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.


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.


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

Taking a Selfie: 5 Tips + Tools

posted in: Notes | 4

If you take it from my toddler, the secret to taking a great selfie is to take many many photos.  Just push that button and keep going!  Here’s a sampling of the images I found on my smartphone the other day after Toby was finished using it to talk to his grandparents on the car ride home from doing errands.

Found a plethora of new pics on my phone… #toddler #selfie series #mommyproblems #Pixlr

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

In all seriousness, cell phones cameras have become the go-to for getting snapshots and self portraits. So today I’m going to share some tips with you to help those smartphones and cameras be a little more useful when taking pictures.

Taking a Selfie - 5 Tips + Tools to Help You Take Better Self-Portraits1. Be steady

This one is a no brainer (hopefully), but you know to hold the phone steady… and that includes when you are pressing the shutter button. A lot of people do a great job at holding the phone still when composing their picture, but when it comes time to press that button, a jerky motion yields blurry images every time.

2. Use your flash

If there isn’t enough light, your selfie will be blurry.  Use the built in flash to add light. Did you know that your phone’s camera probably has a setting to turn on the flash so it goes off all the time?  If you enable that feature, you can use the flash even if the overall image didn’t need the additional light.  This will help your selfie be adequately exposed in the foreground too.

3. Use a timer

Another built-in feature you’ll probably find on your phone is the timer feature.  This allows for a delay between the time you press the shutter and when the smartphone takes the picture.  If you can find a place to prop up your phone, this can help you take a fun selfie.

4. Use a monopod

Think of it as an extendable arm — a monopod will allow you to get a better angle (and/or further away) when taking your selfie.  I received a Solo Stick Pro Gold to review — it came with a bluetooth shutter (see next tip), which was nice.  The monopod is very lightweight, and collapses down to fit in a diaper bag or larger purse.  Easy to extend, the solo stick includes a ball head mount for use with small cameras like the GoPro Hero #afflink (an awesome little video camera) or the Canon Powershot G16 #afflink (the current version of my favorite pocket camera).

5. Use a bluetooth remote camera shutter

If you have an Android phone, the bluetooth remote that I received with the solo stick works seamlessly.  If you have a bluetooth enabled device, you can use the camera 360 remote shutter to take pictures.  The device comes with an on/off switch on the side (to maximize battery life), a spot for attaching a lanyard or key fob, and two buttons – one for the camera 360 app and one for use with the default android camera shutter.  I was really happy with this remote shutter, it was easy to set up and use.  Only downfall I can see? It could fall apart quickly.  But, hey, for under $10, there is no point in complaining.

That wraps up my quick tips on taking selfies.

Well, not quite. I have one more.

6. Give your kid an alternate source of entertainment

If you don’t want to end up with 100 toddler selfies on your phone, you may want to keep them entertained some other way.  At least Toby didn’t take a video — my friend found a video of her purse spanning most of a recent grocery trip.  So, it may be better to set your child up with an app on the phone or tablet if you really need technology to entertain.  Due to a previous experience, I’m no longer locking my phone to keep Toby off it (read about how he reformatted my phone accidentally). But maybe an app like Smarty Preschool (for iPad) would be good.  It’s a curriculum-based education game for kids (2-6 years).  You get reports on your kid’s performance as they progress through different academic skills involving colors, matching, counting, and shapes.  The verdict is still out on the app, but we’re going to give it a run for its money on our next family vacation!

Note: I received one or more of these products gratis in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Custom Picture Puzzle

posted in: Notes | 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raising Kids Who Love Music

posted in: Parenting | 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching Empathy Through Happy Heart Kid Crafts

posted in: Parenting | 6

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

The kit contained a number of different crafts and activities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning About Diversity

posted in: Parenting | 9

Learning About Diversity - a book -based activity We recently got the opportunity to a children’s book that was intended to spark conversation and awareness about diversity in our world.

The book, Beautiful Rainbow World #afflink, was inspired by song of the same name.  The three verse song has  been used around the world, and was written by by DARIA (Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou).  Published by Multicultural Kids —  crowd-sourced, with a photo contest, and an additional verse written (by Suzee Ramirez), every book includes a free download of DARIA’s song.  Here’s the first verse and refrain:

Today I woke up to see

A beautiful rainbow world

Won’t you dream it along with me?

A beautiful rainbow world

Beautiful rainbow, beautiful rainbow

Beautiful rainbow world

Red, black, yellow, brown and white,

A beautiful rainbow world

We used the book in the context of a book-based activity to learn about diversity.  Toby loved the simplicity of the book, and I think we both found the song lyrics to be calming and contemplative, even when spoken rather than sung. Since our initial reading, this book has been read multiple times; Toby has enjoyed examining the pictures and talking about the people he sees.

And then, as an extension activity, we made popsicles.  Bear with me, this will make sense and relate to the concept of diversity in a minute.  I got these neat rainbow colored set of popsicle molds #afflink, and we filled them with raspberry kombucha.  Toby was thrilled and enjoyed checking on them in the freezer every few minutes (until I told him to leave them be for a while). As we waited for them to freeze, we read Beautiful Rainbow World and talked about how no two people look alike.  Everyone is different, some people have different colored eyes, others have different colored skin.  But despite our differences on the outside, that doesn’t change the fact we are still all people, we are all alike at our core.  Then, I pulled out one of the popsicles, and asked him — “none of these look the same, do they?”  After he agreed, I reminded him that despite their differences in popsicle mold colors, the popsicles inside were all the same flavor.  And that was our diversity lesson, simplified for a toddler.

I realize that diversity and acceptance are not a one-time discussion to be had with my child.  We talk about differences as the opportunity for conversation arises in real life.  Like when my son is intrigued by the grocery store greeter in a wheelchair.  Rather than just hushing his inquisitive nature, I’ve found it best to acknowledge his observation and help him understand that some people need help getting around.  Toby then proceeded to engage in conversation with this particular individual, and they talked about the wheelchair’s light-up wheels were neat.  Rather than trying to ignore the fact that this world contains diversity, I want my sons to realize and accept the diversity in the world around them.  I’m happy that we had the opportunity to review this book so that the topic of diversity can be incorporated into our reading routines.

Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts and opinons.

Our Experience With the Animal Trackers Club

posted in: Parenting | 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Things to Include in Your Newborn Photos

posted in: Parenting | 0

It’s always a debate whether you should include accessories in newborn portraits.  Babies are so adorable to begin with… you don’t *need* to add anything else.  But, if you wanted to add some finishing touches, here are my suggestions.

5 Things to Include in Your Newborn Photos - Betsy's Photography1. Baby Blanket

If you have an heirloom baby blanket that is special to you, I definitely suggest including it in your infant’s portraits.  There is nothing more adorable than a baby sleeping on (or swaddled in) a blanket that was handmade by someone dear to you.

2. Handmade Items

By that same token, anything handmade …with significance to you… will add meaning to your portraits.  I try to stay away from clothing items, because they will usually mask the cute little newborn folds of skin, but hats and booties?  Those are accessories that won’t hide how tiny your baby is as a newborn.

3. Cute Diaper Covers

If you cloth diaper, you probably already own some diaper covers with cute patterns or ruffles.  If you’re using disposables, be aware that there are many neat bloomers and covers that can cover the diaper area and be a little more visually appealing than a plain disposable diaper.

4. Heirloom Baby Items

If you have any family baby heirlooms that have been passed down through generations, these can be really nice to include in portraits.  For instance, I have a silver baby rattle that was mine, and probably my mother’s before me.  heirloom baby items like this add so much meaning to a portrait.

5. Headbands or Bows

Over the next weeks, you’ll see some of these in a few sessions… but for now, you can take a peek at the headbands I got.  Aren’t they cute?  I am particularly fond of the yellow one.