Learn about Quality of Light (a kid-friendly experiment!)

posted in: Learning | 1

This week we’re talking about quality of light! And I have an easy, kid-friendly, experiment that your kids will have a blast doing. Now first, we’ll have to delve into what the photography definition is for “quality of light.”  And this term is really the essence of photography.  Because photography depends on it.  How you choose to add light ot a scene (or leave it be) will drastically alter the appearance and feel of your final photograph.

Learn about Quality of Light (a kid-friendly experiment!) - part of Betsy's ABC's of Photography series at BPhotoArt.com

Here’s a quote I found on the web, from Gary Black Photography:

 

The quality of light refers to the light source, the direction of the light and its colour [sic]. The light can be hard, as it is in direct sunlight on a cloudless day, or soft and diffused as in an overcast day.

I’m not sure how to provide a simpler explanation of that.  The quality of light is a combination of factors that affect how the finished photograph looks.  You can take pictures of the same thing on a different day, or even the same day, and the quality of light could be very different.

Think of your kitchen table.  Maybe the sunlight streams through the windows in the morning, making it very bright and cheerful.  But if you come back at midday, your kitchen will look different, because the sun is overhead and the light entering your kitchen is softer and less direct.  You might remember we touched on this when we learned about existing light by going on a scavenger hunt around the house, or when we learned about flash with three different activities.

As an aside: If you’ve joined us partway through this Photography ABC’s series, please make sure to check out a few of the past posts where we talked about some of these different qualities of light.  And if you’ve been with us from the beginning, thank you!!

Anyways, the quality of light is something that’s easier to identify when you see it than by me describing it to you.  So, here are some ways to learn about quality of light!

Learn About Quality of Light With Flashlights

Have your kids set up a few toys at your kitchen table (or wherever), and make sure to have the following items at hand:

  • flashlight (or light source)
  • white paper or cardstock

Dim the lights, and then have your kids shine the light directly at the toys.  If your kids are older, have them write down some observations on a piece of paper, otherwise you can just discuss with them…

  1.  Is it easy to see the whole toy?
  2. Can you see a sharp line between light and shadow, or does it gradually change?
  3. Does the light feel hard or soft?
  4. Are there any details in the shadows, or is it so black you can’t really tell?

Next, hold up the paper as a filter between the flashlight and the toys.  Experiment with moving it closer to the toys, or further away from the toys. See how the quality of light changes.  Again, discuss (or write down) what you can see.

  1. Does it become easier to see the entire toy, even the parts in shadow?
  2. Does the light seem to become “softer”?
  3. Which light do you like better and why?

There really are no right and wrong talking points here.  It’s just a matter of observing, and being able to visualize the concept we’re talking about.  Quality of light is something that’s easiest to understand when you see it!


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

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Learn about Perspective (hands on camera activity for kids)

posted in: Learning | 1

Today in our ABCs of Photography series, we’re going to learn about perspective!  As always, I’ll be using simplified explanations that kids can understand (hooray!).

Learn About Perspective with these kid friendly photo activities! | BPhotoArt.comPerspective is how you look at things.  We see the world in three dimensions, but a photograph captures life and compresses it down into two dimensions.  I like this definition I found on B&H Photo (read more about their explanation of perspective):

Perspective has several different meanings—several applicable in some way to photography. For the photographer, perspective is a summation of the relationship between objects in a photograph.

This definition from School of Digital photography is nice too (what is perspective and how can we use it to improve the composition of our photographs):

Perspective refers to the relationships between objects in a photograph, the relative distance, size and space etc. perspective could be used to define a subject’s shape and form and also to convey to the viewer a sense of volume, space, depth and distance.

Okay, so let’s try and simplify that further.  Because simpler is better, right?

For photographers, perspective is how the different things in a picture appear, where they are in the photo compared to each other. Because you can’t walk into a photo (it’s flat, after all), your perspective is chosen by the photographer — they decide how things will look, where to get you to look, by how they take the picture.

 

Perspective Photo Experiment

Now, here’s an easy way to experiment with perspective!  (This one is really a fun activity, if your kids like taking pictures, like mine do).

Put some objects on your kitchen table, or a surface of any sort, really. Maybe some legos, or some fruit, it doesn’t matter what, so long as they are similar in size.  Try to put an object at each end of the table, and one in the middle too.  Maybe you put an toy truck in the middle, a toy car at one end, and a toy train at the other end.

Then, try walking around the table, looking at it from different angles.  When you take a picture from one side, the toy car will look bigger than the toy train.  When you walk around to the other end, the photo will show the toy train as being bigger.  When you take a picture from above, all three vehicles will look equally large.

Talk about these differences in perspective with your child, maybe prompting them to experiment with different angles of view as needed.  You can discuss the change in perspective during the photo taking part of the activity, or if you’d rather wait until it’s time to look at the pictures, that’s ok too.

Smartphone Panorama Perspective Experiment

Another way to see the the concept of perspective is to create a panorama with your phone — and have your kids run from one spot in the image to another while you are panning your camera phone across the room.

Yours might turn out a little mashed together, like my first attempt at this did, but your kids will undoubtedly have fun running back and forth across the room multiple times while you figure things out!

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Your kids will be able to see how they look bigger or smaller, depending on how close to the camera they were!

Talking Points

You can make something look really really big by getting up close and below it when you take the picture.

You can make something look very small by taking the picture from above, or from far away.

Now, some people think photography isn’t an art.

But it is… photography is all about finding the right perspective, choosing the way to have the image look the way you want.  Obviously perspective is a much more complex topic than this, but you get the idea.

And by trying this exercise on perspective, I bet you’ll see it too.


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

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

 

Our Experience With Online Piano Lessons

posted in: Parenting | 0

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

Perfect timing!

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

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

busy-kids-do-piano

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

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

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

The answer is yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Tips That Will Save Your Sanity

posted in: Parenting | 0

five tips that will save your sanity - betsy's photography - bphotoart.comWhile our goal may be to keep life stress-free, you know as well as I do that that just doesn’t happen. Somehow, things always manage to complicate life, and sometimes we just want to throw in the towel.

My own search for sanity hasn’t been completely successful, but then again, I doubt it ever will be. Instead of trying to eliminate stress, I’ve found that it’s better to find activities that are relaxing — find a way to relieve stress when it comes into my busy life.  Read on for Five Tips that will Save Your Sanity!

Breathe.

Have you noticed that when you take short, quick, breaths, your body gets more tense? Well, the opposite is true too. When you’re feeling stressed, managing your breathing is an easy and effective way to relax your body and mind.

Instead of just breathing from your chest, take deeper breaths — your stomach should expand as you use your diaphragm to fill your lungs completely. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale…

Breathing slowly and deliberately will make your body relax and will clear your mind, allowing you to regain your sanity!

Exercise.

This is one of the best ways to relieve stress, anger, or frustration! By exercising, you can relieve pent-up energy and direct it towards something more beneficial (we all know it’s not good to internalize things, right?).

Plus, you’ll feel better and have more energy to do the things you love!

Of course, exercise also has the added benefit of being good for your health and maintaining weight — but think of those as “bonuses” :).

Be Flexible.

Some of the most common sources of stress could be avoided if we are willing to compromise.

Of course, there’s a time and a place to stand your ground, but sometimes there is room to give. A little flexibility can go a long way towards maintaining sanity.

Schedule “You” Time.

Yes, it’s important to help others, but you also need to help yourself. By dedicating time to your needs, you’ll be more refreshed and better prepared when it comes time to help others.

Try to spend some time each day doing something for you — it could be a getting a manicure, reading a book, or even painting a picture.

Spend some time doing what you love so that you will be able to enjoy doing things for others.

Get Enough Sleep.

Not surprisingly, sleep is important. If you’re like me, when you get too little sleep, things seem to be more frustrating and exasperating. In turn, this makes life more stressful.

While I’m not saying you need to go to bed when the kids do, it probably will make life a little less stressful if you make an effort to get to bed by your bedtime. Well, what if it’s just one of those days? Try getting a nap in, and if that doesn’t help, you can revert to your normal pick-me-up (e.g. coffee, tea, or chocolate) for the day.

So, there you have it! Five easy tips for maintaining your sanity and keeping your life as stress-free as possible! Of course, these are just suggestions; I’m sure you can think of additional activities and methods to reduce stress and keep calm. Just remember, a healthy lifestyle starts with a healthy mind. It is worth your time to unwind and relax — as you begin to focus on saving your sanity, chances are, you just might find yourself starting each day with more energy and excitement!

What Kind of Camera Should You Get?

posted in: Parenting | 0

What Kind of Camera Should You Get? Moms weigh in on their go-to favorite camerasThe inevitable question that is asked of me, as a photographer, is this:

“I’m looking at getting a new camera, what kind should I get?”

I have to break it to you.

There is no simple answer.

Sure, I could tell you to go for the biggest and the best.  Or the most expensive.  But what good will that really do you?

Instead, my usual reply is this:

What do you want to use it for?

Then, depending on how the conversation goes, I might ask what type of bag you want to carry around if you plan to have your camera on hand always.  Do you have a purse that can fit the kitchen sink?  Yes? Well, then that entry-level DSLR might not be a bad idea.

But, on the other hand, if you’re like me, and have a small purse, or sometimes no purse at all, then you might want to think in terms of compact cameras.  The quality on today’s cameras is really phenomenal, so it depends, again, on what you’re going to use it for.

What I like about my “everyday camera” is that I can fit it in my pocket.  And I can use it with one hand.  Bonus points because it takes videos.

Actually, the HD video feature was a selling point for me.  For my personal use, I wanted a camera that could document our everyday moments. One that could record my boys as they took their first steps. A camera that would be on hand and easy to operate while I maneuvered around small children.

I didn’t want something I needed to think about. Or a camera with a lot of parts.

Changing lenses?  Not something I wanted to deal with.

But then again, I’m a professional photographer. I do this day in and day out.  I need to draw the line, find a way to experience my life rather than concentrate all my energy on documenting it.  So the compact camera was my choice.  I am still happy with my five year old Canon G12 (#afflink – I’m using Amazon affiliate links in this entire post, thanks for your support!).

When you buy a camera, make sure you’re confident in the brand.  In the five years since I purchased my G12, I’ve had to send it in for repairs twice… due to inadvertent camera drops.  Fortunately, I know Canon stands behind their product, and that the repairs they do are top notch.  Just something to consider if you look into any off brand cameras.

So, what should you do if your 10 year old camera is dying?  Have you been told it’s better to buy a new one than to repair?  Are you hoping to find recommendations for a good replacement?  What to do…

Think about what you want.

Do you want small size, portability? Do you want easy to use, easy to download, etc?  It all comes down to personal preference.

Now, let’s hear from some other people about their favorite camera.  These all happen to be moms who use their cameras on a regular basis.  Their opinions vary as much as their cameras do, but each has figured out what works best for them.

Now, as you read through these thoughts below, consider which opinions echo your own sentiments.  It may just help you get a better idea of what camera you should get.

 


Canon DSLR Bundle – Canon EOS Rebel T5 with 2 lenses #afflink
It’s easy to use, takes great pics and came with 2 lenses. It can be cumbersome to take to school events where there’s not much room in the seating area but I love it.

Peta Groth, www.greatgoogamoogas.com


iPhone + DSLR – iPhone or Nikon D3200 with 2 lenses

IPhone (does that count?) I have a lovely Nikon DSLR that takes great pictures, but my phone fits in my pocket and is always on hand. I make a point to pull out the Nikon for fun sometimes and for special trips and events, but when capturing our everyday moments I almost always use the IPhone.

Erin Buhr, www.bambinitravel.com


Canon DSLR – Canon EOS 70D kit

Canon 70D – being able to shoot in manual mode to get quality pictures is invaluable to me. I would rather carry around a nice camera bag that looks like a purse with my DSLR in it than have mediocre photos of the memories I care about. Getting used to carrying a bigger camera was pretty easy too and I am much happier with the results even though I have an awesome camera on my phone.

Kara Carrero ALLterNATIVElearning.com


 

Olympus Tough Waterproof Camera

These days my go to camera is an Olympus Tough point and shoot. Since I’m in my 40s, I cut my teeth on heavy SLR film cameras–I didn’t go digital until my first kid was 4, and I’ve had enough of carrying a giant bag for camera and baby gear. The Tough is water proof, dirt proof, drop proof and fits in my jean’s pocket. I have boys, I need to be able to keep up with them! Plus it takes blog worthy photos. (I have a Sony a100 DSLR if I feel like dragging it around.)

Denise Bertacchi, stlMotherhood.com


 

Nikon DSLR

I am always carrying around my Nikon DSLR. I hate it when I am stuck using my camera phone to capture a really great moment of my kids because the quality is not up to par. I purchased a new larger purse so my camera fits in it so I will always be prepared to snap away!

Katie Pinch www.alittlepinchofperfect.com


 

Canon Elf – Canon Powershot Elf 350

I have a simple canon elf that tucks into my purse that seems to have 9 lives. (it has been dropped, stepped on, splashed, and still works 7 years and 3 kids later!) It takes good photos and videos for it’s size and price. My kids use it often too! I also have a Canon Rebel EOS that has a much clearer image, but is bulkier, so I use a camera case when bringing it out and about. I love the clarity of the picture and couldn’t image life without it! The image is clear and I can change lenses but it doesn’t have video.

Amanda Boyarshinov www.theeducatorsspinonit.com


I hope you found this post helpful!  It’s always tough to decide on something like what camera you should get, so if this post has helped you at all, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

Thankfulness + Gratitude Journal

posted in: Parenting | 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

What have I listed?

It varies depending on the day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Time For Yourself

posted in: Fine Art | 1

With all the directions we’re being pulled in, it can be tough to carve out time for yourself!  Like me, I’m sure you wear many hats — perhaps including things like business owner, household manager, kid wrangler, laundry sergeant, extracurricular activity planner, ….the list goes on.

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Drawings and sketches in 2016, created by Betsy Finn. (Disclaimer: These are photographed with my phone… so I can share them daily!!!)

Posted by Betsy Finn on Sunday, January 3, 2016

Let’s face it. Our schedules are busy.  Life is busy.  And nothing we can do will make it seem any less busy.

Well, that’s not quite true.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve done one thing daily that has helped me feel like I’m treating myself.  I’ve opened my sketchbook and spent time drawing.  

For me, there is nothing more relaxing than the act of creating something.  

Whether it is a photograph, a drawing, a sculpture, …heck, even artisan bread… the process of creation is what leaves me feeling inspired, relaxed, and joyful.

Some days I haven’t been inspired, but once I forced myself to get started, that feeling was replaced by contentment.  It’s fun for me.

I have to admit I have a few ulterior motives behind the lofty goal I have unofficially set for myself. 

My not-official-goal?   Drawing every day — ideally finishing a new drawing each day.  

You see, I am a perfectionist by nature, and there’s a tipping point for me when I’m creating.  At some point, I usually reach a spot where I’m “afraid” to go on — a gnawing concern that if I do any more, I might “wreck” it.  Of course I know better than that little voice inside my head, but still, it is tempting to just stop and call it quits.  

And that’s the point where I have been forcing myself to continue on.  For better or worse, I’ve been forging ahead and finishing drawings that, several years ago, I would have left in sketch form.  

I have to say, it’s really exciting. Liberating. Not perfect, but hey, life isn’t perfect.  I don’t need my drawings to be either.

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By drawing daily, I’m doing something for myself — I’m helping myself to get past that mental roadblock.

And it’s amazing how once one roadblock comes down, others start to fall too.

You see, that whole thing about not having enough time for yourself?

It’s a myth.

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You can have time — you just have to make time.

Whether it’s an hour or five minutes, you owe it to yourself to do something for yourself regularly. Do you love to read?  Try to read a chapter every day — or even just a paragraph!  Or maybe you like to do something that can’t realistically be done on a daily basis.  Make time weekly.  By taking care of yourself, you’ll be able to take better care of others, to better fulfill your obligations.

Maybe you owe it to yourself to set a consistent bedtime, or to go for a walk every morning.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, or anything creative.  But find something you can do consistently and regularly.  Something that you enjoy.

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Here are some ideas to get you brainstorming ways you can take care of yourself:

  1. Start a thankfulness journal and write 5 things you are thankful
  2. Draw in a sketchbook
  3. Work your way through a book by reading a paragraph or chapter
  4. Go for a walk every morning, or after dinner
  5. Spend 10 minutes playing wholeheartedly with your kids
  6. Turn off your phone and just relax/meditate/think for five minutes
  7. Listen to your favorite music for 10 minutes
  8. Take a break from sitting at your desk — stand up and stretch!
  9. Subscribe to a daily podcast and listen to it
  10. Complete a scrapbook page
  11. Do a daily crossword puzzle
  12. Try to finish a brainteaser or sudoku puzzle
  13. Play cards (solitaire, etc) by yourself
  14. Take a shower or bubble bath
  15. Take a break after putting the kids to bed — the dishes can wait a few minutes
  16. Work on a jigsaw puzzle
  17. Take a power nap
  18. Just take a breather… a single deep breath in, followed by a deep exhalation
  19. Make a cup of coffee or tea for yourself (and sit while you enjoy it)
  20. Think about all the things in your life you appreciate

See, the things you can do to take care of yourself are so variable.  It doesn’t have to be the same thing every day, either.

Just make time for yourself.

Seriously.

You deserve it.

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If you have any tips about making time for yourself, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!  What are some ways you make sure to take care of yourself emotionally, mentally, physically, or otherwise?  What helps you keep a positive outlook on life?

 

Managing Toy Clutter in the Family Room

posted in: Parenting | 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engineering Fun!

posted in: Learning | 0

Engineering Fun!We somehow ended up with a few extra PVC frame laundry hampers in our home.  So, as is usually the case, my creative toddler discovered a way to repurpose it.  Toby asked me about taking it apart.  I thought, “sure, why not?”

So, for the next hour, our kitchen became an engineering construction site.  Toby gleefully pulled apart the PVC pipes and connector pieces, reconfigured them in various arrangements.

The hamper became a car, a boat, among other things.  We rebuilt it into its original form, and then draped our play fort fabrics over it (see how we made our own fabric play fort kit from old sheets).

I ended up keeping the hamper, as it inspired so much creative play.

A few days later, I noticed Toby’s little brother using the hamper for a different purpose — Zack was pushing it around the floor happily.  The hamper was also a DIY baby walker!  It definitely came in handy during those few transition weeks as my not-quite-a-baby-anymore learned to walk on his own.

Take a peek at some of the pictures below…

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Toby disassembling and reassembling the PVC parts.
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Some of the parts were trickier than others to connect and pull apart.
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Toby would have taken the whole assembly apart multiple times if there had been time before bed.
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And then it was time to put things back together…
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Toby was able to manage most of the connections himself.

So, overall, I’d say this activity was a success.  Toby got to use some problem-solving skills and have fun constructing.  We didn’t spend a time, and in the end I still had my PVC hamper available for use (although I have to say, it’s been officially repurposed as a kid toy by now).

Rooting + Dividing African Violets

posted in: Learning | 0

Rooting + Dividing African VioletsAround here, we love finding ways to bring nature indoors.  And one of those ways is to have houseplants.  For the longest time, my mother has had African Violets basking in the Northern windows of her home.

So, several years back I mentioned to her that I wanted to have some African Violets of my own for our house.  My mom made me a generous offer…

Her African Violets were ready to divide, so if I was willing to split them I could have some African Violets of my own to take home within the week!

I did a little research online about how to best divide African Violets, because all I’d ever done up to that point was root African Violet leaves.

It turns out either method is pretty simple.

Well, rooting the leaves is simplest. So let’s start with that.

Rooting African Violets

You get a few African Violet clippings from a friend with a healthy African Violet plant.

Take those clippings, and stick them in fresh water.

Leave them on your windowsill until the clippings start to grow roots.

I found it best to change the water out every couple days, so that things didn’t get slimy or gross.

Once you have roots, simply put into dirt and enjoy! I have always used “African Violet Potting Mix” — because that’s what my mom uses, but if you want to try general potting soil, that’s your prerogative!

Okay, now onto the trickier project… dividing African Violets.

Dividing African Violets

There are a lot of detailed tutorials, and even YouTube videos, about dividing African Violets.  So I’ll spare you that.  Take a quick search and you’ll find something that explains it in minute detail.

The basic premise of dividing African Violets?

The plant’s leaves usually all originate from one central location. So, when you see a plant that has two central points where leaves are stemming from, that means you can split the plant into two.

To do this, I gently eased the African Violet (and dirt) from the pot.  Then, I loosened the dirt from the roots so I could see the structure.  After trying to find which roots go with which portion of the plant, I used a sharp knife to gently slice through those intertwined roots.

We then put the plants into fresh soil, in new pots.   Well, actually, the plants soaked in water jars for a few days while I got around to locating my stash of ceramic self-watering African Violet pots.

But that’s it!  One key thing to remember?  As my mother told me — don’t get water on top of the leaves.  It’s not good for the plants.

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Two African Violets, ready to be potted, and three African Violet leaves, ready to root!
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Toby had fun digging in the potting soil to get the plants’ new homes ready.
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We filled the pots carefully with new potting soil for the African Violets (before Mommy put in the plants).

Practicing Scissor Skills with Family Photos

posted in: Parenting | 0

Practicing Scissor Skills with Family PhotosaThis is a fun little activity that I created on the fly for my four year old.  He wanted to cut things with his scissors… And I just happened to have some photos on hand.

Now, I’m not advocating you hand photographic prints to your child to have them practice their cutting skills, because we all know where that could lead.

(Yikes! It could be worse than “mom, I cut my bangs!!”)

But most printers can print out average quality photos, even on normal printer paper.  I used my color laserjet printer to print out some photos on standard printer paper — 9 images to a sheet.  This created some nice straight lines between the images, which I hoped Toby would try to follow when cutting.

It seems like I didn’t explain my idea quite well enough (or Toby had his own activity in mind) — the activity became a series of snips and cuts in seemingly random array.

Oh well.

In the very least, I provided my child with something of interest to cut.

The simple actions of cutting — scissor skills — were still being practiced:

  • holding the paper with your helping hand
  • proper scissors grip (thumb in the hole on top, fingers in the hole on bottom)
  • safety skills for using and carrying scissors

So, even though our activity didn’t turn out exactly as intended, I’m still calling it a win.

Toby got to practice his scissor skills using printouts of family pictures.

And, the icing on the cake?

My toddler got out the hand broom and dustpan, and swept up all the paper scraps …on his own accord.

Hooray for self-sufficiency!

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Why You Shouldn’t Give Up Piano (or whatever instrument you play)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music is calming, relaxing.

Music is food for the soul.

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

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

 

Want to Start Your Kid in Music Lessons?

The big question is often this:

when is my child ready to start music lessons?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So yeah.  Music is good for your brain.

Travel “ID” Card For Toddlers (Free Printable)

posted in: Parenting | 4

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

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

Some travel tips for you:

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

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

bphotoart-travel-id-card-printable

Get Printable ID Card JPG | PDF

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

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

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

posted in: Parenting | 7

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

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

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

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

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

Toby's balance bike
Toby’s balance bike

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

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

Our DIY balance bike, with pedals removed

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

Toby's pedal bike
Toby’s pedal bike

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

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

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

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

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

I added some verbal reminders at some point:

pedal, balance, steer!

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

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

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

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

Within minutes, Toby was totally confident:

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

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

fall down seven, get up eight.

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

So we added another verbal reminder:

show me your “slow downs”

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

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

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

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

Success is so sweet.

It is worth the hard work, the tears.

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

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

Meant to share this one yesterday. .. #latergram

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

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

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

posted in: Parenting | 5

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

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

1. Pack Lots of Snacks

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

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

2. Drive During Naptime

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

3. Pack a Little Potty (for emergencies)

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

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

4. Bring Wipes + Paper Towels

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

5. Let them Pack a Bag of Toys

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

6. Have a Bin of Surprise Activities

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

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

7. Give Your Kid a Map

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

8. Have them Help Pack Clothes

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

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

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

10. Pick a Travel Buddy

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

11. Bring a Familiar Pillow and Blanket

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

12. Pack Slippers

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

13. Find a Hotel with a Pool

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

14. No Pool? Have Bath Time

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

15. Plan a Picnic in the Hotel

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

16. Keep Your Normal Bedtime Routine

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

17. Bring a Stepstool and Toilet Seat Insert

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

18. Give Kids Their Own Water Bottle

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

19. Leave a Light on at Night

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

20. Eat a Good Breakfast

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

21. Leave What You Can in the Car

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

21. Have Them Help Load/Unload the Car

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

22. Let them “Explore” The Hotel

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

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

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

24. Limit Screen Time

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

25. Expect Delays + Detours

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

26 . Create a Special Music CD

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

27. Be Prepared for Temperature Differences

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

28. Avoid Restroom Power Struggles

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

29. Be Patient

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

30. Give Your Kid a Camera

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


 

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

20 Questions About Mom (to Ask Your Toddler)

posted in: Parenting | 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. How old is your mom?
10

7. How tall is your mom?
Real tall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15. If your mom were a character, who would she be?
Nobody

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

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

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

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

20. How old was your Mom when you were born?
5

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

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

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

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


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

Dwarf Lake Iris – Michigan’s Official Wildflower (A Craft!)

posted in: Learning | 6

Iris Lacustris - Michigan's State Wildflower - Dwarf Lake Iris - CraftLately I’ve become interested in adding native plants to our gardens and wooded area.  Sure, non-native flowers can be gorgeous, but there are so many native options to choose from that are better suited for the environment (and therefore easier to grow).

So today we’re going to learn about Michigan’s official wildflower.  And a brief summary of how it came to be the Dwarf Lake Iris.

Long story short, the popular vote was for Trillium (another native wildflower) to be named Michigan’s state wildflower.  Politicians decided to proceed with the second place wildflower, the Dwarf Lake Iris, due to its threatened status.  Maybe they thought the additional awareness about the unique and threatened habitat of the Dwarf Lake Iris could help preserve the species.

I’ve never seen one of these beauties in person.  But thanks to the internet, I was able to find a number of blog posts and photos featuring the Dwarf Lake Iris.

Here’s one that was taken by Joshua Mayer in Wisconsin (see below).  The Dwarf Lake Iris may look familiar, but that’s because it’s part of the Iris family.  This particular flower is miniature — about 1.5″ flowers, with 2″ stems and 6″ leaves.

The Dwarf Lake Iris is unique to the Great Lakes; its scientific name, Iris Lacustris, means “rainbow of the lakes.”

Dwarf Lake Iris (Iris lacustris)
Photo by Joshua Mayer

Online Learning

Here are some resources I found if you want to learn more about the Dwarf Lake Iris:

  • Iris Lacustris – Center For Plant Conservation – I learned that 95% of the existing Dwarf Lake Iris plants exist in Michigan, and that its primary threats include loss of habitat, increasing human disturbance, and Iris Lacustris is very similar to the related (and more common) Iris Cristata.
  • Iris Lacustris – Michigan DNR – this has a nice map depicting where the Dwarf Lake Iris is distributed in Michigan.  There are some interesting tidbits, including that “of the lakes” meaning I mentioned earlier.
  • Iris Lacustris – Flora of Wisconsin – here’s a brief summary of the plant and how to identify it (including pictures).
  • Iris Lacustris – Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center – another brief summary of the Dwarf Lake Iris and pictures of the flowers, including a rare white blossom.
  • Michigan State Wildflower – Netstate – If you’re interested in how the Michigan Wildflower Association sponsored an informal public poll for the state wildflower, and how the runner up was nominated in 1997 by House Representative Liz Brater (supported by the Michigan Botanical Club, the Michigan Nature Association, the Michigan Natural Areas Council, the Michigan Environmental Council, and the University of Michigan Herbarium)…. this site has the political aspect covered.
  • Dwarf Lake Iris – Michigan Sea Grant – another brief summary of the Dwarf Lake Iris’ habitat, characteristics, the fact that its scientific name means “rainbow of the lakes” …plus more pictures
  • Dwarf Lake Iris – U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services Endangered Species – facts about the Dwarf Lake Iris (including printable fact sheet), why it is listed as a threatened species, what is being done to protect it, and how to hopefully prevent its extinction.

Books + Activities

I found some additional craft and activity resources for learning about state flowers and native plants, which you might enjoy (Amazon #afflinks used below):

Dwarf Lake Iris Craft

orchidNow for a fun craft to help facilitate discussion about Michigan’s official wildflower.  I kept this pretty simple, as I wanted to go with an artistic abstraction that would encourage my son, Toby, to think and visualize pictures of the Dwarf Lake Iris in terms of simplified shapes.

For this activity, we used some origami paper that I received for review purposes (Orchid Origami Paper – 500 sheet pack #afflink).  I have to say, the paper totally lives up to my standards so far as origami paper goes.  The surface of the paper is smooth, they are easy to fold and get sharply creased, and the colors are really bright.

And before you say anything, yes, I know… cutting is kind of a no-no when forming origami creations.  But, I couldn’t help but be drawn to all the bright colors when I was trying to decide on a craft to go along with our discussion of Michigan’s official wildflower.

I gathered up some origami paper and some art paper, plus a pair of scissors.
I gathered up some origami paper and some art paper, plus a pair of scissors.
I cut the different colors of paper into different simplified shapes - petals (blue and yellow) and leaves (green).
I cut the different colors of paper into different simplified shapes – petals (blue and yellow) and leaves (green).
Here's my take on the Dwarf Lake Iris - some leaves, the stem, and the base color of the leaves have been laid out on the white paper.
Here’s my take on the Dwarf Lake Iris – some leaves, the stem, and the base color of the leaves have been laid out on the white paper.

 

Next I added the color contrast on the leaves -- yellow and white (the white was the backside of the yellow paper).
Next I added the color contrast on the leaves — yellow and white (the white was the backside of the yellow paper).

 

And here's the final craft.
And here’s the final craft.

 

Be forewarned, the paper bits can make a big mess.  We had to put baby brother in the exersaucer during this craft.
Be forewarned, the paper bits can make a big mess. We had to put baby brother in the exersaucer during this craft.

So that’s all there is to it!  This could be more of a sensory experience, if you let the paper pieces be loose and transient like we did, or you could use a glue stick to permanently adhere the abstracted pieces to the paper.  Your call. I went with simpler and more experimental.  Because that’s what works for us!


tour-the-world-by-flowerTour the World By Flower

This post is part of the Tour the World By Flower blog hop.   Every state and country (and as we’ve discovered, province, county or territory) has an official flower. A number of bloggers have collaborated to Tour the World by Flower with crafts to learn about various official flowers!  Make sure to check out Suzy Homeschooler’s Michigan Apple Blossom craft, which is the official state flower for Michigan.

Disclaimer: I received one or more products gratis in exchange for an honest evaluation — the opinions expressed are 100% my own.

101 Things Your Kid Can Do With a Cast On

posted in: Parenting | 35

101 Things your kid can do with a cast on!Honestly, I could have also titled this list “101 Laid Back Activities for Kids Who Like to be Active.”  But since I made this list when my toddler, Toby, was wearing a cast, we’ll stick with that.  Toby managed to get a hairline fracture in his leg while being silly last fall. It took three days, two trips to the ER, and several sets of x-rays to revise his injury from a sprained ankle to a fractured tibia. Let’s just say, while I was sad he broke his leg, I’m glad I listened to that mom instinct and returned to the ER for more x-rays.

We had two stressful days in a temporary splint before we were able to get in for the permanent cast. Which wasn’t a walking cast, persay. But in all honesty, who can keep a toddler from walking or standing on their cast for three weeks? Not this mom.

The loss of independence was really rough for Toby. To go from doing pretty much everything himself to having to ask for help with the simplest things is tough. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid or an adult! I helped my husband through a similar situation when he tore his patellar tendon. It doesn’t matter if you have a caregiver who is more than happy to take care of you — it’s the loss of independence that wears you down. Not being able to walk or get around is rough. And more so for kids because they can’t verbalize their feelings.

I wracked my brain to come up with things that we could do — things that Toby would enjoy and be kept busy with while the cast remained on. Let’s just say I was really grateful that we had weekly activities on the schedule to help pass the time. Preschool, moms and tots, and the like. But the one that didn’t work? Swim lessons. Although I did find some waterproof cast covers for swimming on Amazon (#afflink) that looked really neat — this discovery came midway through our cast time and it wouldn’t have been used more than once by the time I could get it in hand.  A fellow mom shared one of her blog posts with me about her child’s cast activities: Having a Blast When Your Kid Has a Cast.

All in all, we made it through.  What did we do?  Well, a lot of things.  While I didn’t document our every adventure, I did compile a list of 101 things your kid can do with a cast.  Keep in mind some of these activities may need to be modified depending on whether you child has their leg or arm in a cast.  But hopefully these things will get you thinking of even more ways to have fun when your kid is somewhat immobilized!

101 Activities You Can Do While Wearing a Cast

  1. Read books
  2. Visit the zoo
  3. Make a sand volcano
  4. Bake bread. We like to make Irish Soda Bread (recipe)
  5. Play beanbag games (indoors)
  6. Get them thinking about helping others by making an acts of service jar
  7. Visit the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum (a local children’s museum with tons of activities to do and things to see).
  8. Make a portable tinkering kit
  9. Go to story time at the library.
  10. Learn to code (get a kano computer kit on Amazon #afflink)
  11. Visit the park and go on the swings (this could work for casted legs, arms not so much)
  12. Go see a play or musical
  13. Take a bike ride (if you have one of those pull-behind bike trailers that’s on my wishlist #afflink)
  14. Play a musical instrument (or just make noise on one)
  15. Make a toy boat from a greeting card
  16. Go to an aquarium
  17. Host a playdate (or meet up at a park).
  18. Come up with creative ways to play with Magna Tiles (we LOVE ours! Get your own Magna Tiles on Amazon #afflink)
  19. Plant some seeds and start a garden
  20. Make a foldable take along train track set
  21. Go “digging” for bugs with an excavation kit
  22. Have a movie night, with popcorn and kid-selected “toppings”
  23. Make your own mini microscope
  24. Make a camera obscura (shadow box from my ABCs of Photography for kids activity series)
  25. Make sculptures from nuts and bolts
  26. Combine learning and play with racecar math
  27. Make heat sensitive color changing slime
  28. Play with glowsticks
  29. Practice lacing with these free printable lacing cards
  30. Learn how to work (or play) with yarn
  31. Make Lego Inspired electric playdough
  32. Have a camp out, complete with tent if you have one (either outdoors, or in your living room)
  33. Color rocks with permanent magamerkers
  34. Sew a nature pouch
  35. Go to the grocery store and let your kid ride in the “fancy” car shopping cart
  36. Put together an arts + crafts busy box
  37. Make milk carton crayon ice candles
  38. Have a bonfire and make smores
  39. Play numerous indoor games with balloons
  40. Make bouncy balls from loom bands
  41. Have a sing-along party
  42. Make a play fort kit from old sheets
  43. Make raisins dance (science experiment)
  44. Play “I Spy” (with flashlights!)
  45. Make a bug house (or be lazy like us and buy a bug house on Amazon #afflink)
  46. Make a time capsule
  47. Create a new recipe (we made peanut butter jelly dip)
  48. Make trail mix (and let your kid pick what goes in it)
  49. Make popsicles and learn about diversity in the process
  50. Do a science experiment to make flowers change colors
  51. Make a buckle toy from an old carseat
  52. Make a cardboard pirate ship
  53. Play doctor and take care of a stuffed animal’s broken arm/leg
  54. Make a money bank
  55. Make ice cream in a bag
  56. Zoom (gently) around the house on a wheeled toy (we love our bumblebee wheely bug #afflink)
  57. Get a birdfeeder and go birdwatching up close
  58. Get out pipe cleaners and thread them through a strainer/colander
  59. Get a subscription to the Animal Trackers Club
  60. Make a lava lamp
  61. Make DIY seed paper (for growing seeds)
  62. Play Move and Groove, a movement-based dice game (get Move and Groove on Amazon #afflink)
  63. Make your own homemade marble runs
  64. Make Stone Soup (and read the book, of course)
  65. Play with straws (7 ways!)
  66. Sew something together
  67. Get busy coloring (90 free coloring pages for kids)
  68. Pretend to be super heroes (we got our cape at the Super Run!)
  69. Go out to eat for a lunch “date”
  70. Make your own geo board
  71. Melt frozen hands (a salt and ice activity)
  72. Play board games
  73. Make glowing bounce balls
  74. Make your own board game (check out my In A People House board game with printable)
  75. Paint with flowers
  76. Try animal yoga for kids
  77. Grow romaine lettuce from kitchen scraps
  78. Sneak around the house in “stealth mode”
  79. Make a DIY Air Fort
  80. Make a quick and easy photo memory game
  81. Learn about chemical reactions using baking soda and vinegar
  82. Order a waterproof cast cover for swimming on Amazon (#afflink) and get in the pool
  83. Turn an old toddler bed into a sandbox
  84. Play with a ball (catch, rolling the ball back and forth, bouncing it, etc)
  85. Make a peace corner
  86. Check out these 20 No-Prep Fine Motor Activites
  87. Play with kinetic sand
  88. Make a lip balm rocket
  89. Have a wheelbarrow race (hold your child’s legs, let them walk on their arms)
  90. Make a button snake (for practicing button skills)
  91. Learn math with 100 creative, hands-on math activities for kids
  92. Work in the garden together
  93. Try some stretching exercises
  94. Go for a car ride and let your kid choose which way to turn (e.g. “left or straight?”)
  95. Learn about bubble science, make your own bubble solution and bubble blower
  96. Make fizzing sidewalk paint
  97. Make a rubber band powered car
  98. Go on a photo scavenger hunt
  99. Give your child a piggyback ride
  100. Make a shape stretchie for creative movement
  101. Have tickle time (or if you need something more calming… try snuggle time)

Phew!  We made it.

Did you start skimming the list? Or give up, deciding to bookmark this (or pin it) for later?  I don’t blame you.  I needed a break after getting this list put together for you!

If you have any other ideas you’d like to add to the list, I’d love to hear from you.  Have you ever been in a cast?  What was the worst part?  Did this list get you excited?  Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!

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