Making a Popcorn Garland – 5 eco-friendly tree trimming ideas

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Making a Popcorn Garland: 5 eco-friendly tree trimming ideasWhen it comes to decorating our Christmas tree, I’m all for making it simple and easy these days. I grew up with a show-stopping, light laden tree, trimmed to all get out. Sometimes it would take my dad a week to put all the lights on — when finished, every single branch would be individually wrapped in strands of Christmas tree lights. And the ornaments would follow suit. Sometimes the tree was almost blinding! Very pretty, but a lot of work.

So for our own tree, we’ve gravitated towards simplicity. Each year, we’ve done fewer and fewer strands of lights, until this year we found the perfect number – two. Two strands of lights… no double digits. No hours spent working with lights. Just a simple spiral around the interior of the tree’s branches. Add a home-strung popcorn garland, and then it was time for the ornaments. We went simple on the ornaments, putting up less than one of our two boxes. Toby was so excited to help hang ornaments this year; I had a box of non-breakable ornaments for him to work from while we hung the breakable ones higher up. He was thrilled. Our tree may be a little unevenly laden with decorations, but that’s part of its charm.

I’ll talk about my five eco-friendly tree trimming tips in a minute, but first let me share our popcorn garland experience. As we did when making popcorn bars, we used the Stir Crazy Popcorn Popper #afflink — but didn’t add any butter, of course. No one wants a greasy popcorn garland.  The popcorn was made, then spread on cookie sheets to cool.  We then got out some lengths of thread and needles… and started stringing popcorn.

Initially, I’d planned to do the traditional cranberry popcorn garland for outdoors, but then I thought, why not string the popcorn only, and put it on the Christmas tree?  We’ll still put the garland outdoors, after Christmas day has come and gone… when the tree goes outside.  So the birds will still be getting a feast.  But this way we can enjoy the results of our hard work too.

Toby was very diligent about doing this project, even though it was probably a little “old” for him.  He poked his finger with the needle a few times, but not enough to draw blood.  He threaded most of a 3 foot strand himself, while I made a 15 foot strand with Steven’s help.  Note to the wise — you can make a few shorter strands, line them up on the tree, and it will look like one continuous popcorn garland.  No need to make extra work by dealing with an extra-long tangled thread.

Click on any image to enter gallery view mode.

Now that you’ve seen our project… I’ll share the finished tree pictures with you.  But first, those 5 eco-friendly tree trimming tips.

  1. Make a popcorn garland to trim the tree.
  2. Reuse old ornaments.
  3. Cut down on the number of light strands.
  4. Get an on/off switch for your tree lights so you can save energy more easily. They even have switches that look like ornaments #afflink
  5. Let your tree do double duty by putting it out in the backyard for the wildlife after Christmas

I know these aren’t mind blowing tips, but they are pretty simple — and easy to do.  And the easier something is, the more likely you can incorporate it into your routine.

And now for a sampling of our Christmas decorations. Click on any image to enter gallery view mode.

 

What about you?  How do you trim your tree?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

365 Days of Light Play Challenge for 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be sure to visit my fabulous co-hosts:

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

365 Day Light Play Challenge

 

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

There are hundreds of examples on the board linked below.

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

Teaching Kids to Use Words …Not Actions

posted in: Parenting | 2

I’ve heard it said that kids express their feelings through actions.  Actions are their words when they don’t know how to express themselves.  It seems like every child goes through a stage of using their body to communicate rather than their words.  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, or fun, for parents!

Teaching Kids to Use Words... Not Actions.  Ideas for helping kids communicate verbally instead of physically.Some examples?

  • baby is crying — it hurts toddler’s ears.  Toddler hits baby because baby is “being mean.”
  • cat steals toddler’s toys — toddler is upset and swats at cat to grab the toy back.
  • mom is busy on phone — toddler wants attention, hits or pushes mom.
  • toddler gets pushed by another toddler — both are upset, and start hitting.
  • toddler doesn’t like that an older kid is doing something “wrong” — goes to hit bigger kid for “not listening.”

So, how can we teach kids to use their words instead of getting physical?  Is it really that simple?

Sometimes it’s not.

Kids hit and become physical for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes it’s due to sensory overload, and an inability to process things because of the environment around them.  Other times, strong emotions can dominate their mind, and it’s tough to not act in the moment.

Physical communication can also be a cry for attention.  An attempt to communicate feelings of sadness, rejection, loneliness.  Other times, it may be a planned way to get attention.

Because sometimes, any attention is better than no attention.  But that doesn’t solve our problem, does it?  As we grapple with understanding the “why” behind physical communication, it’s not like we can put our response, our discipline and correction, on hold.  Toddlers who communicate physically need to be redirected.  They need help verbalizing their feelings, and learning that there are other, more appropriate ways to respond to something that frustrates them or makes them feel bad.

When a child reacts physically, it can be tempting for a parent to respond forcefully and angrily.  Especially if the action seems to be done out of malice.  But sometimes it does more good to understand the root of the problem.  Sometimes it helps to say, “come here, let me hold you while we talk this through.”  Or, maybe suggest: “if you need my attention, a better way to get it would be to use your words.”

When my son uses his body to communicate instead of his words, I do my best to talk things through with him.  If another child, or an animal, is being hurt, a stern initial reaction may be necessary.  But then, it’s time to focus in on the motivation, the trigger for the outburst.

Instead of honing in on how it is mean to do ______, perhaps the better approach is to ask, “what were you feeling when you did ______?”  If the child evades giving an answer, perhaps the emotion is not describable.  Maybe suggesting emotions could help.  “Are you sad, angry, lonely, upset, hurt….”  It’s amazing how helpful it can be to give words to a child so that their emotions can be communicated.

Once the emotional motivation is understood, then alternate actions can be taught.  “Instead of hitting back, next time use your words to say, ‘please stop.’  Or walk away.  Or find an adult.”  If a child is really in need of a physical outlet, then perhaps it would be good to provide an example of when such physical behavior is appropriate.  “We don’t hit people.  We hit balls with bats, we hit nails with hammers.”

Consistent reinforcement of what is inappropriate physically, as well as what an appropriate response might be, …well, it may take time for you to see results.  But don’t just focus in on the negative behavior.  Make sure to reinforce the positive communication, both verbal and physical.  “I see you are being so sweet to your baby sister, thank you for making her giggle, and for hugging her gently.”

But sometimes, kids get physical for a simpler reason. They have too much energy pent up — and need to blow off some steam.  Maybe a daily rough-housing session with mom or dad could use up some of that energy.  Or a fun time spent outside running after a soccer ball.  By finding appropriate ways to “get physical,” kids often become more self-controlled in situations where physical communication isn’t warranted.

What advice, ideas, or tips do you have for helping kids deal with their emotions and learn to communicate with their words?

Custom Picture Puzzle

posted in: Notes | 17

Custom Picture Puzzle - BPhotoArt.comaMy son is a puzzle fiend.  He delights in putting together puzzles, and has gotten pretty good at it.  We’ve long since moved on from the basic wooden puzzles… and regularly tackle puzzles with 20+ pieces.

But this custom picture puzzle has become one of his new favorites.  And that’s because the subjects of the puzzle are near and dear to us.  Let’s just say, when I got the opportunity to review a custom picture puzzle, I was pretty sure it would go over well.

After ordering the puzzle, we had to wait for it to arrive by mail.  The day it came, I handed it to Toby, who had an afternoon playdate with one of his grandmas.  He was so excited when he saw the picture of him with his daddy and brother on the box lid.  I opened the box and explained it was a puzzle of them — and Toby was rearing to go.

Toby delightedly chattered about finding “Daddy’s eye” …”Zack’s face”… and the like.  As the puzzle pieces were put into place, he was visibly beaming from ear to ear.

I will say, after ordering this, I was slightly concerned that some of the pieces might be difficult, given the restricted color scheme of the picture I chose to turn into the puzzle.  But, my toddler was not to be underestimated, and there were no problems whatsoever.

Quality-wise, the custom picture puzzle was nice.  We received the cardboard version, but there was an option to upgrade to a wooden puzzle too.  When ordering, you can alter the puzzle difficulty level by determining how many pieces it should be.  I should note that the photo on the front was not as true to color, photographically speaking, as the image on the puzzle pieces themselves.

To learn more, visit Piczzle Picture Puzzle (Piczzle on Facebook or Piczzle on YouTube).

Raising Kids Who Love Music

posted in: Parenting | 6

bphotoart-tips-raising-kids-love-musicI grew up surrounded by music.  My mother was (and is) a professional flutist, my father has played the French horn regularly since he was a boy.  Love of music runs deep.  My paternal grandmother was an organist; in first grade I convinced her to give me piano lessons.  I continued piano through my school years, and still play occasionally today on the upright piano I inherited from my grandparents.  I also played flute, then switched to oboe so I could be “different” than my mom.  Needless to say, Toby has a keen interest in music.  He loves to sit at my piano with “his” music book and play the keys.  We have a variety of musical instruments for toddlers that make a joyful noise throughout house on some days.  And then there are the tunes we listen to regularly.

We have a special car ride CD, one that Toby calls his “special songs” (Songs for Saplings tunes). And then there are the typical nursery rhymes and childhood songs that every child loves.  More recently, I had the pleasure of singing “99 bottles of [beer, er…] milk on the wall” to my boys to keep them calm while driving.  Music is a part of our lives.   And with the digital era, I’m ashamed to say we don’t really even have a CD player anymore.  Ok, that’s not true. Our computers have CD-rom drives.  And we have a stereo system gathering dust somewhere.  But smartphones are just easier.  Load the mp3s onto the SD card, and you’re good to go.  Or if you prefer, you can play streaming music.  Either option is so much easier than CDs.

What tips do I have for raising kids who love music?  Well, I can only speak from my own experience, but here are three thoughts on music from my childhood:

  • Incorporate music into your everyday tasks — my grandmother would whistle while she worked.  I loved to listen to her, and now do this myself (though sometimes I hum).  I will sing while doing dishes and other chores around the house — it takes my mind off the drudgery and helps me to focus.  I’ve noticed my toddler does the same; sometimes I will hear him singing to himself as he plays.
  • Sing their own song to them — my mother made up special songs for me as a child, songs which I can still sing today.  I treasure those memories of my childhood, lying in bed with the lights out, listening while she would sing.  I carried this tradition on with my own boys, and have composed my own song for them.  It’s not written down anywhere, so I should probably write it down at some point, but my toddler knows it and it is a familiar song he loves.
  • Regular music lessons build character — yes, most people have either good or terrible memories of their music lessons.  But more often than not, I hear the regret “I wish my parents had made me stick with it.”  I don’t really ever hear the other regret.  I had times when I wasn’t thankful about lessons, but overall, I’m glad I stuck with it.  Lessons teach the concept of “practice makes perfect,” stick-to-it-ness, and some other desirable character traits.

Here are some resources for you that relate to music.  As usual, all links will open in a new window for your convenience.

Do you have any family traditions when it comes to music?  Or maybe some fun activities that you love to do with your kids?  I’m always interested to hear how other parents are doing things.  Share in the comments below!

Teaching Empathy Through Happy Heart Kid Crafts

posted in: Parenting | 6

I’ve been loving activities that cultivate empathy, compassion, and understanding.  Last year around the holidays, Toby chose toys to give to “sad kids” (compassion).  Last month, we explored the concept of diversity with a book and rainbow popsicle activity.  And most recently, we got to try out the Empathy box from Happy Heart Kid.

The kit contained a number of different crafts and activities:

  • Flowers (to give to others)
  • Empathy Placard
  • “Feeling” Faces
  • Coloring Book

I handed Toby the unopened box and let him have at it (while documenting in pictures, of course).  He was excited to unpack the box, and checked out each of the activities as he placed them on the table.  I loved that all the crafts were compartmentalized in plastic bags, so that the parts didn’t get mixed up.  Ok, well, the crayons weren’t.  But all the small bits and pieces.

After checking out all the options available to him, Toby decided to make the flowers first.  I was in charge of reading the directions while he got out all the craft supplies.  As he made the flowers, I followed the conversation guidelines mentioned in the activity booklet.  We talked about how giving people flowers can make them feel better, and I mentioned some times in the past that I had received flowers or when they might be given:

  • “Just because” – from Daddy to Mommy
  • “Get well soon” – to people who are sick, like the people to whom we deliver meals
  • “Congratulations” – to celebrate the arrival of a new baby like Zack

Since the craft included enough materials to make three flowers, Toby decided to give flowers to three people (instead of the whole bouquet being given to one person — spread the joy, right?).  First, he wanted to give one to “the sick mama” that we delivered a meal to several weeks ago.  It took me a few minutes to figure out who Toby was talking about, but I thought it was so sweet that he remembered her, and was being empathetic!  Next, he decided he would give one to Grandma… and since he has two grandmas, that filled our quota of three flowers.

We then briefly explored another craft — feeling faces.  Toby enthusiastically stuck eye stickers to all of the faces, and we talked about different emotions associated with specific events, but he was hesitant to put mouths and noses on the faces because he didn’t like the texture of the included clay.  Ever the problem solver, Toby ran to the playroom and returned with his own modeling clay.  Smiling and frowning faces were then created, with nose that then turned into a tooth.  Don’t you love how creative and adaptable kids are?

Over the next few days, Toby diligently reminded me that we needed to deliver his flowers to the “sick mama” and his grandmas… because “that will make them so happy!”

5 Tips for Taking Pictures of Your Child in the Swimming Pool

posted in: Photography | 4

Water is an inherently “tricky” thing to photograph.  While I’m not going to get into the science of things, I figured I could share some tips with you for taking pictures of your kids when they are swimming pool.  The images you can get will depend on the camera, the available light, and how far away you are.

5 Tips for Taking Pictures of Your Child in the Swimming Pool - Betsy's Photography - PhotoArt.comToby has been taking lessons at Goldfish Swim School for quite some time.  I’m frankly not quite sure when we started, but I know he has progressed through the various classes and loves every minute of his swim lessons.

The facility is very nice, with numerous windows around the indoor pool, so you have a lot of ambient light.  This is *great* for taking pictures of your child in the swimming pool.  Every so often, I will take some pictures to document his progress — for that memory book I’ll eventually get around to making once I decide what format will be best (Wildflower Ramblings has a nice series on keeping and recording memories).

That being said — you have to get the pictures first.  So here are my tips, which I’ll keep simple and sweet.

1. Don’t use a flash if you can help it.

You heard me.  Water is so reflective that your flash will illuminate all the water droplets in the air as your child swims; the flash will reflect off the water’s surface too.  If you’re trying to capture something underwater, it will not be visible at all.  So, if you have the luxury of a well-illuminated pool like ours, or an outdoor pool on a bright day — don’t use the flash.  If you can’t get a photo without flash because the pool is too dark, well, then cut your losses.  Use your camera’s low light setting, or turn off the flash and see how it turns out.  If that doesn’t work, let the flash do its job.  Take the photo, deal with the flash being present in your image… and don’t worry about it.  Something is better than nothing.

2. Use “Fast” or “Action” settings on your camera.

If your camera has some sort of action setting, this may do the trick.  Basically it will have your camera take the picture more quickly (it uses a faster shutter speed to eliminate blur, to get technical).  These settings usually have the flash automatically turned off, so you won’t have to worry about that.

3. Use a higher ISO (“film speed”) or low-light scene mode on your camera.

Sometimes low light settings will work too — they typically sacrifice detail, but if you’re okay with a “grainy” photo, then have at it.  How good will it look?  Well, this depends on your camera.  As digital technology has improved, cameras have gotten better at capturing details in low light.  So you may find this works …or if you have a low-end camera, it may not be up to par.  You’ll have to experiment.

Swimming

4. Closer is better; get close.

The closer you are, the better.  Now, during my son’s lesson, we parents have to sit in the “observation deck” — depending on where my son is in the lane, I’ll be 10-30 feet away from him.  So I’ll usually wait until they come to the near end of the lane for any pictures I want to take.  If you’re taking videos, it can be fun to document the whole “down and back” swim, but this doesn’t really translate to still photos.

 

5. Don’t forget about taking pictures when your child is *not* swimming.

While he waits his turn, it’s amusing to watch my son’s antics.  I’ve taken some adorable pictures of him at the edge of the pool.  Goggle-eyed grins are priceless.  As are photos on “graduation day” …or whenever your swimmer accomplishes something new for the first time.  Toby gets ribbons from time to time for learning a new skill, and there is nothing more adorable than having a picture of him holding that ribbon, just out of the pool.

Swimming

So, there you have it!  A short and sweet list of tips for taking pictures of your child in the swimming pool.  I probably should’ve added a sixth item — don’t get your camera wet!!!  But hopefully that’s a given, right?

Do you have any other great tips for taking pictures of kids at the pool, or while swimming?  I’d love to hear them.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Dip

posted in: Notes | 0

Peanut Butter + Jelly Dip Recipe - BPhotoArt.comThe other day, Toby was really interested in having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for snack.  Yes, for snack.  A quick look in our breadbox nixed that plan — we had no bread.  So, I offered peanut butter and apple slices instead.  Well, as you know, toddlers can be quite persistent, so we ended up compromising with peanut butter and jelly on apple slices.

To make it easier to eat, I put the peanut butter in a little bowl, followed by some homemade apple butter.  Toby proceeded to stir the two until well combined.  He then happily dipped his apple slices into the peanut butter jelly dip, thoroughly pleased with our concoction.

Here’s the recipe we ended up with.  Feel free to swap out the peanut butter for another nut butter, or even sunflower seed butter, if you have allergy concerns.

Ingredients:

  • 2 T. peanut butter
  • 2 T. homemade apple butter (or jelly)

Directions:

  • Combine peanut butter and apple butter in bowl; mix until well combined.
  • Enjoy with apple slices, crackers, or whatever your toddler wants to experiment with so far as pairings go.

Initially, I wasn’t really sure that that peanut butter and jelly dip would be a hit, but it was well received.  Here’s a picture of my happy food tester with an apple wedge and his peanut butter jelly dip:

Peanut Butter + Jelly Dip Recipe - BPhotoArt.com

Has your child invented any recipes?  I’d love to hear what wild and crazy concoctions are appealing to other kids.  I know mine has been putting mustard on everything from rice to veggies lately.

Gift Guide: Arts and Crafts for Kids

posted in: Parenting | 1

If you have a kid who loves arts and crafts, sometimes it can seem daunting to find just the right gift.  There are so many creative options out there these days, and it’s sometimes tough to get a feel for what your kid might really enjoy.  To that end, I’ve put together a gift guide of arts and crafts for kids.  I’ll cover some things you can buy locally or online, supplies you may want to stock up on, and finally how to make your own arts and crafts box for hours of imaginative crafting.

Note that all links will open in new windows for your convenience (most are Amazon affiliate links).

Arts and Crafts Products You Can Buy

Although I’m a fan of repurposing things around the home for arts and crafts, there are some things I’ve found worth purchasing.  I’m sure there are more things I’ve acquired for my toddler’s arts and crafts time… but these should get you started so far as items I consider essential for our home for when my little Van Gogh wants to go to town.  All the product #afflinks below will open in new windows for your convenience.

Gift Guide: Arts and Crafts for Kids ...plus 50 Items to include in your arts + crafts bin! - BPhotoArt.comCraft Supplies – various craft supplies that are geared towards kids are often fun.  Here are some suggestions of things we use (that still allow for open-ended creating:

Craft Kits – sometimes kids like to work by the book, so to speak.  And that’s when a kit comes in handy.  Here are some kits that I think are pretty neat:

Art Travel Easel – we gave this to my son last year as a gift, and it has seen much use.  The portable art kit has two drawers for art supplies, a white board, a chalk board, and props open for use as a table-top easel.  It can also be used as a lap desk.

Learning Tower – this is a must; we do a lot of our crafting in the kitchen and I love how the learning tower allows my son to stand and work at the counter with me.  The railing keeps him secure, and he can climb up and down as needed; my toddler can even slide this around the kitchen to get supplies since I put felt pads on the bottom of the learning tower.

learning-tower-amazon #afflink

Art Easel – We were gifted an art easel similar to this one when my oldest son was not quite big enough to use it.  I love the dual sided nature of the easel, the holder for a roll of art paper, and the fact that the easel can be made taller as your kids get bigger.  We ended up storing bins of art supplies on the shelf under the easel.  If you’re not an easel fan, you might check out this artist table, which incorporates many of the same features into a flat-topped workspace for kids.

easel-amazon

 

Artist’s Smock – these are essential for younger children if you’re at all concerned about keeping the mess off your kid’s clothes.  We have one or two like this that came with our easel.  Or, you can go the old fashioned route and wear some of dad’s cast-off work shirts.  Whatever works!

artist-smock-amazon

How to Make an Arts and Crafts Box

Finally, there is nothing better than gifts that inspire open-ended play.  Last year we made an arts and crafts box for my toddler, stocked with everything you could think of.  It was a huge hit.  Want ideas for making one of your own?  Here are 50 different things you could include, depending on what is age appropriate for your child:

  1. buttons
  2. assorted pony beads
  3. tube of glitter
  4. glue sticks
  5. construction paper
  6. empty toilet paper tubes
  7. q-tips
  8. cotton balls
  9. assorted stickers
  10. multi-colored tissue paper
  11. cardboard shapes
  12. pencils
  13. pencil sharpener
  14. crayons
  15. paint brushes
  16. shoelaces
  17. embroidery floss
  18. old fashioned clothespins
  19. magnet  strips
  20. pom poms
  21. googly eyes
  22. bubble wrap
  23. toothpicks
  24. cinnamon sticks
  25. pieces of string
  26. assorted origami paper
  27. post-it notes
  28. fabric scraps
  29. pop bottle lids
  30. rings from milk jugs
  31. bread bag tabs
  32. twisty-ties
  33. jingle bells
  34. pipe cleaners
  35. sheets of foam
  36. felt shapes
  37. key rings
  38. envelopes
  39. paper plates
  40. wooden beads
  41. yarn
  42. fake fur
  43. ribbon
  44. blank address label stickers
  45. mini spiral notebooks
  46. bingo chips
  47. homemade playdough
  48. hotel room keys or used-up gift cards
  49. tape
  50. stamps + stamp pad

Do you have any more ideas for arts and crafts gifts?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

More Resources and Gift Guides for Kids

This post is part of the Kid Blogger Network Gift Guide for Kids. More than 75 unique lists for all ages, interests, and budges have been compiled by bloggers around the world. To visit other lists, visit Gift Guides for Kids.

Follow Erica • What Do We Do All Day?’s board Gift Guides for Kids on Pinterest.

gift-guides-for-kids

50+ Road Trip Games + Activities to Keep Your Kids Entertained

posted in: Parenting | 9

50+ Road Trip Games + Activities: Ideas to Keep Your Kids Entertained for the Long Haul - Betsy's Photography {BPhotoArt.com}Car rides, even short ones, can be tough!  This fall I was gearing up for a cross-country road trip to visit family in the southern states.  Call me crazy, but I decided to pack up the boys and undertake a 12 hour road trip.  As I told my driving buddy (my mom) — the goal of this road trip wouldn’t be just to get from point A to point B.

No, our road trip would have to be leisurely and include opportunity for frequent stops.  After all, we would be traveling with a toddler and a baby — recipe for road trip disaster, no?

So, we started planning.  The 12 hour drive would be split into two days (ideally).  We could travel during nap times, stop for lunch or eat en route depending on everyone’s mood. Maps and such were scoured for possible side stops, should we need a break to stretch our legs.  The hotels we would stay at had to have a swimming pool.  And so on and so forth.

But what about keeping the kids entertained en route?  Well, that’s where this list comes in.  As I was planning our trip, I knew we would need a plethora of games and activities to keep my kids entertained for the long haul.  Ok, let me amend that. This list was really meant for my older son… we all know babies are content to eat, sleep, and be changed regularly.

50+ Road Trip Games + Activities

So, let me share the huge list of 50+ road trip games and activities to keep your kids entertained for the long haul…hopefully from point A to point B!  Make sure to scroll to the bottom for some more (shorter) lists of snack ideas and travel resources.

  1. Best Road Trip Songs
  2. Road Trip Bingo
  3. DIY Buckle Toy from an old car seat
  4. Road Trip Experiment Printable
  5. Restaurant “I Spy” Printable
  6. Road Trip Journal Pages – Printable
  7. Airplane Math Roadtrip Game
  8. Road Trip Drawing Prompts – Printables
  9. Road Trip Printable: ABC Order
  10. Alphabet “I Spy” Printable
  11. Portable Activity Kid for Little Travelers
  12. Are We There Yet Map Game
  13. Squares and Dots Board (Printable)
  14. Wacky Tracks Fidget Toy Busy Bag
  15. Car Trip Busy Box
  16. Record Audiobooks for Children
  17. Paint Sample Rainbow Fan
  18. DIY Counting Sticks Busy Bag
  19. Pumpkin Number Matching Busy Bag
  20. Shoe Tying Busy Bag Board
  21. Make Your Own Kid’s Travel Binder
  22. Fine Motor Weaving Busy Bag
  23. DIY Portable Art Board
  24. Outdoor Photo Scavenger Hunt (Do this en route)
  25. High Tech Coloring (Painting Lulu App)
  26. Train Track Counting Activity and Busy Bag
  27. Travel Sensory Activities for Baby
  28. Rainbow Lacing Busy Bag
  29. Map a Road Trip (Map Skills for Kids)
  30. Using Google Maps to Help Kids Follow Your Travel Journey
  31. DIY Clipping Toy
  32. Magnetic Tangram Puzzle in a Mint Tin
  33. Ladybug Math Game
  34. Road Trip Playlist
  35. Travel Storage Organizer for the Driver’s Seat
  36. DIY Travel Coloring Cases
  37. Animal Trackers Club
  38. Velcro Dot Craft Sticks
  39. What Will I Do If I Can’t Tie My Shoe” – Fastener Busy Bag
  40. Road Trip Busy Boxes
  41. Teaching Kids to Budget on a Road Trip
  42. Tic Tac Toe Busy Bag
  43. Kids’ Travel Pack
  44. Big Brother Kid (3 Busy Bag Activities)
  45. Mini Lego Playset
  46. Pocket Sized Magnetic Fishing Set in Altoids Tin
  47. Road Trip Activity Bin and Binder
  48. Printable Lacing Cards (Numbers 0-10)
  49. Busy Bags 101
  50. Portable Lego Kit For Little Travelers
  51. Peek-a-Boo Toy Sacks (sewing tutorial)
  52. Creepy Crawly Seek and Find
  53. “I Spy” Bottle
  54. 5 Travel Games to Help Ease Culture Shock
  55. Magnetic Pipe Cleaner Discovery Bottle
  56. Easy DIY Seek and Find Bag
  57. Make Your Car Road Trip Ready
  58. 5 Road Trip Apps
  59. Number Recognition Car Ride Game

10 Road Trip Snacks for Kids

What are some good snacks to take on a road trip?  Well, that depends on your idea of a “good snack.”  I wanted to make sure we had nutritious and healthy fare for our road trip, so keep that in mind.  Yes, we did bring a cooler, since some of the items wouldn’t last too long otherwise:

  1. Travel-friendly fruit (apples, bananas, clementines)
  2. Veggies (carrots, celery)
  3. Hummus (for veggies)
  4. Dried fruit (raisins, dates, prunes)
  5. Nuts + seeds (almonds, cashews, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
  6. Larabars
  7. Homemade sourdough crackers
  8. Yogurt pouch snacks (in reusable snack pouches)
  9. Homemade popcorn bars
  10. protein (cheese, jerky, hardboiled eggs)

More Road Trip Resources

And finally, because I couldn’t help myself, here are some more resources you may find helpful for planning your next road trip.

  1. Road Trip Activity Pack (including printables, ages 2-8)
  2. Books About Road Trips
  3. Road Trip tips for kids that get carsick
  4. Ultimate Road Trip Guide for Families
  5. What to keep in a road trip essentials kit
  6. Eating on the road: meals and snacks
  7. How to entertain your baby in the car
  8. Airplane mode with a one year old (kind of related!)
  9. The Best Apps and Tools for Rocking Your Next Road Trip
  10. 11 Screen Free Activities for the Car

What tips do you have for taking kids on a road trip?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

DIY Buckle Toy (From an Old Car Seat)

posted in: Parenting | 12

I’m a big fan of repurposing things and finding ways to reduce our environmental footprint.  So, when one of our carseats was issued a new buckle under a recall, I was lamenting the fact that we would have to just throw out the old one.  Obviously it’s essential that the buckle not be used due to safety reasons (just like with those expired car seats) — but I still cringe when it comes time to toss “treasures” like these in the trash.

DIY  Buckle Toy From an Old Car Seat  - Betsy's Photography {BPhotoArt.com}Perhaps by coincidence, I realized we could use this seat belt buckle from the car seat to make a DIY buckle toy.  Toby has been trying to learn to buckle himself into his carseat, and while he’s mastered the chest clip, the buckle itself has had him stymied.

I used two lengths of string to attach the clips to the buckle’s metal clip… and then we were in business.  This toy took me less time to make than it took to swap out buckles in the carseat by a long shot.  I spent maybe one minute making this DIY buckle toy… easiest toy ever!

And, you are probably wondering how it went over.

Well, when I told Toby my plan to make him a car seat buckle toy for him to practice with, he exclaimed: “that would be wonderful!” and squealed in delight.

The next ten minutes were spent devoted to mastering the car seat buckle — Toby is still working on the release button (which, since recalled, is a little sticky to depress), but he quickly figured out how to get the clips clicked in.

When Daddy got home, Toby was thrilled to show off his car seat buckle toy. He proceeded to demonstrate, saying “this is how you…”

Overall, I’m thrilled with this quick and easy DIY buckle toy.  It serves a practical purpose, helps keep junk out of the landfill, and was really simple to put together.

So, next time you have to get rid of an expired car seat, consider removing the buckle components from the carseat to make your own DIY buckle toy!  I won’t suggest hoping for a recall on your buckle, because really, who wants to stress out about having used an unsafe carseat?


Alternatively, you could buy an automotive seatbelt extender #afflink for practice with an adult seatbelt, like the one to the right.

I’m probably going to use this as a busy bag activity for Toby, as it travels well.  I haven’t decided whether to allow it in the car or not… as I could see myself getting thrown off by the seatbelt clicking sound while enroute.  We’d have to have a talk about not trying to click this buckle toy into the actual car seats.

Take a peek at the images below to see the DIY buckle toy in more detail, both clipped and unclipped, as well as my toddler practicing putting the buckle together.

Click on any image below to enter gallery mode.

Cultivating Gratitude: Ideas for a Month of Thanksgiving

posted in: Parenting | 4

Cultivating Gratitude: Ideas for a Month of Thanksgiving - Betsy's Photography (BPhotoArt.com)This month I want to focus on gratitude.  Being thankful for what we have, being aware of others who have not.  I want to make sure my boys know the importance of being thankful for all the blessings in their lives — and also that they understand the importance of paying it forward. There’s a saying about being “blessed to be a blessing to others.”  Helping others isn’t a one way street.  It benefits us too — it grows character and deepens empathy.

So, this November, we’ll be doing several things to cultivate gratitude.

Make a Gratitude Frame or Jar.

I love looking at all the fancy Pinterest projects that focus on giving thanks and recognizing our good fortune.  I’ve had friends tell me the best thing they ever did was put up a gratitude poster in their kitchen, where everyone wrote down things they were thankful for throughout the week.  I saw an adorable shadowbox picture frame that was filled with slips of paper on things to give thanks for.

Last year, I helped Toby make one of these. We used a plastic peanut butter jar (cleaned, of course), and strips of brightly colored paper.  He told me things he was thankful for and I wrote each item and drew a picture of it on the paper.  He enjoyed pulling them out and talking about the things we should be grateful for in our lives.

We’ll do something similar this year — I’m thinking a garland of paper slips or something (but not fall leaves since it’s already snowed here in Michigan).

Donate our excess and unused items.

Throughout the year, we gather bagfuls of things we no longer need or use — and take them to be donated.  I include my boys in this errand, as it helps to make it real for them.  We have more than we need.  By donating things, we can share with those who are not as fortunate.

There is a local place called House By the Side of the Road that I like to take our donations to.  It doesn’t resell the items, but rather offers them freely to members of the community who are in need.  Sometimes we’ll take donations to the more standard Salvation Army, Purple Heart, etc.

Take meals to new moms and the sick.

Our church has a meals ministry, where you can sign up to take a meal to the new moms, or those undergoing surgery or recovering from illness.  This is a good way to give back to the community …and I can involve my toddler with the process too.  Sometimes there is nothing more helpful than the delivery of a home cooked meal, ready to be eaten.  And we can share out of the abundance of food in our pantry.

Keeping an open dialogue.

Toddlers notice everything.  And they aren’t blind to the injustices in this world.  Whether it’s something as child-like as the refusal to share a toy, or the more “adult” (for lack of a better word) concern of homelessness — they are experiencing life around them and it is our job as parents to help them process these things.

When Toby and another boy were both in tears about who had the swing first, I gently asked my son to give the swing to the other boy, even though Toby may have had it first.  As my son willingly forfeited “his” swing, I was struck by his generous heart — I am thankful for opportunities to teach selfless compassion.  Other opportunities arise when we walk past the homeless on the sidewalk, or spot someone who needs a hand getting the door open. Yes, there are bigger problems in this world than whose swing it is, but by cultivating gratitude on a small scale, our children can learn to apply it on a larger level.

Remembering to talk about why I’m thankful.

I’ve been trying to focus on being thankful. Cultivating gratitude for the many blessings in my life, or even the little things. By talking about these things with my boys, I can help them understand just how much in life there is we can be thankful for:

  1. Friends who share without reserve, family who takes care of me. So many of the blessings I encounter involve friends and family. In the same day, I was blessed unexpectedly with handmedowns for our newborn… and during a rough afternoon, was grateful that my boys were being entertained by family (and we were treated to takeout!). It’s the little things that let people know you care.
  2. Sleep.  I’m so grateful for a newborn who sleeps for long stretches — often 6-7 hours at night. It’s the complete opposite of what my first son did as a newborn (woke every 1-2 hrs). The extra long stretches of sleep are such a blessing for my sanity. I’m also thankful that my toddler is content to play by himself while mommy takes a nap from time to time.
  3. Beautiful sunrises.  My toddler woke up one morning, came downstairs, and stopped dead in his tracks as he looked out the window. Then he turned to me and exclaimed, “look at the beautiful sunrise!” He then proceeded to describe it: “light, dark, light dark, light!”  The clouds had indeed formed a gorgeous pattern for us to enjoy.  I’m so thankful that my son reminded me to enjoy the beauty of nature today.

What ways do you cultivate gratitude in your children?

 

6 Tips for Helping Kids Carve Pumpkins

posted in: Parenting | 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Don’t micromanage your child

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

2. Help as needed, to keep things safe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Have no expectations.

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

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Recipe

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

  • pumpkin seeds
  • olive oil
  • sea salt

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

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

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

Using Imagery to Calm an Overstimulated Child

posted in: Parenting | 2

If you do an web search, you’ll probably find a plethora of links about imagery and visualization, techniques to calm and focus your mind, etc. Images, whether real or visualized within the mind, really can help anyone to get to a calm state.  And since I specialize in images, I thought it was fitting to share this with you — as October is Sensory Processing Awareness month.  All kids have sensory needs — and use their senses to process and understand the world as it relates to them.

I’m not an expert in sensory processing (what is sensory processing?), nor do I have a child with a sensory processing disorder, but regardless, I wanted to share five tips that I’ve found helpful when my toddler gets overstimulated and need calming (not all related to imagery directly, but worth sharing regardless).

Using Imagery to Calm an Overstimulated Child - BPhotoArt.com

A cluttered environment can be overwhelming for anyone.  I’m not just talking physical clutter, such as toys and “mess.”  I’m talking lights, sounds, even smells.  It can lead to that feeling of needing to “get away” or escape, or inability to function at full capacity.  White noise or background chatter can become overwhelming when trying to focus on a specific task.

Have you ever felt the overwhelming need to step outside, to get somewhere quiet so your mind can focus?

I know I have.  And physically removing yourself to a location isn’t always an option.That’s when calming techniques can come in handy.  What techniques have we used to find that “calm” and peace?

  • Deep breathing – belly breaths are great for grounding yourself.  Your gut should expand and contract as you breath, and it can help to focus in on how much air you can push in and out of your lungs.
  • Visualization – sometimes it helps to close your eyes and imagine/pretend you are somewhere else.  Some place that you find calming.  Maybe picturing a waterfall in your mind.  This can be tough for kids to get the hang of at first, but more on that in a bit.
  • Finding a visual anchor – if you’ve ever been seasick, you may be familiar with the advice to fix your eyes on the horizon.  It’s an anchor, a constant… something that is not moving when everything else is not still.  Find something to fix your eyes on, a visual anchor, something that can help you to feel grounded and become calm.
  • Look at a picture – for kids who have trouble seeing pictures in their minds, looking at an actual picture or photograph can be a good calming tool.  The type of picture will depend on the child.
  • Physical touch – hugs from a loved one can be reassuring and grounding.  Have you ever just needed to be hugged and held?  When someone’s arms encircle you, there is a certain calmness and strength that passes from your comforter to you.

It’s been interesting to teach these techniques to my toddler.  Interesting, but helpful.

Deep Breathing Techniques:

Deep breathing can be demonstrated.  “Here, breathe with me.  In… out…. in… out…”  My toddler will visibly calm down as he focuses on matching my breathing.  You can even invite your child to put their hand on your belly to feel it rise and fall as you breathe.  Or suggest they watch their own belly go in and out.  Focusing on the repetitive action will help take their minds off being overwhelmed and redirect it to something they can control.

Thoughts on Visualization:

The art of visualization is more difficult to teach, but we’ve talked about using our imagination, pretending to see something with our eyes closed, and the like.  Asking my son to “remember” a calm place can be helpful too.  I remember reading in a parenting book about an exercise where you talk about a scene that is all white: “the white snow falling outside, sitting in a white room on a white couch, etc.”  The repetition of a calming color can be useful.  Scenery with water can be very calming too (waterfalls, rivers).  Sometimes my son will visualize the letters of his name  as they hang on the wall of his room.

As a kid, I remember squeezing my eyes shut as tight as I could, and “seeing” patterns.  Try it.  Look at something, say a light, for 5-10 seconds and then close your eyes.  You’ll have something to “look at” even though your eyes are closed. Patterns of light and dark.

It all depends on the individual as to what is calming.  You might find something by trial and error.

Visual Anchor Ideas:

Sometimes there is something in a room that you can focus on — a clock, a light, something stationary. Maybe looking out a window at nature could help if the indoor environment is too stimulating.  The visual anchor doesn’t have to be immovable — it just needs to help your child zone in and concentrate on getting calm rather than continuing to become stressed.

You could also make a “calm down” jar (like this LEGO Calm Down Jar), or a “find it” jar for your child to use.  The simple act of rotating, twisting, and turning a container to look at its contents can be a great visual activity for some kids.

Tips for Looking at a Picture:

Sometimes looking at a serene landscape or peaceful beach photograph can be helpful.  I know that when I’m stressed, photos such as these will help me to become more calm.  But it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.  Some kids may respond to images of nature, others may do better with a picture of their family.  Perhaps a book with pictures would be more helpful for another child.  Even those “find it” style picture books (Where’s Waldo #afflink, anyone?) may work, as they require concentration and may redirect attention, helping your child to become calm.

Notes on Physical Touch:

Depending on the child, offering hugs or any sort of physical contact may or may not work.  If a kid is “touched out” they will likely get more stressed from a hug or being held.  But sometimes kids are in need of the physical contact of a hug.  I haphazardly discovered that my toddler would misbehave when he “needed me” — so after a series of hugs and loving talks, I urged him to tell me “I need a hug” rather than getting out of control…. or to ask for my help in calming down.

In the weeks since that discovery, I will open my arms and offer a hug, or remind my son verbally that he can ask for a hug if he needs one.  Sometimes that’s all it takes for us to put an end to things.

Wrapping Up:

If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that all of these tips will NOT work for all kids. No two children are alike, and it’s a never-ending process to determine what works for your own child.  Plus, what works one day may not work another.

A child’s sensory system is under construction, so to speak.  Connections are being made, and sometimes kids get overstimulated — they need to calm down, to refocus.  Focusing on the different sensory aspects may help a child calm down, remember to communicate physically only as appropriate (e.g. hugs) and verbally when needed.

Do you have tips for helping kids cope with their emotional and physical reactions?  Ideas for getting beyond physical communication to verbal communication?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Decoding Everyday Kid Behaviors: “Why Does My Kid Do That?”

This post is part of the Decoding Everyday Kid Behaviors series. Over 30 bloggers have written posts about classic childhood quirks and how sensory needs may play into them. All children have sensory needs, and these posts will help you understand your child better, regardless of whether their sensory needs are typical or severe.

Additionally, Project Sensory is another resource you may want to check out.  Their mission is to help grow a community that supports all children in their every day lives, whether they have a sensory processing disorder or not.

A Toddler’s Money Bank

posted in: Parenting | 2

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

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

Money Bank Materials

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

Making the Money Bank

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

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

Wait, two slots?

Yep.

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

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

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

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

Related Resources

Martin Luther + Katherina von Bora Puzzle

posted in: Parenting | 4

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

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

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

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

Click on an image below to enter gallery view mode.

3 Reasons Mess Making Is Ok

posted in: Parenting | 2

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

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

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

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

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

1. Creativity is messy sometimes.

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

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

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

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

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

3. Making messes teaches responsibility.

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

More Resources on Being Messy

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

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

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

Frank Asch Inspired Popcorn Bars (GF, Refined Sugar Free)

posted in: Parenting | 2

Frank Asch Inspired Popcorn Bars - GF, refined sugar free - bphotoart.com

While this problem doesn’t usually occur when we make popcorn, every so often, we do have leftovers after popcorn night.  And when we do, I’m reminded of the Frank Asch Bear Book: Popcorn #afflink.  In the story, Sam, little bear invites his friends over for a Halloween party and everyone brings popcorn kernels.  They dump all the kernels in a big pot… and needless to say, they make a lot of popcorn.  So much, in fact that the house gets filled up.

Popping corn? Great idea.  That much?  Nope.

The story culminates with Sam and his friends eating all the popcorn to “clean up” the house.  As you can imagine, they we’re really keen to eat more popcorn anytime soon.

So back to the topic of our leftover popcorn.  The other day, when at the grocery store, I had a hankering for rice cakes.  Sadly, they were all out.  As we got home and were putting away groceries, I got to thinking — What if I could make popcorn cakes?  Well, a recipe search online yielded nothing but desserts in that category, so I switched to looking for popcorn snack bars.  Most of the recipes used refined sugar, which I can’t have.  So I asked my toddler, Toby, if he we should make popcorn bars… and he said “yes!”

I like to pair activities with books, so of course we decided to make popcorn bars and read Frank Asch’s book while waiting to eat them.

 

Popcorn Bar Recipes

After an extensive hunt for a recipe that used honey or something other than refined sugar to make popcorn snack bars… and here is what I came up with! I used several recipes as inspiration (see below), but ultimately ended up improvising — something I seem to do in the kitchen a  lot lately.

So, what ended up going into our popcorn bars?  Obviously popcorn, but then I ended up using a combination of honey and peanut butter as a binder to hold the bars together.  For those with peanut allergies, another nut butter, or even a seed butter, could be used interchangeably.

We ended up with two variations, one that is more like a Rice Krispie treat in concept, and another that is more like a snack bar.  The nutty sweetness came through much more strongly in the treat version;the snack bar version held together better but the popcorn’s presence was muted.

Before starting on our recipes, we first made popcorn using our Stir Crazy Popcorn Popper #afflink.  Toby loves this thing.

Then, it was time to get cooking…
bphotoart-popcorn-bars-0550

Peanut Butter Popcorn Treat

 

  • 8 c. popcorn (plain)
  • 3/4 c. nuts
  • 3/4 c. dried fruit
  • 3/4 – 1 c. honey
  • 1 1/4 c. nut butter

Combine the popcorn, nuts, and dried fruit in a large mixing bowl (we used one with a lid so it could be shaken later).

Heat honey and nut butter (in microwave or on stove) until runny; stir until well combined. Pour over top of popcorn mix, put lid on bowl, and shake well for a minute or until well coated.

Using a spatula, spoon out into a greased baking dish — size will depend on desired thickness of the bars (we used a 9×13 pan and a 11×9 pan). Cover top with parchment paper and press mixture down well.
Put into oven at 350 for 10-20 minutes.
Let cool, then cut into bars and serve or store.
bphotoart-popcorn-bars-0554

Peanut Butter Popcorn Snack Bar

  • 8 c. popcorn (plain), crushed
  • 3/4 c. nuts (we used pumpkin and sunflower seeds)
  • 3/4 c. dried fruit (we used raisins)
  • 3/4 c. honey
  • 1 1/2 c. nut butter (we used peanut)
  • 1/4 c. flax seed
  • 6 T. butter
  • 1 c. kefir
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 T. coconut flour
  • 1 t. salt

Combine the popcorn, nuts, dried fruit, flax/date paste in a large mixing bowl.  Heat honey, nut butter, and butter (in microwave or on stove) until runny; stir until well combined.  Pour over top of popcorn mix, combine thoroughly.

Using a spatula, spoon out into a parchment-lined baking dish — size will depend on desired thickness of the bars (we used a 9×13 pan and a 11×9 pan). Cover top with parchment paper and press mixture down well –  we used a meat pounder to tamp it down… very fun for my toddler.  If your little one helps, put a small cutting board down so you don’t end up with deep pits in the bars.  Put into oven at 350 for 13 minutes.  Remove, press/tamp down again.

Let cool; break into pieces.  Beat egg well, add kefir.  Coat popcorn pieces with egg mixture, add coconut flour and combine well; spread into baking dish.  Bake 20 min at 350 F.  Cool, cut into bars and serve or store.

Taste Testing + A Verdict?

Well, our first batch looked delicious while cooling.  So delicious, in fact, that my toddler called both of his grandmas to invite them over for popcorn.  However, these bars were a little fragile; they crumbled easily. Our second version held together better, but it was more of a general snack bar rather than a pocorn bar.  If I were to try things a third way, using ground flax seed as binder, like in this popcorn granola squares recipe… might have been a good choice.

But, like Sam in Frank Asch’s Popcorn book, I’m sick of popcorn …bars.  We did a lot of taste testing and I’m calling it quits for the day.  Regardless of how our kitchen experiments turned out, someone had fun in the kitchen.

Halloween Read and Play Blog Hop

This post is part of an AWESOME Halloween Read and Play Blog Hop.  Make sure to check out the other book based activities from fantastic bloggers!

Halloween Books with extension activity ideas (link to book on Amazon in parentheses, #afflinks).  Links below will open in a new window for your convenience.

Some other Halloween books:

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