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 Pixabay.com. 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 ...how 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 {BPhotoArt.com} (@betsy.bphotoart) on

Within minutes, Toby was totally confident:

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

A video posted by Betsy Finn {BPhotoArt.com} (@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 {BPhotoArt.com} (@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 Amazon.com 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).  Dictionary.com 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 {BPhotoArt.com}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 Dictionary.com 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. Dictionary.com 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 Pixabay.com).  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.

Growing a Garden – “The Gardener”

posted in: Learning | 29

Growing a Garden - Read + Play: starting seeds indoors for Earth Day!We’ve enjoyed having a vegetable garden the past few summers.  In fact, when the librarian read “Growing a Rainbow” the other day, I overheard my son arguing with another child. She said, “You can’t grow a rainbow!”

“Yes you can!” Toby exclaimed vehemently, “My mom and I grew a rainbow in our garden!”

That’s my boy.  So cute.

Anyways, that day, we checked out Sarah Stewart’s “The Gardener” (#afflink) …which is a Caldecott Honor Award book.  I loved the story, which was really brought to life with lovely illustrations by David Small.

If you want a synopsis, here you go:  Lydia Grace Finch goes to the city to stay with her uncle (presumably during the Depression, her dad lost his job). In her suitcase, she brings along seeds from her grandmother’s garden.  As the weeks progress, Lydia learns to bake bread in her uncle’s bakery, and grows plants everywhere — including a secret garden on the rooftop to surprise her uncle.  Ultimately, her dad gets a job and she goes back home, but not before becoming known as “the Gardener” by the city folk.

Here’s the cover of the book.  Again, I love the illustrations:
"The Gardener" by Sarah Stewart

So, when it came time to start our seeds for the vegetable garden, I knew this would be a fun post for the Earth Day Read and Play blog hop.  You can read about my plans for the garden this summer, which are quite ambitious.

But let’s not get sidetracked.

For this activity, we needed a few bags of seed starting dirt, some seed starting trays, a trowel, newspaper strips, and a seed pot maker #afflink.

Earlier, I had made plans for what we would be growing, and how many seeds would be needed.
Earlier, I had made plans for what we would be growing, and how many seeds would be needed.
We have a lot of vegetable seed packets, just like Lydia Grace
We have a lot of vegetable seed packets, just like Lydia Grace
He was very careful not to spill...
He was very careful not to spill…
I couldn't help but enjoy watching Toby work diligently.
I couldn’t help but enjoy watching Toby work diligently.
And smiling for the camera, of course.
And smiling for the camera, of course.
Here is a tray getting filled up with seed pots.
Here is a tray getting filled up with seed pots.
He worked hard for quite some time.
He worked hard for quite some time.
We went through both bags of dirt by the time it was all said and done.
We went through both bags of dirt by the time it was all said and done.
Toby filling up the newspaper cups with dirt.
Toby filling up the newspaper cups with dirt.
Here's the newspaper pot maker. It's awesome!
Here’s the newspaper pot maker. It’s awesome!

In case you’re wondering how the newspaper pots were formed, here’s a little photo tutorial (it uses the DIY seed pot maker #afflink).  Toby was able to make some of these on his own, but preferred to help me make them.  I will say that it was a great hands-on experience for him, even though he ultimately decided to have me make the pots so he could fill them with dirt.  The concept is really simple, so take a peek to see how the newspaper seed starting pots are formed!

You wrap a piece of newspaper around the pot maker, with about 1.5" overhang.
You wrap a piece of newspaper around the pot maker, with about 1.5″ overhang.
Here's the newspaper wrapped up.
Here’s the newspaper wrapped up.
Then you fold down the newspaper to form the bottom of the pot.
Then you fold down the newspaper to form the bottom of the pot.
And then you press the form together to crease the newspaper.
And then you press the form together to crease the newspaper.
Toby liked to make sure I twisted it back and forth each time.
Toby liked to make sure I twisted it back and forth each time.
Voila! Simply slide off the newspaper, which is now formed into a eco-friendly seed pot!
Voila! Simply slide off the newspaper, which is now formed into a eco-friendly seed pot!

And our next steps?

We’ll be watching the seeds sprout in our greenhouse over the next few days and weeks… and then the seedlings will get transplanted into our raised garden beds.  It really is a great extension activity that gets my toddler into the dirt and loving the nature around him.  Plus, it’s more fun to eat vegetables that you grow yourself!

Are you growing anything this year?  What’s your favorite plant to grow?  What summer vegetables would your dream garden have?  The only thing ours is missing is asparagus, because we don’t want to dedicate the space for a crop that takes 2+ years for a harvest.

earth-day-read-playEarth Day Read and Play Blog Hop

This post is part of a blog hop celebrating Earth Day!  Please check out the other posts below for some more fun book-based activities!  Book titles are in parentheses, linked to Amazon for your convenience (#afflinks used).

Make Your Own Fabric Play Fort Kit!

posted in: Notes | 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Potty Training – Advice from 10 Moms Who’ve Been There

posted in: Parenting | 32
Potty Training: Advice from 10 Moms Who've Been There
Photo from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

Ok, I have to admit. I’m not all that familiar with the “normal” methods of potty training. We went a little crunchy in this department — my boys started using the potty when they were less than a year old. I’ve asked some moms to share their thoughts on potty training and what worked for them, so you can get a well rounded perspective on the topic of potty training though.

Potty Training Products

Let me start by saying there are a ton of products out there. I haven’t tried them all… I just know what worked for us. So, that being said, I’ll share some potty training products that you might like before we get down to business:
Amazon #afflinks open in new window for your convenience.

In general, for kid potties, my preference is simple.  Simpler is better. Fewer loose parts, fewer things to clean (watch out for those crevices in “padded” models).

Now that you know what products worked for me…

Advice from moms who’ve been there, done that.

Let’s hear from some moms about the ins and outs of potty training and what worked for them! I’ll share my own personal experience at the end.

I waited until my boys were ready. We read lots of books about the topic and then let them decide when it was time. Then, bam they were potty trained. One was 3 1/2 and the other 2 1/2.


Growing Book by Book (read her post on 10 potty training books)

We started EC with my middle son at 6 months old and he did well with it and “potty trained” early at 18 months. My now 2 year old is totally different and we are following his lead on training. We cannot cloth diaper him due to skin sensitivities, so he is not as aware as my other two children were of when he is wet.


The Educators’ Spin on It

We just left them to their own devices, when they were fed up of nappies they both started using the toilet within a day. They both happened to be 3 too, although my eldest had only just turned 3 but my youngest was nearly 4 when he decided he wanted to use the toilet.


Raising Wild Ones

My son couldn’t grasp the concept that something was coming out of him. The brain and little boy part weren’t well connected, so we did some naked time to help him connect that the pee came out of him. After that, it took about a week or two (daytime, nighttime took years). Here is a potty training tips post that I have done.


Therapy Fun Zone (see her post on toddler age potty training tips)

I made it “my daughter’s business” and set up a little private corner for her potty, she was fully “toilet trained” by 20 months. (I also have a post on how I toilet learn older children in my care.)

Jennifer, Study At Home Mama

I talk to them and tell them what is going on with their bodies, up until now they have never had to actually think about peeing. I put underwear on them and wait. I usually let them pee in their underwear the first time so they recognize what is going on and then it usually clicks. Also… I sit them backwards on the toilet. For boys this is great because they have to sit when they poop anyway, and if they forget to hold down their penis then it sprays the back of the toilet and not the wall in front of them. And it’s easier to balance so they can relax when they have to go and not worry about falling in.


Socks & Shoes Not Required (read her tips and tricks for potty training boys)

I potty trained our twin girls over a long period of time. We first introduced the potty, and had them sit on it at 18 months old. They were actually doing alright with it, but life happened (car accident), and it got put on the back burner for a few months. Next time we tried the potty seat in the middle of the room,, and running around without any diapers on, and bribes (a single chocolate chip). One of my daughters though could literally squeeze out a drop of pee into the toilet every like 5-10 minutes… I think because she wanted the chocolate chip, and also because I think she was just lacking some control, so we stopped pushing her as hard, and worked mostly with my other daughter at that time. She did really well, had problem getting #2 in the potty, but once she did, she was pretty much potty trained, including overnight around 2.5 years old, though we still had accidents here and there. Her sister we waited several months, and tried again, and she did much better, and followed a similar pattern as her sister, but we kept her in a pull-up at night for a long time as she would frequently have night accidents. She was mostly trained by 3 years old, right before her baby brother was born. She continued to have infrequent night accidents past her 4th birthday, but finally stopped having any about 4 months ago (at about 4.5). My best advice for parents potty training is YOU HAVE TO BE DEDICATED! It’s really easy to throw in the towel that first day when they are doing awful. But, also know your kids.


What’s Up Fagans?

My oldest son basically potty trained my youngest! They are 22-months apart and we told my oldest that he would get a treat whenever his brother went potty IF (and only if) he helped encourage and praise him! He asked him every 5 minutes if he needed to go potty and then whooped and hollered when his brother was successful!


I Can Teach My Child!

Our son finally “got it” at Old Faithful at Yellowstone. He ran across the visitors’ center, screaming, “I pooped in the toilet!” It was epic.


Royal Little Lambs (read how her post, The Bubba Trained Me)

3 Day Potty Training Method…it only took him 2….worked great!


Dirt and Boogers (read her story about potty training boot camp)

My Experience Potty Training (so far)

And now let me share a little about my experience. We started off cloth diapering from the get-go … first with a diaper service, and then for our second child I manned up and did the whole cleaning thing myself. When my first was about 5 months old, I learned my grandmother (who had 4 kids under 4 in the 50s) started potty training as soon as her children could sit up. The concept intrigued me. That, coupled with observing a local mom help her infant use the potty (and stay dry)… piqued my curiosity. Out of diapers before 3 years old? Tell me more.

Today’s lingo for early pottying is either “elimination communication” or “infant potty training.” It’s not cruel, there is no forcing or punishment, it’s basically learning to recognize pre-verbal signals. It is how most of the world copes with baby elimination instead of extended diapering. In short, the concept is that babies are born with a desire to stay dry (anyone victim to getting peed on during a diaper change?). So while they are not able to verbalize their need to eliminate, it is possible to read their body language for cues (getting fussy, a particular cry, eventually signing “potty,” etc). I was dubious at first. It took me 3 months to work up some initiative to give this early pottying a try. But once we tried, my older son, then about 6 mos, caught on really quickly. It wasn’t a game of trying to get him on the potty perfectly, but a process where I could help him use the potty some (or a lot) of the time. It didn’t take long before I didn’t have to change soiled diapers anymore — just wet ones. And then little by little, we transitioned to baby underwear — without any power struggles… just his natural desire to stay dry. We were out of diapers before 2 years for sure, maybe even around 1 year, but I’d have to look through the baby book to tell for sure.

Now, a couple years later, we’re doing the same thing with my second son. When we got home from the hospital, my toddler actually told me his brother needed to use the potty… I thought, “sure… but I’ll indulge.” Yup, he did. Even though this kid is a solid sleeper, he has woken up dry in the morning from time to time (other times I don’t get there soon enough so we have a wet diaper to change). But once again, my son’s natural desire is to stay dry. So he fusses before he musses the diaper, and if at all possible, avoids soiled diapers.

While diaper changing doesn’t phase me, I have to admit it is nice, not having to clean up diaper blow outs or yucky bums. The pragmatist in me loves early pottying. I know it’s not for everyone, and there is a lot of misinformation out there about elimination communication (infant potty training). But in short, I have never forced my boys …it has always been about making things more comfortable for them. I know I wouldn’t want to sit in wet or soiled material, so it only seemed natural to change that diaper right away. And if I was going to be on top of things enough to change the diaper immediately, adapting to offering the potty wasn’t that big of a deal for me.

It may sound hard core, but for me, it was just practical. I’m a realist though, I know this method of potty training (if you want to call it that) doesn’t work for everyone. And I’ve never been one to judge. Different strokes for different folks.

What about you? I’d love to know what worked (or didn’t work) for you. Share in the comments below!

Learn about Grayscale (printable coloring page!)

posted in: Learning | 4

Learn About Grayscale - Activitiy Ideas + a free printable coloring page!For this week’s ABCs of Photography, we’re going to learn about grayscale.  Depending on who you ask, it’s also spelled gray-scale, or gray scale. But let’s not get into that, eh?

In a grayscale image, there are no color tones, so things that have color look black, white, or various shades of gray.  Dictionary.com defines grayscale as follows:

a scale of achromatic colors having several, usually ten, equal gradations ranging from white to black, used in television and photography.

Photographers often talk about grayscale in terms of the Zone System, which was an exposure/development tool to help translate tones of things in real life into tones that the film and paper could capture and display.  Here’s Dictionary.com’s definition of the Zone System:

a system for envisioning the values to appear in a black-and-white print and for determining exposure and development, based on a scale of shades ranging from 0 (black) to IX (white).

I won’t go into detailed explanation since you could take whole classes on the subject, but to sum things up, the Zone System is often used to make sure that the important parts of an image are properly exposed and developed so that they have the right amount of light/dark.

Grayscale Coloring Page

If you want to get a little more involved with learning about grayscale, I’ve created a grayscale coloring page that older kids (or parents?) may enjoy coloring.  It features a continuous gradient (black to white with every shade of gray between) as well as the Zone System’s eleven step tonal range from black to white.

Here’s what the coloring page looks like (see below).


Download Grayscale Coloring Page PDF / JPG

Notice I’ve included the complete tonal range of a continuous grayscale from black to white, as well as the simplified eleven step tonal range of the Zone System.

Grayscale Activity for Younger Kids

If your kids are a little young for the coloring activity, you could just print it out, talk about different tones of gray, and maybe have them color with a pencil pressing down hard to create dark gray and then pressing down lightly to create light gray.  Or, give them some crayons in varying shades of, say, green and help them arrange the tones from light to dark.

More Grayscale Activities

Once you’ve completed your grayscale drawings, you can call it quits, or continue on to real-world applications:

  • Go on a grayscale scavenger hunt.  Can you and your kids find images around your home that use only grayscale tones?
  • Examine a grayscale picture alongside your Zone System chart from the printable.  Which tones can you find in the image?
  • Print out a color photo using the grayscale feature on your printer.  Compare the two (color and grayscale), noting which colors come across lighter or darker.

I’m sure there are some more activities you could come up with to further learn about grayscale.  If you decide to do so, please report back with your findings!  I’m always interested to hear about fun new takes on a topic.

Make sure to check back next week for the next post, where I’ll share an activity for the letter H (histogram, hue?). You might also enjoy revisiting last week’s activity where we learned about flash.

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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Things In Our House Board Game

posted in: Learning | 12

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

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

Personalize Your Game

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

Some of my toddler’s favorite things?

  • popcorn
  • buttons
  • ball
  • teapot
  • piano

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

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

Other things you’ll need:

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

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

Game Rules

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

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

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

Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode.

Make Your Own!

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

Things in Our House Game (Free Printable)

Download Things in Our House Board Game Printable PDF / JPG

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

Read Across America – Read & Play Blog Hop

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


Irish Soda Bread (with Gluten-Free Adaptation!)

posted in: Learning | 2

bphotoart-irish-soda-bread-recipe-To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, we often bake Irish Soda Bread. This family recipe is one I grew up with, and I’m pleased to tell you my boys love it too.

When I take my Irish Soda Bread to potlucks or dinner parties, I’m usually asked for the recipe at least once (if not more than that). People love it. I’m not sure if it’s the crispy-crunchy exterior, or the soft dried fruit, but this Irish Soda Bread is definitely something you’ll want make again.

Plus, it’s really easy to make!

Some Irish Soda Bread recipes call for complicated processes or ingredients you probably don’t have on hand (ex: buttermilk? how many of you have that in your fridge? I know I don’t!).

This recipe uses the basics:

  • milk
  • flour
  • sugar
  • dried fruit
  • salt
  • baking soda
  • oil
  • lemon juice (to sour milk)

See what I mean when I say it uses kitchen staples?  I bet you have all this stuff in your kitchen too.

And shhh… don’t tell, but if I don’t have sour milk, lemon juice, or the time to let it sour naturally, I just use straight milk without a second thought.  Oh, and another variation that’s tasty?  Subbing out the milk for milk kefir!


Now, let’s get down to business. Toby likes to help make Irish Soda Bread almost as much as he likes to eat it. So, I’ll be sharing some pictures of what it looks like to bake with a toddler (who loves to measure and dump).  I love cooking in the kitchen (or, as is the case, baking in the kitchen) with little ones.  There are so many teachable moments, and the whole process is really a fun activity for kids who want to be “big helpers.”  Toby helped stir, read numbers on the measuring cups, measure and dump ingredients into the bowl, …you get the idea.  And, of course, what kitchen activity is complete without a taste tester?  Kids love to taste test things they’ve had a hand in making.

So here’s what we did (read the captions for each picture, or scroll to the end for the text recipe).  Click on any image to enter gallery view mode.

Irish Soda Bread Recipe


  • 4c. Flour
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. soda
  • 2/3 c. oil
  • 1 c. raisins/craisins
  • 1 c. sour milk


[to make sour milk, leave out all night or place 2 T. lemon juice in measuring cup, fill with milk, let clabber.]

Mix flour, sugar, salt, soda. Add raisins, then oil, then milk. Blend until forms a ball, shape into flat load. Brush with oil or milk. Bake at 350 F for 35-45 min.

Kitchen Tools:

None of these are required, but having the right tools for baking does make life easier.  While making our Irish Soda Bread, we tested out some kitchen utensils that I had received for review. I was pleased with how all three #afflinks: a Danish dough whisk (ingenious kitchen utensil, by the way, if you bake you’ll want to get one!), an oversized pizza cutter (I’m all for cutting flat breads and baked goods with a rotary knife), and silicone baking mats (non-stick, easy clean up, and eco-friendly. My kind of product).


Feel free to use my Amazon affiliate links below… and check out some of the other reviews if you want to get a more well-rounded idea of how these kitchen tools measure up.

  • BakeitFun Silicone Mat – use a silicone mat on your cookie sheet for easy clean-up and as an eco-friendly alternative to parchment paper. I love how versatile these mats are — you can use them for everything from baked goods to roasted vegetables… or even in the freezer!
  • Pizza Cutter – you’re probably familiar with a pizza cutter’s standard purpose, but did you know it works really well for scoring cracker dough, cutting flat breads like this recipe, or even brownies?  I kid you not.  This oversized 3.5″ pizza cutter is sharp and rolls smoothly 🙂
  • Danish Dough Whisk (mixing by hand) or Kitchen-Aid 6-Qt. Stand Mixer – With a more robust dough like in this recipe, you’ll probably want a stand mixer to blend things into submission (we love our Kitchen-Aid).  But if you’ve never tried a Danish dough whisk, you should give one a shot.  I was actually thrilled with how well it blended the ingredients — even though this Irish Soda Bread dough is kind of “tough” to stir by hand, with the dough whisk, it was much easier.  I doubt I’ll bother to get out the stand mixer next time, but intend to reach for the dough whisk — and that should tell you something.

A Bit of History

So, if you’re wondering the history behind Irish Soda Bread, it became popular during the potato famine, apparently.  I was inspired to share one of our favorite kitchen activities (baking Irish Soda Bread) thanks to Vicky at Mess for Less – she shared their version of Irish Soda bread (which is much fluffier!) along with an anecdote about how the cross on the bread was meant to ward off evil.  Things I did not know!

Update: Another Variation

I have successfully tried a few other variations of Irish Soda Bread.  Sometimes my substitutions are logical, like spelt flour for flour.  Other times, it’s more of a recipe re-invention.  And that’s what this one below is.  I was out of flour and oil (woah, crazy!), but had a box of gluten-free bisquick in the pantry…and we always have butter on hand.  Since I’d promised to bring Irish Soda Bread to a potluck, I decided to give things a shot, after googling “Bisquick Irish soda bread” and finding this Bisquick Irish soda bread recipe.  So here’s my adaption.

Gluten-Free Bisquick Irish Soda Bread


  • 2 c. gluten-free Bisquick
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 6 T. butter, melted
  • 2/3 c. sour milk
  • 2/3 c. dried cherries


  • Combine Bisquick and sugar in bowl.
  • Separately, combine butter and milk, then add to Bisquick mixture.
  • Add dried cherries, and mix well.
  • Press into flattened oval shape on silpat covered baking sheet.
  • Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.

I tasted the dough before putting it in the oven, and aside from the textural difference from gluten-free flour, it definitely had the characteristic Irish Soda Bread taste.  I’ll update this post (again) once I know how well the finished product goes over.

Note: I received one or more of the products mentioned in this post for free in exchange for an honest evaluation and review.  The opinions expressed are 100% my own.

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

Below you will find fabulous creative activities for kids– this month’s theme? Creative St. Patrick’s Day Activities for Kids.

Learn About Existing Light (Scavenger Hunt with Free Printable!)

posted in: Learning | 4

learn about existing light scavenger hunt (with free printable!)I decided to mix things up a little bit for our ABCs of Photography and depart from the logical choice for letter “E” — exposure. That gets a little more into the technical aspects of photography that I was envisioning for this series. So instead, we’ll learn about existing light (also known as ambient light or available light).

Dictionary.com defines these three terms as follows:

the light surrounding an environment or subject, esp. in regard to photography and other art work.

What is existing light? Well, it could be all natural light. But it could be artificial light too. When you take a picture, you are either using existing light or adding light (like a flash). If you don’t add any light to the scene, then you’re taking a picture using existing light. If you add light, whether it be a flash, a flashlight, or a glow stick, then it is no longer existing — it was contrived, planned, created by you — the photographer.

So what’s the activity for today? An “I Spy” game of sorts. Take a few minutes with your kids to search out different light sources you have in your home, outside, or even on the road. Light is everywhere.

What are some light sources you might find? Here are a few ideas:

  • sunlight
  • moonlight
  • car lights (interior or headlights)
  • standard household lights
  • light from a gas pilot flame
  • LED lights on electronics or DVR players
  • Christmas tree lights

As you might know, I like to hand Toby a camera and let him take snapshots of whatever he deems interesting. This could easily be turned into an “existing light scavenger hunt” much like our outdoor photo scavenger hunt, or our more relaxed nature photography activity.

These are some snapshots Toby took around the house using existing light.  The light from our kitchen light fixtures, the sunlight streaming in through the windows… it was already there.

Now, since I mentioned a scavenger hunt for existing light, I think it’s only fair to send you on your way with a free printable!  Here’s the scavenger hunt checklist:

Learn About Existing Light Scavenger Hunt Checklist

Download Existing Light Scavenger Hunt Checklist: PDF / JPG

I’d love to hear about the results of your existing light scavenger hunt!

Make sure to check back next week for the next post, where I’ll share an activity for the letter F (learn about flash). You might also enjoy revisiting last week’s activity where we learned about double exposure.

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

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

Nature Photography For Kids

posted in: Learning | 4

Nature Photography... for Kids!Getting kids excited about nature doesn’t have to take a lot of planning or prep work.  It’s as simple as heading outdoors.  Or, if the weather isn’t conducive to being outside, as simple as finding a window to observe nature!

Toby and I have had a lot of fun observing nature, and talking about the intricacies of the world in which we live.  I enjoy these moments, and the unplanned nature (haha, unintentional pun!) of our nature activities leaves the discussions open-ended and interest driven.

While Toby’s photography skills leave a “little” room for improvement (hey, come on, he’s still in preschool), I decided to share a sampling of the world from a child’s eyes.  The tiled series of images are all created by my son, without any direction or assistance from me.

Yes, I hand him a camera and tell him to have fun.

Are the pictures always in focus?

No.  Nope.  But does that matter?  He’s excited about photography.  He’s excited about nature.  He loves looking at the pictures he took.

And he’s finding nature everywhere — indoors, outdoors, …places we adults have forgotten to look for it.

This camera may be beaten and manhandled in the process, but it’s honestly really fun to scroll through the pictures on Toby’s memory card.

Just one note to the wise – you’ll save disk space if you reduce the image file size …kids take A LOT of pictures, as you might remember from my post where Toby took a plethora of selfies on my phone camera.

Trust me, these are just a sampling of the photos.  He took many selfies on his camera too.  Lots of pictures of our house, and his baby brother.  Some candid photos of the cats… need I continue?

But there are gems in there.  Reminders of what it’s like to experience life as a kid.  So I challenge you to let go, give up a little control, and see the world from your child’s perspective.  Giving them a camera is an opportunity to do this.

Here are the nature shots I found.  Some blurred abstractions, many focusing on the clouds.  Some from a civil war reenactment (his grandparents are reenactors).  Nature as seen from the car. Nature as seen from the house.

Nature photography doesn’t have to be created “off the beaten path.”  You can find nature wherever you are.


While these Instagram photos aren’t taken by Toby, I wanted to share some views of nature as we get to enjoy it on a regular basis.  This first one is the view from our family room — we get to see a glorious sunrise every morning.

One morning, Toby ran to wake me up, exclaiming, “look at the beautiful sunrise!”  What a precious moment.

#sunlight #sunrise #snow

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

And my toddler is fascinated with videos. He regularly asks me to take videos on my phone.  This one was of the snow falling.  There’s something gorgeous about snowflakes floating towards the ground — something we adults often miss in the hurry to be off to work and down the driveway.

Snow falling…. A video posted by Betsy Finn {BPhotoArt.com} (@betsy.bphotoart) on

And who can forget the joy of a snow day in their childhood?  I know Toby will enjoy his memories of getting outdoors, out in the snow.  Maybe he’ll remember the time he had me stomp through the 15″ deep snow drifts in my snowshoes to make giant hearts for Valentine’s Day (during which I lost my phone).  Or maybe he’ll cherish the independence of being allowed to “shovel” the driveway for me (before taking a break to climb snow mounds).

I’d love to hear ideas on how you help your kids learn to appreciate nature! Please share in the comments below!


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