses. And as McCratic's experience suggests, one area where this phenomenon is particularly evident is with techniques for parenting young children.

Wide-ranging possibilities

Pinterest content covers a wide breadth of parenting topics. One visit to popular parenting boards like "How Does She" or "Let's Lasso the Moon" can open the door to ideas and possibilities for everything from creative Father's Day crafts to techniques for helping children connect with nature.

For example, on the "How Does She" Pinterest board Jennilyn McKenna discovered a 14-page free printable designed by a professional graphic artist that outlines a summer reading program for kids.

"It has this bingo card that has different ways to read — with a hat on or in the morning or in your pajamas," said McKenna, the mother of four children ages 8 and under in Utah. "Once they get bingo they earn a coupon for a treat, and then once they get a blackout they get a golden ticket for something bigger."

Why reinvent the wheel?

Most of the parenting-related ideas on Pinterest aren't game-changing revelations. But even in searching for foundational family fare such as activities that help parents bond with their children, there's peace of mind in opting for a proven entity.

"With the homemaker-type stuff I look for (on Pinterest), it seems like people have already done a good job of researching it," said Royah Petersen, a Southern California mother of three children ages 5 and under. "You can treat it like a collective community of people with shared interests by utilizing some of the wisdom that they've already gained (instead of) doing it all on your own — and probably ending up with the same result."

Beware of 'rabbit hole'

Like many well-intentioned tools in the digital age, Pinterest can be overstimulating if used in excess.

"When I started using (Pinterest), I would just look at these images and I would just find ideas for things I didn't even know I wanted to do," the blogger McCratic said. "There would be these crafts, and I would find myself in this rabbit hole of, 'Oh my gosh. I've got to create cupcakes that look like caterpillars!'"

That said, it's not an insurmountable temptation by any stretch of the imagination.

"Eventually I reined it in," McCratic continued. "I admitted I'm never going to create cupcakes that look like caterpillars. But I've still got these (Pinterest) boards that are populated full of crafts I'm never going to go back and do — because at the end of the day they're still fun to look at."