You will probably have noticed that when I want to try out something new, or do something with a lens that is not so child friendly (yes, I'm am talking about the 200mm) I tend to ask a friend if I can take their picture, or pictures of their children.
I have found this approach to practice works pretty well for me - particularly since my own child doesn't really like having his picture taken! If I ask him to stand in a certain place, look at me (or quite frankly give any direction at all!) he tends to look stiff and uncomfortable....and that's on a good day. I wont tell you what he does on a bad day. He is however, more than happy for me to take pictures - at least most of the time - if I expect nothing of him and just let him do his thing. As I love lifestyle, and I want to document our lives authentically, for the vast majority of the time this works great for me and we co-exist pretty peacefully.
However, there are times when I want something different and in that case, I tend to bring in outside reinforcements rather than cajole my son into it. I used to be quite shy about asking for this, thinking I needed to have the parents be happy with the photos, but I have since found that quite a few of my friends kids LOVE having their photo taken, and therefore it is as much fun for them as it is for me! Since I've become okay with not having to please anyone (I never promise to get a few pics for their album, or to get a certain shot) the only person I am shooting for when I pick up the camera is me, and I find that I prefer that much better. (My idea of what is "good" rarely co-incides what the parents want anyway, so it's probably best this way anyway)
I do want to point out though that I am NOT portfolio building nor am I at any point in the near future planning to go into business. If i were I would give much clearer direction on time of day, clothing choices, locations, expectations and would ensure that I am taking a variety of shots in much the same way as I would if I charged. As I'm quite happy just shooting for myself, I can simply enjoy taking photographs and trying out new things, and if nothing works out quite right, nobody feels let down.
Many times when I take shots it's not even a planned out thing, I just grab the nearest passing child during a playdate - after checking with the parent first of course - snap a few and send them on their merry way. I get to take a few images, and my son gets the day off, so we are all happy.
If you are finding that your children are less than thrilled with your ideas for photo shoots, or you want to do something different (it's fun having another face in your viewfinder sometimes!) or you simply want the practice, then bringing in your friends kids is a great way to do it! Most people are delighted to help out, and if you get one that loves the camera - you get hours of practice and the child has a great time. Win win!