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.

50 Things You Can Do With Your Toddler While Caring For Your Newborn

posted in: Parenting | 13

As mom of now two boys, there are days when I’ve reached the end of my creative rope, so to speak.  It’s not that I’m overwhelmed, but that I’ve run out of ideas for keeping my toddler engaged while caring for a newborn at the same time.  Activities with lots of prep work just don’t cut it.  Sure, I can put something together during my newborn’s naptime… or maybe do some prepping the evening before, but it’s really just easier to do something that doesn’t require a lot of planning.

With that in mind, below you’ll find a list of 50 things you can do with a toddler while caring for a newborn.  But first, let me list several books that you might want to have on hand if you’re not one to go clicking on links when you need an activity. I love having books like these on hand! Click on any book title below to visit the page’s Amazon listing via my affiliate link — these have all gotten rave reviews!

Seven Books for Busting Boredom

  1. Busy Toddler, Happy Mom: 280+ activities that will keep your toddler’s attention, using things that are easy to find and inexpensive.
  2. 150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids: activities that stimulate creativity and imagination, no electronics!
  3. The Toddler’s Busy Book: 365 creative activities and games that use items found around the home.
  4. The Arts and Crafts Busy Book: 365 creative activities that are easy to put together
  5. Project Kid: 100 Ingenious Crafts for Family Fun: projects and basic DIY tutorials to help build a DIY arsenal
  6. 101 Kids Activities That Are the Bestest, Funnest Ever!: activities for kids of any age that will keep kids from being bored
  7. 99 Fine Motor Ideas for Ages 1 to 5: activities to keep little hands busy (and practice fine motor skills)


50 Easy Activities for Toddlers

50 Things You Can Do With Your Toddler While Caring For Your Newborn - Betsy's PhotographyAnd now for that list of 50 things you can do with your toddler.  No complex prep work, no hours of setup. Easy ideas for when your toddler needs a reprieve from boredom. {links open in a new window}

  1. Nature Art – all you need is a box and some “findings” from the great outdoors (nuts, seeds, plants, flowers, etc).
  2. Sculpture Activity With Cardboard Tubes – get creative in sculpting with curved pieces cut from cardboard tubes.
  3. Have Your Toddler Help With New Baby – five ways your toddler can be a big helper.
  4. Smoothie Bottle Bowling – pull those empty bottles out of your recycling bin and save them to use as bowling pins.
  5. String Painting + Printing – experiment with the effects of paint on string.
  6. DIY Sticker Seek + Find – a homemade matching game that will be sure to entertain.
  7. Play Flashlight Games – what kid doesn’t love playing with flashlights?  I know mine is a fan.
  8. Play Outdoors – it’s easy to find ways to entertain a toddler outdoors.  We often just “explore” …and find neat things.
  9. Clean House – toddlers love to clean.  Might as well have that energy be productive.
  10. Seaside Sensory Bottle – sensory bottles are great for calming and entertaining.
  11. Autumn Tree Craft – there’s nothing better than a craft you can pull together in minutes.
  12. Letter Recognition Game – all you need is a deck of aphabet cards and some floor space to play.
  13. Outdoor Photo Scavenger Hunt – have a camera?  Take a walk and see what you can photograph.
  14. Strawberry Planter Pom Pom Drop – pom poms are very entertaining for toddlers, especially when dropping into something.
  15. Painting With Flowers – flowers make great paintbrushes — and clean up is easy.
  16. Slime Sensory Bag – have hair gel and a ziploc bag?  You can do this activity.
  17. Sock Mopping – gross motor skills and cleaning all in one, your toddler will have a blast.
  18. Stacking Cups – not speed stacking, but toddlers love to stack and unstack things.
  19. Snow Sensory Play – if it’s snowy out, there is no better entertainment than a pile of snow with some kitchen utensils.
  20. Egg Carton Train – egg cartons are often on hand, might as well turn one into a cool train.
  21. Water Wall Painting – this activity is great for outdoors.  No clean up required.
  22. Spider Web Discovery Basket – really quick and easy activity, if you can find a spare laundry basket.
  23. DIY Reverse Kerplunk – if you’re a fan of the game kerplunk, you have to try making your own.
  24. Prism Play + Chalk Art – prisms cast cool colors.  Learn about light and trace the colors.
  25. Train Track Bowling – bowling is fun (and easier?) when you can use a train track to keep “on track.”
  26. Go Apple Picking – get outdoors, pick some fruit.  Fun activity, and good harvest for snacking later.
  27. Coin Drop – kids love putting money in banks.
  28. Pre-writing Tray – use cornmeal, salt, or another sand-like item to make a surface for drawing shapes and the like.
  29. Leaf Threading – make a necklace or garland out of leaves from your backyard.
  30. Simple Play With A Ramp – have cars and a piece of cardboard?  You can do this activity.
  31. Painting With Nature – fun activity using different items from nature to apply paint to paper.
  32. Make a Discovery Basket – a list of 150+ things you could use to make a discovery basket.
  33. Balloon Badminton – all kids love to hit balloons up in the air — and your newborn won’t get hurt if it bounces off baby.
  34. Mailing Thank You Notes – give your kid a paper and some markers, and you can send off some lovely thank you drawings.
  35. Make Spicy Paint – use spices and water to paint on paper.
  36. Animal Trackers Club – get a membership to a monthly “club” …your toddler will be excited and entertained when each package arrives.
  37. Gel Paint Mixing Experiment – mixing colors is always fun, and pretty easy to set up.
  38. Sensory Play With Jello – if you have gelatin and water, you can make jello.  And edible sensory play is always fun.
  39. Carpet Doodles – use different toys to make transient doodles in your carpet.
  40. Edible Sand Play – if you have stale bread, you can make tgis “sand” …great for a construction sensory bin.
  41. Toddler Sewing Basket – put together a basket of todder-safe sewing items.
  42. Playdough-filled Balloons – the sensory aspect of squeezing and squishing these ballons is sure to be a hit.
  43. Bird Watching – put out a bird feeder and wait to see what birds stop by.
  44. Stirring and Mixing Free Play – get some miscellaneous kitchen ingredients, let your child loose.
  45. Build a Great Blanket Fort – forts are a surefire way to entertain your toddler.  Perfect spot for playing or reading.
  46. Milk Gallon Clothespin Drop – provide long lasting entertainment with this simple activity.
  47. Masking Tape Roads – if your toddler likes cars, you have to check this activity out.
  48. Read Books – reading is an easy way to give your toddler attention when you are tired or stuck on the couch.
  49. Cooking With Toddler Made Simple – if you have to be in the kitchen, here are some ways your toddler can help.
  50. Cuddle Time – often toddlers just need “mommy time.”  Cuddles can do wonders for any big brother or big sister.
  51. Grow Pea Seeds in Jello – learn about nature and seed germination with this quick project that will last for days.
  52. Create a Childrens’ Garden – while this takes time to set up, once you have a garden your toddler will love “working” in it.
  53. Magnifying Glass Exploration – observe and explore your environment with a magnifying glass.
  54. Play With Bathtub Paint – what better place to get messy than in the bathtub?  Clean up is so easy.

Looks like we got a few extra!  Oh well, the more, the merrier.

So, there you have it.  50+ things that you can do with your toddler while caring for your newborn.  Some require a little more hands-on help from mom than others, but hopefully this list can help get those creative gears turning for you.  I know that sometimes one activity will morph into another at our house.  So maybe this list is even exponentially longer!

Planting a Rainbow Book Activity

posted in: Parenting | 14

This summer, we have been enjoying reading — a lot.  I’m a bookworm myself, so it doesn’t surprise me that our toddler is a bookworm himself. Proof that we love books around here?  Here are some ways the books in our personal library (and at the local library) have been getting a lot of mileage:

  • Summer “read-to-me” program at the local library (our goal for the summer is 150 books)
  • Bedtime ritual includes 3 books
  • Naptime is preceded by 3 books (yes! naptime still!)
  • Spontaneous reading throughout the day (car rides, free time, etc)

So, when I heard about the Love Books summer book exchange, I knew we had to participate.  I’m not sure which part of the book exchange was more fun — preparing our book activity package and mailing it, or getting one in the mail.

Now, onto the package that we received from Jen (Plain Vanilla Mom) for the Love Books exchange (see Jen’s post about the book and activity we sent). As we has just mailed our package a few days prior, Toby was very excited to see something in the mail for him.  We retrieved it from our mailbox late one evening, so waited until the next day to open it.  There is no fun in opening a package you can’t play with right away, right?

What came in our package?  Take a peek below (click on any image to enter gallery view mode).

The book, Planting a Rainbow (#afflink), by Lois Elhert, was a big hit.  We talked about all the flowers and colors in the book, and then my son decided to find the flowers that “matched” the cookie cutters we received.  From there, we started into the Planting a Rainbow book activity in full force.  If you want to replicate the Planting a Rainbow book activity with your kid, here’s a list of supplies (#afflinks)

As you can see from the images below, the entire activity was a huge hit!   (click on any image to enter gallery view mode)

The finished flowers are sitting on the windowsill of my kitchen, where I can admire them as I do dishes.  Sadly, the pom poms didn’t stay stuck of the glue dots, but ended up in my kitchen sink.  Though, there’s a good chance that one of my cats could be the culprit in regards to that… I can’t say for sure.

I love that this Planting a Rainbow book activity was open-ended, and that Toby took the craft and made it his own.  It’s so fun to watch kids be excited about being creative!  I may need to create some more book-based activities for us to do, as this project went over so well.

Planting a Rainbow Book Activity - BPhotoArt.com #lovebooks

love-books-summer-exchangeLove Books Summer Exchange

This post is part of the Love Books Summer Exchange. Over 50 bloggers are participating in the 4th Annual LOVE BOOKS exchange, hosted by The Educators’ Spin On It.

Participants select one book and one amazing, open ended activity to go along with it, and exchange it with another family via mail. Each blogger shares about the book and activity they got.

Big Brother Kit (3 Busy Bag Activities)

posted in: Parenting | 4

Earlier this week I shared the fabric lovey for baby that we made as part of a virtual busy bag exchange — well, today, you’ll get to hear about the toddler-aged busy bag I created for my son. Since our new baby’s arrival is any moment, I thought a big brother kit would be the perfect topic for a busy bag!

Big Brother Kit - 3 Busy Bag Activities - BPhotoArt.com
Big Brother Kit – 3 busy bag activities for while mom and dad are at the hospital.

The Big Brother Kit (3 Busy Bag Activities)

Since big brother may need a few days’ worth of activities, I together three busy bag activities for him.  I’ll briefly tell you about each, and then this post will focus on the third one: the “Waiting for Baby” busy bag.

1. Bookworm Busy Bag

The first busy bag I assembled, perhaps the easiest.  This is a selection of travel-sized picture books in a little carrying bag. Perfect for any reader, and the small size of the books makes it easy to bring a number of different stories along.  And, needed, given that my toddler chose to read 150 books this summer through the library read-to-me program.  That’s about 4 books a day, so manageable if we keep on top of it.

2. Big Brother Kit Memory Game Busy Bag

A simple busy bag, pairs of photos printed on cardstock.  For this busy bag, I went through our photo archives (see some of Toby’s first year memories), and selected images that grandma and grandpa (who Toby will be staying with his baby brother “comes out”) could use as a “big brother kit prep” activity.  You know, sleeping, nursing, first food, first steps… all the things babies do that my son will know soon enough.

3. Waiting for Baby Busy Bag

This busy bag activity kit was my tour de force.  I spent the most time on it, and there are two components: a spiral bound photo storybook, and some photo puzzles. Both feature our family maternity portraits.  Now, onto the details of how I made this busy bag!

Waiting for Baby Busy Bag Storybook

When brainstorming ideas, I remembered how much Toby liked looking through the baby photos of himself.   All kids love pictures.  Well, since we just did our maternity pictures, I decided to put together a little storybook featuring the maternity portraits.  The storyline is pretty simple, and focuses on waiting for baby, how my son will be a great big brother, how much mommy and daddy love him, and how our family will be changing as baby arrives.

I made sure to incorporate familiar phrases from our daily conversations to add familiarity for my son — as this will be his first extended stay away from both of us parents.  Reminds me of the Berenstain Bears and the Week at Grandma’s (#afflink).

I thought about making fancy printed text for each page, but since I was trying to get a lot of things done before baby’s arrival…I took the quicker route.

Here’s a sampling of the text I wrote to accompany the pictures, plus some images of the book’s pages.

When I check on my baby,
I know he is drinking and eating,
getting big and strong. He likes
to get kisses from me and Daddy.

I’ll always be Daddy’s little man,
but soon I’ll be a big brother too.

I don’t know who is more excited
to meet our baby, me… or Mommy and Daddy.

Click on an image to open in gallery view mode.

I was really excited with how this part of the busy bag turned out, and since my son is a bookworm, I know he’ll love it.  Kids always love seeing themselves in pictures, so the personalized aspect will be a bonus.

The benefits of this activity in the busy bag?  Well, first off, it gives my son something to do (as well as talk/think about) while he is with his grandparents and we are at the hospital.  I’m hoping that the familiar phrases from our daily routine will help lessen any anxiety or concerns he may have during the extended visit.  Honestly, he’s a pretty well-adjusted guy, so I don’t expect there to be many issues, but you never know.   So I wanted the storybook’s text to remind our son that we love him no matter what, and how excited we all are to be nearing the end of the “waiting for baby” phase.

I also love that this little photo book is just his size, so he can tote it around and “read” it whenever.

The perfect addition for a big brother kit, right?

Busy Bag Photo Puzzles

Onto part two of this busy bag… the photo puzzles.  Again, I decided upon using several of the pictures from our maternity family portrait session in case our son needed to see our faces while he is not with us.  I took 5″x5″ pictures, glued them with an  to a piece of cardboard, and then cut them out once dry.  I ended up going random sizes and shapes for the puzzle pieces, more of a free-form cutting activity for mom!  Depending on the kid, the number of pieces will vary; I think the most I made for a single puzzle was 5 or 6.

Each puzzle then got packaged in its own ziploc bag.  Let me give you a tip — if you make this busy bag and do multiple puzzles, be sure to label the back of each puzzle piece so you know which ones go together — without having to assemble the puzzles during cleanup (huge timesaver)!

One other thing — Since our faces are on the smaller side in the photos, and I wasn’t using the most precise scissors, I made sure not to cut through any faces.  This may not be practical if you use a photo of a large face, but for these images, it ended up working well.

Here is a list of the supplies used for the photo puzzle busy bag (#afflinks):

Click on an image to open in gallery view mode.

So far as the benefits of this busy bag activity, puzzles are great for brain development.  Our son loves puzzles, and having portable ones that would travel easily seemed like a great idea to me.  I know these will be a big hit because they feature our family, so he gets to see mom and dad as he’s putting the photos together.

Since the backsides are labeled with different letters of the alphabet (one designated letter for each puzzle) — this could be used as a more involved matching game too — find all the letter ‘A’ pieces, then assemble each puzzle once they’re organized by letter.

Now to Wait…

The hardest part of making this big brother kit busy bag activity?


Usually I get to share projects like this with my toddler as soon as they’re completed.  But, since this is going to be a special big brother kit — to be opened with the grandparents, I’ll miss out on my son’s reaction as well as his first experience playing with each item.

But, that aside, I’m hoping he’ll thrilled and that these busy bags will be a good diversion for grandma and grandpa (if they need one).  I’ll be interested to hear how these puzzles are received by our son, and what he ends up doing with them.

Big Brother Kit Ideas

Busy Bag Ideas for Toddlers

Virtual Busy Bag Exchange SeriesVirtual Busy Bag Exchange Series

This post is part of a virtual busy bag exchange.

Check it out for busy bag ideas that are portable for traveling, and more or less mess free. You’ll find busy bags for the following age ranges: babies, 1 year olds, 2 year olds, 3/4 year olds, 5/6 year olds, and school aged children.

Sew Together, Grow Together – Sewing Activity

posted in: Parenting | 21

Sewing Activity for Kids - a creation from the book: Sew Together, Grow TogetherI don’t remember when I learned how to sew.  I know it must have been pretty young; my mother probably had me on her lap when she was working on projects, much as I’ve done with Toby.  As you might guess, my love of sewing has been passed on to our son.  He was thrilled to receive dinosaur sewing boards and colored sewing beads for gifts.  He often pretends to sew or knit when I am doing so, and he absolutely loves to help use the sewing machine.  I think Toby’s favorite part is putting in and removing pins.  It’s a tie between that and using his scissors to cut things.

Sew Together, Grow Together (Book Review)

At any rate, I recently had the pleasure to review a lovely parent-child sewing activity book by Trixi Symonds of Coloured Buttons: Sew Together, Grow Together.  Trixi’s book has an assortment of 20 whimsical creations that will capture any child’s fancy.  The projects are designed for children as young as five, with the help of an adult (even one who doesn’t know a thing about sewing!).

Okay, so I know you’re thinking, “wait, you don’t have a 5 year old!”  And you’re right.  My son is just a toddler.  But, he is interested in sewing and I figured this could be a work-together sewing activity for him.  The projects are definitely age appropriate for the aforementioned age range, but if you’re comfortable sewing and helping a younger (interested) child through the creation process, I’d say, go for it!

A Child-Directed Sewing Activity

Toby and I perused the book, and while the white koala bear on the cover initially caught his eye, ultimately he settled on Floyd, the center green monster.   A second project was selected for baby brother (still in utero) — but that’s a story for another day.

While I did guide him towards specific selections, ultimately all the decisions were Toby’s (yes, I gave options to make life easier for him).  He chose the project, he decided what size to enlarge the pattern by (250% rather than 150%), he selected the fabric and embellishments too.  A purple denim was chosen for the main body (probably because his cousin’s show riding outfit was made from the same color), and white muslin for the eyes and our first attempt at a mouth.  Ultimately, we switched to embroidered features as it worked better that way.

Toby picked the colors:

  • black and white eyes
  • red for the mouth and outlining the eyes
  • yellow eyebrows
  • green hair

While this project is simple enough to be completed completely by hand, I have a sewing machine — and know that toddler attention spans can be limited.  So, after cutting out the pattern pieces (I adapted it for placement on the fold), we sewed it together with our serger.  Toby helped to turn it right side out, then helped  me hand stitch some of the embellishments before bedtime.  I completed the stitching for Floyd’s face that night, and got our supplies out for completion of the project the following morning.

Ready to finish the sewing project
Ready to finish the sewing project

In the morning, Toby was thrilled with the progress on Floyd.  He was a big help adding rice for the arms and legs as well as stuffing for the main body.  I let him decide how “huggable” Floyd should be (i.e. how much stuffing to add), then we sewed the final opening shut.

It was very gratifying to see how excited my son was to complete this sewing activity with me.  While his age necessitated a little more “participation” on my part, Toby was so proud to show off Floyd — that HE made — to daddy that night.  I have not heard such excited squeals of delight coming from him in a while.

Sewing Teaches Life Skills

The process of sewing is really vital, I think.  It teaches skills that are useful for everyone, regardless of age or gender.  And you end up with a tangible representation of your efforts.  However imperfect — a hand-sewn creation is a labor of love.  Sewing is a learning process, an activity that will be useful later on in life.

And, sewing is a creative outlet.  You have a pattern, yes.  But it’s there as a starting point.  Once you get comfortable, you can depart from any pattern, making adaptations that please you.  It’s part of the joy of sewing — making alterations as you see fit.  I always joke that I work best when I’m not working from a pattern ;).  But the truth is, when you get to more advanced sewing projects, alterations are often necessary on the fly.  So, learning to depart from the pattern at a young age isn’t a bad thing at all.

Let your child think outside the box.  Let creativity blossom.  Allow for an alternate interpretation, and see where it takes you!

Making sure Floyd smiles for the camera
Making sure Floyd smiles for the camera

My Thoughts on Our Sewing Activity

Sew Together Grow Together - Trixi SymondsOverall, I really enjoyed this sewing activity.  I know my toddler did too.  While we only completed this one project for the purposes of the book review, I did skim through the others and found them to be of a similar skill level.  These creations truly are feasible for someone with minimal or no sewing experience to tackle.

The book layout is designed cleanly, with a visual table of contents and large photos for each sewing activity. Perfect for helping young children decide what creation to tackle! I found the directions to be very easy to follow, and appreciated the simplicity of the numbered list step-by-step breakdown of the project.

Overall, the sewing activity was a big success, and I think we’ll be creating more from this book in coming months (as time allows, of course!).

Sew Together, Grow Together can be purchased through Trixi’s Etsy shop, either in physical book form or PDF format.  While I typically am a fan of physical books, I enjoyed how easy it was to print out the pattern and instructions from the PDF,  a departure from the norm of having to photocopy a pattern from the book.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes. The opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Sewing Activity – Gallery of Snapshots

Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode.

Imaginative Play With Tunnels

posted in: Parenting | 10

Imaginative play is so important for kids! They get to use their imagination, problem solve, and adapt everyday items to be used in new and creative ways. We have a colorful tunnel that came with an indoor play tent — that more often than not, gets turned into a giant caterpillar, a silly outfit, or a sled.

PlayDrMom featured my ABCsI’ll share photos in just a moment, but first let me tell you about a related blog, Play Dr. Mom. Laura is a psychologist and registered play therapist here in Michigan, she has a lot of neat activities you might enjoy if you’re a parent (or even a grandparent). In her words: “I want it [my blog] to not only share the fun things we do, play, and create … but also WHY those things are SO important.” Today Laura is featuring the ABCs of BPhotoArt at her blog! You can get to know me a little better by reading the ABC style interview (there’s also a linkup of kid-friendly blog posts.)

Ok, now, onto the tunnel snapshots.  My toddler loves to hide in the tunnel and have someone find him.  But, you’ll notice the tunnel isn’t set up the “proper” way.  He prefers to make it a free-standing tube and wiggle it crazily.

Giggling Toddler in Tunnel - imaginative play - bphotoart.com

Here we are again, another snapshot of him inside the crazy tunnel.  Reminds me a bit of hiding under the big parachute as a kid when it is moving wildly about.  Can’t tell he’s having fun, right?

Toddlers + Tunnel Play - imaginative play - bphotoart.com

Calming down enough for one “say cheese” snapshot… with the promise of more peekaboo play in the tunnel.

Tunnels are Fun for Toddlers - imaginative play - bphotoart.com

Finally, the tunnel was laid on the ground — used as a sled ride.  Good opportunity for a phone conversation while enroute!

On the phone in the tunnel - imaginative play - bphotoart.com

Memories of Painting With Grandpa

posted in: Notes | 10

I may be a bit biased since it’s my line of work, but for me, photographs are an integral part of preserving family memories. There’s a time and a place to document family portraits professionally, but there’s also a soft spot in my heart for snapshots — they capture candid moments from life that are totally unplanned and spontaneous. Both types of photos are different. But both kinds are important for creating a lasting family legacy.

While I’ve written about being inspired by my paternal grandparents (My Photographic Inspiration + The Legacy of a Truly Excellent Woman), I have to confess there are many relatives who have encouraged and supported me along my life’s journey. So today, I wanted to share this picture from my personal archives — it’s of me and my maternal grandpa when I was a toddler.

Betsy Painting with Grandpa - Family Snapshot - Memories

I love this photograph! It was taken when I was a toddler, in my childhood home.  We were painting Christmas candles (well, one of us was!).  I loved helping turn white tapered candles into advent calendars.  We would paint red and green elves around the base of the taper (bottom 3″ or so), and then the rest would be evenly divided into 24 sections — numbered 1-24 for each day of December.  Then came the fun part!  Remembering to light the candle at dinner every day so that we could melt the elves by Christmas day.

Over the years, my grandpa has explored many different media in addition to painting (watercolor, oil, acrylic).  He used to have a woodworking “shop” in his basement (later it moved to the garage). In addition to making utilitarian items, he was quite skilled at wood marquetry, wood carving, and pretty much anything that required tinkering (that comes from being an engineer, I think).  My favorite wedding gift was from my grandfather — a marquetry panel of a ship. It’s framed and hangs at the top of our stairs, so I get to enjoy it every time I climb the steps.

I have many fond memories of painting and creating with my grandfather. He had drawers and bins of interesting do-dads and whatchamacallits that my brother and I would use to make things. We helped make a castle (think dollhouse, but bigger) with a plexiglass moat able to hold real fish. There was an oscilloscope in his workshop that we loved to play with too.  My favorite cookies are Springerles — his specialty.  These German cookies may be an aquired taste, but I loved helping select which hand carved mold to press into the dough.  My grandfather even made some molds especially for us grandkids!  The best part, though, was eating a freshly cooked Springerle (first dipped in milk).

Isn’t it amazing what stories can come from just reminiscing over one snapshot from your past?  That’s why I love photographs.  They open the floodgates, revive memories which have long faded into subconscious.  Pictures take us back to that moment, remind us of the things we truly value in life.

I am so grateful that my son has had the opportunity to know my grandpa, or as he is called: “Great Grandpa Rebeck with the broken cane.” Even though he lives many states away now, my son still remembers when my grandpa visited — and Toby was allowed to help “fix” great grandpa’s “broken” cane (one of those nifty collapsible ones).

It’s so hard to attribute any one thing to my grandpa, because he really did help expand my way of thinking.  I’m one of those people who always asks “why,” who loves to know how things work, and who enjoys taking apart or putting back together little do-dads.  My comfort with adapting new technology probably comes from my grandpa too — while an engineer he worked on the Apollo Lunar Scientific Experiment project (ALSEP).  After the moon landing, he eventually went into the computer technology field — I grew up familiar with that blue and red DOS screen, and even learned how to write simple DOS computer programs from him as well.

Important of Snapshots + Memories (Resources)

Here are a few links about the importance of snapshots and memories. You may also want to check out my Family History + Genealogy Pinterest board. Links will open in a new window for your convenience.

Follow Betsy @ BPhotoArt.com’s board Family History + Genealogy on Pinterest.

What Memories Do Your Snapshots Bring To Mind?

Even if you don’t have an extensive collection of family photos, I’m sure you have a few snapshots that bring back many memories.  Maybe tearful ones rather than joyful, but important memories nevertheless. We are defined, in part, by our past experiences.  We don’t have to let ourselves be bound or limited by those memories, but we can learn and grow from them.

What about your favorite photo?  Does looking at it bring a slew of memories to the forefront of your mind?

Metallic Intersections

posted in: Fine Art | 7

Sometimes words escape me. Poetry seems to better convey the nuances of art, but still falls short. As adults, we look at the world through defined terms, we compartmentalize and limit our understanding of the world around us. Children on the other hand, are free from preconception, and don’t have to think inside the box. They create order and define the world around them in terms of what they know, the vocabulary they have on hand.

My son recently had his first vision test, and got to identify shapes: square, circle, apple/heart(?), house. His version: Knox, letter “o”, heart, house. Once he understood the nurse wanted him to say square, he refined his answer to fit the mold. But honestly, I enjoyed the creativity in his first answer. Knox is the name of the church we attend — and a church is a building. Hence, a square.

And what of these photographs I’m about to share? Trying to think like a toddler, I imagined these lines to be intersections, roads for cars to travel, a way to get where you’re going. And finally I was able to gather some words to creatively describe these metallic intersections:

Like little roads,
metallic highways
intersect haphazardly.
Circling, crisscrossing,
the lines travel ever onward.

What is it? I’ll let you know at the end of the post (along with some related kid activity resources). But for now, take a peek at this series of images.

fine art abstraction curved lines

fine art abstraction - curved lines

So, what is this macro photograph of? It’s something you’ve probably used on many occasions. Found in most homes. In the kitchen, to be precise.

Any last guesses?

fine art abstraction - curved lines

It’s a common kitchen whisk.

(Kid-Friendly) Resources On Using Kitchen Utensils

My son loves to help in the kitchen! When working on a puzzle the other day, he corrected my mother: “That’s not a chef, that’s a cook!” Whether he’s pretending to help or actually contributing, I hope to continue cultivating our son’s love of the culinary arts as he grows. As promised, here are some resources on using whisks and other kitchen utensils in creative non-traditional ways… and some more typical ways as well. The links will open in a new window for your convenience.

fine art abstraction - curved lines

Want to see other Fine Art Abstractions?

Unstructured Outdoor Play

posted in: Parenting | 16

Unstructured outdoor play (or indoor!) is so important for children. Whether it’s in the presence of others, or solitary play, purposeless unstructured play (that seem meaningless to us adults) is really essential for helping kids develop their imagination and process the world around them. Have you ever stopped to just watch a child play? To marvel at the improvisation and invention that comes from such a young mind?

Happy Toddler - playing in melting snow - unstructured outdoor play

As we’ve been in limbo between winter and spring, my toddler has been hanging onto every last opportunity to play in the snow. Seriously, whether it’s melting or not, he hasn’t cared. And since I wanted to get in one last post about snow 🙂 — I decided to share some ruminations from the other day while I watched my son play by himself. It’s truly a joy to enjoy observe unstructured outdoor play (unstructured indoor play too, I’m not picky)

Towards the end of this post, I’m sharing links about unguided, unstructured outdoor play, but I wanted to share a quote from one of the articles right now. It’s on the decline of unstructured play in over the decades:

The researchers found that compared to 1981, children in 1997 spent less time in play and had less free time. They spent 18 percent more time at school, 145 percent more time doing school work, and 168 percent more time shopping with parents. The researchers found that, including computer play, children in 1997 spent only about eleven hours per week at play. [ All Work And No Play: Why Your Kids Are More Anxious, Depressed]

And, imagine, what such a study would show in present day, given that 1997 was more than 16 years ago (the time elapsed between 1981 and 1997). I almost don’t want to do those calculations. Kids today have so much more access to technology, and free time (recess) during school is traded out for expanded “educational opportunities.”

I read about a challenge for parents to have their kids play outside an hour each day — wasn’t unstructured outdoor play a standard element of childhood? I know I got kicked outdoors as a kid for a couple hours daily (or most of the day during summertime). Note to self — thank my mother for that. Now, onto my thoughts as a mother about unstructured play.

Creating Without Intent – A Mother’s Perspective On Unstructured Outdoor Play

Right now, I’m watching my son play outside in the snow. He’s on our deck, in snow boots — no coat. It’s not all that cold out, so I’m not worried. Such a pleasant day! He’s thrilled to be outside. I’m thrilled to watch him play.

unstructured outdoor play - building a castle with melting snow
The wind whistles through the barren trees. He stops, looks up, and screams in delight. Is he listening to his echo? The sound of his voice? We’ve been reading a lot about bats and the soundwaves they use to catch insects lately. He is so observant, so curious about nature.

He hears the nearby highways sounds, tells me about the ambulance that went by, and how he’s going to stay outside.

The snow is a foot thick in places on our deck still. His lightweight body walks across its surface with ease. My husband comes home early and goes out to say hi. He crunches deep footprints through the snow, and helps our son fling a couple big scoops of snow off the deck. Then it’s time for toddler shoveling again. He scoops snow haphazardly, flinging it with delight. It doesn’t matter where the snow goes, there’s so much of it that one more scoop won’t make a difference. To start, he’d tried to clear off the deck, but realized the futility of it. Halfway through the winter, my husband had done the same – cleared a path to the stairs and left it at that. We built it well, the deck will hold the snow.

Still hard at work, my son stumbles in the snow. Nonplussed, he gets right back up and keeps shoveling. Hard at work, hard at play. No goal in mind, save shoveling snow. Oh, I remember the days of childhood, when it was a delight to complete tasks that had no “purpose.” But really, there is purpose. He is learning, he is experiencing, he is doing. His actions may seem pointless to an adult (schooled in the way of “efficiency”), but to a child, his actions are pointed and full of intent. And that is the joy of childhood. You get to define the meaning, you get to determine what matters to you. And you don’t care what anyone else thinks. Not yet. It’s all meaningful if you want it to be.

My son’s accomplishment? A snow castle, complete with broom, tunnels, and plowed “roads.”

unstructured outdoor play - melting snow - snow castle

More Resources – Unstructured Outdoor Play for Kids

If you want to read further on the benefits of unstructured play, or get ideas for encouraging unstructured outdoor play, here are some links below (they’ll open in a new window for your convenience).

Books Related to Parenting + Unstructured Outdoor Play

Articles On Unstructured Outdoor Play, etc

Schools + Unstructured Outdoor Play

Ideas From Parents for Unstructured Outdoor Play

Unstructured Play – Your Experience

What about you? Is there something that you take joy in the simple act of doing? That you’ve lost sight of because, as an adult, there are more “important things” to do? I know I loved creating things. It didn’t matter what, they didn’t have to have a purpose. I loved being out in nature for hours on end, playing pretend and defining my own reality.

As an adult, I’ve fallen away from these childhood joys. I “don’t have time” to do things without “purpose” or to just read for pleasure.

But who determines whether there’s enough time? Why am I filling my life with busywork? Just to make myself feel efficient?

unstructured outdoor play - toddler carrying snow with a spoon

Outdoor Nature Walk @ LNC

posted in: Parenting | 18

Need ideas for planning your next outdoor nature walk? I’ll share some links (for warm or cold weather) at the end of this post, but first let me share about our recent outdoor nature walk at a local nature center. Winter has been hanging on here, with record snowfall now over 6 feet, twice as much as usual. Needless to say, we’ll be happy when spring comes. But for now, we’ve been content with snow.

The other day, we braved the cold weather to visit the Leslie Nature Center for storytime and an outdoor nature walk. The monthly weekend storytime event is well-loved by the kids. We started out indoors, and read a book on spiders while waiting for storytime to start. The storytime tale was about bunnies — so there were guest appearances by the two resident bunnies (they normally live in the Critter House at the nature center).

This particular bunny was shedding quite a bit — notice the tufts of fur floating in the air in front of Toby’s face:

petting one of the bunnies at leslie nature center, winter outdoor nature walk

After getting to say hi to the bunnies, we donned our gear for an outdoor nature walk on the trails. It was nice to see Toby finally getting his snow legs. The first couple times we ventured outdoors in the deep snow, he wasn’t quite sure what to do, By the time of this outing, he was an old pro. On our outdoor nature walk, we listened for birds (and spotted a far-off cardinal), saw animal tracks (dogs, squirrels, fox, deer, etc), discovered snow fleas, and found rabbit scat.

And the finale of our outing, we of course visited the raptor enclosure. The Leslie Nature Center houses a variety of raptors (birds of prey) that are not capable of surviving in the wild. There are bald eagles, owls, falcons, and even a turkey vulture. Click on an image below to open the gallery view.

Outdoor/Nature Resources

I know some of you love resources and reading further. So, with that in mind, here are some blog posts on planning outdoor nature walks and relevant outdoor nature activities for kids. The links will open in a new window so you can consult the list as desired. Enjoy!

Cold Weather Outdoor Nature Ideas

Year Round Outdoor Nature Ideas

Nature Printables

Birds + Bird Watching


  • Rabbit Care – what is involved with owning a rabbit
  • Rabbit Facts – 23 facts about rabbits you might not know
  • All About Rabbits – learn about rabbits and how they are different from hares
  • Wild Bunnies – what to do if you find a litter of baby bunnies in the wild

  • Have More Outdoor Nature Walk Ideas?

    The possibilities are endless when it comes to creative, imaginative, outdoor play. Hopefully these photographs and links get your brain coming up with even more great ideas!

    Do you have more fun outdoor nature walk ideas? Or fond memories of things you enjoyed doing when young? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

    Shoveling + Snow Sensory Play

    posted in: Parenting | 21

    What’s snow sensory play? I’ll get to that in a minute (with activity links at the end of this post!), but first, let’s talk snow. There’s something about snow that just draws kids right in. My toddler is obsessed with shoveling snow, snow sensory play, you name it — if it has to do with snow, he’s rearing and ready to go. I’ve felt bad about not being able to get out more this winter (negative digits, windchill, plus sick bugs)… but fortunately we stumbled across two nice snow activities this winter:

    • “shoveling” snow on our deck
    • indoor snow sensory play

    Coincidentally, both of these activities *will* work even when the snow is melty and the weather is on the warmer side! So read on to see what we’ve done for snow sensory play — indoors and out.

    Snowy Day - Sensory Snow Play

    Outdoors Snow “Shoveling” Fun

    This past week we’ve finally seen temperatures rise above freezing, so Toby was thrilled to get out on the deck *without* a coat. I think he played for an hour out there, shoveling, scooping, and otherwise manipulating the snow. It started as a trip out on the deck to fill up a mixing bowl with snow for indoor snow sensory play… and turned into outdoors fun!

    Snow Sensory Play Indoors

    He did end up back indoors at the counter, playing with his bowl of snow. We don’t have a proper sensory bin, so have just been using jelly roll sheet pans to contain the melting snow. But, no matter. His fun has not been diminished by “lack” of proper materials. I supplied a few “real” kitchen items, and he supplemented everything else from the playroom. It’s always interesting to see what creative ideas toddlers will come up with on their own!

    Without much prompting, Toby discovered how to use the straw to move water from one place to another. He then experimented with putting ice chunks into a jar via the straw, all on his own. Really quite neat! Here are a few images of the snowy day fun — both indoors and out.

    Click on an image below to open the gallery view. Also, make sure to scroll to the end of this post, as I’ve shared some more great ideas for snow sensory play!

    More Snow Sensory Play Ideas

    Want to play in the snow? Indoors or Out? Well, here are some other blog posts that may help get your parental creative juices flowing. These links will open in a new window, in case you want to refer to this (non-exhaustive) list).

    Indoor Snow Play

    Outdoor Snow Play

    What If You Don’t have Snow?

    Have More Snow Play Ideas?

    What about you? Do you have more snowy day ideas for kids, or great snowy sensory play suggestions? Maybe you have some fond memories of activities you loved when growing up? I’d love to hear them in the comments section.

    The Making of “Uphill Battle”

    posted in: Fine Art | 19

    Over the next few months, I thought I would feature the stories behind some of my award-winning photographs. This one, titled “Uphill Battle,” was accepted into 2007 PPA International Print Exhibition.

    Uphill Battle - Award-Winning Fine Art Photograph

    The Making of “Uphill Battle”

    This photograph looks like a well planned still life, but sometimes with a good eye, you can find nature photographs that have been arranged for you. Uphill Battle was one such fine art photograph. While in Arizona, visiting my grandparents, I was having a lovely time being outdoors in the warmth, searching for suitable subjects to photograph. After all, during the winter months, who doesn’t want to escape from the snow here in Michigan (once in a while)? Now, granted, my reasons for being in Arizona were more somber – my grandfather’s body was ridden with cancer, and he was in hospice. Shortly after our return, my grandfather passed away (his memorium). This image serves as a reminder of that for me. In fact, my grandfather was one of the people who inspired me to pursue photography, first as a hobby, then as a profession. I’ve shared a candid photo of him below.

    Major McKinley AshAnyways, as dusk neared, this grasshopper was resting on one of the plants near my grandparents’ home. The background of this photograph, which I love the texture of, by the way, is simply the block fence in their backyard. Nothing spectacular, but with a creative eye and some on-the-fly planning, it serves as a vital element of the image.


    “Uphill Battle” was given its name because, well, let’s face it. Sometimes life is tough. For people, for a grasshopper — it doesn’t matter. In this photograph, he is hanging onto a plant, resting before he resumes his efforts to survive. Life is a battle, and often it seems uphill. Often the challenges seem insurmountable. I’ve been at points in my life where I feel like there is too much on my plate to handle. Fortunately, grace gives me the strength to carry on. Life’s obstacles are a given, we can’t escape the rough spots. But, we can count on them to test us, to challenge us, to make us grow.

    Throughout history, mankind has had a tenacity to hold on, to perservere.  Offhand, I can think of two similar proverbs that address this.  

    • “Fall down seven, get up eight,” – Japanese Proverb
    • “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.” – Proverbs 24:16

    No matter what, keep trying.  Never give up. Life isn’t a piece of cake. It is, more often than not, an uphill battle. And I’m so grateful to have wonderful people in my life to support me through the tough times. My husband. My parents and in-laws. My family. My friends. And last, but not least, my faith. Everyone has their way of dealing with life’s uphill battles — and everyone who is determined to not give up will find themselves a stronger person for it.

    On Thinking Creatively

    posted in: Fine Art | 10

    Do you let your little ones help in the kitchen?  I’m a fan of hands on learning (yes, we do have a membership at the Hands on Museum, how did you know?), and as Toby has gotten older, he’s been able to help more and more with some of the basic things.  What does this have to do with photography?  Well — directly, not much.  But indirectly, lots.  I’ve enjoyed observing how toddlers (well, all children, really) are always learning.  They are observant, taking cues from adults and kids around them, eager to experiment with doing things themselves, and often find creative ways to accomplish a task if left to their own devices.  In short, it’s all about creativity, unleashing your inner child.  And that’s what we often forget once adults.  How to think creatively.  Photography, and all art, is really about exploring your world creatively.  A fresh perspective on a “boring” subject can make all the difference in the world.  And sometimes all it takes is to consider things from a different point of view (i.e. a child’s).  Doesn’t this look cool??

    Read More

    Jackson Pollock Art with Permanent Markers

    posted in: Parenting | 4

    Now that Christmas has come and gone, I can share these pictures of a top secret present being made. As I’ve mentioned earlier, this year our little one really understood the concept of giving — and so, both Mama and Daddy took turns helping him make presents for both parents. I received several lovely drawings with toddler-traced hands (so cute). And when we were deciding what to make for Daddy’s present…someone *really* loved the idea of personalized golf balls (“So Dada can golf!!!”).

    Read More

    Shoveling Snow

    posted in: Parenting | 0

    Happy New Year! I hope you had as much fun ringing in the new year as a toddler does (since after all, don’t they have fun doing EVERYTHING?). It’s been interesting to reflect on the past year while simultaneously contemplate the year ahead.

    As I wrote in our personal Christmas card —

    while life is not without its struggles, we truly have been blessed this past year. It has been amazing to reflect back and see God’s hand at work in our lives, and all the blessings that have ensued — including a growing family [see post about in-utero #2].

    And before we part for the day, let me share this picture of my toddler…having fun…shoveling our deck the other day (today’s snow was much more substantial). I love how little minds work: “mama, I need my dump truck.” Next thing you know, the dump truck is helping move the snow off the edge of the deck and dumping it. I think he had the most fun inside afterwards, rinsing off the “inside” dump truck and toweling the truck dry. It was tough for me, in parent mode, to think outside the box and let that inside toy play out on the deck, but the whole experience for my son made my “sacrifice” worthwhile. I love when our children teach us things, don’t you?

    May your 2014 be filled with peace, joy, and love!

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