Letter Recognition Game

posted in: Parenting | 0

Toby knows a lot of his alphabet, but we’re still working on letter recognition. So, this summer we spent some time out on the deck playing a letter recognition game. It also incorporates gross motor skills, which was great for getting out that extra energy my toddler has on any given day.

I stumbled across this game idea when sorting through some of the resources that were included in a hand-me-down “learn to read” kit. The kit came with a playing card sized deck of alphabet cards — but also with a set of jumbo cards. These things are huge. And what was neat? The cards have the uppercase letter on one side, and the lowercase letter on the other.

So, I had Toby distribute the cards on our deck randomly — all uppercase letters facing up. Then, I called out a letter and had him find it. Toby had a great time running to the letter, jumping on it, and then flipping the card over to reveal the lowercase version. We ran into a few snags on round two, when there was confusion between the “p” and “d” lowercase cards, but that became a learning opportunity to discuss letters with similar shapes.

Letter Recognition Game - Betsy's Photography

This game was easy to get out, easy to pick up, and lots of fun.  I love games that help with life skills and learning to read.

Letter Recognition Game - Betsy's Photography

Letter Recognition Resources

Letter Recognition Activities + Crafts

Letter Recognition Games

Writing + Spelling

Our Experience With the Animal Trackers Club

posted in: Parenting | 2

Our Experience With the Animal Trackers Club - Betsy's PhotographyWhen I was growing up, I have fond memories of waiting for my monthly subscriptions to several kid magazines to come in the mail.  Filled with fun facts, craft ideas, and a neat pull out poster, these magazines were the highlight of the afternoon after the mailman stopped by.  Now that I have kids, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about a similar, but “better” subscription service for kids.

Enter Animal Trackers Club.  It’s a monthly subscription program designed to help children become engaged as they learn through creative play, hands-on projects, and other learning activities.  Animal Trackers is for pre-readers and beginning readers (3+).  For older kids (6+) who are already reading, there’s a partner company, Space Scouts.  Both of these clubs deliver a monthly package to kids for $11.95 per month (plus $3 shipping).

Each year, the Animal Trackers Club visits a new habitat.  The introduction box introduces the habitat and includes a lunchbox for storing all the components your child will receive in the mail.  For review purposes, we received a complimentary “introduction” box, as well as the “zebra” box in the mail.

Toby was beyond thrilled to receive his Animal Trackers Club package in the mail.  He gleefully unwrapped everything in the package, opened the zebra components, and tested everything out.  The zebra mask was a big hit (although the sounds emanating from the zebra’s mouth sounded more like a lion).

Since then, Toby has brought his Animal Trackers Club lunchbox out on multiple occasions, playing by himself with all the “special things” that are stored inside.

While he didn’t immediately take to the zebra craft (using Magic Nuudles #afflink) for more than a few minute — this has been a long lasting activity for Toby.  He will spend a couple minutes every day putting more magic noodles on the paper.  I love how long this kit has kept his attention!

Learn more about everything you get with your Animal Trackers Club subscription.

Disclosure: I received this product for free in exchange for an honest review.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

Living The Dream – Life In Spain

posted in: Notes | 8
Today I’d like to welcome Orlena of Snotty Noses.  Orlena is a British pediatrician who lives in Spain with her husband and four children.  Her website helps parents recognize when their child is ill …and know what to do about it (not meant to replace your doctor’s advice, of course!).  She also blogs about their hectic and crazy Spanish life.

If you’ve ever contemplated living abroad, then you’ll love Orlena’s insight on living the dream and how her family adapted to life in Spain!

— Betsy

The Reality of Living the Dream - Life in Spain - Snotty-Noses @ BPhotoArt.com

Living the Dream

When I look back, I can’t pin point exactly when I decided I wanted to live abroad. I’ve always enjoyed travelling, always had that itch, that yearning to travel abroad, to seek new experiences, new smells, new sights. To taste life from different cups.

When I met my husband-to-be, he felt the same way. We shared a dream of living and working a different life. It’s not that I don’t like England, I do. I think most people there don’t really comprehend what a great country it is. For all its faults, we’re lucky to have a free health care system, free schooling and a welfare state. The problem lies more in its latitude and rather unfortunate climate.  “Perpetual winter,” I have heard it called, not unreasonably to my mind.

Deciding Where To Live

It took us a while to decide where we’d like to live. Australia would have been, relatively speaking, an easy place for me to work. But it’s a long way from family and friends. I have family in the Caribbean, a paradise destination. But that’s nearly as far and very isolated. We settled on Europe. After all, we’re all “European,” right?  We share similar cultures and our history goes back, for better or worse, a long way back.

A rather cerebral thought process led us to the Costa Brava. We both wanted Spain. I wanted Mediterranean. Not too far south that it was ludicrously hot. Pretty much as close as we could get to my mother, who lives in the southern area of France.

The only problem remaining was one of language. A double edged sword. Our children would grow up bilingual, which would be great. We would both have to learn another language, which would be fun but difficult, not to mention a barrier to working.

My by-then husband finished his PhD and started up a software business. By started up, I mean from scratch, including learning how to program computers and write software. In theory at least, we could be mobile and still earn money.

Arriving In Spain

So that was how we arrived. We spent a week in Spain looking for somewhere to rent, packed up our stuff and moved. Pretty much like that. Except my husband drove our stuff across the continent and I flew with my 2 small children. But that’s a story for another day. We arrived in one piece.

And that was it. Our new life in the sun. Now what? How were we going to integrate? Learn two new languages? They speak Catalan and Spanish here, two different languages, but similar enough to make it confusing to learn them both. What about bureaucracy? Spain is hot on bureaucracy, not even the locals like it. It’s even worse when you don’t really understand what’s going on.

We arrived in one piece to Spain - Orlena
We arrived in one piece to Spain – Orlena

Settling Into Our New Life

That was three years ago. Now we’re relatively settled. The children go to school and nursery. The oldest two speak Catalan, pretty much like a native. Although, I expect their vocabulary isn’t as good as some of their school mates.

I still feel like an outsider, but I’ve learnt to live with. The culture here is very different from the UK. I’d love to join a mother’s group and drink coffee while we watch the children play and do activities. But they just don’t exist here, not in our little town. People are very friendly and I have some friends who are happy to work beyond the language barrier. Most of my friends I met because they wanted to learn English. I guess their interest in another language makes them more forgiving.

I still find it difficult at the school gate. I’m friendly with some of the mums. Some of our children are very close friends. But, I know I’m not “one of them.”  As much as I can do small talk chat, it can be difficult to express yourself quickly and with the subtleties of your native tongue. They chat away easily, I only understand half of what they say.  Especially since, as a mark of acceptance, they now talk in Catalan to me.  They know that I’ve started to learn it; I just understand Spanish better.

There are many groups at the school gate. In fact, there aren’t that many Catalan children at the school. Spain has always had a long history with Morroco and there are lots of Morrocans. Romanians and Latin Americans make up the majority of the remaining foreigners. We’re the only British people at our school. I suspect there are others who feel like an outsider too. Perhaps we should all get badges.

Our Dream For Raising Our Children

The children don’t remember our home in the UK anymore. They know they aren’t Catalan but I don’t think it bothers them. They’re the blond, blue-eyed English boys. I think it gives them a bit of a status symbol. I sometimes worry that it will affect them, “not really belonging” to this culture. But I hope that if I keep an eye out for it, we’ll work around it. I hope that they’ll grow up reaping the benefits of two cultures. When they’re older, I hope, they’ll be able to live where they want. In this ever growing global culture, as boundaries and barriers disappear.

My dream was to bring our children up in a beautify country - Orlena
My dream was to bring our children up in a beautify country – Orlena

It was our dream that we could bring our children up in a beautiful country where we can enjoy the outdoors and teach them to enjoy the fundamentals of life. Obviously we’re always learning and adapting as parents, but we’ve achieved the first goal. Sure, there have been sacrifices — namely my career, but that’s also another story.

If something is worth having, it’s worth fighting for. And that means sacrifices. A dream that involves a fairy godmother is unrealistic. A dream where you work hard?  That’s do-able.

— Orlena

What’s Your Dream? Are You Living It?

I love how Orlena described their dream, and how they made it a reality. They are truly living the dream, and loving it.

The truth is, everyone’s dreams are different. And every dream is worth considering, no matter how far out there or how mundane it might be. Some people dream big, while other people have more subtle dreams.

What is your dream? Are you working hard to achieve it? What sacrifices have you made?

I’d love to hear your stories, your dreams, your struggles… leave a comment below!

Making Stone Soup

posted in: Parenting | 6

This summer, I’ve had the honor of participating in Rainy Day Mum‘s Story Book Summer series — it’s always fun to do activities that are based on a book!  Toby and I have enjoyed reading several renditions of the stone soup story during our forays to the library. Most recently, we picked up Marcia Brown’s Stone Soup (#afflink), but we’ve enjoyed more modern adaptations such as Eric Kimmel’s Cactus Soup (#afflink) too.

Stone Soup by Marcia Brown Cactus Soup by Eric Kimmel

Since making stone soup “for real,” Toby has also been hard at work in his pretend kitchen.  His concoctions have been an amalgam of stone soup and shepherd’s pie… such as stone soup pie, or shepherd’s pie soup.

I’ll share a few pictures, but be sure head over and read Story Book Summer – Stone Soup for more pictures, and the recipe!  Click on any image below to enter gallery view.

Making Stone Soup (Marcia Brown)
Making Stone Soup (Marcia Brown)

And finally, I just found a neat looking Stone Soup board game (#afflink) that I bet my toddler would love.  It’s a memory card game with the added twist of “fire’s out” cards — you have to gather all the ingredients for making stone soup before you get too many “fire’s out” cards.

Conquering Your Kitchen – A Kitchen Guide You’ll Love

posted in: Notes | 0

I recently had the opportunity to review a cookbook that’s right up my alley, and I wanted to share it with you!  Conquering Your Kitchen (#afflink), by Annemarie Rossi, is about one mom’s journey to becoming competent in the kitchen.  With no formal training and little knowledge of how to cook healthy food, Annemarie set out to learn to cook meals from scratch that her whole family would enjoy.

Conquering Your Kitchen with Menu Plans and Easy Prep Recipes - An Interview With the Author - BPhotoArt.com

Conquering Your Kitchen

The book isn’t just a cookbook, but a guide on how to get organized in the kitchen.  Annemarie explains how to meal plan, grocery shop, and make meals from real food — without a lot of complicated directions or a huge time involvement.  All of the 80 recipes in Conquering Your Kitchen require 30 minutes or less of prep work; with recipes this easy, there is no excuse not to eat healthy!

There are sections on breakfasts, snacks, dinners, desserts in Conquering Your Kitchen (#afflink) — you’ll be inspired and ready to feed your family once you’ve delved into the various recipes.  I know I’ve been on a quest to cook from scratch and make healthy meals for my own family, so it was exciting for me to find some recipes that we could incorporate into our (very relaxed) meal plan.  I’m especially excited about the fact many of Annemarie’s recipes are low in sugar, or use natural, unrefined sweeteners like maple syrup or honey — things I can actually eat!  She also discusses adaptations for those with food restrictions (i.e. gluten free).

Also, make sure to check out the free printable resources — including menu plans, conversion charts, a shopping list, and more!

My Thoughts On Conquering Your Kitchen

Long, extravagantly prepared meals are lovely, and we have accomplished a number of those at our house, but that’s mostly thanks to my husband.  He has a lot of cooking experience, including restaurant training, so at least one of us is great at timing meal components to be ready simultaneously, even though it’s not me. The recipes that Annemarie shares are right up my alley, and I love the promise of 30 minutes or less to a finished meal.

I have to admit, there are a number of occasions where I’ve gotten flustered in the kitchen while cooking, and my dear husband has rushed to my side to take over and rescue whatever meal I was attempting to create on my own.  He’s even saved a gluten-free playdough experiment from failing for me.

Despite these speed bumps, my cooking skills have improved over the years.  Practice makes perfect, and if you don’t try, you won’t have a shot at ever succeeding.  Maybe that’s why this book was such an enjoyable read for me — I’m in the process of learning how to conquer my kitchen

While reading through Conquering Your Kitchen, I definitely had some “aha!” moments.  I don’t have any specific examples that come to mind, other than the kitchen organization section in general, but I definitely found some information and ideas that could be immediately incorporated into our kitchen.

Anyways, no need to bore you with an more extensive review (though I will share some more thoughts at the end of this post).  Let’s get on to the really exciting part — an interview with the author of Conquering Your Kitchen (#afflink)!  I think you’ll find Annemarie to be really down-to-earth; her journey to conquer her own kitchen may sound similar to your own story.  Without further delay, here are the questions I asked, and Annemarie’s candidly refreshing answers!

An Interview With The Author, Annemarie Rossi

Tell us a little about yourself, your family, and the kind of cooking you all enjoy most (any favorite recipes?)
I live with my husband and two elementary school aged children outside Boston, Massachusetts. We’re a mainstream suburban American family. My 10-year-old son helps on occasion with the cooking, but it’s my 9-year-old daughter who really likes to get in on the action. She likes to make recipes out of her ChopChop Kids Cookbook (#afflink). Our favorite family meals include taco night and pizza. Personally, my favorite meal is a big, loaded salad. And we all love just about every type of dessert! Homemade ice cream is a treat we enjoy during the summer.

What was the inspiration behind The Untrained Housewife Series?
The Untrained Housewife was started by Angela England in response to an email that was sent across her mothers’ group email list: “Help! My mother never taught me how to cook!” Many women who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s didn’t learn basic cooking skills at home. A whole generation of intelligent, accomplished women find themselves overwhelmed by the prospect of providing homemade food to their families.

Were you what you’d consider an “untrained housewife?”
I did learn a recipe or two from my mother, but in general, I was not especially “trained” in the kitchen. I learned to cook little by little over the years.

I love the concept of empowering women to feed their families good meals. Where did you get the idea for Conquering Your Kitchen?
Angela envisioned this book long before we met, but the topic was a natural one for me. I get sad when I hear women say, “I can’t cook,” and I loved the idea of writing a book that would walk people through the logistics of how to cook good meals at home. I believe that everyone can cook. My 9-year-old makes lasagna all by herself. It’s not rocket science – it just takes time and commitment.

How did you go about changing from a packaged food household to a from-scratch food household?
We started out with the 10 Days of Real Food challenge from the website, 100 Days of Real Food. During those 10 days, we made a commitment to eat food that was either made from scratch at home or that had a very short ingredient list with ingredients that we might cook with at home. For those 10 days, we didn’t eat anything with added sugar except for natural sweeteners (honey and pure maple syrup). This 10 day experience help get me started on adjusting to a homemade food lifestyle.

Was your family enthusiastic about the home cooked meals, or did they need some convincing of your new cooking style?
My family was generally enthusiastic. They liked the idea of the 10 day challenge. There were a few instances during the 10 days when the kids encountered highly processed treats like popsicles and lemonade stands. I left it up to them to decide if they wanted the treats (I wasn’t forcing this commitment on them), and they did choose to stick with the real food commitment.

What’s your opinion on the importance of families having sit-down meals regularly together?
Sitting down as a family to eat meals together regularly is essential. My family has dinner together most nights, and we like to do a sit-down breakfast on the weekends. Family mealtime is one time of the day when distractions are set aside and we can simply spend time together.

How do you keep on top of the never-ending cycle of keeping good quality food ready for your family?
It’s impossible to keep on top of the cycle without meal planning. I plan meals one week at a time so that I never find myself without anything healthy available to eat. I also try to keep my freezer stocked with back-up meals and healthy snacks like muffins and granola bars. That way, there’s always something available even when our schedule gets interrupted.

I’m not perfect. We do go out to eat sometimes, and we do eat processed food sometimes. It’s all about doing your best and not getting stressed out about food.

Do you have any recommendations for those who are trying to conquer their kitchens — on a restricted diet?
I was diagnosed with dairy and gluten sensitivities several years ago, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It woke me up and made me more aware of what I was eating. I stopped eating dairy for 2 years, and I didn’t eat gluten either for one of those years. I became skilled at reading ingredient labels, which I hadn’t regularly done before that. I now eat small amounts of high-quality gluten and dairy, but they aren’t the focus of my diet like they used to be.

For those who are living with food restrictions, I recommend focusing on the positive. You have an awareness about what you’re eating that others don’t have.

How did you see your food budget change when switching to completely homemade foods?
My food budget didn’t actually change much when we switched our focus to homemade food. Processed food is almost always more expensive than homemade food (contrary to popular opinion), but my budget remained stable because I started buying higher quality, often organic ingredients. It’s important to look at your food priorities and decide where you want to focus your spending. Organic milk and veggies, grass-fed meat, and locally produced items often cost more than their lower-quality counterparts, so you need to decide where to focus your resources.

Do you have any words of wisdom for those considering a CSA or farm share, but are worried about the “odd” foods?
I was nervous to join a farm share at first, but now I can’t imagine how I ever lived without it. A farm share stretches people outside their comfort zones and gets them eating veggies they wouldn’t buy at the store. This imposed variety results in a healthier diet, and it facilitates meal planning. Many farms allow you to swap veggies that you know your family won’t eat, so you won’t necessarily come home with food that’s destined for the compost bin.

Is the Farmer’s Market a good step down from a CSA, for those who aren’t willing to make the commitment?
I wouldn’t call it a step down. Farmers’ markets are another great way to support local farmers and get delicious, locally grown produce. Shopping at the farmers’ market is a good fit for people who want to pick out exactly what produce they bring home. It’s also a good option for those who travel often in the summer and can’t get to the farm share pick-up each week.

Do you maintain a vegetable or herb garden, and why?
We don’t have a lot of sunlight in our yard, but I do grow raspberries, chives, and a few other goodies each year. We’re planning to try pumpkins this summer. I love being able to show my children how food grows, and we all enjoy the fresh bounty that comes from our own yard. I don’t have a green thumb, so it feels a bit miraculous when things actually grow in our yard and we can eat them!

Any suggestions for those of us who have trouble timing all the components of a meal to be ready at the proper time?
I always prepare part of dinner before dinnertime. We all get hungry and cranky around 5:00 at my house, so I can’t bear to do the entire dinner prep in that time and space. I put some of the pieces in place the night before, or else during the morning. Planning ahead is a key element to success in the kitchen.

How has eating from scratch impacted your family’s health?
When we used to eat a lot of processed food, my children were always bringing home the latest cold or stomach bug from school. These illnesses would typically spread through the family, and someone was sick more often than not. I also suffered from seasonal allergies. I never thought these minor health annoyances had anything to do with food. But when I started cooking most of our food from scratch, we stopped getting sick and my allergies disappeared completely. I haven’t been congested in years. Our quality of life has improved dramatically as a result.

Of all the recipes in Conquering Your Kitchen, which are your favorites?
From the breakfast chapter, I’d say it’s the blueberry banana baked oatmeal. The raw chocolate energy bars are my favorite snack at the moment. From the veggie chapter, I love the roasted cauliflower. For dinner, I never get tired of the chili recipe. I love every recipe in the dessert chapter, but I think the brownies are probably my favorite.

Do you have any favorite cooking websites or cookbooks that inspire you?
I’ve always been inspired by Lisa Leake’s website, 100 Days of Real Food (#afflink). She helped me to see that a typical family can move away from processed food. My favorite cookbooks are Joy of Cooking (#afflink) and anything by Mark Bittman. In Bittman’s cookbook, Kitchen Express (#afflink), the recipes are written in paragraph form without specific quantities. The reader has to figure out what he means when he says to add a little bit of this and a handful of that. I think it was this cookbook that taught me how to cook things on my own without following a recipe exactly. Everyone should learn how to do this.

Anything else you want to share, about Conquering Your Kitchen or otherwise?
This may come as a surprise, but I don’t actually love to cook. I’m not one of those people who gets excited about cooking all afternoon and creating a feast. I don’t mind cooking, but I don’t love it. I do LOVE to eat, though, and I love having a healthy family. This is what keeps me motivated in the kitchen. Anyone can do this!

Annemarie Rossi, is the author of Conquering Your kitchen. She received her undergraduate degree in Psychology from the College of the Holy Cross, as well as a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College. Now a suburban mom in the Boston area, Annemarie has been happy to see a trend in healthier eating throughout New England. She enjoys traveling with her family, and they always visit farmers’ markets and restaurants that celebrate locally sourced food while on vacation. To keep up to date with Annemarie’s recipes, tips, and food travel stories, follow her at RealFoodRealDeals.com.

Final Thoughts On Conquering Your Kitchen

While I received a complimentary copy of the book, Conquering Your Kitchen (#afflink), for review purposes, my opinion of this book is my own — and I am a fan. I really enjoyed the recipes, the discussions of how to arrange your kitchen for efficient cooking, and many other tips that fall in line with my vision of a well-run kitchen.

Thank you so much, Annemarie! I hope Conquering Your Kitchen helps many feel more confident and at home in the kitchen. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that there is nothing like a good homecooked meal. They always taste so much better.

So, what about you? Do you have any favorite easy recipes or go-to meals that can be made from scratch — without too much effort or pre-planning? I’d love to hear thoughts on your confidence in the kitchen, or where you are at in your journey to conquering your kitchen!

What Makes An Exceptional Teacher?

posted in: Notes | 6
Today I’m welcoming Sue Lively of One Time Through as she shares a snapshot from her childhood, and the wonderful story about how her teacher, Mr. Smith, inspired her to learn, grow, and ultimately, become a teacher herself. What a wonderful tribute to an exceptional teacher!

Sue is an elementary school teacher on extended parental leave to stay at home full time with her son. She is passionate about all things related to arts and-crafts, language, and science! Thank you Sue, for sharing these musings on what makes an exceptional teacher. I can think of a few such teachers from my own childhood.

— Betsy

What Makes An Exceptional Teacher - One Time Through @ BPhotoArt.com

What Makes An Exceptional Teacher?

What do you think makes an exceptional teacher? Is it that unique ability to put oneself into a student’s shoes and see things through their point of view? Is it having a mastery of one’s subject or exceptional communication skills? Is it about seeing a student as more than just a sum of their parts?

Everyone has a favourite teacher that they can remember from early school years. Probably your favourite teacher had a few, if not all, of the qualities listed above. My favorite teacher certainly did.

Mr. Smith

He was a little unusual for an elementary school teacher, because he was a man. Also, it was widely known that teaching wasn’t his only gig. Mr. Smith not only taught full-time, but he wrote the drama critiques and reviews column for the large newspaper in the city close to where I grew up. He was highly involved in theatre himself and brought that love to his students.

I was lucky enough to have Mr. Smith for my teacher in grades 1 and 2 and later when I was in grades 4, 5, and 6; I was involved in school musicals that he directed.

What I remember most about Mr. Smith from the early grades was that he was FUN. Isn’t it always those teachers that stand out in your memory? Our classroom was full of laughter, poetry, art and drama.

I remember that he used to keep exceptional artwork up on his walls, long after those students had moved into higher grades. I was always proud to return to his class as a “big grade 5 or 6er” and see one of my art pieces still there! He just had a way of making kids feel good.

Teaching Through Discipline

He also treated his students exceptionally fair. There was one time when I was given the privilege of staying inside at recess on my own to finish an art piece. For some reason, only God knows why, I went around the room and tore a small corner off the page of everyone else’s work. I can remember clearly doing this, but to this day, have no idea why I did it!
When the kids came back in from recess, Mr. Smith easily figured out who the art culprit had been, as my piece was the only one without a missing corner!

I remember being quietly pulled into the hallway and firmly but gently confronted about my behavior. There was no scolding or shaming, just a very serious discussion about my actions and how they had affected others.

I think I remember that episode so much because I felt very deep remorse about my actions, and I was grateful my favorite teacher still liked and cared about me, even though I had been quite naughty!

Committed to Excellence

Later on, in grades 4-6, Mr. Smith directed me in the school musicals. He encouraged me to try out the first year, and really took me under his wing.

These musicals that he directed were not just “kid-stuff” either – they were big productions. We had amazing costumes rented from a theater company, professional lighting, and performed for large audiences. We rehearsed for months and really felt like we were a part of something important. They were a source of self-esteem and positive memories.

The time commitment from Mr. Smith, and the other teachers involved, must have been huge. It’s hard to see that as a kid, and although we all loved Mr. Smith, I don’t think any of us really appreciated how much work and time he must have put in to do these shows with us…and really, FOR us.

As a teacher and a parent now, I can see all the amazing things he did…and was. Mr. Smith was such a huge positive influence on me.

Encouragement Into Adulthood

He encouraged me to pursue singing and acting, which has been a source of incredible enjoyment in my life. Even into adulthood, he followed my “career” and supported me by interviewing me for his newspaper column, even giving me great reviews for my performances in several musicals.

He has become a positive mental teaching template for me. I often think about how Mr. Smith would deal with certain situations when I am challenged by a student.

He has also inspired me to direct musicals with my own students over the years and hopefully I can make a difference for some of them as he did for me. This has been one of my favorite, and the most rewarding, parts of being a teacher.

Lifelong Positive Influence

The photograph above shows Mr. Smith and me after I had received the grade 6 Drama Award. You can tell by my face that I was thrilled, and especially honored to receive this award from my favorite teacher.

When I look at it now, tears fill my eyes, and I send a hearty thank you to this special man who had such a positive influence on me as a child, and as an adult.

Thank you, Mr. Smith.

– Sue Lively

What About You?

Do you have an all time favorite snapshot from your childhood? Maybe a photo from your school years? I have memories of my favorite teachers, and seeing snapshots of their classrooms can bring so many memories to mind.

Do you have an exceptional teacher who inspired you like Mr. Smith inspired Sue? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Sew Together, Grow Together – Sewing Activity

posted in: Parenting | 21

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

Sew Together, Grow Together (Book Review)

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

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

A Child-Directed Sewing Activity

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

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

Toby picked the colors:

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

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

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

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

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

Sewing Teaches Life Skills

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts on Our Sewing Activity

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

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

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

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

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

Sewing Activity – Gallery of Snapshots

Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode.

Patriotic Artwork Craft Activity For Kids

posted in: Notes | 16

In honor of Memorial Day, I put together an impromptu art activity for our son …so we could have some patriotic artwork to hang on the front door today!
Patriotic Artwork Craft Activity - Planning a free-form activity to encourage self expression and creativity in kids! - BPhotoArt.com

While I love seeing elaborate crafts and projects others have done (via Pinterest), my style is a little more informal and aimed at culturing creativity. For us, replicating a craft or following steps to end up with the “correct” project just doesn’t always work out. Toddlers, when they have their mind set up on doing things their way…. are an immovable force to be reckoned with.

So, this free-form activity had no rules, aside from keeping ink and glue on the paper canvas (i.e. off the table).

I laid out a large white envelope as the paper canvas for this patriotic craft, pulled out some red, white/silver, and blue items that we had on hand (paper, sparkly pipe cleaners), etc. Of course, no patriotic artwork craft would be complete without stars, so I set out a star rubber stamp and ink pad. Supplementary supplies included scissors, a glue stick, tape, and a blue highlighter.

Patriotic Artwork Craft Activity Supplies - BPhotoArt.com

While Toby went after the scissors and started cutting paper enthusiastically, I showed him how he could tear up the paper into strips and even squares. He allowed me to help make some squares while he cut abstract shapes.

Then he discovered the stamp and ink pad. First his thumb went onto the ink pad, and since this was our first time using an ink pad, I told him about how he could make thumbprints — which he tried. But the stamp was more fun.

Patriotic Artwork Craft Activity for Kids - BPhotoArt.com

Toby immediately stamped his hand (just like at the library), then asked for permission to stamp his arms and face. I have to admit, I declined on the face, but did permit the arms do gain some stars.

Stars were stamped everywhere, on the paper, on the little torn squares, you name it. He then started spreading glue on the white canvas and sticking things to it.

It was great to watch the creative gears turning as Toby switched from one tool to another. The scissors were a frequently used tool, although the blue highlighter was briefly more popular.

Patriotic Artwork Craft Activity for Kids - BPhotoArt.com

Finally, he got to the tape. Long streams were pulled from the dispenser and stuck to the canvas, the table, everywhere. I helped Toby get the tape back onto his canvas, and once we decided to “save” the rest of the roll for Grandma, impromptu craft time was complete.

Toby was proud to show off his patriotic artwork craft to Grandma (whose house we were at), and to Daddy when he got home.

I love that this project came together so easily, that there were no rules or restrictions, and how our son really got his creative thought process going.

[Click on any image in the gallery below to view full size]

Resources + Supplies

Here are supplies similar to what we used for this artwork craft project. I’m all for buying in bulk when it comes to kid craft supplies… it never hurts to have extras on hand.

You may also want to check out my Art for Kids Pinterest board, where I’ve been pinning lots of fun art projects for kids (not specific to any holiday in particular)

Follow Betsy @ BPhotoArt.com’s board Art For Kids on Pinterest.

Do You Have Any Patriotic Artwork Craft Ideas?

Are you a fan of the pre-planned activities, or is free-form crafting more your style? What works best for your kids?

I’d love to hear about any craft or art activities you’ve tried, whether they’re patriotic in nature or not. It’s always fun to see what others are doing!

How to Plan an Outdoor Photo Scavenger Hunt for Kids

posted in: Parenting | 7

What better way to get outdoors than to plan an outdoor photo scavenger hunt for the kids? Scavenger hunts can be a lot of fun, and if you opt to do a photo scavenger hunt it lines up with the wildlife preservation philosophy: “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”

Whether we’re in our backyard or in our local park, I’ve tried to explain this concept to our son. The idea of leaving a place nicer than you found it can be explained a number of ways to toddlers. My frequent comment is something along the lines of: “if everyone took a rock, there wouldn’t be any left for anyone to enjoy!”

Ok, so onto our outdoor photo scavenger hunt for kids!

Plan an Outdoor Photo Scavenger Hunt for Kids - BPhotoArt.com

When planning a photo scavenger hunt for kids, you can keep it really simple, or go all out with fancy printables and photo checklists. When doing this activity with my toddler, we opted for the simpler, more impromptu, method. But if you have an older child, make sure to check out some of the resources at the end of this post, as I found a lot of neat checklists and printables for photo scavenger hunts for kids.

Our Outdoor Photo Scavenger Hunt

Since our son is three, and can’t read yet, we didn’t make any printed lists (I’ll share a list of ideas later on though). We just went outside in the backyard with a camera! We walked around, I pointed out nature items and our son spotted and/or identified them.

Toby wasn’t too interested in taking the pictures himself (wow, that’s a once in a lifetime occurrence!), so I took pictures of either the objects themselves, or him with the item of interest.  The key is being flexible so it’s fun for your kid!

Later, I got the pictures off the camera and onto the computer, where we enjoyed looking through the pictures and talking about what we found in our backyard!  If you’re trying to limit screen time, I could see printing out the photos and putting them in an album for a future “find it from the photo” scavenger hunt.

Spring Backyard Photo Scavenger Hunt – Photos

Here are some of the things we found on our scavenger hunt!  A little further on, I’ll give you a list of things we were looking for, but as you’ll see from the images I’m sharing, my son was focused on spring flowers and other greenery during this outing.  Just so you know, we took more pictures, but I’m just sharing a sampling of the photos from our scavenger hunt to give you an idea of what we found (click on any thumbnail to open the large view gallery).

Photo Scavenger Hunt Checklist

If you’re looking for a list of ideas, here are some things you could put on the photo scavenger hunt list!

  • Flowers/Plants: daffodil, black-eyed Susan, daisy, marigold, peony, rose, strawberry bush, tomato plant, garlic, chives, oregano, mint, dandelion, ragweed, milkweed
  • Trees/Saplings: maple, oak, pine, apple, pear, cherry, dogwood, willow, blue spruce, birch, poplar
  • Seeds/Nuts: acorn, walnut, mushroom
  • Insects/little things: bumblebee, mayfly, dragonfly, housefly, ladybug, aphid, ant, pillbug/rolypoly, millipede, centipede, earthworm, praying mantis, walking stick
  • Birds: red-winged blackbird, robin, chickadee, oriole, blue bird, mourning dove, Canadian goose, swan, great blue heron, turkey vulture, sparrow, barn swallow
  • Animals: deer, squirrel, rabbit, fox, coyote, chipmunk, garter snake, field mouse, groundhog, skunk (hope not!)

With older kids, you can print out the list, hand it to them, and have them venture off with a camera to photograph all the different things they can find.  I chose to keep the list on the shorter side by grouping all flowers into one item.  Multiple photos could be taken for bonus points!

Younger kids, such as my toddler, will need the photo scavenger hunt to be adapted based on their current temperament and interest.

Photo Scavenger Hunt for Kids – Resources

Here are some other posts I found, some of which include printables, that should provide inspiration for your photo scavenger hunt! I’ve also included some more scavenger hunt goodies from Pinterest! (Links will open in a new window for your convenience)

Follow Betsy @ BPhotoArt.com’s board Scavenger Hunt (for kids) on Pinterest.

Have Ideas for a Photo Scavenger Hunt for Kids?

I’d love to hear your ideas of things to look for, what activities worked for you, and thoughts on how activities like this can be tweaked for different age groups.

And, if you do try this photo scavenger hunt idea, make sure to report back as to how your kids liked the activity!

Backyard Outdoor Photo Scavenger Hunt for Kids - Flowers - BPhotoArt.com

The Backyard Games Series - Outdoor Photo Scavenger Hunt - BPhotoArt.comThis post is part of a series celebrating Backyard Games week (May 19-26).

Thirteen bloggers, including myself, are sharing some great backyard game ideas to help get you outdoors!

Documenting Generational Family Portraits

posted in: Photography | 7

I really love documenting family memories. And while it is fantastic to plan outdoor sessions with a relaxed feel, there’s something to be said for the more “formal” generational family portraits. Keep in mind, I don’t mean stiff and overly posed. I’m talking about extended family portraits which span generations.

For this generational family portrait session, I helped plan a lovely series of images in studio. Coordinating 16 people for a portrait can be complicated, but fortunately for my clients, it comes easily to me! This family was really a pleasure to work with and create portraits for. Everyone was so cheerful and laid back, I didn’t have much to do in terms of helping them relax for the portraits! It’s always great when personalities shine through — especially in photographs, don’t you think?

At the end of this post, I’ll share some tips for documenting generational family portraits and important milestones (like new additions to the family). First, let me share these lovely family portraits with you. Here’s the complete generational family portrait, with all the extended family groupings included. I love images like this that span multiple generations. Besides, they’re great for documenting a growing family as well (see the adorable new baby!!).

Generations Family Portrait in the Studio

Whenever I plan an extended family portrait, I ALWAYS recommend doing smaller family group portraits as well. Why? Well, because I have everyone in one place. That’s usually tricky to do, right? Everyone is in different places at the same time because of schedules. It’s best to take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself. Plus, this way I can offer my clients a lovely portrait to pair with the main generational family portrait when it comes time to creating wall displays. These smaller family portraits are going to look great on the wall next to the generational family portrait!

Family Portrait in the Studio

Another portrait that I highly encourage is one of the grandparents, like this portrait below. In organizing my own personal family photographs, I’ve noticed that as a couple grows older together, they become more focused on having professional portraits to document their children and grandchildren rather than themselves. I totally get this.

But, all the same, kids and grandkids appreciate having the portraits to document how they remember their grandparents. So don’t forget to include this portrait in your next generational family portrait session. Another cute one along these lines, if you have reluctant grandparents is to do a portrait with grandparents and grandkids all together. What grandparent doesn’t want to have a portrait of them with their grandchildren, right?

Grandparent Portrait in the Studio

And here are some more portraits of the smaller family groupings. I don’t think I’ve mentioned clothing yet — but notice everyone is NOT wearing the same color. Sometimes my clients want matching outfits, and I’m happy to do so. But, choosing outfits in complimentary tones works really well visually while still preserving a sense of individuality. I love the shades of gray, white, and black in this image …and denim jeans usually go well with everything too.

Family Portrait in the Studio

Family Portrait in the Studio

Tips for Natural Looking Generational Family Portraits

As promised, here are some suggestions for when you plan your generational family portrait. I typically go over this sort of thing in more detail during the planning stage of a portrait session, so don’t get overwhelmed thinking you have to have all these things decided ahead of time. It’s my job to help guide my clients in the right direction.

Who are you going to include? Sometimes families will decide to do sibling portraits, grandkid portraits, and on rare occasion some families ask me to do a second shot of the portrait without significant others (“just in case”). If that’s important to you, please let me know. Generally, though, I always suggest including significant others and spouses in the images because I feel they help document that time in a family’s life. And no one likes being asked to step out of a photo 😉 because they’re “not family.”

Where will your family portrait be? I’ve planned portraits in the studio, at clients’ homes, or even at a location outdoors that has special meaning for that family. My favorite generational family portrait on location? It was done at the family’s farm house that had been passed down through generations.

What will you wear? Make sure to plan your attire so that it will work for your family. You don’t want people feeling uncomfortable or stiff because of the clothes they’re in. I’d much rather plan a more relaxed generational family portrait with casual clothing if it means that everyone will be relaxed and interact cheerfully for the the camera!

What about pets? Sometimes there are family pets that need to be included too. I’m happy to accommodate these requests, but it does help me to know ahead of time whether that pet is a lap dog …or a horse. So, don’t feel like you have to exclude your animals from the portraits — they’re a part of the family too, after all!

Resources for Documenting Family History + Genealogy

Here are some resources if you’re interested in documenting or researching for family’s history. It can be fun for kids to learn from their elders by “interviewing” them about what it was like growing up — whether it is 20 or 50 years ago, the differences are still amazing. Links will open in a new window for your convenience. (Also, check out my Family History + Genealogy Pinterest board).

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

What About You?

What are your favorite family memories? Are there photographs you treasure because they capture a moment in your family’s history as you remember it from childhood? Do you have generational family portraits that are special to you? Or maybe you don’t have many photographs from your family history… does this make you feel a more urgent need to document your own family’s milestones and memories?

As always, I welcome your comments, thoughts, ideas… and if you are looking to plan a professional family portrait, I would be more than happy to talk with you about how we can best document your family through photographs.

Extended Generational Family Portrait in the Studio

Making Sense of Words

posted in: Parenting | 15

Last night my toddler read his first two words. We’d spent a few minutes in the afternoon playing what I named “The Almond Game” — an Egg Carton Reading game based on the book, Teach Your Child to Read in 10 Minutes a Day by Sidney Ledson (#afflink).

I had bought this book a year ago, when my then-two-year-old said he wanted to learn to read. We didn’t really do much with it at the time, but since we started working on letter recognition, I did bring it back out this week. And what a difference a year makes. It was impressive to see my son process the sounds and read two words on his first day of “lessons.”

Anyways, I’ve shared some “teaching reading” resources at the end of this post, but please first enjoy my poem inspired by my son’s new milestone (beginning to read). This bookworm mama is proud 🙂

Making Sense of Words

Letters and sounds
lines and curves
cover the pages of books.

A secret language
unreachable, unintelligible —
for the illiterate child.

Picture books are well and good
but nothing compares to
cuddling up with a good book
and letting the words come alive.

The desire to learn is there,
the goal to decode those mysterious
black and white lines
marching across page after page.

The letter’s name is not its sound
As the animal, a cow, says “moo”…
the letter U says “uhhh.”

What tricky business, separating
names from sounds — unlearning
the alphabet to learn how to
sound out the foreign words
comprised of familiar letters.

But success comes quickly for the young,
a glow of pride spreads from ear to ear
as not one, but two first words
are sounded out — independently.

“Uhh” …”Puh.” Up. Pup.
High fives awarded all around
my young reader beams
excited that the world of words
has finally been decoded —
the world of books is his.

Reading Resources

Here are some resources for teaching little ones how to read. Links will open in a new window for your convenience. Also, make sure to check out my Learning + Education Pinterest Board for more ideas.

Follow Betsy @ BPhotoArt.com’s board Learning + Education on Pinterest.

What About You?

Do you have any tips for cultivating the love of reading? Maybe a tried and true way of teaching sight recognition? I would love for you to share in the comments.

As for me, I’m looking forward to continuing to cultivate my son’s love of reading. Maybe “bookworm” is a nickname that will be generational 🙂 — based on how much he loves “reading” the pictures of books he knows, I’m thinking yes.

Making Sense of Words - Learning to Read Books

Knitting – A Lost Art

posted in: Fine Art | 33

One of my (many) hobbies is knitting. I enjoy the repetition, the act of creating something delicate and utilitarian from practically nothing, and the fact that a work in progress can be easily toted along to keep my hands busy while in waiting rooms or the like. Plus, there are no batteries involved, nothing needs recharging, and there is no need to search for a wifi signal.

It’s interesting to recall the comments I’ve heard in regards to this hobby. I’ve been complimented by older women for my ability to create something so delicate as it’s “not common” anymore… and I’ve heard moms explain to their toddlers: “she’s knitting, like Nana does.” It’s also interesting to note how while my fingers are engaged in knitting, I’m free to observe and listen whatever unfolds around me.

While “engrossed” in my knitting, I notice a lot of people hypnotized by smartphone screens. There are always moms messaging and skimming Facebook or Pinterest posts while their kid is swimming in the class next to my child. And I wonder — what happened to being content with where you are, when you are? Sometimes I do set down my knitting, pause what I’m doing, to make sure I’m not accidentally taking myself away from where I’m at — but in general, even though I look busy, my mind is actually engaged with what’s going on around me.

Here’s my latest project – a lace wrap I test-knit for the Wearable Art Emporium (Linda has some lovely patterns — if you are into knitting, I suggest you check her stuff out). Skim a little further down this post for more images of the wrap, my poem, “A Lost Art,” and my Pinterest board for all things related to crochet + knitting.

knit lace wrap - leaves garden

A Lost Art

My needles click calmly as I knit
click, click, click, click…
a calming metallic repetition
that reminds my son of
a train engine on the tracks.

On resting rows, my needles fly
faster than fast — purling incessantly.
Then I return to the right side,
begin again the intricate pattern.
The clicking needles slow
to a pace that is calmer and more deliberate.

Don’t drop a stitch, don’t skip a row.
Aside from following my pattern,
my mind is free to wander —
to be otherwise engaged
while my fingers keep busy
passing yarn over needles, again and again.

The repetition is calming, even peaceful.
My stress melts away in the calming
process of creating something
from a simple skein of yarn.

My project takes shape slowly,
even I am unsure how it will turn out
until it is finished.

In this age of technology, my mind delights
in something so simple, so tactile and physical.
I am joined to generations past through
my knitting as I keep a forgotten skill alive.
This lost art is intriguing, ever challenging.
Each new project both challenges and calms me.

My low-tech creative outlet may seem
antiquated, obsolete, unnecessary,
but it brings me relaxation, inspiration —
provides an escape from this high-stress,
fast-paced world in which we live.

knit lace wrap - leaves garden

Knitting and Crochet Resources

Here are a few resources for you if you’re interested in learning to knit or crochet. Or if you just want to be inspired for your next project. Links below will open in a new window for your convenience.

Follow Betsy @ BPhotoArt.com’s board Crochet + Knitting on Pinterest.

What About You?

Do you have any favorite patterns or projects to share? Do you prefer to knit or crochet? Or, have you always wanted to learn? I’ve shared photos of a really complicated pattern here, but many projects are quite easy and good for beginners — such as scarves, dishcloths, and even granny squares. What are your favorite projects for beginners?

“Kids In the Garden” – Growing Romaine

posted in: Parenting | 10

“Kids In the Garden” has featured a guest post of mine on Growing Romaine Lettuce from Kitchen Scraps. I am excited to participate in their series Kids in the Garden; Learning and Growing! Here’s a sneak peek (er, some of the outtakes from the photo session) before you head over to read my guest post: Growing Romaine Lettuce from Kitchen Scraps.

kids in the garden - growing romaine

This started out as an experiment for the winter months, and actually turned into something quite exciting. Who knew that you could take the core of a romaine lettuce head and grow more lettuce? Well, I do now! You’ll have to head over to learn how the process works in more detail, but you can check out some “behind the scenes” photographs here first.

kids in the garden - growing romaine

Toby was thrilled to participate in this with me. He was also happy to be able to sneak some lettuce off the cutting board as a snace. Cinnamon, one of our cats, was very interested in what we were doing also (you can see her checking out the lettuce in one of the photos).

kids in the garden - growing romaine

Have I intrigued you enough yet to head on over and learn how it’s done? Make sure to read my article on growing romaine lettuce from kitchen scraps so you can get the step-by-step instructions on how to start growing your own lettuce!


Kids in the Garden Resources

Here are some links for further gardening ideas. They’ll open in a new window for your convenience. Let’s get those kids in the garden!

Do You Have More Ideas?

Do you have more ideas for getting kids in the garden? Or, into gardening? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Unstructured Outdoor Play

posted in: Parenting | 16

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

Happy Toddler - playing in melting snow - unstructured outdoor play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

unstructured outdoor play - melting snow - snow castle

More Resources – Unstructured Outdoor Play for Kids

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

Books Related to Parenting + Unstructured Outdoor Play

Articles On Unstructured Outdoor Play, etc

Schools + Unstructured Outdoor Play

Ideas From Parents for Unstructured Outdoor Play

Unstructured Play – Your Experience

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

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

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

unstructured outdoor play - toddler carrying snow with a spoon

Outdoor Nature Walk @ LNC

posted in: Parenting | 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outdoor/Nature Resources

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

Cold Weather Outdoor Nature Ideas

Year Round Outdoor Nature Ideas

Nature Printables

Birds + Bird Watching


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

  • Have More Outdoor Nature Walk Ideas?

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

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

    Sundog Rainbow Sunrise

    posted in: Fine Art | 11

    My son loves rainbows, so when we saw this sundog rainbow the other day, it kept his attention for quite some time. His room faces East, so most mornings he is able to enjoy the sunrise… Because, as most toddlers are, he is often up before the day dawns.

    Nature's sundog Rainbow Sunrise Landscape Photography

    Sundog – Rainbow – Sunrise?

    Is this really an uncommon occurance? If you aren’t familiar with sundogs, I’ll share some weather links at the end of this post. But, to summarize, they are an iridescent shine, or rainbow, seen to the left and right of the sun, formed from clouds which are heavy with ice crystals. In short, it’s typically a winter rainbow, if you want to oversimplify things.

    Why do we find rainbows so interesting, after all? Well, there’s the story of Noah’s Ark, with the rainbow being a promise. There’s the science behind the natural phenomenon of a rainbow (sunrise though?). And the sun rising signals a new day, a fresh start, the return of warmth (usually).

    And here is a close up view of the sundog (rainbow sunrise). Not really all that spectacular, so far as a full-blown sundog rainbow goes, but rainbows without rain, during winter, aren’t all that common so I’m giving myself a little leeway to be excited along with my toddler. There’s something about immersing yourself in their world that makes things suddenly seem infinitely more interesting.

    Sundog Rainbow Sunrise Landscape Photography

    Winter Sunrises

    Aren’t winter sunrises inspiring, even without a sundog rainbow? Since my toddler started waking before the late winter dawn, I’ve grown more fond of seeing the sun’s rays slowly rise over the earth fill the day with warmth and brightness. Well, at least the perception of warmth, huh.

    Here is a view of the sunrise through the trees on this cold morning. I love how frost coats the branches on mornings like this. At the same time, I’m glad my morning commute only involves a couple flights of stairs, and doesn’t require venturing outside. I think it was single digits, temperature-wise.

    Nature Sunrise Landscape Photography

    Finally, the sunrise on the snow. Almost looks like an artic nature scene rather than something in our backyard. Nature photography really reminds me to see the beauty in everyday things, the ordinary miracles that get passed over during the rush to get everything done.

    Sunrise on Snow Nature Photography

    Sundog Rainbow Phenomenon

    So, is it really a sundog rainbow, or even a rainbow? Here are some weather links to explain the sundog (rainbow) phenomenon, which doesn’t always look like a rainbow, but sometimes just like a bright sun spot, or second sun.

    Have you had the opportunity to experience a sundog “rainbow”? I’ve seen a number of them, usually during the winter when it is very cold, and usually during the morning. I hear that if the moon shines brightly enough during the right weather conditions, there is even a rare chance to see a moondog. Pretty neat.

    Backyard Wildlife | Nature Photography

    posted in: Fine Art | 5

    Even in the cold weather… it’s still good to get outdoors.  We’ve been enjoying the bountiful wildlife-watching opportunities (and corresponding opportunities for nature photography).  There is a herd of deer that likes to frequent our neighborhood.  I believe one count yielded a total of 12 deer, but quite frankly they move around so much we could be off by a couple.  Interestingly, some of the deer will run out across the lake (seeing that it’s frozen) rather than walking the “long way” around.  Where one goes, the others follow.  This particular evening, we had deer galavanting all over the lake, our backyard, you name it.  This nature photography shot is a combination landscape and wildlife scene… love the beginnings of a pink sunset.

    And then came the turkeys.  Or maybe they preceded the deer.  Too much backyard wildlife to keep my story straight, I guess.  Nature is really quite interesting to observe.  These are two of the (usually) 6 turkeys that walk from the stand of trees in the photograph, through our backyard, and that of our neighbors, before heading back into “nature.”  Sometimes we’ll see them twice in one day.  And if you’re not familiar with turkeys, do know that they have quite long legs.  The snow in the photograph below comes almost midway up their gangly legs (taken through a particularly dense window screen; my apologies… one of the downfalls of nature photography taken from indoors).


    I sometimes wonder how much of this wildlife activity I would notice, in my own backyard nature sanctuary, if I didn’t have a toddler around the house.  We enjoy pointing the wildlife out to each other and then spending a good 5-10 minutes watching their antics as they promenade through our backyard and the neighborhood.  The love of nature photography is apparently something I’ve passed onto our son; as he enjoys pretending to “flash” pictures with his cool kidnoculars (affiliate link disclosure), which are neat toddler-sized binoculars (see image to right) he got for Christmas.

    Wildlife + Nature Photography Tip:

    Patience is key.  While my toddler may enjoy “scaring” the animals from time to time, you need to be quiet and still if you want to effectively watch nature unfold — even if you’re indoors.  Animals have really good hearing, and they are especially sensitive to movement.  So, if it’s evening and you have the lights on in your house, don’t be surprised if you scare them off by dashing to the window to see your backyard wildlife.  A safer bet would be to turn off the lights…or move very slowly.  Pretend you’re stalking the wildlife (well, you are…but in this case, it’s to observe or photograph the animals).

    On Pomegranates and Waiting…

    posted in: Fine Art | 2

    Toby and I recently spent an afternoon dissecting a pomegranate given to us as part of a fruit basket. It’d been so long since I have had one, I had to look online for how to cut a pomegranate. In retrospect, I’m not sure if I ever have. My toddler was thrilled to watch the process, and excited to chomp down on the tiny pomegranate seeds as I put little handfuls on his plate; he reluctantly agreed we should save some for Daddy.

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