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

posted in: Learning | 5

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 | 39

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!

5 Reasons We Love the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum

posted in: Notes | 1

I have many fond memories of the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum as a child. My girl scout troop had a lock-in there (we got to sleep on the 4th level of exhibits!), we had numerous field trips… and now I get to take my boys to experience the museum as well!  This post has actually been months in the making… I kept pushing it back in the schedule and I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because there is so much to do and see, or because the Hands on Museum keeps changing and updating their exhibits.  Whatever the reason, no more excuses!

These pictures are from a year ago, so it’s a bit of a trip down memory lane.  Toby looks so little, it’s amazing to see just how much kids grow in a year’s time.  And of course, Zack hadn’t arrived yet either.  A lot changes in a year.

Anyways, the Hands On Museum.  I wanted to share 5 reasons why we love it.

1. The museum encourages curiosity about how things work.

This is a biggie for me.  Growing up, my favorite books were “The Way Things Work” and an illustrated first aid book.  I was always asking: “why?”  I wanted to know how the world worked.  And I see that same natural curiosity in my boys.  Toby asks why a lot — and I don’t want to dissuade him from being interested in how the world works… but I admit sometimes the constant “why?” question does get old.  So we’ve come up with a solution — he has to ask what we call “why questions” or sentences.  It can’t just be “why?” — but needs to be a complete thought.  So far, that approach has worked pretty well!

2. There is a toddler room with age appropriate activities.

Before this room existed (years ago), all of the exhibits were child friendly, but many were geared towards older kids.  And during the day, when the museum became filled with children, it could be tough for the little ones to explore amidst the big kids.  The toddler room gives little ones a place to play …without worrying about being bowled over by older children.  There’s even a baby zone, for extra little ones.  We have spent many hours in this one room; Toby loves the ball whatchamacallit that has a conveyor belt, ramps, drop zones, and of course buckets for collecting the balls.  Also popular?  The toddler water table.  Two parent-friendly features that I really appreciate are the fact there’s a family restroom right off the toddler room (so you don’t have to pack up and leave just for a potty break), and that there is always a staff person monitoring the toddler room (to keep kids from leaving with out their adult)

3. It is a great option for winter excursions.

During the long winter months, it’s tough to keep from going stir crazy inside the house.  Since the Hands On Museum is about 15 minutes away from us, we would frequently bundle up and venture to downtown Ann Arbor for a fun playdate — either with friends, or just on our own. If we got out of the house as planned, we’d usually arrive just when the museum was opening.  Perfect for us, as it wasn’t yet busy, and we could plan around naps and lunch.  Sometimes it’s just good to get out of the house.  And the Hands On Museum can be a great place to go.

4. Membership options can include guest passes.

As a birthday present one year, we got a family pass to the the Handsn Museum — one that included guest passes too.  It was really nice to be able to introduce other friends to the Hands On Museum and not feel bad about finding out if they had a pass before inviting them.  We like to take care of our friends, and for the small upgrade fee in our membership, this option was totally worth it.  Plus, grandparents can take the kids too!  I think there’s also a named caregiver option as well, but since i watch the boys during the daytime, that was never really of any concern for us personally.

5. Making memories here is nostalgic.

Most people who grew up in this area have been to the Hands On Museum themselves — and since it’s been around for so long, many local parents my age have fond memories of going to the Hands On Museum as children.  It is so much fun to see your own child get excited about the same things that you fondly remember from childhood.  The ambulance is a classic, as is the working cut-away toilet, and the skeleton pedaling the bicycle too.  There are many new things to explore at the Hands On Museum, but one thing is sure — your child will definitely have fond memories of this place once they are grown.

The Ann Arbor Hands On Museum has over 250 hands-on exhibits that cover a variety of topics:  science, technology, engineering, art, math.  The Museum is open daily, and if you’re worried about it being crowded, you can always call ahead to see if there are any school field trips scheduled to arrive that day.

Make Your Own Fabric Play Fort Kit!

posted in: Notes | 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Potty Training Products

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

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

Now that you know what products worked for me…

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

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

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


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

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


The Educators’ Spin on It

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


Raising Wild Ones

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


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

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

Jennifer, Study At Home Mama

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


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

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


What’s Up Fagans?

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


I Can Teach My Child!

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


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

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


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

My Experience Potty Training (so far)

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIY Travel First Aid Kit

posted in: Notes | 2

bphotoart-diy-travel-first-aid-kitEvery parents needs a mini first aid kit in their purse, backpack, or diaper bag.  I can’t count the number of times we’ve needed “ouchy cream” (home-crafted healing salve) to soothe a boo boo, or a bandage for an accidentally scraped knee.  And sure, they sell first aid kits of all sizes.  I’ve bought a number of those travel first aid kits myself.  But, the thing is, most of them come with a sampling of items — more of a one time use — and it doesn’t usually have much space to hold the supplies we need.

Here are a couple nice ones, if you want to give them a shot before making your own. A sidenote: I’ll be sharing #afflinks to Amazon in this post, mostly for your convenience, in case you want to buy any of the goodies mentioned.

But if you want to create a custom first aid kit that will be the perfect fit for you, then keep reading.  To make this nifty kit, I pillaged some items from around the house.  Specifically, the items below:

Yes, I happened to have all that stockpiled among our various medicine cabinets.  Oh, and there’s one more thing you’ll need. An empty Altoids tin.  In case you’re wondering what tin has white and green, that was an Ice Chips (Immunity) tin.  But apparently you can buy empty survival tins on Amazon too.  Your choice.

So, once I had my tin ready, and my supplies, I crammed as many goodies as I could fit into that small tin.  Your mileage will vary, just make sure to include the things that you tend to use most frequently during first aid incidents.

If you want, you can use some clear packing tape to put a pretty “First Aid Kit” sign on the front of the tin.  I’ve even made a free printable for you so that this project can be really easy.  Here it is below!  Download the JPG or PDF, print, and cut out around the black line.

From Altoids Tin to Travel First Aid Kit (plus printable label!)
Download First Aid Kit Label: JPG / PDF

So, there you have it!  An easy first aid kit that is portable and totally customizable.  Make one, make a few, or churn out a bunch to give away.  Your call.

What are your “must haves” in a first aid kit?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Things In Our House Board Game

posted in: Learning | 12

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

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

Personalize Your Game

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

Some of my toddler’s favorite things?

  • popcorn
  • buttons
  • ball
  • teapot
  • piano

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

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

Other things you’ll need:

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

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

Game Rules

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

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

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

Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode.

Make Your Own!

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

Things in Our House Game (Free Printable)

Download Things in Our House Board Game Printable PDF / JPG

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

Read Across America – Read & Play Blog Hop

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


Learn About Double Exposure

posted in: Learning | 2

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

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

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

2. the picture resulting from such exposure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double Exposure Activity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode.

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

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Some Mornings You Just Need to Stay Home

posted in: Parenting | 4
Some Morning You Just Need To Stay Home
Photo by Jill Wellington, from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

I have to tell you, I love being a mom.  I love seeing my boys grow and develop, watching them refine their social skills and practice empathy. It feels good to be able to take them to activities like preschool, swimming, music class, and other activities outside the home.  But sometimes, it can feel a little overwhelming.  Sometimes all the hustle and bustle can make you feel worn thin.

It’s on mornings like today that I know I need a break.  An unplanned departure from our routine.  Some days it is better to skip everything and just stay home.

Today was that day.  We had a morning Moms and Tots group to be at, but the boys slept late, and I was feeling frazzled.  The house was a mess, nothing felt calm, and the past week it seemed like we have been at home only long enough to eat, mess up the kitchen getting food prepped, and sleep.  I needed a break.  Not from the kids — because we’d been fortunate enough to have date night this week — but from the grind of our routine.  While I love going to our Moms and Tots group, and I know it’s great for both boys, I could tell we all needed a break.

The clincher was when Toby, during breakfast, asked: “Mommy, can we miss part of Moms and Tots so that I can have energy?”  The poor kid has been crashing around lunchtime the past few days.  Although he gave up naps about a year ago, this week Toby consistently asked to be done with lunch so he could go rest — resulting in a four hour nap each time.

I know when to cut my losses.  The schedule, the routine, isn’t more important than our sanity and well-being.  It’s not worth “making it” to all our activities if my kids are going to have meltdowns from being so exhausted they can’t sit at the table for lunch.  And I’ve needed those naps too.

It’s not like I’ve gotten nothing done this morning.  On the contrary.  I tidied the kitchen, put away the straggling Christmas gifts that were piled by the piano, emptied laundry baskets (yes, plural) of clean clothes, and started a load of laundry.

But it feels peaceful. Relaxed.  Calm.  The stress is melting off my shoulders as I sit here and type.  Toby is playing happily with his matchbox cars and Zack is diligently watching.  We are a contented bunch, our morning obligations thrown to the wind.

We are happy.  We are having fun.  This break was much needed…. essential for our sanity.

Instead of the activity being our priority this morning… my kids are my priority.  Isn’t it crazy how the things we do for our kids can sometimes take our attention away from our kids?  That’s not right.  So this morning we are getting things straightened out.  I’m listening to myself and my subconscious desire to stay home.  I’m listening to my boys, interacting with them, taking time for them — instead of shuttling and directing them. Toby is now playing peacefully with his toys, bringing me tea and pizza from “his” kitchen.  Zack is cooing while he rolls on the floor, trying to get places.

We’re not doing much, but sometimes nothing means everything.

Some mornings, you just need to stay home.

What about you?  Have you felt worn thin by the many pressures of parenting?  The schedules that seem to become ever busier?  How do you decompress and help yourself find peace in the middle of a tumultuous week?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. 


Coloring Rocks With Permanent Markers

posted in: Learning | 10

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

And that’s all!

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

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

Some activity extension ideas?

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

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

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

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

Valentine’s Day Blessing Activity

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

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

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

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

Valentine Blessing Activities

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

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

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

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

Sending “Blessings” in the Mail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Race Car Math

posted in: Learning | 1

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

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

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

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

Race Car Math Activities

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

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

Race Cars + Math = Fun!

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

Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode.

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

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

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

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

Finding Ways for Kids to Discover Nature

posted in: Learning | 6
Finding Ways for Kids to Discover Nature
Photo from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

Nature is a wonderful thing.  It’s beautiful.  Sometimes pristine, usually affected by suburbia.  Regardless of whether you can find “unspoiled” natural areas near you, there are still plenty of opportunities to discover nature.  Even if you live in the city.  Originally, I’d planned to talk about symmetry in nature, and how we can find patterns and repetition in naturally occurring objects around us, but due to the cold weather keeping us indoors for the past few days, I’ll leave that as a suggestion for a future activity. And instead, I’ll share seven different posts that will help inspire you as you work on finding ways for kids to discover nature.

  • How to Plan an Outdoor Photo Scavenger Hunt for Kids: This is a great way for kids to enhance their natural curiousity and hone their observation skills.  We tend to gravitate towards low key activities, so you’ll be happy to know that this post of mine was all about keeping things simple.   What did we do?  We took a camera and headed outdoors — Toby pointed things out and we took pictures of them with our cameras.  It might be fun, next time we do this photo scavenger hunt, to make a photo memory game from some of the images.
  • Learning About Bugs – observe critters or insects: you can catch real live insects if you like, or go with the preserved variety, as we did in this post.  We used bugs to learn about nature, to practice counting, tracing, and more.  Next time we learn about critters, I might make an “I Spy” game for Toby, so that he can work on observing similarities and differences between different objects found in nature.
  • Unstructured Outdoor Play: Last winter, I blogged numerous times about how Toby enjoyed playing in the snow — out on our deck.  There was no lesson plan, no objective.  Nothing for him to learn.  But despite the unstructured nature of his time outdoors, I still observed Toby learning.  He heard the sound of the wind, felt the coldness of the snow, watched it change from snow and melt into water.  The act of playing “without purpose” can be a very useful thing indeed.
  • Nature Art: An Exercise in Process Art: This activity was one of my favorites.  Toby helped me collect different items from our yard, and then he spent time arranging, ordering, and sorting them in a bin.  The activity required no setup on my part, and he learned a lot. We discussed seed pods, seeds, and all sorts of nature-related things.  And even though it’s been a few seasons since we made nature art like this, Toby still talks about his experience with process art using nature as a medium.
  • Bird Watching – Up Close!: Last summer we installed a window bird feeder in the playroom.  It was a great idea, and Toby was very excited to watch for birds. I’m not sure who has enjoyed this observation station more — my toddler, or the cats.  Nevertheless, It’s been great to have a way to hone our observation skills up close, and watch how birds come in for a snack.
  • Sundog Rainbow Sunrise: Another neat aspect of nature, sundogs are “rainbows” that form when it’s not raining.  Check out this post for more information.  Toby loved learning about sundogs, and I learned quite a big myself as we researched the phenomenon one cold winter morning.
  • Backyard Wildlife: In our semi-rural setting, we have many opportunities for observing wildlife.  Last year there was a herd of 30 deer we could watch out back.  Turkeys walked through our yard, we could hear coyotes chattering to one another in the early morning, and a mother fox had babies in the neighborhood.  One year, I even watched a fawn being birthed in the tall grass behind us.  Toby loves looking for wildlife, and maybe it’s because of our location… but even if we were in an urban area, I would do what I could to make sure we could enjoy the local wildlife.  One of Toby’s favorite tools for wildlife watching? Kid binoculars, of course.  Read the post for more.

So, there you have it. seven ideas to help make discovering nature easy! I hope you can implement some of these ideas into your daily routine; I know we’ve enjoyed honing our observation skills and marveling at the beauty of nature around us — no matter where we are!

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

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

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

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


Learning About Fingerprints

posted in: Learning | 2

bphotoart-learning-about-fingerprints-I’ve been having fun on our learning ventures lately.  Toby has enjoyed learning about bugs, and exploring empathy, and a host of other things that I haven’t had opportunity to blog about.  But this fingerprint activity was definitely a hit.  And I guess I know why — it is messy!  Well, for your fingers, at least.  Assuming your child knows not to smear the ink everywhere, this fingerprint activity shouldn’t be too much in the clean up department.

So, to learn about fingerprints, I got out our rubber stamp collection.  And some ink pads. If you don’t already have these supplies on hand, here are some ideas to get you started (#afflinks):

Ok, now we’ve got the materials covered.  Let me explain what we did.  If your child is older, and wants to experiment with lifting fingerprints from surfaces, there are a few “at home” tutorials on dusting and collecting fingerprints.  But I decided we’d focus on the concept instead.

Now, you may be wondering why I got out the rubber stamps when fingerprints are the purported subject.  Well, my son doesn’t always like to get messy, so it gave us an entry into my planned activities.  Plus, we could see how applying different amounts of ink and different levels of pressure would impact the final print.

Stamps have more negative space than a fingerprint, so it’s also harder for a toddler to smear the ink into a blurred blob.  I showed Toby how my fingerprint looked in ink — and not surprisingly, it was much clearer than his own attempts (for two reasons).  First, kids have smaller fingers.  And then there’s that smearing/precision factor I just mentioned.

So, while Toby happily dotted his fingerprints all over the paper, we talked about fingerprints.  I kept it simple, going into detail as his interest guided me.  Some things I was prepared to talk about included the following:

  • everyone has their own special fingerprints
  • no two sets of fingerprints are alike (even that of identical twins)
  • animal paw prints (hey, our cats are like family to us)
  • fingerprint ridge patterns: arches, loops, whorls (here’s a PDF about ridge patterns from ScienceSpot.net’s Fingerprinting unit)
  • repeating patterns, variations, etc

We could have ended our learning activity at this point, but since Toby wanted to revisit the next day, I decided to enlarge some fingerprints.  I printed out one the size of a sheet of paper, and then made up a fingerprint “poster” so that we had two options for coloring and even cutting up into a puzzle. Here are the two printables:


Download the “no two fingerprints…” PDF / JPG


Download the “fingerprint” PDF / JPG

Toby had lots of fun with this.  If your child is interested, the larger printable would be perfect for examining fingerprint ridge patterns.  You could even use a sheet of tracing paper (or parchment paper) laid over top to practice tracing skills.

Overall, we both enjoyed learning about fingerprints, and Toby even remembered that Zebras can be identified by their stripes, just like fingerprints (thanks to his Zoo Books magazines!).  Now, make sure to take a peek at the images below; click on an image to enter gallery view mode!


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

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

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

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

Learning About Bugs

posted in: Learning | 2

Learning About BugsToby has been itching to use his science kit (received as a gift from one of his creative aunts!).  So I thought a good way to kick things off would be to learn about bugs! No, not real bugs (like when we captured a praying mantis, or when we observed butterflies, or even like our outdoor photo scavenger hunt.

No, this activity would be indoors (it’s winter here), and with preserved specimens. I was actually excited for Toby to start examining the bugs, as my father spent his childhood years collecting and preserving many different insects, and as a child, I loved looking at all the different bugs that had been carefully captured, labeled, and mounted on pin heads.

Science Kit Components

The science kit included the following (#afflinks), and will be the perfect compliment to the critter house #afflink that we got Toby!

Other things we might add to the box?

I’m going to let pictures tell most of the story.  But, in short, I let my toddler lead this open-ended activity.

What did we do to learn about bugs?

Look at bugs up close.  

We looked at the bugs under a magnifying glass, examining their eyes, legs, and bodies. Toby noticed that some bugs had larger eyes than others, so we talked about the reasons for that, given the nature of the particular bug.

Shine lights through the bugs.

Some of the bugs had translucent parts, while others did not. Toby liked looking at the wings, and the tiny hairs that some of the bugs had on their bodies.

Stack and count the “bug blocks.”

What toddler wouldn’t want to play with the acrylic blocks as a building toy?  Toby had fun organizing them and counting… we have been working on addition skills lately so we did some simple math problems (i.e.  3 bugs + 4 bugs = 7 bugs).

Trace outlines of bugs onto paper.

While we both enjoyed this part of our activity, Toby asked me to trace at least one bug’s shadow, since his fine motor skills aren’t quite as good as mine.  But he enjoyed practicing.

Examine bug anatomy.

We discussed the anatomy of a bug, complete with diagrams and arrows, conveniently added to the bug outlines we’d made earlier.  I kept the anatomy simple, but we could have gone into more detail if Toby’s interest hadn’t waned: abdomen, thorax, and head.

Make a bug puzzle.

This activity went on the back burner for another day, but there are plenty of bug coloring pages out there on the internet — I’d planned to print one out and make a puzzle like the puzzle we made of Martin Luther and his wife.

See how we learned about bugs…

And no, the photo gallery I promised you. Toby had a great time, and was perhaps a little too entralled with his flashlight. That being said, the photos will give you a better idea of how we did the activities mentioned above.

Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode.


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

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

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

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

Sick Bug Banishing Homemade Throat Tonic + Cough Syrup Recipes

posted in: Parenting | 5

bphotoart-sick-bug-banishing-homemade-recipes-I sit here in the house, on New Year’s Eve, thinking that this is kind of ironic. One of goals I had been contemplating for 2015? Take better care of myself. And this morning I woke up without a voice. So, instead of rambling on about my New Year’s resolutions, I figured it would be better to cut to the chase and share some home remedies that seem to be helping my sore throat and sad vocal chords.

The first thing I did, when I felt this sore throat coming on, was to whip up a batch of homemade cough syrup. I found a recipe a while back, maybe from WellnessMama.com, but this is my own improvised take. If you research natural remedies online, you’ll find that honey performs just as well as over the counter cough syrup. And the spices and garlic have natural properties that can help your body get better sooner. It may not taste nice, but it definitely coats my throat, and loosens up any congestion.

Homemade Honey Cough Syrup


  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 1/8 c. olive oil
  • 1/8 c. warm water
  • 1 T. cayenne pepper
  • 1 T. ground cinnamon
  • 1 T. ground ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed


Mix the first three ingredients together in a mason jar. Then add the spices and combine well. Finally, stir in the garlic clove. You can use this right away, or wait until the garlic infuses into the concoction. Take by the spoonful, as needed.

Note: this cough syrup is not for kiddos younger than 1 year, due to the honey. Also, for my toddler, I typically make a variant that excludes the cayenne and ginger.


Sick Bug Banishing Throat Tonic

Now, this next concoction was adapted from a recipe on Home Remedies for Laryngitis. It’s a warm beverage you can keep going in a crockpot all day long… with the added bonus of being able to get an aromatic steam breathing session as needed for those poor sinuses. I wasn’t sure what to call this… but it sounded better than “onion, garlic and ginger infused water drink.”


  • 2 vidalia onions
  • 1/2 – 1 head garlic
  • 1″ chunk of ginger root
  • 1-2 quarts water
  • apple cider vinegar


Put water into slow cooker (I love my Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker #afflink) and turn on high. Quarter the onions, peel and lightly crunch the garlic cloves, and grate or slice the ginger root. Add all to the crockpot, cover, and bring to a simmer or boil. While you wait for things to cook, feel free to remove the lid and breathe in the steam (I have even covered the lid with a hand towel to help capture the steam and direct it towards my face (see below).  A note of caution, if you to this — the steam can be hot… so don’t scald yourself!!!

Sick Bug Banishing Homemade Throat + Cough Syrup Recipes

After about 20 minutes, ladle the liquid into your mug. It should have a slight yellow tint by this point and not just be water anymore. Add 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to your mug, and a couple ice cubes if needed. Sip often; refill your mug, adding more apple cider vinegar each time.

The crock pot can be left on all day; you can add more water as necessary.

More Thoughts

Yes, I have more suggestions for you.  Take a look at the ideas below, and also make sure to check out my post: Moms Can’t Get Sick (…yeah, right).

  • Bone Broth — fabulous for anytime, but great for when you’re sick.  It has lots of minerals and will help keep you hydrated
  • Essential Oils – I like to diffuse essential oils with my aromatherapy diffuser — there are a lot of different ones that help with immune strength in general, or you can diffuse an essential oil like eucalyptus, which helps open airways.
  • Sleep — get lots of sleep. Stock up on naps.  Your body needs rest when it’s tired and run down.

It seems like I’m not the only one to let New Year’s Resolutions go by the wayside.  I polled some other bloggers, asking for thoughts on resolutions, if they planned to do anything, or how resolutions have worked out for them in the past.  And here are three responses.

  • In theory, New Year’s resolutions are a wonderful idea. It’s a new year so why not a new you? But life doesn’t work out that way. There’s a reason these resolutions are so easily abandoned. So I don’t make a resolution based on a holiday but rather when I really am ready to make a change. – Jennifer, The Jenny Evolution
  • The only New Year’s resolution I have ever kept is a 30+ year old Jan 1st resolution to never drink Bailey’s Irish Cream again. – Erin, The Usual Mayhem
  • My resolution is not to do any! If I need to change things I try and do it in the here and now! – Maggy, Red Ted Art

So, there you have it.  Some realistic thoughts on the whole New Year’s resolution concept, and hopefully some helpful recipes for the next time you have a sore throat (or lose your voice completely, like I did!).

Do you have any suggestions for helping a sore throat?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Make a Yearly Time Capsule

posted in: Parenting | 6

Make a Yearly Time CapsuleAs we were relaxing after a whirlwind spree of Christmas celebrations, I started thinking ahead towards the new year.  As adults, we often make resolutions and promises to ourselves, but how could that concept be reinterpreted for kids?  It reminded me of a scene in one of the Berenstain Bears books , where Sister Bear gets to compare her drawings and handwriting from when she was 5 and 6 years old — to help her see how far she’s come (The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Birthday #afflink).

And then it hit me — we could make a yearly time capsule for the boys to fill each year after Christmas!  The capsule could be stored away with all our holiday decorations, so I wouldn’t need to remember where it got stashed… and have the bonus of being brought out every year since we always get our house decorated to some extent (some years more than others).

So, I found a cute tea tin that we’d received a present in, and had Toby decorate a panel of paper with Dot a Dot markers #afflink.  The markers were one of Toby’s gifts from Christmas.  I have to say, these are the greatest things ever.  The fun of paint, without the prep work, mess, or cleanup.  Toby had fun putting dots all over the paper.  Meanwhile, I cut out a family photo of us.

We then used a glue stick to coat the backs of both items, and fastened them to the tin can.  Toby ran around the house with our time capsule excitedly for a few minutes; then it was my turn to write “time capsule” on the side.

After that, we filled the capsule with a variety of items:

  • Zack’s baby stats
  • Toby’s favorite things and “interview questions” that were included in our Christmas card
  • outlines of the boys’ hands
  • a family photo
  • pictures of the boys
  • favorite presents we each received
  • favorite presents we each gave
  • favorite thing we ate over the holidays
  • Toby’s artwork

Toby wanted to put a toy in the capsule too, but once I explained he wouldn’t be able to use it until next year, he decided against that.


We had a lot of fun filling this yearly time capsule, and I envision it becoming a treasured family tradition.  Maybe I’ll even document or scrapbook the contents each year… who knows?

Have you ever made a time capsule?  What were the most popular items you put inside?  What would you put inside a yearly time capsule?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Making Memories – 20 Takes on Favorite Family Christmas Traditions

posted in: Notes | 4

Making Memories: 20 Takes on Favorite Family Christmas TraditionsMerry Christmas!  Today I wanted to share with you some thoughts on Christmas traditions — from 20 women, including myself.  …wait, what are you doing online? Get unplugged and make some memories with your family!

If you must read on…. 🙂

I’ve listed some of my favorite Christmas traditions below, and further on you’ll find 19 other takes on favorite family Christmas traditions

  • Visit Santa – while we usually work in one visit to Santa during Christmastime, this year we had two.  Our “usual” venue was at the country club — see the snapshots of my two boys with their first visits with Santa. Such cutie pies!  But the highlight, for my train-loving toddler, was our train ride to see Santa (we also made hot cocoa and cocoa salt dough train ornaments that same week).
  • The Christmas Pickle – an ornament we hang on the tree, it’s shaped like a pickle. Whoever finds it is said to have good fortune for the year ahead.  In my childhood, it usually accompanied a game of “I Spy” on the tree, with the room lit by the lights on the tree or by the fire.
  • Orange in the Christmas stocking – we grew up with this tradition.  I wasn’t sure of the origins, but according to the St. Nicholas Center’s Christmas Customs page, it’s representative of gold dowry.  Oranges also used to be a scarce treat (read more about why we put oranges in stockings at Christmas.
  • Set out milk, cookies, carrots, AND gifts on Christmas Eve – we grew up with the tradition of putting out snacks for Santa and his reindeer, but only since having kids did we add the “gifts” part.  The boys select one toy for each year they are old, and Santa will take them to give to kids who don’t have any toys.  I absolutely love this.  Toby was so excited to give kids one of his fire engines, a fireman’s hat, a book, a well-loved stuffed animal, and a few wooden train accessories.  It has been great to see him so focused on giving during Christmastime.  Last year I wrote about the power of giving, and the toys that Toby decided to part with.  That year, the tough one (for me) to let go was the Hello Kitty house.  This year, it was tough for Steven — Toby decided to give some of his train table accessories (a building and a train engine).  Isn’t it amazing how this exercise in giving helps everyone?
  • Getting sick – this is one of those traditions that we wanted to put an end to.  Last year, I learned about Christmas tree allergies and how they are usually due to allergens that are on the surface of the tree.  So we took some measures to minimize our Christmas tree allergies this year.  I think it’s working!

Ok, well that’s all for now about our traditions — I want to share with you the 19 other takes on making memories at Christmastime.  Read on for some fun insight on different family Christmas traditions!  Click on an image below to enter gallery view mode.

I have so many favorites! I think the kids’ favorite is that every Christmas Eve Morning we go bowling. Then we eat out for lunch and head home to get ready for a big ham Christmas Eve dinner followed by a musical program where we sing and the kids play christmas songs on their instruments. I love it because we are focused on family time and having fun together and there are no distractions from other sources. On Christmas Eve we [also] let the children open presents from their siblings. I like this because in the craziness of Christmas morning sometimes the presents from their siblings would be overlooked and not seem as special. When they open them on Christmas Eve, both the giver and receiver are more excited about it and they have time to give each other hugs and say thank you. It’s worked really well for us.

Erin, Chicken Babies

My favorite tradition is our tree tradition. We go to a tree lot and pick out our perfect tree and then we come home and decorate it as a family while listening to Christmas music. We then bake cookies, and watch a Christmas movie while sitting next to the lit tree.

Brittany, Love Play and Learn

We do christmas PJs, order pizza and watch rudolf on Christmas eve It’s the one thing we do with our family of four, since we spend Christmas day with extended family (which is also super fun!)

Paula, Beauty Through Imperfection

TIS THE SEASON! We have two holiday traditions that I love. The first is simple- cutting down a Christmas Tree and our Tree decorating party the Saturday after Thanksgiving. First, we go cut down a tree. Then, we come home, and have left over thanksgiving dinner, fire in the fire place, and Christmas music while we decorate. The second is more spiritual, and it is our Jesus Stocking. Each year, our kids place money inside a stocking to help raise money for a charitable cause. It is our way of being the hands and feet of Jesus on His Birthday!

Mandy Kelly, Worshipful Living

My family has always had a very strange Christmas Eve dinner. We would have Greek potatoes, a turkey, stuffing, and the works. Plus, Chinese food and a birthday cake for Jesus every year

Stefanie, Called His

For the last 18 years, we have had the tradition of inviting fellow military (single or families away from extended family), into our home for the holidays. Nobody should be alone. For Christmas, I put together little stockings with goodies, for each person to take home.

Tina, The Rockin’ Housewife

For Christmas we wrap up 25 books and then the kids each get a fuzzy blanket. Starting on December 1st we unwrap one book a night to snuggle up and read for our bed time story.

Stephanie, Parenting Chaos

For Christmas we hang some of those HUGE stockings (you can get at the dollar store) with each person’s name on them. For the entire month we put little love notes, thank you’s, or treats in them for each other then we all open/go through them on Christmas eve. We also started doing only 3 gifts a few years ago and the kids loved it so we’ve done it since. They get 1 need (clothing type items) 1 spiritual gift, and 1 want (this is from Santa).  The kids also have 1 of their siblings they get a gift for.  Christmas eve we have 1 family gift that we open when we do our stockings, it has everyone’s jammies, hot cocoa, a movie, treats, book and those type of things to use that night.  It’s been great limiting the number of gifts under the tree and making the focus on the true meaning of Christmas. We also make homemade tree decorations each year and try to do as much homemade type of gifts as possible. (Pinterest is GREAT for ideas) You can see my post on the ornaments we made last year!

JoDee, A to Z for Moms Like Me

We LOVE celebrating Christmas!! Let’s see: we start Christmas Eve with opening one of our presents for one another, sing carols & usually bake plus a fun family movie. Each year we also forgo the big presents, stick to stocking stuffers (sometimes a few books & misc.) & go on a trip! We’ve been doing this for years. Last year we went up North (Ontario) & had a great time: snowshoeing, tobogganing down hills, caroling with a local church door to door and eating tasty food together! Last, but certainly not least, we already read/talk about the Christmas story (Luke 2) together during the holidays.

Rachael, Parenting and Homeschooling in Faith

Since I was a little girl, we had a box with all the pieces of our Nativity scene wrapped in newsprint. My dad would read the Bible story and we had to dig through the pieces to find the character he mentioned and place them in the nativity. It was a great tradition. We are doing something similar with our kids nows.

Jen, Heaven Not Harvard

When I was a child, my grandmother prepared a special Christmas brunch for my whole family. Each year she planned the menu for months! I started taking on the tradition by helping her each year. When she was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago I started to do more until I was making the whole meal. This will be our second year without her, but we carry on her tradition.

Katie, The Wise Wife

Every year we purchase a new Swarovski crystal star ornament. Then when put them on the tree one by one and mention something about that particular year. The boys think it’s awesome to hear a snippet of our past years. We now have 13 stars and counting!

Jennifer, The Jenny Evolution

We created a Christmas Advent activity to teach our children who God is and stll enjoy seasonal fun in December. It’s an ebook now: 30 Bible lessons and fun family activiities for the whole family teaching kids the character of God during advent.

Katie, Paradise Praises

Every year I go out with my church ministry Actz to give food and cloth to the homeless in the DFW area, not to a shelter, but street homeless on cardboard box. Its a humbling expirence, instead of recieving you should be giving. This year i hope i can make a impact on a homeless person face

Avery, AK Reviews

We have loads! I’ve got a whole post: Family Christmas Traditions (some crafty, some not).

Hodge Podge

Our favorite tradition is the Christmas Pizza. We buy a take-n-bake pizza from Papa Murphy’s on Christmas Eve and then cook it Christmas day. The Christmas Pizza allows us to spend time together as a family without being stressed about cooking a big meal and cleaning on Christmas, plus it’s a real treat since we don’t buy pizza very often The year I had our daughter on Christmas Eve the only tradition I really cared about maintaining was the Christmas Pizza, so I forced my husband out the door to buy it while I labored at home by myself for a few minutes

Crystal, The Science Kiddo

We love singing. Last year my 3 year old daughter really connected with her Great Grandma while singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” Christy, Thriving STEM

Each year we read some of the Christmas Classics and then do something related to the book afterwards. In the past, we’ve read The Nutcracker and then watched the ballet (at home on video or go to the ballet depending on the kiddos’ age). We’ve read A Christmas Carol, and then visited Dicken’s Christmas Village near us. Our kiddos are 7, 6, 5, and 3. Depending on their age, depends on what version of the book we read. We don’t celebrate Santa in our home, so we try to find things that are Non Santa related. To aid in our understanding of each of the books, I usually create homeschool unit studies (Nutcracker and Christmas Carol Christmas units).  We also have our Random Acts of Christmas Kindness Tradition that is included on our countdown tree. The kiddos love it.   I also set up dates with each of my kiddos to go Christmas shopping. I take them to dinner. They choose the place. Then I give them $10 for each person on their list-their siblings and parents. From there we go shopping together until they find a gift for everyone. Before we go they’re great at asking their siblings for ideas and making sure they know what their siblings like. They do this with Mommy and Daddy too. We have such a fun time. And while we’re out, I get great ideas for them for their stockings etc. Even though we don’t celebrate Santa, they still each get a stocking.

Renae, Every Star is Different

Every Christmas we make homemade raviolis (around the 20th of December) and eat them on Christmas Day (and sometimes on New Years Day). We also bake cookies. On Christmas Eve was have the feast of the 7 fishes and try and have 7 different kinds of seafood for dinner (we don’t always get to 7 but we try and have a few different dishes).

Beth Anne, Beth Anne’s Best

Because we have lots of extended family to visit we seem to spend much of Christmas travelling or not at home and it was getting a little overwhelming. So a few years ago we started a new tradition of Christmas breakfast with just our family. The kids love planning the menu, and we go all out with fancy breakfast treats we never usually eat and we spend time together eating, opening presents and spending time as a family. It’s lovely!

Kate, Pickle Bums

What about you? Do you have any special Christmas traditions? Any you’re thinking of starting up? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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