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.

Jodie

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.

Amanda

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.

Charlotte

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.

Tanya

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.

Leah

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.

Katelyn

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!

Jenae

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.

Jennifer

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


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

Amanda

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).

bphotoart-grayscale-coloring-page-web

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

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

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!

dr-seuss-stories

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!

bphotoart-irish-soda-bread-recipe-2990

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

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

[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).

bphotoart-irish-soda-bread-recipe-3877

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

Ingredients:

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

Directions

  • 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.

bphotoart-toddler-camera-captures

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!

outdoor-play-challenge

Learn About Double Exposure

posted in: Learning | 2

Learn About Double Exposure in 5 minutes or less with this easy activity!Well, I was going to spend today’s post talking about digital, or depth of field, but then I thought of something more exciting – double exposure! So, let’s get the ball rolling and learn about double exposure for the letter “D” in my ABCs of Photography series.

Now, what’s a double exposure?  According to Dictionary.com, double exposure is:

1. the act of exposing the same film, frame, plate, etc., twice.

2. the picture resulting from such exposure.

So, in the film photography world, it’s the creation of a negative with two pictures overlaid on top of each other — the film was exposed to light more than once.  In your box of family snapshots from the film days, you might find a couple of pictures like this — usually due to failure to fully wind the manual film advance.

Another way to create a double exposure was to take two completely separate negatives and expose the film paper twice.  You’d achieve a similar look, but the effect was created in the darkroom instead of in the camera.

So, to sum things up, a double exposure is where you have two separate pictures, which are overlaid on top of each other.  And that’s what our craft is going to do today… overlay two separate images to create one new one!  But first, let me share a few double exposures so you can have a few visuals.

I can still remember the first double exposure I did with my in high school with my SLR camera (aww, I remember my Nikkormat fondly <3 ). It was probably also my first self-portrait created as a student of photography.   It was created by exposing the photo paper to light twice (once for each different image).

Double exposures are a fun way to experiment with abstract imagery, and many photography students create double exposures when they’re learning about exposure.

Ahh, the good old days of high school, with the darkroom and its red glow, the enlarger, the chemicals — the whole process took time.  And you got to experience the thrill of seeing a photograph materialize on the exposed paper right before your eyes.  Today’s high schools have gone digital, sadly, so there is a whole generation of photographers being raised up who have never known film.  Modern day double exposures can still be created in camera (you’ll even find some apps that create double exposures for you), or in the digital darkroom… also known as the computer.  Here are several I created a number of years ago, when I was taking undergraduate classes.

This double exposure was created digitally, using an image from an aquarium and a studio still life.
This double exposure was created digitally, using an image from an aquarium and a studio still life.
The digital darkroom makes it easier to merge multiple images in the style of a double exposure.  Here's a college assignment I created with numerous images layered on top of one another.
The digital darkroom makes it easier to merge multiple images in the style of a double exposure. Here’s a college assignment I created with numerous images layered on top of one another.
A double exposure featuring Arch Rock on Mackinac Island, Michigan, and a field of sunflowers in Northern Michigan.
A double exposure featuring Arch Rock on Mackinac Island, Michigan, and a field of sunflowers in Northern Michigan.

I’m sure you’ve gathered from my earlier posts in this ABCs of Photography series that I’m not going to examine these photography terms or techniques in minute detail.  There are plenty of resources on the web for that.  I’m more interested in sharing ideas to help kids (young or old!) understand and appreciate the art of photography.  …I always loved those books in our library that detailed exactly how things work.

Double Exposure Activity

This activity is really simple, and you probably have everything you need in your kitchen!  You’ll need:

  • parchment paper
  • scissors
  • markers (yes, we keep markers in the desk drawer of our kitchen)

Using your scissors, cut out two pieces of parchment paper and set them both out on the table.  I invited Toby to color on two pieces, and kept two pieces for myself.  Toby had fun coloring on the parchment paper with his markers (caveat, they may smudge and smear!).

Once my designs were done, Toby commandeered one of them (the car, big surprise), and then put his second piece of paper over top.  He enjoyed drawing “over” the car (an interesting take on double exposure, no?).

Anyways, the intended flow of this activity is as follows:

  1. make two separate drawings, one on each sheet of parchment…
  2. stack the parchment pieces together and admire your “double exposure” …
  3. (optional) tape both overlaid images to window for to show off what you learned!

Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode.


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.

I’m Glad You *GLOW* To School With Me Valentine (+Printable)

posted in: Notes | 3

I'm Glad You *GLOW* To School With Me - Printable Valentine to Give With Glow SticksThis year marks a milestone for us — Toby’s first Valentine’s Day at school.  As we’ve geared up for Valentine’s Day with our Valentine Blessings activity and by making Heart Cracker Crisps, Toby has gotten understandably excited.  One of his big concerns was “will I get Valentines from my friends too?”

Why yes, that’s the plan.  And as we’ve gotten closer to the “big day” (the preschool class Valentine’s Day party), it was finally time to figure out what we were doing about making those Valentines.  Toby wanted to make something for his friends.  He also wanted to give them glow sticks like we played with earlier this month.

Between those two desires and a few neat “non candy” Valentine ideas I saw on Pinterest, we came up with this Valentine.  Each kid will receive one or two glow sticks ready for use, along with a printout of this hand-drawn Valentine (toddler approved).

Toby was all smiles when I pointed it out: “see, glow and grow sound similar, isn’t that silly!”  Hopefully his classmates get the play on words… but if not, oh well!

Since I already went through the effort of making these for Toby to share with his class, I thought to myself, “why not share the love?”  All you’ll need to do after printing these out is attach your glow sticks.

If you need a source for getting some good quality glow sticks, here’s a pack of 100 glow stick bracelets #afflink on Amazon that we reviewed and were pleased with.

While you could do any number of creative things to pair the glow sticks with their Valentine, here are some ideas we had:

  • punch a hole in the valentine and thread it through the glow stick, curved into bracelet form (this would activate the glow stick though, so unless you’re making these last minute…)
  • punch two holes in the valentine and thread the straight glow stick through
  • punch a hole in the valentine and tie it onto the glow stick with a ribbon
  • use tape to stick the glow stick to the back side of the valentine

For any of these that aren’t put into bracelet form, I’d probably attach the bracelet connector piece to one end, as we did for our valentines.

So, after printing out our valentines (on pink paper, of course), I cut the paper lengthwise, and left the remaining cuts for Toby to do.  He got some good scissor skills practice in!

Next, we punched two holes in each valentine — one at the top (through the “O” in “GLOW”) and the other at the bottom, near the two stick figures.  {Yes, I customized Toby’s valentines with his name… per teacher instruction we excluded any “to: so and so” fields.}  Here’s a picture of our half-finished valentines.

bphotoart-glow-stick-school-valentine-2829

Toby couldn’t get enough of a grip on the hole punch to punch the holes on his own, so he got help on that step:

bphotoart-glow-stick-school-valentine-2823

And then we put the glow sticks through the two holes — make sure to bend/curve the paper and keep the glow stick straight, otherwise it will “crack” and activate the glowing goodness.

bphotoart-glow-stick-school-valentine-2827

bphotoart-glow-stick-school-valentine-2828

Cute, huh!  My husband thought it was clever.  Bonus points!

Anyways, if you’ve like to download a free printable to use these for your child’s Valentine’s Day exchange, I’ve put together a generic printable for you.  Here’s what it looks like (see below) — well, the printable is an 8-up version.  Just underneath the image are links to download the 8-up valentine printable.

bphotoart-glad-you-glow-school-valentine

Download valentine printable sheet: PDF / JPG

As I said, the printout you’ll be downloading is set up to print out eight per sheet of 8.5″x11″ paper.  Depending on your printer’s margins, you may need to scale it down a bit.

These were actually really fun to make, and I’m glad we came up with a fun (non-candy) valentine that my toddler was excited to give his classmates.

What kind of valentines do your kids give?  I’d love to get more ideas or hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Learn About Cameras: Make a Camera Obscura

posted in: Learning | 2

Learn About Cameras: Make a Camera ObscuraI’m really excited about our activity for the letter C in my ABCs of Photography series: camera obscura.  Yes, we’re going to make another cardboard camera today!  I promise it’s pretty simple.

Now, in case you’re thinking: “camera whatzit?”  Bear with me a minute.  The term camera obscura is from Latin, and means “dark room.”  Camera obscura is defined by Dictionary.com as follows:

a darkened boxlike device in which images of external objects, received through an aperture, as with a convex lens, are exhibited in their natural colors on a surface arranged to receive them: used for sketching, exhibition purposes, etc.

It’s basically a pinhole camera but without film… a pre-film camera or projector.  A giant eyeball, if you will.  The camera obscura demonstrates perfectly how a camera captures images and flips them upside down.  And you can make one without too much trouble!

Now, I thought about showing you how make a fancy camera obscura… but the fact is, many such tutorials already live on the web.

  • How To Convert Your Room Into a Giant Camera Obscura – this link is really neat, it talks about how you can make a room-sized camera obscura!  You’ll need a room, and a bunch of cardboard (enough to cover the windows).  Probably some tape too.  And this would work best in a room that faces north.
  • Creating effective camera obscuras – I have to tell you, this page has a lot of neat ideas for creating a variety of camera obscura models.
  • Create a Camera Obscura – This PDF by Getty walks you through how to make a camera obscura from a cardboard box.It’s a little more advanced than the method I’ll explain shortly, as it uses a lens to focus the image.

So I decided, once again, to keep things simple. Because simple is easier, and therefore better.  And, chances are better you’ll actually work up the energy to try this activity yourself if it’s not too complicated!

Making a Cardboard Camera Obscura

When a delivery arrived one morning in the “perfect” camera obscura box, I knew what we’d be doing for the letter C of my Photography ABCs series.  This activity is perfect for older kids to do on their own, but for younger ones, you’ll need to do most of the creating (or at least cutting).

I took the cardboard box, which conveniently came with a cardboard insert, and poked a small hole (about the size of a pea) in one end.  In the opposite end, I cut a viewing window (the size of a business card).  In case you’ve caught on, the measurements are all relative here — go with the flow and just approximate!  If you’re ambitious, you could even convert the simplified aperture camera we made into a camera obscura, that would have been crafty of me to demonstrate, huh?

Inside the box, using the cardboard insert, I created a window panel cut out.  To this piece, I taped a piece of parchment paper.  Now, to get a crisply focused image, you’ll have to experiment with the placement of this panel and how far away it is from the pinhole (er,… pea-size hole).

Here’s a diagram I made showing how to make the camera obscura:

Make a simple camera obscura, using materials you have around the house!

I have to admit, I did initially make a real pinhole opening, but found that it didn’t let enough light in for this to be practical.  So that’s why I revised my “pinhole” opening and made it more the size of a pea.

Here’s a bird’s eye view of how everything is put together:

Bird's eye view of the camera obscura

Then you’re all done. Close up the box, and peek in through the viewing window you made earlier.

After checking to make sure it worked, I handed the cardboard camera obscura over to Toby.  He was so excited to, once again, see a “picture” of the deck — this time inside the camera obscura.

Here are some photos of our cardboard camera obscura. Note that the box is open so you can see inside — you’ll have to close it and make sure it’s somewhat lightproof in order to see anything projected inside. Click on any image to enter gallery view mode.

How Does It Work?

So, onto the over-simplified explanation of how this all works.  The light enters through the small hole, which focuses the light in a way similar to how a magnifying glass (or a camera lens) focuses light.  We’ll cover how lenses work later on in this series, don’t worry!

The image is then projected onto the surface for viewing.

Bird's eye view of the camera obscura

If your kids are anything like mine, it will be worth mentioning that eyeballs work like this too.  Toby got a kick out of knowing that his eyes turn everything he sees upside down.

Well, that’s that!  I don’t want to drag this post on much longer, because you’re probably dying to go get started, right?  I have to say, for my toddler, being able to hold the camera obscura in his hands and “aim” it at different things was fantastic.  Toby loved “taking pictures” with the camera obscura and seeing life upside down.

Make sure to check back next week for the next post, where I’ll share an activity for the letter D – will it be Digital? or Depth of Field? Learn About Double Exposure 🙂 If you can’t wait to find out, feel free to distract yourself by revisiting last week’s activity where we learned about Bokeh.


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.

Coloring Rocks With Permanent Markers

posted in: Learning | 10

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

And that’s all!

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

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

Some activity extension ideas?

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

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


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

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

Heart Cracker Crisps

posted in: Notes | 1

Heart Cracker Crisps ...the easiest cracker recipe ever!l have to admit, when I made these crackers I was a bit sad I couldn’t try them (we’re doing the Whole30 this month).  But, my toddler loved the crackers, so they have to be good!

This recipe is so simple you will want to stock up on crackers.  It can be adapted for gluten free too.

So, what did we do?

Well, last month we hosted a number of parties, and we ended up with way too many burger buns.  I went ahead and made croutons with a dozen buns, but still had two dozen left.  What to do…

In my search for recipes to use up bread, I found several suggestions to make crackers.  And so I took that concept and winged it.

First we quartered the buns with a bread knife.  Then, we used a rolling pin to squish and flatten the quartered buns (psst.. lots of fun for toddlers!).  The flattened pieces were then put onto a few baking sheets and drizzled with olive oil.  After a generous sprinkling of salt, I placed the baking sheets in the oven to crisp up.

At this point, you could just eat them as is… but since we’d been reading about Valentine’s Day I decided to indulge my son’s enthusiam and make the crisps into hearts.

Doing so was pretty easy, since we used burger buns – once quartered they are lmost heart shaped.  With a paring knife, I trimmed off the corners of the bun’s outer edge, and then between those two corners I cut out a triangle.

Voila! A heart!

Toby was thrilled.  And he wanted to eat them right then and there.  Based on his enjoyment, I’d surmise that the cracker crisps are deliciously crunchy…

So here’s the recipe.  And make sure to check out the photos further down to see what we did (click any image to open in gallery view mode).

Heart Cracker Crisps Recipe

Ingredients:

  • burger buns, bread, etc
  • olive oil
  • sea salt

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 200 F
  • Quarter the buns, then press flat or flatten with rolling pin.
  • Place pieces on baking sheets, then drizzle with olive oil (you could spread butter over top instead). Sprinkle with sea salt (or try cinnamon sugar!).
  • Bake until crisp and golden, about 10-20 minutes,checking frequently.
  • Let cool.
  • To make heart shape crackers, cut off corners of rounded edge of cracker, then cut out a triangle between those two corners.

Note: You could adapt this to include cinnamon sugar on top for a sweet treat!  To make gluten free crisps, just use gluten free buns.

So yeah! Three ingredient cracker crisps!  Perfect for any time of the year, or maybe a less sweet alternative to all the Valentine’s Day candy… your choice.

Have you made anything like these before?  Or maybe you have a great recipe for using up leftover bread… share in the comments below!

 

More Creative Valentine’s Day Activities for Kids:

Creative Valentine's Day Activities for Kids

Learn About Aperture Using a Simplified DIY Model Camera

posted in: Learning | 2

Learn About Aperture Using a Simplified DIY Model Camera

I’m excited to be working through the alphabet with some fun activities to help kids learn about photography!  Today we’re talking about Aperture.  Make sure to check out my introduction to the series (The ABCs of Photography).

So, let’s get started!

What is Aperture?

The definition of aperture, from Dictionary.com:

Also called aperture stop. Optics. an opening, usually circular, that limits the quantity of light that can enter an optical instrument. 

To restate that, the aperture is how wide open the camera lens is — and affects how much light gets in.

Smaller apertures have tinier openings, and let in less light.  They allow pictures to have greater depth of field (e.g. when you look at the picture, everything, from the foreground to the background, is in focus).

Larger apertures have bigger openings, and let in more light.  They allow pictures to have blurry backgrounds (e.g. only subject is in focus).

On a real camera, there are f-stop numbers that tell you what aperture you’re using.  Like f2.8 or f22.  Those numbers mean that the opening is either 1/2.8 or 1/22 of the length of the lens.  The higher the number, the smaller the aperture (since that’s how fractions work, right?)

Now, on a real camera lens, the aperture is very complex.  There are moving parts, and everything is elegantly designed to be self contained.  I’m not going to teach you how to make one of those.  I’m going to help you make a simplified conceptual aperture.  One that is perfect for younger children to manipulate and use to understand the concept of aperture.

For some more resources on aperture, you might check out the links below:

These may be helpful for your older child if you want to go more in depth than I’ve done here.  But I just wanted to get you started.  To help you understand the concept of aperture — simplified as much as possible.  Hopefully I’ve done that!

Making a Model Aperture

If you have older kids, teens, or want to try your hand at making one of the more complex apertures, don’t worry.  While brainstorming how to create my simplified model camera, I did find some resources for making your own model aperture.  You can google “how to make an aperture” or something along those lines for more tutorials, but these ones seemed pretty straight foward (despite the complexity of the build):

Yes, those ones are more complicated. depending on the number of moving parts, they will take a long time to build.  That’s why I designed a simpler conceptual model to demonstrate the theory of aperture.

My Simplified Aperture Camera

It took me under an hour to make this model, including my mistakes and breaks for taking care of the baby.  So this might be doable in half an hour or less if you’re industrious.

Basically, my model camera lets you observe how much light can get in through different sized holes in a piece of cardboard.  Because that’s what an aperture does – it controls the amount of light let in through the lens.

Now, onto the construction process.  I’m not going to give you a printable template or anything, because we just made this camera from some shipping boxes we had on hand.  You could use whatever size you want.  Click on the photos below to enter gallery view mode, and make sure to read all the captions for more information about each of the steps.

Toby had lots of fun playing with his cardboard camera. He liked the moving parts, and being able to slide the different aperture cards in and out.  Without my prompting, he did notice that it was harder to see with aperture card that had the smallest opening.

An idea for even further simplification…

If you wanted to simplify this further, just get a cardboard box and start poking holes of different sizes in it.  Shine a flashlight through the different holes and have your child observe the amount of light that enters the box.

A is For Aperture
Photo from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

Well, that’s it!  I’m already looking forward to our next activity, which will be learning about Bokeh.


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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Valentine’s Day Blessing Activity

posted in: Learning | 4
Valentine Blessings - a book-based activity
Photo from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

I grew up loving the Berenstain Bears books, and it is so fun to see my son enjoy the adventures of the Bear family too.  What’s neat is that Mike Berenstain (Stan and Jan’s son) continued his parents’ legacy by continuing the series!  This book-based activity is inspired by one such book… The Berenstain Bears’ Valentine Blessings #afflink.

It’s a cute story about a valentine Brother Bear gets from his secret admirer, which distracts him from the upcoming hockey game.  The story line is simple, but there are some good lessons within.  Papa Bear tries to help Brother feel better about things by telling how Mama and he started dating… and ultimately Brother’s hockey game goes well, the secret admirer is revealed… you get the idea.

I love that the book comes with some built-in activity suggestions.  There are some talking points for parents to help kids get thinking about ways they can be a blessing to others.  Maybe by making a special valentine and sending it to someone, or by helping out in the community.

Valentine Blessing Activities

I love the phrase, “blessed to be a blessing.”  Part of the goodness of life is being able to pay it forward.  To care about others and empathize with them.  To bring joy into the lives of those who need it.

So, to kick things off, Toby and I talked about what things we do (or could do) to be a blessing to others.  Here are some things we came up with:

  1. Make and send cards to people
  2. Send artwork to people, or give it to patients at the local hospital.  (I love this idea, because the minimalist in me can’t allow all my son’s masterpieces to be saved for the memory box.  What a great alternative destination compared to the recycle bin!).
  3. Make meals for others (we make meals for new moms and the sick through our church… Toby likes to help with the prep and delivery).
  4. Give away things we don’t need or use anymore
  5. Leave a cup of pennies by the mechanical horse at the grocery store (it’s a penny per ride)
  6. Take cookies or other treats to school and leave them in the mailboxes
  7. Bake bread and drop it off on our neighbors’ doorstep
  8. Put out a snack for the mailman and the trash guys.
  9. Pick flowers and give them to people
  10. Call people just to say hello

I’m sure there are many more ways to help others, but these were just a few of the things we thought of.  I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!

Sending “Blessings” in the Mail

Now, before we get onto my craft activity idea, I have to confess.  I didn’t get my usual slew of photos taken to document our activity.  I’m going to blame it on the RSV virus that Zack has been dealing with… the past few days have been spent holding a sick baby boy so that he could feel a little less miserable.  I guess that’s a blessing though — we were able to find a position in which he could be comfortable.

So, I’ll share our activity, and then add photos to this post at a later time.  Now, back to business.

Around our home, we have a lot of stuff that ends up getting recycled.  And while that’s better than being tossed in the trash, I’d much rather repurpose things that can be reused in some way or another.  I’m all for form over function.  So, for this recycled Valentine craft, I gave my toddler a bunch of paper and had him cut it up, with scissors, to his heart’s content.  Once the “shredding” was finished, we started decorating.  I had Toby glue and tape the paper strips all over the front of a piece of red paper (since the majority of the paper Toby cut up was white).  After that, we had to let things dry.

Once the glue was dry, we folded the paper in half, so that the white was on the outside.  Then I cut out a heart window in the paper, so it would make a window on the front of the card.  If your child is old enough to cut out the heart, go for it (my son’s scissor skills aren’t quite refined enough yet).

You’ll now have a nice window to the inside of the card, providing a nice color contrast.  Feel free to glue the heart you cut out onto the inside of the card somewhere.

I invited Toby to decorate the card himself, so he could write or draw whatever message he desired. If you want, you can write something cutesy inside.

Toby proceeded to decorate some additional pieces of paper… he wanted to mail more cards to people, to make them happy. Made my heart melt!

Valentine’s Day Read and Play – Along with me, more than 20 bloggers are participating in a Valentine themed read and play!  Make sure to check out the other fun book-based Valentine’s activities…. enjoy!

 

Race Car Math

posted in: Learning | 1

Toby has been enthralled with race cars lately.  It may be partly because he got a number of them as gifts.   Whatever the reason, I thought we could take advantage of his enthusiasm and work on his math skills.  Especially since he was having difficulty differentiating between pairs and single items when counting the number of matches in our photo memory game.

So, I told Toby to gather up some race cars so we could do an activity. He was thrilled.

There was no set lesson plan, but I knew I wanted to work on addition and subtraction with the cars as a visual.  So I’ll tekk you what we ended up doing, and then share some pictures to show you what our race car math activity actually looked like.

Race Car Math
We used race cars for a visual aid with simple addition and subtraction.

Race Car Math Activities

So, what did we do? A lot of things! These mini activities were spur of the moment, prompted by the questions Toby asked, as well as the opportunities that I saw arise.

  • We Weighed Race Cars – Toby practiced reading and writing numbers.  We spent quite a bit of time talking about which cars were heavier and might therefore go faster.
  • We Grouped Race Cars – Next, we made piles and groups of cars so that we could examine which piles were bigger.  We made three piles and used words to describe them (big, bigger, biggest …small, smaller, smallest).  Toby also counted the cars in each group so we could learn which numbers were highest and lowest.
  • We Added and Subtracted Race Cars – To familiarize Toby with the concepts of addition and subtraction, I changed up the number of cars in the pile; we recounted and he discovered the difference.  He had fun with this!
  • We Paired Race Cars – As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to reinforce how to count pairs.  So, we spent time pairing up cars and then counting both the number of pairs …and the total number of cars.
  • We Raced Cars Down Ramps – Finally, it was time to see which of those cars were actually the fastest.  We raced the race cars on a small ramp, then on a big ramp.  Toby had the most fun with this activity. We experimented with different angled slopes, and at what point the cars couldn’t actually roll down the ramp.

Race Cars + Math = Fun!

I love turning everyday play into teachable moments like these.  It doesn’t take any prep work or planning.  Now, take a peek at the images below to see what our race car math morning looked like!

Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode.

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

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

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

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

Balloons! 10 Easy Indoor Activity Ideas

posted in: Parenting | 15

Balloons! 10 Easy Indoor Activity IdeasWith the chill of winter in full swing, we’ve been getting a little antsy.  The single digit weather requires indoor entertainment.  And on that front, balloons have delivered.  I’m going to share 10 easy indoor activity ideas with balloons.

I’ll add the obligatory notice about not letting balloons get into the hands of babies or younger children who could suffocate on the plastic, and then let’s get on with business!

So, here are our 10 ways to play with balloons inside… toddler approved, but fun for any age, of course (If you don’t have balloons on hand, you can buy balloons online #afflink).

Balloon Paddle Ball

This balloon activity was a favorite, and Toby invented it all by himself.  He found a long cardboard tube (leftover from our Christmas wrapping paper) and asked me to tie his balloon to the tube.  I used a piece of string about three feet long — and attached it to the tube by poking a hole and then tying one end of the yarn to the tube.  The other end of the yarn I then tied to the balloon.

Toby had a blast hitting the balloon with the cardboard tube, and watching it bounce up and away from him.  He tried gently bouncing it up in the air, then swung speedily at it (like a ball player).

At the end of this post, I’ve shared a few more pictures of our balloon paddle ball, both in action, and a detail shot to let you see how it’s constructed.

Keep it Up!

A classic balloon game, probably with many names.  You can play this with one or more individuals, and it’s a cooperative activity.  The goal?  Keep the balloon up in the air, and don’t let it touch the ground!

Sticky Static

One day Toby was bouncing the balloon around on his own… when all of a sudden he got upset.  Apparently the balloon was stuck to the ceiling …giving us an opportunity to learn about static electricity.  After his balloon was rescued, Toby had fun seeing what his balloon would stick to around the house.

Balloon on a String

Toby has, on multiple occasions, asked me to tie a string on his balloon so that he can kick or hit it — without having it run away from him.  Sometimes he will secure the other end of the string to his desk, a chair, or his shopping cart.  This lets him focus on playing with the balloon, while restricting where it can go.  Smart kid!  In this form, the balloon was also “walked” around the house on its string leash.  Wonder what kind of pet it was…

Indoor Kick

I don’t know about all kids, but my son has a strong kick — we’ve had to relegate ball kicking to outside at this point.  But, kicking a balloon?  That’s a different matter.  No matter how hard Toby kicks the balloon, it will only float delightfully through the air.  This activity will keep him entertained for a good half hour.

Hide the Balloon

Hide and seek is fun, but so too is hiding the balloon!  Toby enjoys finding places for his balloon to be hidden, and then asking for my “help” to find it.

Balloon Sounds

My toddler is into music, so we will often talk about the different sounds that objects make.  Balloons are no exception.  Toby has enjoyed tapping and flicking balloons to see the different sounds they make.  If you have a balloon that hasn’t been tied shut, you can also experiment with those fun squealing sounds made by escaping air.

Balloon Rockets + Cars

I’m sure most of us have made balloon rockets in some form or another.  Erica at What Do We Do All Day made a balloon rocket race — attached to a string race track.  But if you don’t mind chasing the deflating balloon all over, you could just blow one up and then let it fly.  Along the same lines, you can make a balloon-powered race car.  Almost Unschoolers shows you how to build balloon powered cars from toilet paper tubes.  Toby would love this activity, I’m sure.

Passage of Time

As time passes, your balloon will start to shrivel and shrink.  This is normal balloon behavior, but kids aren’t always familiar with balloon “life cycles.”  It has been fun for Toby to watch his balloons age… and compare the new ones to the old ones (we acquire a new balloon every week at swim lessons).  You could even make balloon “prints” with paint and balloons of different ages to see the textures transferred to paper.  Also, eventually, your balloon will pop.  Maybe it collides with a sharp object, or maybe it meets an untimely end at the claws of an interested feline.  However it happens, this gives opportunity to talk about the impact balloons and other plastic can have on the environment.  Birds think the plastic is food, and can’t digest it… and the like.

Balloon Basketball

My toddler commandeered our cat play tunnel #afflink… it’s about 1′ x 3′ in size. When turned on end, it makes a great basketball net.  I suppose you could use a trash can or laundry basket if those are easier to procure around your house than mine.  Anyway, Toby used this tunnel as a goal, or basket to shoot his balloon into.  He had a friend over and they spent quite some time playing balloon basketball inthe playroom.  I love that this idea doesn’t require much space (balloons can’t be thrown as far as a real ball).

It’s always interesting to see what games and activities kids will come up with when left to their own devices, huh?  Hopefully these ballon activities will be well received by your housebound kids too!

And now for the photos of our balloon paddle ball, as promised.  Click on any image to open in gallery view mode.

Have more ideas?

If you have more ideas about indoor activities that use balloons, I’d love to hear them. Share in the comments below!


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

Make sure to visit the other blogs below for some fun indoor activities that you can do when the weather’s not conducive to playing outside!

Quick + Easy Photo Memory Game

posted in: Learning | 12

Quick + Easy Photo Memory GameAnother quick and easy indoor activity, this photo memory game is sure to be a hit. Assuming you can find pictures on your computer, you’ll be able to make your own memory game with the pictures on your hard drive. If you want to involve your child in the image selection process, by all means! Or, you could pick and print the photos ahead of time, to make life easier on you. That’s what I did this time, since Toby frequently tries to hijack my keyboard or mouse if I sit down with him to do something at the computer.

So, all you need to do is find some photos.  What kind of photos?  Here are some ideas:

  1. phone snapshots – these will be good enough, quality-wise, for the size we’ll be printing.  Copy them from your phone when tethered, email them to yourself, or transfer them by some other method.
  2. family snapshots – go through your old photo archives and scan or photocopy those old snapshots.  Hey, you could even take a picture of it with your phone.  (let me include my obligatory “don’t infringe anyone’s copyright” message here).
  3. your child’s artwork – I’ve been taking photos of Toby’s artwork when it comes in the door, so I have a lot of it on my computer already. I think it’d be fun to do a “match the artwork” game.
  4. public domain images – you can find a plethora of public domain images online.  Many are old photographs, so this would be fun for kids to talk and learn while playing.
  5. words – for kids who are learning sight words, you could have them pair words.  Or use their weekly spelling words in the game… the possibilities are endless.  I know there are some sites that have free photos with words in them.

For this particular game, I chose nine pictures from my cell phone’s repository. Using the “print” feature on my PC, I printed out the pictures, in wallet size — twice.

This dialog can be accessed by right-clicking on the selected images you want to print; select “Print” from the drop down menu (circled in screenshot below).

bphotoart-photo-memory-game-print

Here you can see the print dialog — this machine is running Windows 7.  I’m sure it looks different in the current edition, but al least the screenshot will give you an idea of how easy it was for me to set this up.  bphotoart-photo-memory-game

 

Notice the screenshot says “copies of each picture: 1”  — I printed the sheet of 9 images out twice, giving us eighteen cards total for the memory game.  I figured that was enough for now.

Now, you can just print on plain paper, or, if you want to get fancy, you can do one of two things:

  • Laminate it!  Print your pictures out, adhere wrapping or scrapbook paper to the back side, and then cut out and laminate each photo card.  You can get a nice thermal laminator #afflink online.
  • Print double-sided on Cardstock!  On one side of the cardstock paper, print a pattern or design for the back side off the cards.  On the other, print the wallet-sized photos. Then cut out and get playing. Here’s a link to some cardstock paper #afflink you can buy online.

And then cutting out the cards can be done with a paper cutter,  rotary trimmer, or even a pair of scissors.  whatever is easiest, whatever you have on hand.

We ended up playing memory as our “calm-down” activity before bed.  Toby was really excited to see the pictures, and specifically wanted to find the one of him at the baseball game (where Torii Hunter, then on the Detroit Tigers, threw him a ball).

We had a very excited toddler at the end of the ballgame…

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

So anyways, Toby loved the homemade memory game because it had photos of him and his family. He talked about the pictures while we played, which was fun for me. I can see this being a fun “looking back” game to play at family gatherings, reunions, or even low-key anniversaries. Not just for kids!

I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story. Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode.


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

Make sure to visit the other blogs below for some fun indoor activities that you can do when the weather’s not conducive to playing outside!

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