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!

Our Experience With Online Piano Lessons

posted in: Parenting | 0

bphotoart-busy-kids-piano-lessons-2I love music. And my kids do too. But that’s not news to you, since I’ve blogged about raising kids who love music in the past, as well as why you shouldn’t give up piano.   Now, my boys haven’t really had formal lessons, as they haven’t been old enough.  But this summer, Toby, now in kindergarten, asked if he could take piano lessons.

Perfect timing!

So, I went digging through my music cabinet to see what books might be suitable for a younger piano student. I have quite a wide span of material, not surprisingly (my grandmother was an organist and a piano teacher, and I took piano lessons in grades K-12). When I inherited my grandmother’s upright piano, my mom gave me even more piano lesson books.

I found some books by Faber and Faber that I thought would be helpful (you can find lots of Faber and Faber piano books on Amazon #afflink). But I wondered if there was something else out there for the beginning pianist.  Something more modern and interactive.


That’s when I discovered Busy Kids Do Piano (#afflink). When I saw this review opportunity grace my inbox, I was really excited! Busy Kids Do Piano is a complete system that includes online lesson videos and printable worksheets. Like any quality program, it’s not free.  The Busy Kids Do Piano course is $49.95, which works out to a more than reasonable fee of $2.50/lesson.

Let me digress for just a moment. You may know that learning music isn’t just about learning to play the notes. It’s also about understanding rhythm. So when you research a learning method, it’s important to evaluate how well it teaches rhythm, note length, and other basic concepts… because these are the building blocks you need to make a strong foundation for later understanding of music.

So, for me, it was important to ask myself, does Busy Moms Do Piano teach these concepts?

The answer is yes.

For the first lesson, she doesn’t even have kids use the piano — because they are learning about rhythm. Toby had fun choosing a percussion instrument from our musical instrument box — he selected two, actually.

With a tambourine and a rhythm stick in hand, Toby listened intently as he learned about the different notes, what they looked like, and how long their counts are. He practiced tapping along for the different notes, and I made sure he understood the concept of “holding” the note.

After playing the video through a couple times so that Toby could play along as instructed, he was ready to work on his worksheet.

I’m not one to force too much learning in one sitting, but when my kids are interested in a concept, I’m all for continuing!

So I pulled out the first worksheet and Toby worked his way through it. He learned how to draw a whole note, a half note, and a quarter note. We played the rhythm that was written on the page together.

Toby had fun completing the printable worksheets!
Toby had fun completing the printable worksheets!

Over the next days, Toby continued to be excited about piano, and repeatedly asked me when he could do another piano lesson.  Specifically, “the one with the video.”  Score!  I love it when my kids stay interested in something.

Looking back at our experience, I would say my child enjoyed Busy Kids Do Piano, and I did too.  The materials were clear and I was able to walk Toby through the activities without any trouble.  While I would have been comfortable teaching a more traditional lesson to my child, I think Busy Kids Do Piano is a great program for anyone who wants to familiarize their children with piano.  It’s an easy way to try out piano lessons, with the benefits of being able to go at your own pace, and being able to do the lessons anytime, anywhere.  And, as I mentioned, the fee for the material is more than economical when you consider a typical in-person music lesson might cost more like $30 for a half hour.

Can the Busy Kids Do Piano (#afflink) method replace a traditional teacher?  I think that’s hard to say…it depends on what you’re looking for, honestly.  For beginning musicians, or children you want to acclimate to music?  Sure.  For more advanced students?  Nope.  But it’s definitely a starting point for entry into the wonderful world of music!   I grew up taking music lessons, and a number of my relatives are musicians.  I think music lessons with a live teacher play an important role in shaping the musical experiences of children.  The instant feedback, the communication — you just don’t get that with a video lesson.  But these lessons are a good way to set the stage for learning music in the more traditional way, later on.


Note: I received this product free in exchange for an honest evaluation and review.  The opinions and thoughts expressed are 100% my own.

The Easy Way to Draw a Heart + A Photo Valentine Craft

posted in: Parenting | 0

Last year in preschool, Toby’s teacher taught him (and me) a neat way to draw a heart.  It’s so ingenius that I had to share.  And since this trick about how to make a hear is so short and sweet, I thought I would also share an idea for making a photo Valentine’s Day card too.

But first, this trick for drawing a heart.

If your child is learning their letters, this method will be something they can do — Toby learned how to draw hearts this way at the age of three.

You need two letters to make the heart.  First you draw a big “V” — and then you put a little “m” on top of it. I’ve included a diagram below, that shows the heart with the “V” and the “m” not-quite-put-together, as well as the final heart.


Pretty simple, huh?

It’s amazing what kids gravitate towards.

So, now onto part two of this post.  The photo Valentine craft.

We usually have some holiday cards left over every year, so I let the kids turn them into photo crafts until we run out.  Last year we made photo valentines with pictures, and my toddler had fun, so I decided to make a photo Valentine’s Day card a little early so I could share the idea with you!

Toby was taking a rare nap when we created this card, so I had an 18 month old’s help putting on glue and decorating.  But hopefully this rendition will inspire you, in the very least!


As you can see, I cut out some heart shapes, and cut out the photo of our family in a heart shape as well.  With an older child, I would have drawn the heart outlines and handed over a pair of scissors.  Toby would’ve loved that.  But, Zack just enjoyed helping my hands open and close the scissors as I cut.  And he wanted to use the marker too, so I let him have free reign of the inside of the Valentine’s card.  We kept it pretty simple. “Happy Valentine’s Day” on the front of the card, with “love Zack” on the inside.

bphotoart-photo-valentine-craft-4 bphotoart-photo-valentine-craft-3

Then we digressed to other activities.  Zack found the paper I had gotten out, and a pen.  He had fun drawing on the paper, and wanted more hearts. So I drew him a few.


After tearing up some paper, grabbing the scissors, and exhausting his young attention span, we were done with our photo Valentine craft activity.  Zack is a little young to do more than help push the cut out objects onto the card, but he did really enjoy the portions of this activity where I let him help.

Do you make homemade Valentine’s Day cards?  Have you ever included photos in your Valentines?  What do you think about the “trick” for drawing a heart? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Thankfulness + Gratitude Journal

posted in: Parenting | 0

bphotoart-gratitude-thankfulness-journalSometimes it’s hard to stay positive. This life is full of heartbreak and troubles.  Something that has helped our family lately?  A gratitude journal.  Also known as a thankfulness journal.  I got the idea from a good friend who has gone through a lot.  She mentioned that this simple act of writing down five things a day that she is thankful for has helped her realize how much good there is in her life.

Starting a thankfulness journal is a step towards a change in perspective.  It helps you focus on the good.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” – Mary Engelbreit

Being thankful, being grateful, about the things in your life …these small things can help cultivate a happy heart. Happiness is a choice, and the more you work on cultivating it, the more it permeates your life.

When I started my gratitude and thankfulness journal, my son, Toby, was really interested — and wanted his own thankfulness journal too.  So I found another notebook lying around the house and gave it to him.  He was thrilled.

Since Toby is just learning to read and write, his thankfulness journal looks a little different than mine.  I usually write the date for him (he’s started tracing it after I write it), and then he draws a picture on that page.  After that, we talk about his drawing, and depending on the complexity of the subject, I’ll write some notes about (porcupine and and obstacle course) it or have Toby write the words (i.e. race car, or airplane).  For him, it’s more of a focusing tool, a way to spend time drawing each day and thinking about what he is doing rather than just scribbling out a tornado (like he does sometimes with his school journal).

Some of Toby's drawings, including a bird on the left page and race car on the right page.
Some of Toby’s drawings, including a bird on the left page and race car on the right page.
Toby showing his drawing of a fishing boat on the left, and a playground in the rain on the right.
Toby showing his drawing of a fishing boat on the left, and a playground in the rain on the right.

My thankfulness journal is just words.  I end up using about a third of one page daily, by the time I write all five things I’m grateful and thankful for.  every item on my list is numbered, one through five, each day.  And I always start with “I am thankful” or “I am grateful” …just the simple act of writing those words hammers home what I am deciding to be happy about.


Some days, it's tough to find five "worthwhile" things to be thankful for. Other days, it is tough to stop at just five.
Some days, it’s tough to find five “worthwhile” things to be thankful for. Other days, it is tough to stop at just five.

The most consistent time for me to do my journal is right before bed, when the house is quiet and I have time to reflect on the day.  It helps me to find good, to see how I am blessed — even when I have a rough day.  Even if I can’t come up with something entirely original, I’ve never skimped on my daily list.

What have I listed?

It varies depending on the day.

Some days I’ve been thankful for the fact both boys took a nap, or that I got to take a nap myself.  Other days I’ve been grateful for miracles, both big and small.  Like a relative’s recovery from surgery complications, or that my son inexplicably found a precious earring that I had lost half a year earlier. I’ve focused on finding reasons to be thankful about my life — my husband, my boys, my pets, my home.

Toby with his thankfulness journal -- showing his drawing of a toy
Toby with his thankfulness journal — showing his drawing of a toy

There is so much in my life that I have — and all too often, I take it for granted.

This thankfulness and gratitude journal has been a way for me to change that. The best part of this method of journaling? It’s brief, succinct.  Anyone can find five minutes a day to write down five quick items.  Because in all honesty, it doesn’t take much longer than that.

Toby writing in his thankfulness journal.
Toby writing in his thankfulness journal.

And one thing I like about this journaling concept?  It focuses on the positive.  The only journals I previously knew about were ones where you chronicled daily life.  And what tends to come to the forefront?  The negative.  I don’t want to focus my life on the negative.  I don’t want to leave a written legacy that focuses on things in life that drag me down.  I want to focus on the positive. I want my written legacy to be inspiring and motivating.

And that’s why I keep this journal.  Because my days seem to go better when I make time for it.

Do you journal?  What do you write about?  Would you consider starting a thankfulness journal?  Would your kids do this with you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Managing Toy Clutter in the Family Room

posted in: Parenting | 0

bphotoart-managing-toy-clutter-family-roomDespite the fact that we have an entire playroom on the main floor of our home, there is inevitably an exodus of toys from the playroom to the other areas of our house.  Most frequently, these toys congregate in the family room.

And while I love seeing the boys play with their toys and read books, it’s not so fun to navigate a toy minefield when making my way through the family room.

Before my most recent find, a combination bookshelf and toy bin, we’d been through several variations of toy organization for the family room.

We tried — and gave up — on insisting that all toys and books be put away in the play room.  It just wasn’t realistic.

We used two bins to hold a selection of toys, and another for books.  This worked for a little while, but the organization was lacking and Zack, being a baby, enjoyed dumping the bins.

We gave up for a while and piled toys into any mobile cart/basket toys that the boys could push around.  This was more of a “throwing in the towel” approach… it only got the clutter off the floor and didn’t make life easier for anyone.

What I like about our current solution?  It’s practical. It has multiple levels, and there is a top shelf that Zack (the baby) can’t reach, so Toby can have a little safe haven in the family room for his lego creations or other things that might get damaged by little fingers.  Plus, since there’s an enticing bin of toys within easy reach, Zack doesn’t tend to try for the other (previously enticing) items.

Refinishing this toy unit didn’t take long — I sanded and painted the entire thing while Toby was at preschool one day.  In fact, I had it in the house and the boys were putting toys away in it before my husband even realized I had refinished it!

Going forward, here are my rules for managing toy clutter in the family room:

  1. This bin is not a catch-all for toys that have been played with — we’ll still be putting dress up clothes in their bin, magnatiles in their container, etc.  But it’s nice to have a spot to store things that don’t have a set home.
  2. Books need to be put away when not being read.  Either on this bookshelf, or the playroom bookshelf. My one exception is library books.  Those live in our library book bag (which you see in the bottom left corner — it’s white canvas with red straps).
  3. When you’re done playing with something, put it away. Enough said.
  4. After dinner every night, it is time to clean up any toys that are still out. In the playroom, in the family room.  While I expect the kids to participate, I intend to help with this because sometimes it’s a big job!
  5. No toys on the couch.  Yes, this is a rule — because my boys decided it was fun to clean up the floor by piling all the toys on the couch on more than one occasion.
  6. Keep the toys on the rug.  Even if toys are being played with, we still need to have a way to get from one part of the house to another — there has to be a pathway.  This is important because we walk through our family room to get from the garage and kitchen to the bedrooms.
  7. No books on the floor.  This one is hard to follow for the boys, but I stick to it because I want to avoid any more ER visits.  (Toby got a hairline fracture in his leg by slipping on a book on our family room when he was three

Here are a few photos of the before, during, and after.

This brightly colored kids' toy unit was a great find, but I wasn't thrilled about the colors...
This brightly colored kids’ toy unit was a great find, but I wasn’t thrilled about the colors…
I had some cans of brown spray paint left over from another furniture makeover, so I lightly sanded the surface and gave it a single coating.
I had some cans of brown spray paint left over from another furniture makeover, so I lightly sanded the surface and gave it a single coating.
The finished product, at home in our family room. It blends in MUCH better and the kids have enjoyed using it.
The finished product, at home in our family room. It blends in MUCH better and the kids have enjoyed using it.

Learn About Overexposure (and Underexposure)

posted in: Learning | 5

Today we’re talking about exposure — overexposure (and underexposure)  As relates to cameras.  I’ll be simplifying it for kids, as has been the norm with my Photography ABCs series.  Make sure to read through to the end, because I’m sharing three activity ideas to help kids learn about overexposure and underexposure.  So, let’s get started.  What’s exposure?  Or, more specifically, what are overexposure and underexposure?

Learn About Overexposure ...and Underexposure (includes 3 activities for kids!)

Underexposed, as defined by

1. inadequate exposure, as of photographic film.

2. a photographic negative or print that is imperfect because of insufficient exposure. defines overexposure as follows:

1. excessive exposure, especially of photographic film or a sensitized plate to light rays.

2. the condition of having been seen, heard, or advertised so frequently or for so long that freshness or appeal is diminished.

You’d probably recognize overexposed images if you saw them.  They tend to be overly bright, with loss of detail.  Want a simplified definition of overexposure?  Too much light.  You know how you can’t see anything when you first go outside into the bright sunlight?  You’re blinded.  Blinded because your eyes are adjusted to the dim indoor light, and when the brighter light from the sun reaches your eyes they are overwhelmed — it takes a few moments for them to adjust and compensate.  Remember the lesson on aperture, and the one where we made a camera obscura?  These are related to the concept of exposure. And overexposure.

Light enters the camera.

The right amount of light, and you can create a stunning image.

Too much light, and you end up with an overexposed image — if taken to the extreme, it would be a white rectangle.  Too little light, and you get an underexposed image — taken to the extreme, it would be an unexposed black rectangle.  But we’ll get to that later.

To simplify this concept — If you take a picture of your yard during nighttime, it will likely be very dim and dark. Possibly underexposed, if you use your camera’s auto settings (and no flash).  The camera tells the flash to fire so that it will be the correct exposure, so that it will have enough light in the picture.  If you take a picture of your yard during the daytime, the camera usually tells the flash not to fire — because then it would have more light than it needs, and the image could be overexposed.

Cameras aren’t all that smart, though.  If you take a picture of a person with the sunset behind them, it might underexpose the scene (and render the person a silhouette) in order to properly expose for the sunset.  If it exposes the image for the person, the sunset portion of the image would be overexposed.  That’s where the flash comes in (yet again) — it adds more light to the person, so they will not be underexposed.  Of course, the flash has no effect on the sunset, because that is WAY too far away.

Over/Under Exposure Camera Activity

For today’s activity, you’re going to need a camera.

Turn off the on-camera flash, and try taking pictures of different things around the house.  Notice how when you take a picture of your sofa next to the window, that the camera tries to expose for one of two things — the sofa (dimmer inside light) or the yard (brighter outside light).  Take a couple pictures, and see how the camera either overexposes the outside or underexposes the inside, depending on the image.

Now, turn on the flash and see if it makes a difference.

Exposure Coloring

This activity is really simplified.  Have your kids draw a picture of a tree at night, or their bedroom with the lights off.

Tell them to use their imagination and draw something that is not shown clearly because there is not enough light (underexposed). Suggest they use dark colors if they need prompting.  A candle in a bedroom, for example, might be a paper colored completely black, with just a little orange glow.  You can’t see the bed, or more than a shadow of it, but you know it’s there.

On the flip side, have them draw something that is so bright it can’t be seen clearly (overexposed).  Ideas you could prompt them with include a car with its headlights on, a polar bear in the snow (e.g. three dots, a nose and two eyes).

It will be interesting to see how your kids interpret this, and will vary depending on their ages.

Exposure Experience

You don’t need anything except your eyes for this activity.  Take your kids from a brightly lit room into a dark room.  Tell them to pay attention to how their eyes adapt, how nothingness becomes dark shadows, which in turn becomes identifiable objects.

Then, return to a bright area.  The opposite happens.

If you wanted to, I guess you could let them shine a flashlight into their eyes for this portion too.  Not condoning that, but it definitely would illustrate the concept of overexposure.  Way too much light to see what anything is.

Have more ideas?

I’d love to hear your ideas, if you have any more thoughts on activities for overexposure and underexposure, in the comments below.  Or, if you try these activities I’ve mentioned, I definitely want to know how things go for you!

Make sure to check back next week for the next post, where I’ll share an activity for the letter P. You might also enjoy revisiting last week’s activity where we learned about negative.

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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Quick & Easy: DIY Creative Gift Wrapping for Kids

posted in: Parenting | 4

quick and easy DIY creative wrapping paper for kidsEven though we save gift bags and keep a (small) stash of wrapping paper, it seems like my go-to preference is for homemade gift wrapping.  It involves the kids in the gift giving process more, and depending on what paper I am able to reuse, is eco-friendly too.

When we put together gifts for the grandparents a while back, I tried something different than my normal artwork-repurposed-into-wrapping-paper method.

We took some paper bags, traced handprints, and made a variety of quick and easy (yet creatively wrapped) gift bags.  An “I Love You” hand (sign language) graced one bag, complete with explanation.  On another, an octopus was created when two hands were traced on top of one another (christened “Avocado the Octopus”).  It was fun to give Toby, my toddler, free reign on this project.

I helped, since we used a permanent marker.  After doing the lettering and tracing the hands, I handed Toby some pencils so that he could further decorate the bags.

If you have a child who isn’t big on coloring in the lines, or who is liable to scribble over the handprints and words you’ve just created, then I have a simple solution for you.

Use a permanent marker, or dark/thick ink for the handprints and lettering.  Then, provide a variety of lighter/thinner coloring pencils, markers, or crayons for your child to use.  It won’t matter if they color over the “important” words, and you won’t have to constantly nag your child to be careful about where they decorate.

After putting the gifts in the bags, we rolled the top down a few times and stapled or taped each shut.

Pretty easy.

Pretty quick.

The recipients of these gifts loved hearing from Toby about how he decorated the bags for them.

This project could be done in five minutes or less, so if you’re short on time but want to add a personal touch to a gift, definitely consider this quick and easy DIY gift wrapping option.

bphotoart-artwork-wrapping-paper-1483So, to recap.  You’ll need:

  • paper bags
  • permanent marker
  • pencils/crayons
  • staples/tape

Oh, and a gift to put inside, I suppose.

What ways have you discovered that are fun for your kids to wrap presents?  I’d love to hear from you 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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Why You Shouldn’t Give Up Piano (or whatever instrument you play)

posted in: Learning | 1
Why You shouldn't Give Up Piano (or whatever instrument you play)
Photo from Used with permission.

I’m that kid.  The one who begged her mother for piano lessons at the young age of …um… maybe five?  My grandmother, an organist and pianist, was my first teacher.  From there on, I loved it.  We found a sweet lady down the street from us as my next teacher; I remember getting on my bike and pedaling over to her house, two streets away.  My brother took lessons from her too.  In high school, I (well, we both) started lessons with another teacher, this time across town — my mom had to drive us.  I continued those lessons until I graduated.  But that wasn’t the whole of it.  In fifth grade, when everyone got to pick an instrument, I’d already talked my mom (a professional flutist) into giving me flute lessons.  Sweet child I was… but obstinate — so a few years later I switched to oboe.  Those lessons also continued through my high school years.

In college, I no longer took lessons, but I still enjoyed playing.  I was able to improvise chords on the piano, I kept my fingers lithe and was able to retain mastery of some of the more difficult pieces I’d learned.  Oboe was tougher to keep going — the reeds were finicky, not tolerant of an owner who wasn’t playing as regularly as one should.  In case you’re not familiar with reed instruments, you have to break the reed in, and over time it becomes softer and worn out, eventually needing to be replaced.  In my high school days, I would have on hand at least 5-8 reeds in various stages of their life.  I even knew how to make my own reeds (under the tutelage of my oboe teacher).  I bet I could still wrap an oboe reed today — though my knife skills might be a little lackluster now, so it wouldn’t be the most refined reed I’ve produced.

Having kids put my musical endeavors on hold.  My oldest son, as a baby, screamed at the sound of the oboe, which dissuaded me from bringing it out.  I lost my embouchure… the muscle tone in the lips required to produce a refined sound.  I could still play, but to do so for any length of time I’d have to practice and work up to it.

Music will remain a part of my life though, now, and in the future.  I sing, I whistle, I hum.  my boys have heard the same songs since they were born, and even in utero.  It’s funny, actually.  The other day my mom was telling me she learned all the verses of “How Great Thou Art” while singing me to sleep.  That is one of my go-to songs for the boys.  Music runs deep.  Another favorite song of mine is the alphorn melody my dad plays (usually on the French horn, sometimes on the alphorn).  I have that tune memorized, without ever having practiced it.  And that melody is one of the little ditties I hum to my boys.

Ah, but time to stop reminiscing. What all this leads me to is this.

Music has been a part of my life from the get-go.  I haven’t always been happy about having to practice or go to lessons, but I’m always grateful that I was “forced” to stick with it.  Music has taught me so much.

Music is calming, relaxing.

Music is food for the soul.

And that brings me back on track.  If you’re thinking of giving up music, of letting your instrument gather dust — don’t do it.  If you’re looking to pick it back up — by all means!

I get such enjoyment out of making music.  I wish I could play more often.  Sure, I may not sound as great as I did “at my prime” …but that doesn’t matter.


Want to Start Your Kid in Music Lessons?

The big question is often this:

when is my child ready to start music lessons?

And I’d say the answer depends on the child.  Dyan at And Next Comes L has put together a post addressing that very question.  Read her thoughts: When is a child ready for piano lessons?

And parents, if you’re thinking about the whole logistics thing of balancing music with sports and other extracurricular activities — here are a few articles I found recently — they discuss the importance music can play in our lives.

First, there’s a study that found correllation between music lessons and child development (Music lessons spur emotional and behavioral growth in children):

“What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument,” said James Hudziak, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families, “it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control.”

And then another article about the same study notes the fact that 75% of students in American high schools “rarely or never” get extracurricular art or music lessons (Science Just Discovered Something Amazing About What Childhood Piano Lessons Did to You).  The piece also notes:

Prior research proves that learning music can help children develop spatiotemporal faculties, which then aid their ability to solve complex math. It can also help children improve their reading comprehension and verbal abilities, especially for those who speak English as a second language.

So yeah.  Music is good for your brain.

Travel “ID” Card For Toddlers (Free Printable)

posted in: Parenting | 4

When we went on our last several “big” vacations, I made sure to have some sort of “ID” on our toddler.  One trip, it was a keychain with mom and dad’s names and cell numbers, but more recently I made up these travel ID cards for my boys because I knew Toby would get a kick out of having his own ID card.  What kid doesn’t want to have their own “grown-up” ID?

A little further on, I’ll share a printable template with you so you can make your own travel ID card for your child.  Feel free to customize it.  I did (we swapped out the allergies section for flight information).

Some travel tips for you:

  1. Teach your kid what to do if they get separated from you.  While we stressed to Toby that we weren’t going to leave him, I did talk with him a number of times about what to do if he was not with us and needed an adult’s help to find us.  Knowing your parents’ names and their cell phone numbers is a big help, so we worked on that.  And since he doesn’t have our phone numbers memorized yet, I told Toby to show the adult the phone numbers I had written on his keychain, or the ID card in his pocket.
  2. Write your number on their arm with permanent marker. I picked this tip up on a blog somewhere — the blogger kept a permanent marker in her purse and whipped it out at amusement parks, airports, and other busy places.  That way, the kid can just point to their arm (or hopefully the helpful adult can discern that the numbers are a contact number to call if lost.
  3. Make hand-holding fun. Sometimes kids are just at the cusp of being independent …but aren’t ready yet.  We were able to bridge that gap by offering our hand and asking for “help” — either in knowing where to go (i.e. “look for the gate with the numbers 45”) or maybe as an extension, asking for help with the luggage.  Many rolling suitcases are very kid-friendly!
  4. Safety information is important to review, but doesn’t have to be scary. My toddler had a blast looking at the emergency instruction sheet in the airplane.  We talked about why those instructions were there and what to do in an emergency.  Find a way to stay upbeat and positive, it doesn’t have to be scary.

Okay, and now onto the travel “ID” card.  Here is what the printable travel ID card looks like:


Get Printable ID Card JPG | PDF

After inputting all the details, and adding a picture to the card, I “laminated” the whole thing.  And I say laminated in quotes because I didn’t use an official laminating product, but simply two pieces of packing tape.  Information that I added to the card for our airport excursion?  The airline we traveled on, flight numbers, and destination cities. I figured that way any airport personnel could get my toddler to the right destination if needed.

Of course, all this will do you no good if you leave it at home. So either make two and keep one in your purse until you get to the airport, or be prepared for an excited toddler to misplace it before your trip.  Toby was so excited about the surprise I’d made for him that he took his ID card out of the backpack pocket… and once we were enroute to the airport I discovered that the newly made travel ID card was somewhere in our home.  Oh well.

Learn to Ride a Bike …how we skipped training wheels completely

posted in: Parenting | 7

Learn to Ride a Bike we skipped training wheels completelyIt seems like training wheels are a right of passage.  But, recently, there’s been a trend to forgo the training wheel phase completely.  I have to admit, I was intrigued with this idea when I heard about it a few years ago.

We did end up getting a balance bike, and while I was secretly hoping that my son, Toby, would learn to ride a pedal bike without having to use training wheels, I wasn’t completely sold on the idea (yet).

When he got the balance bike, it was wintertime — we allowed Toby to coast around (carefully) in the basement.  Once spring arrived, it was time for the balance bike to head outdoors.  He spent the better part of the summer gleefully coasting around the neighborhood on his balance bike, scaring his parents with his ability to coast down the “big hill” at the top of our street.  It was pretty impressive.

I toyed with the idea of getting him on a pedal bike then.  But, at three, he was still a little small for the pedal bikes we’d received as hand-me-downs.  One even came with training wheels, but Toby hated it. He preferred the tricycle if he was going to pedal around.

So, that’s what we did.  Toby practiced balancing and gliding with his balance bike, and practiced pedaling on his tricycle.

Toby's balance bike
Toby’s balance bike

Come this spring, Toby was excited to get out the bikes again.  His preschool had a few balance bikes that were used for a few weeks in May, leading up to “bring your bike to school day.”  He took his balance bike.  Another classmate was on a pedal bike (without training wheels)… and that reminded me we should give it another shot!

So, I brought out the pedal bikes. Yes, we have two.  I took the pedals off one of them, and had Toby glide around on that bike to get the hang of steering and balancing the much heavier metal frame.  A word from the wise, if you decide to do this — bike pedals thread differently (both are NOT “righty tighty, lefty loosey”).  I made a short YouTube video (watch DIY balance bike from toddler pedal bike) if you want to see how easy it is to take the pedals off and put them back on.

Our DIY balance bike, with pedals removed

Once he got the hang of that, Toby wanted to go back to his tricyle for pedaling. He wanted nothing to do with the pedal bike that was begging to be ridden

Toby's pedal bike
Toby’s pedal bike

I promised to help him if he would try.  With some cajoling, Toby climbed onto his pedal bike, and I helped him balance by holding him at the armpits.  He got his feet on the pedals, and then started going with me doing most of the balancing.  We quickly progressed to me “helping” by holding his shirt (yes, I was literally just pinching the fabric on the back of his shirt).

The first time I let go, Toby immediately put his feet down and stopped biking…still a little unsure of pedaling and balancing all by himself.  After some reassurance that I hadn’t been doing anything and that it was all him, Toby was willing to try again.  I told him I would warn him before “letting go” this time.  He got started, I gave my warning, and let go.

It was perfect. He kept on going for a number of feet before stopping!  Steering was still iffy, and starting/stopping was shaky.  We were definitely at the mental tipping point.  Toby decided he was done for the day, and got out the tricycle again.

The next day, we went to my uncle’s auto shop for an oil change. I brought along the pedal bike on a whim.

Again, we started off with me holding onto Toby’s shirt, so he could learn to get started and figure out how to steer.  I jogged around with him, wearing his baby brother on my back, while holding Toby’s shirt. 

I added some verbal reminders at some point:

pedal, balance, steer!

I repeated those three words numerous times, and after a few minutes he was all but biking independently. Now it was time for the mental challenge. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say, Toby learned to ride his bike before our oil change was done — and he learned to start, steer, and not-quite-brake to stop.

One of the first few times I let go of Toby’s shirt:

This is how we skipped training wheels. "Pedal, balance, steer"

A video posted by Betsy Finn {} (@betsy.bphotoart) on

Within minutes, Toby was totally confident:

Wohoo! On our pedal bike! We skipped training wheels.

A video posted by Betsy Finn {} (@betsy.bphotoart) on

fall down seven, get up eight.

We had some falls, but nothing to write home about. Over the next week, Toby was rearing to go on bike rides with me pretty much daily.  He wanted to zoom down the “big hill” in our neighborhood.

So we added another verbal reminder:

show me your “slow downs”

Before I let him go down the hill, he had to show me he could slow his bike down by braking gently — and NOT come to a complete stop.  Once that was done, we were ready to tackle the hill. I made Toby keep pace with me on the first time down, and I admit I went really slow. After several times, Toby was ready to go faster.  He zoomed ahead of me, doing great — until it came time to switch from gliding to pedaling.  When he started pedaling, the front wheel turned abruptly and Toby tumbled off the bike.

I love teaching independence, but tumble was big enough that it had my heart pounding.  Toby was scared and crying.  We talked through things, I reassured him, and reminded him he had to try the hill one more time before we called it quits for the night. No way was I letting him end on a bad note.

So we tackled the hill again. This time, I reminded him:

pedal, balance, steer, …use your slow downs!  …keep gliding, steer, and when you’re ready, gently start pedaling …gentle.

Success is so sweet.

It is worth the hard work, the tears.

Independence is hard work. It can be scary. But we made it.  Toby loves riding his pedal bike, and can now turn on a dime, and stop smoothly.  He’s learning the rules of the road as we go, too.

Am I glad we skipped training wheels? absolutely.  I’m sold on the duo of balance bike and tricycle.  It allowed us to separate two skills (balancing and pedaling) so that he could focus on each independently.  I’m glad Toby used the balance bike for a whole summer, because he got really good at balancing.  But now, I’m glad that he’s on a pedal bike.  We can go so much further on bike rides now.  He loves his independence, and I do too.

Meant to share this one yesterday. .. #latergram

A photo posted by Betsy Finn {} (@betsy.bphotoart) on

I’d love to hear your opinions on training wheels, and any learning to ride stories you’re up for sharing in the comments below!

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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30 Tips for Going On a Road Trip with Kids (a parent’s survival guide)

posted in: Parenting | 5

30 Tips  for going on a road trip  with kids  a parent’s survival guideLast summer we took the boys on a multi-state road trip.  And we survived.  Surprisingly, we made good time too.  So, as we geared up to plan another road trip this summer, I thought I would share some tips with you, a road trip survival guide of sorts, for taking young kids on road trips.

This list is by no means all inclusive, but it should helpfully get you off to a good start.  And, I’ll mention, that this list is aimed more towards younger kids, but you could really adapt most of these items to older kids too.

1. Pack Lots of Snacks

We had a grocery bag full of various snacks, plus a soft-sided cooler. And don’t forget drinks too.  We intended to have most of our meals at restaurants along the way, but packed a variety of things “just in case” the kids were hungry and we needed to stop right away.

Some popular items? For protein, we brought hard boiled eggs, mixed nuts, cheese sticks, and beef jerky.  Crunchy treats included nori chips, kale chips, popcorn, and rice cakes.  We also brought along a variety of fruit – apples, bananas, raisins, and the like.  For emergency meals, we had a jar of peanut butter, canned tuna (with the pull top), avocados, and bread.  Snack bars were also a favorite.

2. Drive During Naptime

It’s like that rule for new moms, “when baby sleeps, you sleep” — but more productive.  When the kids are sleeping in their carseats, keep driving.  We drove through lunch one time, and on the way home, we pushed through and got within four hours of home so that our last day’s drive could be more leisurely.  It’s a lot easier to drive when they’re sleeping, even if you’re tired and need to get a caffeine fix in order to do so.

3. Pack a Little Potty (for emergencies)

If you have a kid who is potty training, you’ll probably already have this item on the list, but honestly, it’s a good idea to bring a little potty along for older kids too.  Depending on where you’re going, there may be long stretches between rest stops, or you might get stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, or the rest stop bathroom might be particularly gross.  Whatever the reason, a little potty may just be a lifesaver.

Plus, it’s better than what many of us grew up with — peeing roadside, or for boys, into an empty cup or water bottle.

4. Bring Wipes + Paper Towels

If a mess happens, you need to be able to clean it up.  Wipes can be used for potty stops, cleaning off sticky hands after a snack,… you name it.  Paper towels?  Well, if a drink gets spilled, you’ll be glad you brought a whole roll (or two) with you.  Plus, they’re more durable than napkins.

5. Let them Pack a Bag of Toys

Kids love to help pack (well, when they’re young enough, right?).  So why not put that excitement to good use and let them fill a (small) bag with some toys, books, or other items for the road trip?  It gives them a sense of ownership and a feeling of control.  They know they’ll have some familiar items with them even if the journey will be long and unknown.

6. Have a Bin of Surprise Activities

50+ Road Trip Games + Activities: Ideas to Keep Your Kids Entertained for the Long Haul - Betsy's Photography {}Whether you call them busy bags or not, having some “mystery” activities packed in the car will be helpful.  I packed a bin with some random toys, busy bags, coloring books, and the like for the kids the night before we left.  This was in addition to the toys they’d packed on their own.  When those toys got “boring” — I was able to selectively pull out an item or two from the surprise bin, which resulted in another (hopefully) 15-20 minutes of being entertained.

Check out my post –>  50+ Road Trip Games + Activities to Keep Your Kids Entertained

7. Give Your Kid a Map

At the time of our cross-country trip, Toby was only three, and not old enough to really read a map, but he still LOVED this idea.  We gave him the map, which had our trip highlighted, and he spent countless minutes, even hours, “reading the map” and telling us where to go.  Older kids could become involved with navigating and providing directions, which also can be exciting.

8. Have them Help Pack Clothes

I have always found that kids like choices.  And getting to choose which clothes come on the trip is no exception.  I told my toddler what kind of clothes I needed from his drawers, and had him bring them to me.  We may have had a little more than we needed, but ultimately it was okay, because part of taking a trip is learning how to pack.  Did it take a little longer?  Sure.  But we had no fights about clothes while on the trip — any issues were curtailed with “well, you chose what to bring.”

9. Show Them (Often) Where You’re Going

As we counted down the days to our trip, Toby and I spend time talking about where we were headed, how long it would take to get there, and the kind of things we would see on the way (mountains).  We talked about this for days.  And on the trip, too.  Interestingly, he never asked “are we there yet?”  — but “are we to the mountains yet?”

10. Pick a Travel Buddy

Sometimes it is tough for kids to sleep in a strange place.  Having a travel buddy (i.e. stuffed animal) from home can help.  Before leaving, Toby got to pick one or two stuffed animals that would get to travel with us.  And he had fun “taking care of them” on our trip, telling them where we were going, during the drive.  When we stopped for the night, those stuffed animals gave a sense of familiarity to a strange hotel room.

11. Bring a Familiar Pillow and Blanket

As with the travel buddy, these two items proved invaluable for overnight hotel room comfort.  Toby snuggled up in his Superman fleece blanket, with the homemade toddler-sized pillow he uses regularly, and felt somewhat at ease with the new environment.  Beyond that, the pillow and blanket got used during naptime in the car, or when the air conditioning got a little too cool for comfort.

12. Pack Slippers

Whether they help keep cold feet warm, or clean feet from getting dirty, your kids may prefer to have a go-to set of slippers rather than having to keep something on their feet (like shoes or socks).  Also, having slippers can help kids make the mental transition – “we’re here for the night.”

13. Find a Hotel with a Pool

After being cooped up in a car all day, being able to splash and swim in the hotel pool will do wonders for tiring out antsy kids and use up that extra energy.  Even if there’s only time for a short swim before bed, it is worth it.  One night we changed our hotel accommodations to a neighboring hotel because the original place only had an outdoor pool (that was closed down).  Being able to swim that night made my boys so excited.

14. No Pool? Have Bath Time

No pool?  Don’t feel like venturing out to the pool?  Just let the kids play in the bathtub.  While we enjoyed swimming in the pool I just mentioned, another night we were not so fortunate.  My toddler was placated by having time to splash in the bathtub after dinner.  It wasn’t quite the same, and we didn’t have any bath toys with us, but that didn’t matter too much.

15. Plan a Picnic in the Hotel

Sometimes, when you’ve been traveling all day, it’s good to just get some food and eat in the hotel room.  You can call it a “picnic” to get the kids more excited.  We did this on one occasion when I was concerned about the wait time in the hotel restaurant (and impending toddler breaking point).  No need to be quiet or sit still in the hotel room…. grab and go is ok!

16. Keep Your Normal Bedtime Routine

Keeping some semblance of normalcy will be so helpful for your kids.  For us, it was bringing along a selection of books so that Toby could pick three books to have read to him before bed.  You might not be able to do your whole bedtime routine, but I’m sure you can probably incorporate portions of it.

17. Bring a Stepstool and Toilet Seat Insert

There’s nothing worse than losing your sense of independence, especially amidst the stress of travel.  We brought a folding stepstool for the bathroom so that my toddler could reach the sink and use the toilet without help.  He learned how to put unfold and use the folding toilet seat too — which made things much more toddler-friendly in the hotel bathroom.  Since the seat folded down compactly, we were also able to use it during any rest stops while enroute.

18. Give Kids Their Own Water Bottle

Whether you give your kids their own child-sized or adult-sized water bottle is your choice, but be aware that the smaller it is, the less it will hold before you have to stop and refill it.  We gave my toddler an adult water bottle so that he wouldn’t run of of water as quickly.  It usually lasted most of the day.

19. Leave a Light on at Night

Sure, you can bring your own night light when you travel, but then you have to remember to take it with you when you leave.  And if you’re staying just one night at each hotel, that means lots of opportunities to forget it!  What we did is leave the hotel bathroom light on and crack the door open — it usually works pretty well.  Or, if you’re one to sleep with the TV on, you can use that glow as your night light, I suppose.

20. Eat a Good Breakfast

Especially when you’re traveling, it’s important to get a good breakfast.  Whether that means eating on the road, from your assorted snacks, or stopping at the breakfast buffet, make sure to take time to get some protein in the morning.  We brought hard boiled eggs and instant oatmeal along for “just in case” …because sometimes the hotel continental breakfast is limited to bagels, bread, and other items that a gluten-free person can’t enjoy.

21. Leave What You Can in the Car

Don’t bring everything into your hotel room.  Just the essentials.  If you’re going to be on the road early the next morning, there’s no sense in bringing EVERYTHING in.  We packed some bags with items that wouldn’t be needed until our end destination, and those never came in from the car during our road trip stops.

21. Have Them Help Load/Unload the Car

In the very least, give your kids a sense of ownership and let them help by loading and unloading some of their own things.  This wasn’t a requirement — some days, the boys were so exhausted that they wanted nothing to do with the loading or unloading.  But other days, Toby was full of energy and excited to help push the luggage out to the car.  Play it by ear, and ask if they want to help… if not, no big deal.

22. Let them “Explore” The Hotel

When you first arrive to your hotel, it can be fun to let your kids help you scout out the important things: hotel pool, ice + vending machines, where breakfast will be served, etc.  This doesn’t have to be a really involved activity, but it will give you all a chance to stretch your legs after sitting in the car all day.

23. Play “I Spy” Out the Hotel Room Window

No, I’m not talking about being a peeping Tom.  Look for any city sights, mountains, or other natural monuments that you know will be nearby.  Even if it’s dark, you can still enjoy looking at the night skyline. Depending on how close to the city you are, you’ll also be able to scan the night sky for airplanes or even constellations.

24. Limit Screen Time

I know there are exceptions to this rule, and sometimes you just need to prevent a meltdown.  But, I grew up with the mindset that you go on vacation to enjoy the trip.  So, we do our best to minimize screen time, since the road trip is part of the vacation.  There are many driving games you can play that require little prep work.  If all else fails? There’s no shame in offering screen time if you know it will prevent an imminent meltdown.

25. Expect Delays + Detours

With kids, there are no guarantees.  You have to be prepared for delays, for unexpected changes to your schedule.  Part of being a parent is about learning to live with that chaos.  So don’t expect your trip to run on a military schedule… it might not go according to plan.

26 . Create a Special Music CD

We made a music CD for the car ride, with tracks that the kids enjoyed, so that we wouldn’t have to be scanning for new radio stations as we went in and out of range.  It really helped having songs that were familiar!  You may want to figure out how to fade your car’s stereo to the rear in case the songs get a little repetitive for the adults in the front seat.  I know I got tired of the songs before my boys did.

27. Be Prepared for Temperature Differences

It’s always important to bring along a variety of clothes for different weather conditions.  But, beyond that, you’ll want to be prepared for temperature differences in your sleeping areas too.  The hotel rooms we stay in tend to be much warmer than our home.  It was really helpful to have a light blanket for the kids to sleep under instead of the huge down comforter or bed spread.

28. Avoid Restroom Power Struggles

We avoided (most) potty power struggles by informing my toddler, whenever exiting the car for a break, “you will be using the bathroom before getting back in the car.” It gives them a greater sense of control, and lets them know what to expect.  It also prevented a number of “I have to go” incidents that would have occurred right after getting on the road again.

29. Be Patient

Kids will be kids. And when they get excited, they don’t listen as well.  So, if you expect their excitement to alter their ability to listen, obey, sleep, etc…. you can remind yourself to be patient with them, you know they’re not being difficult intentionally.

30. Give Your Kid a Camera

Kids love to take pictures.  While I’m not sure my toddler’s pictures were anything to write home about (many of them were of the back of the car seat), having a camera “of his own” really made Toby proud.  He would pull out his camera to take pictures of the mountains, of the cows, or other things we saw that he found interesting.  And then, when we got to the hotel, we could pull them up on the laptop and look through the pictures that were taken that day.


Well, what do you think? Did I miss something?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.  Also, make sure to check out my related post, 50+ Road Trip Games + Activities to Keep Your Kids Entertained.

20 Questions About Mom (to Ask Your Toddler)

posted in: Parenting | 7

20 Questions About Mom (to Ask Your Toddler)I saw this list of “interview” questions to ask your kid …it was floating around on Facebook. You may have seen it too. Anyways, since I’m a sucker for things like this, I decided to see what Toby’s answers would be. It’s always fun to see what kids come up with… and my four year old is no exception.

I’ll be printing these out to put in his memory book — along with a similar set with questions about daddy (for Father’s Day …shhh!!)

1. What is something mom always says to you?
I love you

2. What makes mom happy?
*smiles and points at himself*

3. What makes mom sad?
I don’t know. Did I do something mean to you?

4. How does your mom make you laugh?
Tickle me

5. What was your mom like as a child?
That you smiled

6. How old is your mom?

7. How tall is your mom?
Real tall

8. What is her favorite thing to do?
Play with us

9. What does your mom do when you’re not around?
Work putting toys away

10. What is your mom really good at?
Playing soccer when you were my age

11. What is your mom not very good at?
Riding horses

12. What does your mom do for a job?
Work on the computer

13.What is your mom’s favorite food?
Pepper. Mama, pepper’s my favorite.

14.What makes you proud of your mom?
That you like to play with me

15. If your mom were a character, who would she be?

16. What do you and your mom do together?
We play together

17. How do you know your mom loves you?
You play with me

18. What does your mom like most about your dad?

19. Where is your mom’s favorite place to go?
Ash Auto

20. How old was your Mom when you were born?

The original “quiz” had three extra questions that I don’t think Toby really understood.  I excluded them above, because his answer for each of them was “I don’t know”

21. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for?
I don’t know

22. How are you and your mom the same?
I don’t know

23. How are you and your mom different?
I don’t know

Anyways, I think this would make a cute interview do do on a yearly basis, just to see how the answers develop and change.  As I mentioned, I’ll be putting these “interview questions” into Toby’s memory box for later.  We don’t save everything — I’ll be going over what memories we save and how we do so in a future post, so make sure to sign up for weekly email updates!

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

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Learn About Key (High Key + Low Key)

posted in: Learning | 1

Learn About Key - High Key + Low KeyToday we’re going to learn about key. Specifically, high key and low key, as they relate to photography (since this is part of my ABCs of Photography series). And yes, I couldn’t resist the play on words with a few of these photos, so I included some high key and low key photos of keys. It’s fallout from having grown up with a family that enjoyed puns.

Anyways, back to key. High key and low key are lighting ratios in photography (don’t worry, we’re not going to get technical here), and they have two very different looks. defines the two terms as follows…

High Key:

(of a photograph) having chiefly light tones, usually with little tonal contrast (distinguished from low-key).

Low Key:

1. of reduced intensity; restrained; understated. 

2. (of a photograph) having chiefly dark tones, usually with little tonal contrast (distinguished from high-key).

To simplify things to the max, high key images are very light, whereas low key images are very dark. A slightly more technical definition would go into the specific ranges of tonal values (remember our learning about grayscale activity?) and how the high key image is made up of mostly light tones, whereas the low key image is made up of mostly dark tones.

We won’t get more technical than that, but know that there are actually specific ratios, or proportions, that are supposed to be used when setting up lights.  But we’re keeping things simple.

So, let’s look at some high key and low key images.  I actually made a printable of these pictures too, so you can have something to print out and discuss with your kids.  The printable also has a few game ideas that you could use as an extension activity!  So, read on for now, and remember to get the printable when you get to the end of the post.

Learn About High Key

High key images are bright, white, and comprised of mostly light tones.  There will likely be some darker areas in the image, but the majority of the picture will be whites and lighter grays.  High key images can be black and white or color — it’s not so much about the hues in the image (remember when we learned about hue?), so much as how light or dark the colors are (remember we simplified this to black and white when we learned about grayscale).

Take a peek at the images below (used with permission from  I selected images that were obviously high key, very white, very not contrasty, not much in the way of dark tones.  Some of these have correlating low key images in the next section, you might find it interesting to compare the two! Click on any image to enlarge.

Learn About Low Key

Low key images, on the other hand, are mostly dark tones.  They may have some lighter accents or highlights, but overall things will be not very bright.  Again, images can be black and white or color, it’s not the hue so much as the darkness of the image.  AsI mentioned earlier, I gathered these images with the intent to compare and contrast them.  So we’ll do that in a minute.  Click on any image to enlarge.

High Key vs. Low Key

I won’t go through every image pair, but we might as well do one set, right?  So here are two images of laptop keyboards.  Keyboards are all pretty similar, right?  Nothing special about most… except sometimes you have your choice of color.  This first one is a white keyboard.  Which gives us which kind of image?

That’s right.  High key.

See how the image is mostly light tones – light grays and whites?  There isn’t much in the way of dark, save for the lettering on the keys.

Now for the next image.  It’s another laptop, but this time with black keys.  Which do you suppose this image is?

Yup, low key.

The tones in this photo are mostly dark.  If you look closely, you’ll notice that the lettering on the keys isn’t even white – they are grayish toned.  So there aren’t really any bright white tones in this image, even though we “know” that the lettering on these keys is “white.”

Okay, I’ll leave the rest of the compare and contrast activity to you.  You can use the images here on the post, or download the free printable that has all twelve of these images compiled onto two pages.  I’ve even included three game ideas (hint, they’re really easy, …remember my DIY photo memory game?).

Learn About Key Printable

Now the part you’ve (hopefully) been waiting for, right?  Here’s the printable.  It’s actually three pages long – one introduction page with the game ideas, and two pages of photos.  There are twelve images in total, and I did make sure to include equal numbers of high key and low key photos.


Download Learn About Key Printable (PDF)

Do you have any other fun ideas that we could use as extension activities for learning about high key and low key?  I’d love to hear from you 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 L. You might also enjoy revisiting our last activity where we learned about jaggies.

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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5 Reasons We Love the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum

posted in: Notes | 1

I have many fond memories of the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum as a child. My girl scout troop had a lock-in there (we got to sleep on the 4th level of exhibits!), we had numerous field trips… and now I get to take my boys to experience the museum as well!  This post has actually been months in the making… I kept pushing it back in the schedule and I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because there is so much to do and see, or because the Hands on Museum keeps changing and updating their exhibits.  Whatever the reason, no more excuses!

These pictures are from a year ago, so it’s a bit of a trip down memory lane.  Toby looks so little, it’s amazing to see just how much kids grow in a year’s time.  And of course, Zack hadn’t arrived yet either.  A lot changes in a year.

Anyways, the Hands On Museum.  I wanted to share 5 reasons why we love it.

1. The museum encourages curiosity about how things work.

This is a biggie for me.  Growing up, my favorite books were “The Way Things Work” and an illustrated first aid book.  I was always asking: “why?”  I wanted to know how the world worked.  And I see that same natural curiosity in my boys.  Toby asks why a lot — and I don’t want to dissuade him from being interested in how the world works… but I admit sometimes the constant “why?” question does get old.  So we’ve come up with a solution — he has to ask what we call “why questions” or sentences.  It can’t just be “why?” — but needs to be a complete thought.  So far, that approach has worked pretty well!

2. There is a toddler room with age appropriate activities.

Before this room existed (years ago), all of the exhibits were child friendly, but many were geared towards older kids.  And during the day, when the museum became filled with children, it could be tough for the little ones to explore amidst the big kids.  The toddler room gives little ones a place to play …without worrying about being bowled over by older children.  There’s even a baby zone, for extra little ones.  We have spent many hours in this one room; Toby loves the ball whatchamacallit that has a conveyor belt, ramps, drop zones, and of course buckets for collecting the balls.  Also popular?  The toddler water table.  Two parent-friendly features that I really appreciate are the fact there’s a family restroom right off the toddler room (so you don’t have to pack up and leave just for a potty break), and that there is always a staff person monitoring the toddler room (to keep kids from leaving with out their adult)

3. It is a great option for winter excursions.

During the long winter months, it’s tough to keep from going stir crazy inside the house.  Since the Hands On Museum is about 15 minutes away from us, we would frequently bundle up and venture to downtown Ann Arbor for a fun playdate — either with friends, or just on our own. If we got out of the house as planned, we’d usually arrive just when the museum was opening.  Perfect for us, as it wasn’t yet busy, and we could plan around naps and lunch.  Sometimes it’s just good to get out of the house.  And the Hands On Museum can be a great place to go.

4. Membership options can include guest passes.

As a birthday present one year, we got a family pass to the the Handsn Museum — one that included guest passes too.  It was really nice to be able to introduce other friends to the Hands On Museum and not feel bad about finding out if they had a pass before inviting them.  We like to take care of our friends, and for the small upgrade fee in our membership, this option was totally worth it.  Plus, grandparents can take the kids too!  I think there’s also a named caregiver option as well, but since i watch the boys during the daytime, that was never really of any concern for us personally.

5. Making memories here is nostalgic.

Most people who grew up in this area have been to the Hands On Museum themselves — and since it’s been around for so long, many local parents my age have fond memories of going to the Hands On Museum as children.  It is so much fun to see your own child get excited about the same things that you fondly remember from childhood.  The ambulance is a classic, as is the working cut-away toilet, and the skeleton pedaling the bicycle too.  There are many new things to explore at the Hands On Museum, but one thing is sure — your child will definitely have fond memories of this place once they are grown.

The Ann Arbor Hands On Museum has over 250 hands-on exhibits that cover a variety of topics:  science, technology, engineering, art, math.  The Museum is open daily, and if you’re worried about it being crowded, you can always call ahead to see if there are any school field trips scheduled to arrive that day.

Make a Toy Boat from a Greeting Card

posted in: Parenting | 43

Make a toy boat from a greeting cardWe have found a lot of ways to repurpose our extra greeting cards!  We’ve made boxes, used the front of a folded card as a postcard, and now turned cards into boats.  Here’s how we did it.

For the bottom of the boat, we made a box (see this post on making greeting card boxes).

Then I used the front of the card to design a mast and sail piece.  Take a peek at the pictures below, it shows you the shape I cut out.  I cut out the shape, and then folded along the lines to create the mast (the sails automatically “fell into place”).

That’s about it.  Pretty easy, in my book.  You could also cut individual pieces and tape or glue them to a pipe cleaner if you wanted to do so.  But the method I’ve explained here worked well for us.

Toby had lots of fun playing with his boat after we attached the mast and sails to the bottom (using scotch tape).

He did move the mast around several times, and I wouldn’t count on this craft being too durable… depending on how rough your child plays with the toy it might not last long.

But that’s the beauty of repurposed crafts like this toy boat. It doesn’t matter if it falls apart, or if it doesn’t last very long.  It was made from something that would’ve otherwise been thrown away.  It gave new life to an unneeded greeting card.  It was eco-friendly, and promotes creativity rather than consumerism.

Here are a few more pictures of the toy boat… yes, Toby used Little People from the Little People Christmas set #afflink.  We’ve gotten more use out of that Christmas nativity set; I love how it ends up being used throughout the year and doesn’t have to be put away once Christmas has come and gone.

Creative-Activities-for-Kids-Monthly-Blog-Hop-300x300Creative Eco-Friendly Activities for Kids

This post is part of the Creative Activities for Kids monthly blog hop.

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