Simple Holiday Ornament Card (with Photo Window)

posted in: Local | 8

Simple Holiday Ornament Card Free Printable... Cut out ornaments to showcase artwork or photos of your kids!

My boys were a little antsy for Christmas this weekend, so we skipped the usual “wait until one holiday is done to begin celebrating the next one” — a mandatory rule at our house.  After all, it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet!  But they wanted to make holiday cards, since I’d been talking with their Grandma about the family photos that we’ll be putting on their annual greeting card.

So, off I went to oblige my boys.  Sometimes it can be a struggle to find a craft or activity that both of them can do, since Toby is five and Zack is still two.  But after a bit of creative thinking on my part, we were able to come up with an easy Christmas card craft idea that can be adapted for any age!

So, here’s my take on the kid-made Christmas card idea.

(Don’t worry, I’ll share a free printable at the end with you, so you can easily make this simple holiday ornament card too).

Now, depending on your child’s age, you’ll be able to do less work — my five year old was able to cut out the circle windows for his own card.  But my two year old’s attempts with scissors did no more than make strips of paper (which you’ll notice we glued onto a solid sheet of colored paper to create striped ornaments. Too cute!

Supplies to have on hand

You’ll probably want to get supplies out ahead of time.  So, here are the things we used.  I included affiliate links to some items on Amazon, in case you want to get your own.

  • Zots Glue Dots or a gluestick
  • Paper Edger Scissors (the ones that make a fancy/crazy cut rather than a straight line)
  • Normal Scissors
  • Crayons, markers, or coloring pencils
  • paper in assorted colors
  • printable PDF, printed on standard paper

You might have noticed I didn’t bother to use cardstock for this project.  That’s because the two layers of paper make the card sturdy enough.  And, if you decide to include a piece of artwork inside the card, then the recipient can take it out and hang it on their fridge!

Making the Holiday Ornament Cards

I set the kids loose with all the craft supplies on the table, so we ended up with a few outtake cards too.

No big deal.  Those are adorable too.

But since you want to know how to make the ones I’ve shown you… I’ll focus on those.

First, we cut out the gray ornament shapes on my printable, shown below.  There are download links for a PDF and a JPG file right below the image.

Simple Holiday Ornament Card Free Printable... Cut out ornaments to showcase artwork or photos of your kids!

Holiday Ornament Card Printable (PDF format)  |  Holiday Ornament Cart Printable (JPG format)

After we had the picture window openings created, my boys decorated a second sheet of paper.  This ultimately sits behind the printable, and you’ll see some pops of color (or some cute pictures) in the ornament openings.

I did help the kids position the photos to make sure they were in the openings, but if you didn’t trim the photos close to size, as we did, there would be a lot more wiggle room.

If you’re having trouble visualizing this whole concept, don’t worry!

I took some photos to show you exactly what the two pieces of paper look like before (and after) they are sandwiched together.

Holiday Card Components (Before)


The holiday ornament card, just before being assembled. For this artwork page, created by my two year old, we didn't really need to worry about placement so much!
The holiday ornament card, just before being assembled. For this artwork page, created by my two year old, we didn’t really need to worry about placement so much!


The holiday ornament card, just before being assembled. Note how we positioned the photos so they will show through the ornament openings!
The holiday ornament card, just before being assembled. Note how we positioned the photos so they will show through the ornament openings!


Holiday Card (after, unfolded)

And once you put them together the holiday ornaments look very festive, regardless of whether you choose to showcase a crayon artwork or show off photos of your kids!

Once sandwiched together, the two parts of the card look great, even if you choose not to include any photos. I think this is a great simple holiday ornament card!
Once sandwiched together, the two parts of the card look great, even if you choose not to include any photos. I think this is a great simple holiday ornament card!


Once sandwiched together, the two parts of the card look great. I love how the paper strips cut with the edging scissors look on the ornaments!
Once sandwiched together, the two parts of the card look great. I love how the paper strips cut with the edging scissors look on the ornaments!


Now all that’s left to do is the folding. Depending on your child’s accuracy, they may ask you to help with this step.

Fine by me!

Simple Holiday Ornament Cards

Okay, now that you’ve seen the process, here are the finished cards!

The finished holiday ornament cards, after being assembled and folded.
The finished holiday ornament cards, after being assembled and folded.


If you want to see the fronts, insides, and backs of each card, feel free to click on an image below to enlarge.

Holiday Card Outtakes

Now, I have to admit, Zack (the two year old) helped me make both of these cards. Toby (the five year old), while perfectly capable, decided to do his own thing and create a very lovely holiday card of his own (he insisted I draw him something to color too).

Toby decided to draw this lovely holiday greeting card with the sun shining down on the pine trees and the water. Not exactly a printable holiday ornament card, but still adorable!
Toby decided to draw this lovely holiday greeting card with the sun shining down on the pine trees and the water. Not exactly a printable holiday ornament card, but still adorable!


Here are a few other outtakes of cards that my boys created… along the same thought process, but without the holiday ornament card printable.



I meant to share some pictures of the kids creating these holiday ornament cards, but things were a little crazy so I set the camera aside to help make sure everyone was using scissors safely (ahem…. toddler alert!).

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this cute and simple holiday card craft enough that you’ll forgive my being so early with the activity!  Now, go have some fun, download the printable, and cut out those ornaments to showcase your favorite kid-made artwork or photos of your kids!



kid-made-christmas-card-series-badge-largebphotoart-holiday-ornament-card-photo-window-sqYou’ll enjoy checking out the other Christmas cards created in this series! Thirty bloggers will be sharing their kid-made Christmas cards with you, so make sure to check out the entire Kid-Made Christmas Card Series (hosted by Mum in the Mad House).

Make sure to peek at this really cute Christmas tree card by Sew Kidding!



Make a Jack-O-Lantern Stamp from an Apple {Plus Two Halloween Crafts}

posted in: Parenting | 0

Make a Jack-O-Lantern Stamp from an Apple Two Halloween Crafts!

It’s always fun to get ready for Halloween. Whether you’re pumpkin-carving, or maybe making a costume to wear when trick-or-treating, Halloween gives us the chance to be creative (like we did with this Jack-O-Lantern stamp craft!).

Did you know that carving pumpkins didn’t become popular until the celebration of Halloween was brought to North America? Originally in Ireland, people carved lanterns out of turnips. Well, in America, of course, pumpkins were very easy to come by (not to mention easier to carve!), so the tradition evolved to include pumpkin carving.

You might want to check out my post, 6 Tips for Helping Kids Carve Pumpkins; or learn how to Create Your Own Pumpkin Stencil from Better Homes and Gardens.

6 Tips for Helping Kids Carve Pumpkins - Betsy's Photography -

Anyways, my boys were pretty excited for fall this year.  Our neighbors had a pumpkin patch, and gave us pumpkins… so we have a very well decorated front porch.  The leaves are coming down in droves, and there have been multiple requests for a leaf pile.  And, of course, reminders that we need to carve pumpkins.  Well, I wasn’t quite ready to carve pumpkins (we went overboard last year), but wanted to give the boys a chance to do something fun for Halloween.

So, we made Halloween cards! Well, they did.  And I made a garland.

You probably have most of the supplies on hand for this craft, but here are some links in case (#afflinks)


How to Make a Jack-o-Lantern Stamp From an Apple

While most of this craft is kid-friendly, the first step is going to depend on how old your child is, and how much you trust them to use a knife safely.  So, most likely, you, the adult, will be doing this first step… after that, let the kids loose!

The kids were excited to make jack-o-lantern stamps...
The kids were excited to make jack-o-lantern stamps…


Cut the apple in half.  Then carve out a chunk for the smile, and cut out two triangles for the eyes.  If you want to get fancy and cut out teeth too, go for it.  In my book, simpler is easier!

I cut the apple in half, and carved out a face in each side -- one for each of my boys.
I cut the apple in half, and carved out a face in each side — one for each of my boys.
Toby wanted to show off his jack-o-lantern apple stamp.
Toby wanted to show off his jack-o-lantern apple stamp.

Use the Jack-O-Lantern Stamp to Make a Halloween Card

Next, put some paint out for the kids. I took a kitchen plate, covered it in a plastic grocery bag, and then put the pumpkin orange paint on top.  This made for easy clean up, and allowed the kids to smear their apple stamps around to get full coverage.

Then, let them stamp to their heart’s content on the black construction paper with their thoroughly inked stamps.  My kindergardener was able to do this all by himself, while my toddler needed help placing the stamp down so the paint didn’t smear.  I didn’t think of this until after we were done with the project, but you could take a corn holder (for corn on the cob) and stick it in the skin side of the apple, creating a handle.

Oh well… hindsight is 20/20.

After the boys gleefully covered their paper cards with pumpkin stamps, I got out the white crayons.  My toddler was uninterested in crayons, and moved onto another activity, but my kindergardener sounded out and wrote an entire greeting on his Halloween card.  It’s so cute when kids start to learn to write… I love the phonetic spelling stage 🙂 🙂 …it’s so adorable!  But, I admit, it’s sometimes hard to read.  So, I did write a transcription of the message and tape it onto the card before we delivered it.

This craft took about 5 minutes for me to think up and prepare for the boys… and it occupied them for maybe a half hour.  Your mileage may vary, depending on your child’s interest and age.

Once you coat it with paint, the jack-o-lantern stamp looks a lot less like an apple, and more like a pumpkin.
Once you coat it with paint, the jack-o-lantern stamp looks a lot less like an apple, and more like a pumpkin.
Both boys diligently stamped away on their black construction paper to create lovely Halloween cards.
Both boys diligently stamped away on their black construction paper to create lovely Halloween cards.
Toby was definitely old enough to handle this craft on his own.
Toby was definitely old enough to handle this craft on his own.
The paint transferred better when we pushed really hard and went slower rather than faster.
The paint transferred better when we pushed really hard and went slower rather than faster.


Toby decided to personalize his Halloween card further by writing "Happy Halloween" ...among other things.
Toby decided to personalize his Halloween card further by writing “Happy Halloween” …among other things.
The apple stamps worked pretty well, I'd say. This crafting session was a success!
The apple stamps worked pretty well, I’d say. This crafting session was a success!

Use the Jack-O-Lantern Stamp Make a Halloween Garland

After the boys were done, I cut up some black construction paper into triangles and stamped them with the jack-o-lantern stamp.

Once the paint was dry, I punched holes in the corners and then had my older boy thread yarn through the holes so we could hang it up.

Voila!  Fun and easy decorations for my front door!

Mom's project while the boys made cards? cutting triangles from the construction paper so I could make a fun jack-o-lantern garland.
Mom’s project while the boys made cards? cutting triangles from the construction paper so I could make a fun jack-o-lantern garland.
I punched holes in the triangles and threaded floss through to string them together.
I punched holes in the triangles and threaded floss through to string them together.
We hung it over the sliding glass door, upon my boys' request.
We hung it over the sliding glass door, upon my boys’ request.
The boys decided it looked very spooky!
The boys decided it looked very spooky!

Use Your Imagination!

I am sure there are a million other ways you could use this cute jack-o-lantern stamp…

Do you have any other ideas for an extension activity based on this project?  Think of something else you could stamp with an apple Jack-o-lantern stamp?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Learn About Negative (+Coloring Page Printable)

posted in: Learning | 3

bphotoart-learn-about-negativeWorking my way through the Photography ABCs has been fun!  We’re at letter N this week, so I thought we’d talk about negative.  There are a number of different meanings for the word negative as relates to photography.  It can be the actual film negative, or a description of how the image is negative rather than positive (dark tones are light, light tones are dark), or can even refer to negative space (a design term referring to empty space in an image). didn’t really reference the photographic and design terms at all, despite having more than 30 entries about “negative” — here are two:

adj. expressing or containing negation or denial;

noun. a negative statement, answer, word, gesture, etc.

So I turned to the online version of my favorite childhood book set – The Britannica Encyclopedia.  Here’s the definition I found there:

Negative,  photographic image that reproduces the bright portions of the photographed subject as dark and the dark parts as light areas. Negatives are usually formed on a transparent material, such as plastic or glass. Exposure of sensitized paper through the negative, done either by placing the negative and paper in close contact or by projecting the negative image onto the paper, reverses these tones and produces a positive photographic print.

Much more helpful!

Now, to put that in layman’s terms.  Negative is a “backwards” image, with the dark tones being light and the light tones being dark.  Everything is reversed.  You may also be familiar with the term “inverted” — all the tones are inverted, or inverse from real life.  Before digital, the film we put into cameras, once exposed, was developed and called “negatives” — because the tiny images on the film were “backwards” or opposite of how they look in real life. Here’s what a negative might look like (see below).  Can you tell what these images are?

Images used with permission, from

And the same strip of developed film, if it were printed in positive.

Images used with permission, from

Pretty cool, huh?  Would you have guessed that the inverse of yellow is blue, or the inverse of magenta is cyan?  This is bringing me back to the days of color theory in college.  …Don’t worry, I won’t get all technical here.

I have two ideas for activities related to today’s term, negative:

  1. negative matching / color guess game
  2. negative coloring activity

Okay, let’s get on with the activities.  You can modify them based on the age and ability of your child, as usual. Or, if you come up with another idea, go for it! Just make sure to share in the comments so others can benefit from your genius!

Negative Matching / Color Guess game

This one is pretty simple.  I’m going to share some images here… that have already been paired — positive and negative versions of the same image.  The goal for younger children?  Matching the two versions.  Their job is to pair the positive photo of a daisy with the negative rendition.

Want something more complex?  Look at any of these images, and try to guess what the colors would be in the inverse image.  Would the white daisy be black?  You can check your answers by looking at the negative version of the image.

Here are the positive versions (all used with permission, courtesy of

And here are the negative versions (again, all used with permission, courtesy of

Pretty neat, huh?

Negative Coloring Activity

Take a coloring page,and instead of coloring it according to real life, try coloring it as you might see a negative.  I’ve converted a few of the images above into coloring sheets for you, so you have something with a guide image.  If you have older children, it might be fun to have them try drawing freehand and then coloring in their own creations.

You can download a PDF file with all four coloring pages here: Negative Coloring Pages PDF

Digital “Negative” – Inverse Image Experiment

You can turn a picture into a negative with different software already on your computer (for more details, read this article: How do I make a negative of a picture?).  Basically, you can open the image in a program and invert the colors, like I’ll do below with Microsoft Paint.

Open the image.  Press crtl-A to select all, and then right-click and select “Invert color,” like I’ve shown below.  This will let you show your kids any image in “negative” form!


I’ve also done the work for you, with this lovely series of images on a filmstrip by Gerd Altmann (Image from Used with permission).  You can click on either image below to view it in a larger format.

Well, that about covers it for this week’s activities.  Make sure to check back next week for the next post, where I’ll share an activity for the letter O. You might also enjoy revisiting our previous activity where we learned about macro.

The ABCs of Photography - An Educational Series for KidsJoin Betsy as she works through the alphabet in this educational series for kids… The ABCs of Photography!  We’ll cover topics from A to Z, with activity ideas for both younger and older kids

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Learn About Macro

posted in: Learning | 3

Learn About MacroAnd it’s time for one of my favorite terms in the ABCs of Photography series – M is for Macro! I have enjoyed macro photography for a long time.  Plants, bugs, and other small items can be really neat to see larger than life.  Or, if you’re a kid at heart, legos.

That’s why I picked this stock image for today’s post — I have always loved building with legos, and thought it was neat that they made a camera lego piece for the lego people (saving you the trouble of looking — find it on as black camera #3 lego piece #afflink).  While I was sidetracked getting that link for you, I also remembered that someone made a (working) 8MB Lego Camera #afflink — it actually will take about 80 pictures. Somewhat impractical, but fun for any Lego geeks to contemplate getting for their kids.

Macro can be used as a noun (type of lens) and an adjective (style of photography). defines each as follows:

n. a lens used to bring into focus objects very close to the camera.

adj. very large in scale, scope, or capability.

The British dictionary is even more specific, stating that the macro lens is used for photographing things 2–10 cm away.  Interesting tidbit of knowledge, there.

Basically, you use the term macro when referring to something small that has been made much larger than life.  The photographs taken with a macro lens are often abstract in nature, because they are so close up you can’t tell what they are.  

On the flip side, macro lenses can also enlarge tiny objects so we can actually see all the detail — like the multi-faceted eyes on a bug. Here’s a macro image I created of a katydid (see more macro bug pictures, including a praying mantis)

Close Up Bug Photography (12)

If you have a point and shoot camera, you’ll probably recognize the macro setting as the little flower that vaguely resembles the Super Mario fire flower.  Turn on that setting, and your camera will try to focus on things that are really close up to create macro pictures.

Macro photographs don’t have to be identifiable, either.  You can make them as abstract as you like. Here’s one I created a while back (find out what I photographed).

black and white abstraction - fine art photography

Okay, now that the term macro has been explained, let’s move onto how to incorporate macro into an activity.  The concept of Macro can be taught to kids in several ways.  Since my four year old prefers hands-on activities, I’m not providing any printables or such.  Instead, consider these two options:

  1. Macro Scavenger Hunt
  2. Macro Matching Game

Macro Scavenger Hunt

Depending on the age of your kids, you can either hand them a camera and turn them loose to find things.  This is basically a more specialized version of my photo scavenger hunt — you’ll be looking for anything that you can photograph up close and personal.  Bugs, plants, rocks …might be subjects for an outdoor macro scavenger hunt, whereas colanders,, seat cushions, staplers, and bobby pins could be photographed indoors.

Take this a step further by playing a game afterwards with the abstract pictures.  Try to guess what each is; you’d be surprised how difficult some things are (check of these fine art abstractions).

Macro Matching Game

Again, you’ll want the camera handy.  Or some existing pictures.  Photograph a number of objects both normally and macro.  Then, print them out, and try to pair the macro images with their proper pictures.  Or, you could just print out the macro pictures, and have the items you photographed laid out on the counter — let the kids play detective and try to figure out which picture goes with which object.

The possibilities are endless.

Do you have any ideas for helping kids learn about macro?  I’d love to hear them in the comments below.  Also, Make sure to check back next week for the next post, where I’ll share an activity for the letter N. You might also enjoy revisiting last week’s activity where we learned about how lenses work.

The ABCs of Photography - An Educational Series for KidsJoin Betsy as she works through the alphabet in this educational series for kids… The ABCs of Photography!  We’ll cover topics from A to Z, with activity ideas for both younger and older kids

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Dwarf Lake Iris – Michigan’s Official Wildflower (A Craft!)

posted in: Learning | 6

Iris Lacustris - Michigan's State Wildflower - Dwarf Lake Iris - CraftLately I’ve become interested in adding native plants to our gardens and wooded area.  Sure, non-native flowers can be gorgeous, but there are so many native options to choose from that are better suited for the environment (and therefore easier to grow).

So today we’re going to learn about Michigan’s official wildflower.  And a brief summary of how it came to be the Dwarf Lake Iris.

Long story short, the popular vote was for Trillium (another native wildflower) to be named Michigan’s state wildflower.  Politicians decided to proceed with the second place wildflower, the Dwarf Lake Iris, due to its threatened status.  Maybe they thought the additional awareness about the unique and threatened habitat of the Dwarf Lake Iris could help preserve the species.

I’ve never seen one of these beauties in person.  But thanks to the internet, I was able to find a number of blog posts and photos featuring the Dwarf Lake Iris.

Here’s one that was taken by Joshua Mayer in Wisconsin (see below).  The Dwarf Lake Iris may look familiar, but that’s because it’s part of the Iris family.  This particular flower is miniature — about 1.5″ flowers, with 2″ stems and 6″ leaves.

The Dwarf Lake Iris is unique to the Great Lakes; its scientific name, Iris Lacustris, means “rainbow of the lakes.”

Dwarf Lake Iris (Iris lacustris)
Photo by Joshua Mayer

Online Learning

Here are some resources I found if you want to learn more about the Dwarf Lake Iris:

  • Iris Lacustris – Center For Plant Conservation – I learned that 95% of the existing Dwarf Lake Iris plants exist in Michigan, and that its primary threats include loss of habitat, increasing human disturbance, and Iris Lacustris is very similar to the related (and more common) Iris Cristata.
  • Iris Lacustris – Michigan DNR – this has a nice map depicting where the Dwarf Lake Iris is distributed in Michigan.  There are some interesting tidbits, including that “of the lakes” meaning I mentioned earlier.
  • Iris Lacustris – Flora of Wisconsin – here’s a brief summary of the plant and how to identify it (including pictures).
  • Iris Lacustris – Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center – another brief summary of the Dwarf Lake Iris and pictures of the flowers, including a rare white blossom.
  • Michigan State Wildflower – Netstate – If you’re interested in how the Michigan Wildflower Association sponsored an informal public poll for the state wildflower, and how the runner up was nominated in 1997 by House Representative Liz Brater (supported by the Michigan Botanical Club, the Michigan Nature Association, the Michigan Natural Areas Council, the Michigan Environmental Council, and the University of Michigan Herbarium)…. this site has the political aspect covered.
  • Dwarf Lake Iris – Michigan Sea Grant – another brief summary of the Dwarf Lake Iris’ habitat, characteristics, the fact that its scientific name means “rainbow of the lakes” …plus more pictures
  • Dwarf Lake Iris – U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services Endangered Species – facts about the Dwarf Lake Iris (including printable fact sheet), why it is listed as a threatened species, what is being done to protect it, and how to hopefully prevent its extinction.

Books + Activities

I found some additional craft and activity resources for learning about state flowers and native plants, which you might enjoy (Amazon #afflinks used below):

Dwarf Lake Iris Craft

orchidNow for a fun craft to help facilitate discussion about Michigan’s official wildflower.  I kept this pretty simple, as I wanted to go with an artistic abstraction that would encourage my son, Toby, to think and visualize pictures of the Dwarf Lake Iris in terms of simplified shapes.

For this activity, we used some origami paper that I received for review purposes (Orchid Origami Paper – 500 sheet pack #afflink).  I have to say, the paper totally lives up to my standards so far as origami paper goes.  The surface of the paper is smooth, they are easy to fold and get sharply creased, and the colors are really bright.

And before you say anything, yes, I know… cutting is kind of a no-no when forming origami creations.  But, I couldn’t help but be drawn to all the bright colors when I was trying to decide on a craft to go along with our discussion of Michigan’s official wildflower.

I gathered up some origami paper and some art paper, plus a pair of scissors.
I gathered up some origami paper and some art paper, plus a pair of scissors.
I cut the different colors of paper into different simplified shapes - petals (blue and yellow) and leaves (green).
I cut the different colors of paper into different simplified shapes – petals (blue and yellow) and leaves (green).
Here's my take on the Dwarf Lake Iris - some leaves, the stem, and the base color of the leaves have been laid out on the white paper.
Here’s my take on the Dwarf Lake Iris – some leaves, the stem, and the base color of the leaves have been laid out on the white paper.


Next I added the color contrast on the leaves -- yellow and white (the white was the backside of the yellow paper).
Next I added the color contrast on the leaves — yellow and white (the white was the backside of the yellow paper).


And here's the final craft.
And here’s the final craft.


Be forewarned, the paper bits can make a big mess.  We had to put baby brother in the exersaucer during this craft.
Be forewarned, the paper bits can make a big mess. We had to put baby brother in the exersaucer during this craft.

So that’s all there is to it!  This could be more of a sensory experience, if you let the paper pieces be loose and transient like we did, or you could use a glue stick to permanently adhere the abstracted pieces to the paper.  Your call. I went with simpler and more experimental.  Because that’s what works for us!

tour-the-world-by-flowerTour the World By Flower

This post is part of the Tour the World By Flower blog hop.   Every state and country (and as we’ve discovered, province, county or territory) has an official flower. A number of bloggers have collaborated to Tour the World by Flower with crafts to learn about various official flowers!  Make sure to check out Suzy Homeschooler’s Michigan Apple Blossom craft, which is the official state flower for Michigan.

Disclaimer: I received one or more products gratis in exchange for an honest evaluation — the opinions expressed are 100% my own.

How Lenses Work – Kid Friendly Activities!

posted in: Learning | 5

Learn About Lenses - Make a Rudimentary Image Projector!This week we’re learning about lenses for my ABCs of Photography series.  And in case you’re wondering, this is really about the concept of lenses, so we’ll be spending time exploring how they work rather than what kind of lens you should get.  We’ll even project an image onto the wall using a magnifying glass!

But first, let’s cover the definition of a lens:

n. a piece of transparent substance, usually glass, having two opposite surfaces either both curved or one curved and one plane, used in an optical device in changing the convergence of light rays, as for magnification, or in correcting defects of vision.

Your glasses have lenses, your eyes have what’s called “crystalline lenses” …and they all focus light.  As we explored when learning about cameras , you don’t need much to focus light. Even a pinhole can become a lens of sorts.  While not as simple as a pinhole, another simple lens is a magnifying glass.  And that’s what we’re going to use for these activities.

In fact, I originally brainstormed these ideas when we were making our camera obscura, but decided to split the activities into two posts since each set could really stand on their own.  So, don’t mind the fact that these images portray snow on the ground — it really is warmer than that here.  It’s just that this post has been patiently waiting for you!

Now for the fun part.  Activities!

You can do either activity first, or just choose one.  Both will help teach the same concepts, it’s just a matter of which one your kids may find more interesting.

Use a Lens to Make a Picture on Paper

All you need for this activity is a piece of paper, a magnifying glass, and a shaded area next to a window.  Although I suppose you could do it outside too.  Anyways, we put the paper in shade (this is important — your image won’t show up if the paper is in the sun), and then put the magnifying glass between the window and the paper.  As you move the magnifying glass closer to and further away from the paper, the blob of light reflected onto the paper will come in and out of focus.  If your child has enough coordination, you’ll be able to see a somewhat crisp (or fuzzy!) upside down version of what’s outside.

Here’s what it looks like when the paper is in the sun.  You will see the blob of light through the magnifying glass, but not much else, no matter how well you focus it.

Learn About Lenses - Make a Rudimentary Image Projector!

Toby had fun trying to find the focus point of th magnifying glass — you’ll see he was somewhat successful here.  Note the faint pattern of light on the paper.  That’s the view out onto our deck.

Learn About Lenses - Make a Rudimentary Image Projector!

And here’s mommy’s rendition.  See how I was able to get it a little more crisply focused?  It’s all a matter of patience.  Move the magnifying glass slowly back and forth; you’ll find it.

Learn About Lenses - Make a Rudimentary Image Projector!

Want to know what the view actually looked like?  Here’s a snapshot out onto our deck.

Learn About Lenses - Make a Rudimentary Image Projector!

And for those of you who like videos, here’s a video of the whole activity.  Well, a brief shot of the paper, panning to the outside view.  Maybe of interest for your kids, if they like videos as much as mine do. Seriously, we had to search for tornado videos on youtube to learn about how tornados work.  And astronaut videos to learn about rockets. Incidentally, Toby doesn’t want to be an astronaut now that he knows they “have” to wear diapers when in the spacesuits.

But I digress. Here’s the video (under 30 seconds in length):

How cool is that?  Yeah, we were psyched too.

Okay, now for part two.

Use a Lens to Project a Movie onto the Wall

For this activity, you’ll need your magnifying glass, and a smartphone.  We originally projected a picture onto the wall from my smartphone gallery, but a video proved more interesting.  Specifically, a video of our duplo train setup.

In order for this to work, we had to be in complete darkness.  So, we went into our bathroom, closed the door, and played the video.  Toby had fun trying to “find” the picture for a short while, but ultimately he wanted me to hold the magnifying glass so he could watch the “silly” video.  Silly because it projects upside down.  Here’s what it looked like.

Learn About Lenses - Make a Rudimentary Image Projector!

Sorry about the noise in the image.  I had to use my small camera since I was multitasking …it would’ve been crazy to try holding the magnifying glass and my DSLR that could capture this scene more adequately.  Sometimes you have to accept imperfection and go with the flow.  While I don’t settle for less with my clients — when doing activities with my boys, their experience is most important. So the documentary pictures took a place on backburner. Priorities, right?

So, to make up for that, here’s a diagram of this activity.  How you can set up your rudimentary image projection system in under two minutes… or however long it takes you to find your phone and a magnifying glass.

Rudimentary Image Projection simple activity with a Smartphone in a Dark Room!

And since I have them, here are some more pictures of the smartphone image projection activity.

Okay, there you have it!  I love how simple this activity is, and it really is great for helping kids learn about lenses.  The concept of focusing as you move the lens closer to the wall, farther from the wall, etc …all the interaction is fantastic for helping to reinforce what’s being learned.

Make sure to check back next week for the next post, where I’ll share an activity for the letter M. You might also enjoy revisiting last week’s activity where we learned about high key and low key (for the letter K).

The ABCs of Photography - An Educational Series for KidsJoin Betsy as she works through the alphabet in this educational series for kids… The ABCs of Photography!  We’ll cover topics from A to Z, with activity ideas for both younger and older kids

Sign up for emails to get each week’s blog update delivered to your inbox, which will include future posts in this series.

Make Your Own Fabric Play Fort Kit!

posted in: Notes | 21

Make Your Own Fabric Play Fort Kit for Hours of Imaginative Play!As a child, I loved making forts with my brother — we would remove the cushions from our sofa and reconfigure things to make a fort with a roof, windows, and even a door (another cushion).  This play fort kit is inspired by those memories, as I wanted to give my boys something that would inspire them to play creatively and use their imaginations.

What better way to do that than by playing fort?  Sadly, we don’t have couches that are conducive to making cushion forts (yes, I’ve tried, amusingly).  So this fort kit seemed like the next best option.

My toddler has enjoyed making blanket forts with me — but the downside of blankets is that they’re so heavy.  It’s almost impractical to use a heavy blanket for spanning wider spaces — sheets would work much better.

So, when we had to retire our master bedroom sheet set, I decided to salvage some of the fabric and turn it into pieces of fabric for a fort kit.

There was no formula, no measuring.  I cut the sheets up into random sized squares (well, rectangles, mostly).  The fitted sheet too — I trimmed off the elastic so the fabric could lie flat.

Since woven fabrics tend to fray, I did finish the edges.  You could use your sewing machine to sew a hem around each piece, or if you have a serger, just serge the edges.  Pinking shears (the scissors that cut a zig zag pattern) would have also worked.

Anyways, once the pieces were finished, I looked at the pile of fort fabric and decided we needed a bag to keep everything together.  So, I folded a long rectangle of fabric in half, and sewed it closed on three sides to make a bag.  Then, I added a drawstring to the open end.

Being the overachiever that I am, I also decided to decorate the bag so no one would be confused as to what it was for.  So I used permanent marker to write: “Fabric Play Fort” on the bag.  If you decide to decorate with permanent marker (or paint…anything that will go through multiple layers of fabric), make sure to put a piece of cardboard behind the fabric so that your decoration doesn’t bleed through.

Finally, we had some PVC pipe frames that were at one point used as laundry hampers.  They’ve been commandeered for use with the fort kit.  Or for use as a bear cave, or boats, you name it.  I love how easy it is to repurpose stuff when you’re focusing on imaginative play!

Here are some more pictures of the fort kit.  Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode, or hover over an image to read the captions.

We’ve already gotten a lot of mileage out of this fabric play fort.  And Toby has used it for more than just fort building too!  One day, the fabric pieces became a cape and wings, another day they were strewn on the floor to make a nest inside a cave… the imagination knows no limits.

I love that this fort kit was so simple to create.  You really don’t need the stow bag, and if you didn’t care about frayed ends, you could really skip the step of finishing the edges too.  Hey, while we’re at it, you could just get a cheap sheet set and leave it fully intact for use as a fabric play fort kit, right?  Stuff the sheets in the pillowcase for storage, and you’re done!

And, as a bonus?  My non-napping toddler was more than enthusiastic about taking a nap in the fort tent we made.  Naptime was easy, and as I was snuggled up under the fort, basking in the afternoon sun that streamed through the window, I was grateful for the new memories I get to make with my kids every day.

The pieces of fabric were tied together around the chair and clothes tree; the other end was shut into the dresser drawer.
The pieces of fabric were tied together around the chair and clothes tree; the other end was shut into the dresser drawer.


Do you have a favorite childhood memory that involved imaginative play?  Did you ever make forts as a kid?  Do you think your kids would like this fabric play fort idea?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

How to Make Boxes from Greeting Cards

posted in: Notes | 20

I don’t remember exactly when I learned to make boxes from greeting cards, but I do remember where I was taught and who was there.  It was a family gathering, around Christmastime.

For whatever reason, one of my extended relatives was teaching us how to make these neat boxes.  I think it was because she had given a gift in a greeting card box and everyone was really impressed.

Once you learn how to make these, you’ll agree with me — making boxes from cards is fun and easy!bphotoart-greeting-card-boxes-

Step 1: find an old greeting card, or an extra one you won’t need for its original purpose anymore.

Step 2: Cut the card in half, at the fold line.  If you’ve got skills, like me, you could even gently tear it in half.  Your call.


Step 3: Find a ruler and line it up along the edge of the card.  Use a pen to draw a fold/cut line on the card.  I just used the width of the ruler, but you could measure in 1″ if you want.  This measurement will determine how tall your box is.



Step 4: Next, you’ll want to make four cuts along the lines you just made.  DO NOT cut the whole length — just cut in to where the two lines intersect.  You will be folding all the other lines, as shown below.


Step 5: Now it’s time to put the box together. Fold the sides of the box in, and then flip up the remaining part of the box side.  Take a peek at the visual below to see what I mean.


Step 6: Secure the flaps you just folded with tape, or glue them if you prefer.  I’m lazy and use clear tape, as shown below.  You can tape the inside and outside, or just the outside, depending on how sturdy you want the box to be.


Step 7: Repeat Steps 2-6 for the other half of the card so that you can have a box lid!


Note that your box top and bottom will be the exact same size, so there may be a little warping/bending of the bottom as you fit them together.  You can solve this if you want, by trimming a slim piece (1/16″ or so) of the width and length of the “bottom” card piece before getting started. Again, it’s all about priorities, and whether you want to spend the extra energy doing this.


Toby had lots of fun putting the boxes together and taking them apart again.  he also started playing with them as boats, which prompted another greeting card-based activity, which i’ll be blogging about a bit later… bphotoart-greeting-card-boxes-1503

We made many boxes, and Toby had fun stacking them.  Wouldn’t these be cute for delivering little gifts?


There you have it.  I told you this was pretty easy.  And it’s addicting too.  Here are a few snapshots from that first year we learned how to make the greeting card boxes.  My mom and I got a little carried away with it.  Or maybe not.  Your guess is as good as mine!



You don’t have to limit yourself to using a particular season of greeting card.  These ones were made from Christmas cards, but you could make greeting card boxes from wedding cards, baby shower cards, birthday cards,…. well, you get the idea.

Do you have any nifty ways to repurpose old greeting cards?  If so, I’d love to hear about your ideas in the comments below.

Things In Our House Board Game

posted in: Learning | 12

Things in Our House Board Game (a book-based activity with free printable!)Toby loves reading. And Dr. Seuss books are no exception. So in honor of Read Across America day, we put together a board game based on the Dr. Seuss classic, “In a People House” (#afflink).  And, to help you join in the fun, I’ve created a free printable board game template for you to print out and design your own custom board game too!

We actually made our board game on a piece of cardboard from a cereal box, but you could print the printable out on cardstock or something nicer if you wanted.  Or, just print it out on plain paper and glue it to a piece of cardboard from your recycle bin.  Whatever works.

Personalize Your Game

Once you have the board game layout ready, it’s time to have some fun!  Toby and I filled in the squares with things you’d find in our house (many of which were also in the text of “In a People House” #afflink too).

Some of my toddler’s favorite things?

  • popcorn
  • buttons
  • ball
  • teapot
  • piano

You might notice that the printable doesn’t look exactly like the board game we designed — and you’re correct.  I did refine a couple things and rename it since you’ll probably want to add things to the board game that are in your house (and might not be in the book).  If your child is learning to read, you can write the words for the objects in the squares too.

Older kids will be able to fill in the squares with their own drawings, but you may want to help younger children.  This game was the perfect length for my toddler, and a great introduction to the world of board games!

Other things you’ll need:

  • dice (1 or 2, depending on how high you want to count and how well your kids share)
  • multi-colored buttons or other play markers

You don’t have to fill in every square with objects from your house; we left about a third of them blank and just colored those spaces a solid color.

Game Rules

Once you have decorated your game, it’s time to play! Here are the rules we used, but feel free to adapt and change things to fit your own game play needs.

  • Youngest player goes first (or whoever lost, if playing a second time).
  • If you land on a space with “thing” from your house, you talk about that object (the sound it makes, how to spell it, etc, depending on the age of your child).
  • Optional for quicker game: If you land on a solid colored space, you can roll again.
  • Whoever gets to the house first wins!

I’d love to hear your variations on game play if you end up changing the rules; it’s always fun to see how other people adapt things!
And because I can’t help but share some pictures of how our board game turned out (the rough draft, beta version, or what have you)… here you go! I’ll admit that I had lots of fun coloring in the squares and drawing the pictures for each of the items Toby chose. Feel free to make your board design simpler. Or, you could identify the items using words to help a beginning reader… ooh, the possibilities are endless!

Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode.

Make Your Own!

Ok, I bet you’re dying to get started.  Here’s the printable.  I’ve made PDF and JPG versions — use the links below to download and print out your very own board.  And, in case you don’t already have a copy of the book, here’s a link to “In a People House” on Amazon (#afflink).

Things in Our House Game (Free Printable)

Download Things in Our House Board Game Printable PDF / JPG

Make sure to report back with how your board game turned out, either here in the comments section or via social media.  I’d love to hear from you!

Read Across America – Read & Play Blog Hop

This post is part of a read and play blog hop.  If you want more Dr. Seuss book-based activities, make sure to check out the links below!  Book titles are linked to Amazon (#afflinks) for your convenience!


Coloring Rocks With Permanent Markers

posted in: Learning | 10

Coloring Rocks With Permanent MarkersThis is probably the easiest activity ever.  All you need are some rocks, permanent markers, and a “safe” spot for letting your kid get creative.  And of course, by that, I mean some place that permanent markers can be used without getting on anything of significance.

And that’s all!

Toby spent a good amount of time coloring the rocks; he also asked for help putting his name on one.

We actually did this craft while on a road trip, which goes to show you how simple of an activity this can be.

Some activity extension ideas?

  • Tracing rock outlines –  set the rocks on a piece of paper and trace around them
  • Make alphabet rocks – write one letter on each rock, and then practice spelling different words.
  • Rock pets – I remember painting rocks with my aunt as a child and into my teens.  Sometimes we would put faces on the rocks and then leave them to be found by a random passerby.  This could be done with markers too!
  • Washable markers – while we used permanent markers, I could totally see this craft happening with any sort of marker.  In fact, that just gave me another idea (see the next bullet point!)
  • Washing rocks – Toby loves to help wash things, so if we had decorated the rocks with something non-permanent, like chalk or washable markers, I think he would’ve had a ball giving the rocks a “bath” and scrubbing them clean.
  • Put googly eyes on rocks – along the lines of those pet rocks I mentioned earlier, what kid doesn’t love googly eyes?  Give those pet rocks some character by adding some googly eyes to their faces.  I’d actually suggest gluing them on, as the self-stick variety might not work for the uneven surface of some rocks.
  • Gluing rocks together – you could make rock snowmen, rock animals, or even a rock monster.  Depending on how big your rocks are, you could have the creatures inhabit your garden, or a flowerpot.

Here are a couple snapshots of our activity setup.  See how simple it was?  Nothing more than rocks, markers, and a sheet of thick paper to protect the table.  Toby briefly drew on the paper, but then got involved with decorating the rocks.  Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode.

This post is part of an Indoor Activity Blog Hop — Indoor Activities.

Make sure to visit the other blogs below for some fun indoor activities that you can do when the weather’s not conducive to playing outside!  This week’s quick and easy activities include:

Finding Ways for Kids to Discover Nature

posted in: Learning | 6
Finding Ways for Kids to Discover Nature
Photo from Used with permission.

Nature is a wonderful thing.  It’s beautiful.  Sometimes pristine, usually affected by suburbia.  Regardless of whether you can find “unspoiled” natural areas near you, there are still plenty of opportunities to discover nature.  Even if you live in the city.  Originally, I’d planned to talk about symmetry in nature, and how we can find patterns and repetition in naturally occurring objects around us, but due to the cold weather keeping us indoors for the past few days, I’ll leave that as a suggestion for a future activity. And instead, I’ll share seven different posts that will help inspire you as you work on finding ways for kids to discover nature.

  • How to Plan an Outdoor Photo Scavenger Hunt for Kids: This is a great way for kids to enhance their natural curiousity and hone their observation skills.  We tend to gravitate towards low key activities, so you’ll be happy to know that this post of mine was all about keeping things simple.   What did we do?  We took a camera and headed outdoors — Toby pointed things out and we took pictures of them with our cameras.  It might be fun, next time we do this photo scavenger hunt, to make a photo memory game from some of the images.
  • Learning About Bugs – observe critters or insects: you can catch real live insects if you like, or go with the preserved variety, as we did in this post.  We used bugs to learn about nature, to practice counting, tracing, and more.  Next time we learn about critters, I might make an “I Spy” game for Toby, so that he can work on observing similarities and differences between different objects found in nature.
  • Unstructured Outdoor Play: Last winter, I blogged numerous times about how Toby enjoyed playing in the snow — out on our deck.  There was no lesson plan, no objective.  Nothing for him to learn.  But despite the unstructured nature of his time outdoors, I still observed Toby learning.  He heard the sound of the wind, felt the coldness of the snow, watched it change from snow and melt into water.  The act of playing “without purpose” can be a very useful thing indeed.
  • Nature Art: An Exercise in Process Art: This activity was one of my favorites.  Toby helped me collect different items from our yard, and then he spent time arranging, ordering, and sorting them in a bin.  The activity required no setup on my part, and he learned a lot. We discussed seed pods, seeds, and all sorts of nature-related things.  And even though it’s been a few seasons since we made nature art like this, Toby still talks about his experience with process art using nature as a medium.
  • Bird Watching – Up Close!: Last summer we installed a window bird feeder in the playroom.  It was a great idea, and Toby was very excited to watch for birds. I’m not sure who has enjoyed this observation station more — my toddler, or the cats.  Nevertheless, It’s been great to have a way to hone our observation skills up close, and watch how birds come in for a snack.
  • Sundog Rainbow Sunrise: Another neat aspect of nature, sundogs are “rainbows” that form when it’s not raining.  Check out this post for more information.  Toby loved learning about sundogs, and I learned quite a big myself as we researched the phenomenon one cold winter morning.
  • Backyard Wildlife: In our semi-rural setting, we have many opportunities for observing wildlife.  Last year there was a herd of 30 deer we could watch out back.  Turkeys walked through our yard, we could hear coyotes chattering to one another in the early morning, and a mother fox had babies in the neighborhood.  One year, I even watched a fawn being birthed in the tall grass behind us.  Toby loves looking for wildlife, and maybe it’s because of our location… but even if we were in an urban area, I would do what I could to make sure we could enjoy the local wildlife.  One of Toby’s favorite tools for wildlife watching? Kid binoculars, of course.  Read the post for more.

So, there you have it. seven ideas to help make discovering nature easy! I hope you can implement some of these ideas into your daily routine; I know we’ve enjoyed honing our observation skills and marveling at the beauty of nature around us — no matter where we are!

A-Z STEM SeriesThis post is part of the A-Z STEM Series (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) for Kids.

Throughout January, many wonderful bloggers are working their way through the alphabet of great kids STEM activities perfect for home or school.

These kids STEM activities will be specifically geared for preschool through early elementary ages. Each letter of the alphabet will be represented with a different STEM activity for science, technology, engineering, and math.

By the end of the month, you will have an amazing resource to use with your students and/or children!


the ABCs of Photography – An Educational Series for Kids

posted in: Learning | 17

abcs-of-photography-educational-series-kidsTo kick off the new year, I wanted to find a way to simplify the concepts of photography, bring some of them down to the comprehension level of a child.  Because you are never too young to enjoy photography.  My toddler, Toby, is proof of that.  And I’m sure many of you can vouch for the fact that your child has snagged a smartphone to take a plethora of snapshots, or a horrendously long candid video — of your purse.

Now, photographic education is a lifelong pursuit.  I’ve been studying photography for …gee, longer than I care to admit — and I still haven’t learned it all.  So, I figured we could just touch on the basics.  Or, some of the basics.  Twenty-six of them, to be specific.

Over the weeks to come, I’ll be covering the ABCs of Photography, designed as an educational series for kids.  There will be some suggestions about adaptations for younger children as well as older kids — but the vast majority of this series will be designed for enjoyment by all ages.

The master list of my Photography ABCs is below; I will add links as each goes live.  But you can also browse them all by the tag: Photography ABCs.  (for those interested, the web has a number of “master lists” of photographic vocabulary terms).


365 Days of Light Play Challenge for 2015

posted in: Notes | 0

365 Day Light Play Challenge - BPhotoArt.comWhen I was invited to co-host the 2015 365 Day Light Play Challenge, I was really excited. As you know, photography is the capture of light. Without light, there would be no photographs. My manipulation of light is what makes an image unique.

And this 365 Day challenge is just that. Manipulation and experimentation with light through play. While I know 2015 is a ways off still, I’m excited about being able to start documenting light play through photographs (probably on Instagram).  And if you’re reading this and thinking, “wow, a photo a day, that is intense!” Don’t worry.  This challenge isn’t a by the book kind of thing.  It’s more about committing to a year of light play — if you do it several times a week instead of daily, no big deal.  Or, if you just want to follow along and see what everyone is doing for the light play challenge, you can do that too.

To participate, just share your photos with these hashtags: #LightPlayChallenge or #ULTG (Ultimate Light Table Guide).

But, what exactly counts as light play?  Well, if you can relate it to light, I bet it counts.  Light play can be:

  • Light table / Light box play
  • Overhead Projector play
  • Glow in the dark play
  • Black Light Play
  • Natural Light Play
  • Light and Mirror Play

As I mentioned before, feel free to participate as you are able, or just observe from the sidelines – there is no wrong way to do this light play challenge.You can start early, or join in the fun after January 1st.

What about the photos?  There are no requirements.. They do not have to be complex or difficult. Just a snapshot of anything you and your kids are doing that pertains to light play somehow; the photo can be new or old…. you get the idea?  Anything goes!  Plus, in December 2015 there will be a contest to end the challenge and bring in 2016.  How exciting is that?

Be sure to visit my fabulous co-hosts:

If you have a blog, you can grab the button!

365 Day Light Play Challenge


Join the board to post your light play photos. Email to be added to the board. No blog necessary, just a Pinterest account and your daily light play challenge photos!  Old or new light play photos welcome in this challenge!

There are hundreds of examples on the board linked below.

Follow Kristen (Caution! Twins at Play)’s board Light Tables, Light Boxes, Light Panels & Light Play on Pinterest.

DIY Photo Advent Calendar

posted in: Parenting | 4

DIY Magnetic Photo Advent CalendarAs a child, I used to love getting to open a window in my advent calendar in the days leading up to Christmas.  This homemade take on the advent calendar is a great alternative to store bought calendars, is reusable, and your child will enjoy helping put everything together!

You can actually make this two ways — hold the photos on with tape, or with magnets, depending on what supplies you have available, and how long you want this calendar to last.

First, we cut out a free form tree from a pretty green gift bag.  I found a plain brown paper lunch sack for the trunk of the tree.  We taped this whole segment on the fridge.

Then, we printed out 24 photos, with the faces approximately quarter-sized.   I printed out two copies, one for Toby to cut with his scissors, and a set for me to cut into circles. This let Toby practice his scissor skills and feel involved while I made the circles for our face “ornaments.”  Toby had a lot of fun helping me pick which pictures to use.  Sadly, we couldn’t include all our family members…since we have more than 24.  If you’re planning to have this last for more than one year, I’d suggest printing on card stock or laminating the photos.  Otherwise, plain paper works.

Once all the photos for the 24 days of advent were cut out, we started putting them on the fridge, around the tree, of course.  If you’re using plain paper photos, just use pieces of rolled up tape to hold them on; if you made durable photo ornaments, then attach squares from an magnet tape roll #afflink so you can have these stick to the fridge.

The final touch was a sign, also from the paper lunch sack, that said “Countdown to Christmas!”

Toby is really excited to start putting ornaments on the tree, and I’m sure he will have fun picking out which family member should go on the tree next.  This DIY magnetic photo advent calendar is a great way to familiarize kids with their relatives (and their names too)… and it is definitely more meaningful than your run of the mill advent calendar that can be bought at the store.

We may also add a gold star for the tree topper, that would be put on the tree Christmas morning.  I think that would be a nice touch — but didn’t think of that until just now.

Enjoy some pictures of our photo advent calendar being made below!  Click on an image to open it in gallery view mode.


6 Tips for Helping Kids Carve Pumpkins

posted in: Parenting | 1

I have fond memories of carving pumpkins when younger.  At a kitchen table covered with comic pages, we would concoct elaborate designs for our jack o’ lanterns as we scraped out the pumpkin guts and seeds.  Our mom would whisk the seeds away to the oven, roasting them while we carved our pumpkins.  At some point, we’d be asked to pause for a snapshot or two, and once we finished carving pumpkins, the creative masterpieces would be carried carefully out to the front stoop.  I’m sure many of us have similar fond memories of carving pumpkins.  And I want our boys to have the same fond memories of carving pumpkins when they are grown.

6 Tips for Helping Kids Carve Pumpkins - Betsy's Photography - BPhotoArt.comOf course, there’s the whole question of helping kids carve pumpkins — how much should you let them do on their own?  Last year, our pumpkins were object-specific.  Toby wasn’t really at the point of designing yet, so he gave input on the things to be carved.  We ended up carving a tractor, a block letter for our favorite sports team, and called it good at that.

This year, Toby was ready to do the whole carving pumpkin thing himself. …well, aside from touching the pumpkin guts.  For whatever reason he hated the slimy feel.  i wasn’t ready to let him do everything on his own, but set him loose on the pumpkins to create designs — with no restrictions.  he got to help me cut some of the holes, but most of his time actually carving pumpkins was spent waiting for me to finish cutting so he could poke out the pumpkin pieces.

It was great to see his creativity come alive as he told me about his designs.  We had 5 pumpkins this year — two gifted to us by our neighbors, another two from grandma.  Here’s what he designed, from left to right:

  • a bear with ears and a toothy grin (the teeth were added midway through carving).
  • an alien monster, with many eyes and mouths all over.
  • an angry face (he let me draw this one).
  • a silly face with a really big mouth, and an almost forgotten nose.  This one also had a baby on the side, go figure.
  • a happy face – 2 eyes, a noes, and a mouth.

Toby was thrilled with our activity, the fact he got to design everything himself was a big selling point.  When Daddy came in from cleaning the garage, Toby proudly showed off the pumpkins we’d made.  And, of course, we enjoyed toasted pumpkin seeds too (recipe later on).

Now let’s get to those 6 tips for helping kids carve pumpkins I’ve promised you!  These are geared towards helping your child feel “in charge” while keeping things safe.  Because that’s part of helping kids carve pumpkins — making sure they’ do so safely.

1. Don’t micromanage your child

It’s amazing how many times I catch myself about to direct my son’s activity in a certain way.  It’s a force of habit, but one I try to curb.  I’d much rather Toby create something from his own ability and thought process, rather than draw within the lines of my constraints.  It’s like process art vs. paint by number. Process art lets creativity shine.  So set back and don’t micromanage when carving pumpkins with your child.  Who cares if the smile is crooked, or missing a tooth?

2. Help as needed, to keep things safe.

While I’m all for letting kids do things themselves, there is an age appropriateness factor.  My son has been practicing knife skills for quite some time, but I decided it wasn’t time yet for him to saw the openings in the pumpkin.  Maybe next year.  So to keep him involved, I let him place his hand on top of mine as I sawed; he also “held” the pumpkin steady for me while I sawed (hands far away from the blade).  You know your child — go with your gut and keep thing safe.

3. Invite your child to draw a design on the pumpkin.

And then step back and watch.  Ask open-ended questions if you want, but try understand your child’s creation from their point of view, rather than making assumptions or guesses.  I gave Toby a permanent marker and let him have at it.  He drew swirly spiraling circles for eyes, lines for ears, and chicken-scratch noses.  It’s ok if there are too many lines (I’ll address that in the next tip).

4. Have your child direct you which lines to cut.

Toby pointed out the lines I should cut — I followed one of the many lines for the eyes to make a shape that approximated his abstract swirls.  The mouth I followed, to an extent — suggesting we shorten it so the pumpkin didn’t fall apart on us.

5. Don’t be afraid to improvise.  Follow your child’s lead.

We added teeth midway through our bear pumpkin carving — Toby was thrilled with the design change.  It may not have been on his drawn design, but that’s ok.  I let him call the shots as we carved the pumpkins.

6. Have no expectations.

Having no expectations really freed me to enjoy the whole experience.  And I have to say, I love the results.  The pumpkins that Toby and I carved are whimsical, creative, and definitely not run of the mill.  The most standard one is the baby pumpkin that I carved… how uncreative of me, right?  But that’s the thing.  As adults, we have preconceptions of how things are supposed to look.  Kids are often free from those constraints — it lets their creativity flourish.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Recipe

Now, as promised, here’s my recipe for delicious roasted pumpkin seeds.  Or, one of my recipes… I have a few variations!  There’s no measuring, you do everything by feel and to your preference.

  • pumpkin seeds
  • olive oil
  • sea salt

First, separate the seeds from the guts.  I tend to leave some of the slime on the seeds, but you can rinse it off if you want.  I add enough olive oil to coat the seeds, then sprinkle generously with sea salt.  Then it’s into the oven on a baking sheet at 350 F for 30-40 min, stirring after the first 15 min and then every 5 thereafter.  They’re done once the pumpkin seeds no longer are wet, and the pan has no remaining oil or liquid on the bottom.  Usually by this point, mine are nicely golden brown, or even a little darker.  Enjoy once they’ve cooled enough to handle!

I’ve also added seasonings with much success — one of our favorites is Italian seasoning sprinkled over top.

One of Toby's drawings on a pumpkin
One of Toby’s drawings on a pumpkin
Removing the cut out pumpkin pieces
Removing the cut out pumpkin pieces
Excited to show off his first pumpkin!
Excited to show off his first pumpkin!
The pumpkin carver and his creations
The pumpkin carver and his creations
Pumpkins with the lights out
Pumpkins with the lights out
And a close-up of the glowing faces
And a close-up of the glowing faces

A Toddler’s Money Bank

posted in: Parenting | 2

Every kid becomes interested in money at some point. I’m not sure when Toby started carrying coins around in his pockets, but the kid has a great eye for spotting spare change. Over the years, we’ve acquired several money banks, including a few family “heirloom” ones. But realistically, they weren’t all that practical for holding money. Who really wants to fish money out from a tiny hole in the bottom of a ceramic pig, anyways?

So, with practicality in mind, I came up with an idea for a toddler-oriented afternoon of fun. Toby would get to design his own money bank!

Money Bank Materials

As you’ll see, we didn’t need to buy anything for this project. Everything was scrounged from around the house.  But, just in case, I’ve linked to Amazon (#afflinks) for your convenience:

Making the Money Bank

As is the norm for us, the project was pretty open-ended.  I covered the counter with saran wrap, set out supplies, and let Toby have at it. He wanted to wear his smock for part of the project; I didn’t complain.  While he painted the sides of the container, I made sure the lid area was covered with saran wrap (so it could still be opened for removing money later).  I cut some shapes out of paper for Toby to stick on, decoupage style.

Once Toby declared the sides complete, we moved on to the top.   He wanted to glue shapes on the top… no problem.  Then I cut out two slots – one sized for a quarter, the other sized for a penny.  This is where I used the knife — making sure toddler hands were safely out of reach.

Wait, two slots?


Sure, you can use one slot for everything, but what fun is that?  Toby was thrilled to have coin-specific slots.  (Hint, don’t try to make one for a dime, it’s practically the same size as the penny and isn’t worth your effort).

Once the money bank was dry, I screwed the lid on, and gave it up for toddler testing.  After a few minutes of coins being dumped out by an excited child, I handed the bank to my husband to have him super-tightly screw on the lid.  We can still get it off, but my toddler doesn’t have the arm power to open the lid and dump money everywhere now.

Not so fun for him, but more practical for everyone. Particularly baby brother and the cats.

See some photos of our project below.  Click on an image to enter gallery view mode.

Related Resources

Martin Luther + Katherina von Bora Puzzle

posted in: Parenting | 4

In honor of Reformation day (okay, a bit early), we made a Martin Luther and Katherina von Bora puzzle!  You can see the how-to blog post over at In All You Do, as well as learn some more about Martin Luther — the ex-monk, who married an ex-nun.

I love how easy it is to make photo puzzles like this, …well, painting puzzles, in this case!  All you need is a printer, some paper and cardboard, a glue stick, and a good pair of scissors.  Depending on your child’s age, you’ll have an eager assistant for some of the creation process.

Toby was thrilled to help glue the paper to the cardboard.  Since his scissor skills aren’t quite there yet, I did that portion of the project.  Then we had fun putting the puzzle together multiple times.  Toby’s favorite section of the puzzle was Katherina von Bora — possibly because “she’s a mama” …or because her picture had more details and was easier to assemble.

Head over to In All You Do to read more about this project, learn more about the Reformation, and even download a free printable to make your own Martin Luther and Katherina von Bora puzzles.

Click on an image below to enter gallery view mode.

3 Reasons Mess Making Is Ok

posted in: Parenting | 2

I’ve never been one to keep neat when being creative.  As a child, I came home from school with paint all over myself — my mom probably lost track of how many outfits I ruined.  I’ve been lovingly called “messy Betsy” on more than one occasion — worrying about keeping clean would just hamper my creative process.

Now, as a parent, I’m revisiting the relationship between messiness and creativity.  My older son cares a lot about “keeping clean.”  So I will frequently remind him, “it’s ok to be messy, we can clean up when we’re done.”  It’s not that I’m unappreciative of his desire for cleanliness, but that sometimes focusing on keeping things neat diverts your attention from the creative process.

This came to the forefront of my mind when I invited Toby to help me paint some cabinets I’d acquired.  We were prepared to be messy — painting clothes, drop cloth, paper towel, you name it.  As we painted, Toby enjoyed himself to no end.  But I had to catch myself a number of times as I felt the urge to keep things neat.  “Don’t let the paint drip… Stop getting so much paint on your paintbrush…. don’t get paint on me… you have paint in your hair…” My attention was on managing the mess instead of having fun with the creative process of painting.

I had to chuckle at myself, because Toby was a picture of messy creativity.  He was thrilled to be helping mom with an important project, excited to use big paintbrushes, and just as messy as I was in childhood.  I’m grateful I was allowed to be messy — and I want to afford him that same opportunity.

So, with that in mind, here are several tips to help you release your inner child… or to encourage you in as you parent a little mess maker.

1. Creativity is messy sometimes.

As I just mentioned, we sometimes try to split our attention between creativity and keeping clean.  But, if you’re worried about keeping from making a mess, part of your attention will be distracted from being creative. To do your best work, to tap the depths of your creative resources, you need to get past that need for being neat, and accept that sometimes… creativity is messy.

Extending this to kids – let them make a mess!  Before painting, have them put on clothes you don’t care about.  Take the project outside so that you don’t have to stress out about cleaning up afterwards.  Use materials that won’t leave a permanent mark behind.  Don’t interrupt your child’s creative process just to remind them to “be neat.”

2. “Coloring outside the lines” isn’t a bad thing.

Maybe it’s from our schooling, or maybe it’s from a desire for outside approval, but we frequently try to stay in the box when it comes to self-expression.  Coloring books galore send subliminal messages that you need to use a certain color, and stay within the lines provided.  You have to get past those restrictions, the rules.  Free your creative mind from the approved “lines.”

3 Reasons Mess Making is Ok. Tips to help you release your inner child... or to encourage you in as you parent a little mess maker. - Betsy's PhotographyIf your kid doesn’t want to color “the right way” …what’s the big deal?  My toddler doesn’t like to color in coloring books.  He’ll cover the pages with elaborate swirls and patches of color, or put splashes of color over the faces on a coloring sheet.  But that’s the extent of our coloring within the lines.  There doesn’t have to be a “right” way to color, it’s the process and the self-expression that we really want to encourage.

3. Making messes teaches responsibility.

On a related note — it’s only by making messes that we learn to clean up after ourselves.  If we keep things ship shape for our children, there’s no opportunity for them to learn what happens if things get a little messy, and how good it can feel to clean up after ourselves.  By teaching that responsibility goes hand in hand with creativity, we can help our kids to get beyond the mentality that cleaning up after ourselves is an inconvenience.  Just like encouraging your kids to help clean house is a skill that will benefit them later in life, picking up after oneself is an essential life skill.  By letting your kid make a mess, you can teach and educate during the clean up phase too.

More Resources on Being Messy

I’ve collected a few posts about being messy, or doing messy activities, that you may find enlightening.  Links will open in a new window for your convenience.

And, here are several messy art projects that may prove helpful for you as you explore the relationship of messiness and creativity with your kids. These links will open in a new window too.

Do you have any tips or ideas for cultivating messiness (as it lends itself to creativity or other beneficial processes)?  I’d love to hear them.

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