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5 Creative Ideas for Making Photo Albums of Your Kids

5 Creative Ideas for Making Photo Albums of Your Kids

By Guest Blogger: Alex Gomez

Author Bio: Alex Gomez is a social media professional who dabbles as a freelance tech writer and photographer. This gadget and car enthusiast also plays video games and keeps himself updated on technology news in his spare time.

5 Creative Ideas for Making Photo Albums of Your Kids

Back in the early days, we documented our best memories through compact cameras with disposable film rolls that could be developed into photo prints. As years have gone by, printed photos began to go out of style, and soon we switched to the digital way of photographing kids.

With the advent of digital photography, the photos we’ve taken remain stored in our computers and storage devices until who knows when. Are you going to just let the memories that come with your children’s photos become forgotten?

If you want to preserve beautiful memories that your kids can look back on when they grow up, print your digital photos and create beautiful photo albums with them.

Time to get crafty! Here are five creative ideas for making photo albums of your kids:

1. Alphabet Photo Album

letter-j-for-jump

Image Credit: flickr.com

While there are different alphabet learning resources that can help you teach your kids their ABCs, a photo album can also be a great one! Snap photos of meaningful things, people, activities, and places whose names start with a letter in the alphabet. Your choice of photos has to mean something to them, so they can recognize it easily and learn their first ABCs fast.

2. Poem-Filled Photo Books

End a fun-filled day with your kids by reading them poems that you’ve personally written just for them. If you can’t find the right words, you can search for meaningful poems and quotations of mothers and fathers to their children. Include photos of you interacting with your children, whether it’s giving them piggyback rides or just having a hearty laugh with them.

3. Book of Firsts

book-of-firsts

Image Credit: flickr.com

Your kids’ first year is the most exciting time because that’s when they experience things for the first time. Document their first haircut, first step, or their adorable first smile. Better get your camera ready so that you won’t miss out on those precious, unexpected moments and have something to add to your children’s books of firsts.

 4. Travel Photo Book

travel-photo-book

Image Credit: flickr.com

 

If your family loves to travel, preserve your vacation memories by making themed photo books. Instead of stacking your photos in your closet and hard drive, make exciting and adventurous stories out of them. If you want to get creative and make one on your own, make a DIY travel scrapbook instead.

4. Birthday Memories

Compile photos of your kids’ birthday parties in one album. Start from the very first birthday to the most recent ones. This kind of photo album will be a sentimental way to keep track of how much your kids have grown through the years.

In Conclusion

You kids’ photos don’t deserve to be tucked away in a shoebox and buried deep in your computer’s hard drive or storage device. They should be displayed and preserved so that when your kids grow up, they have physical mementos that will tell wonderful stories of their childhood.

4 Ingredient Slime Putty

silly putty colors

Slime Putty Colors

We are always looking for quick and easy art projects, and this one fit the bill! Ruby actually found this recipe on YouTube Kids, and we just so happened so have all of the ingredients to make it laying around! This recipe was an instant hit with the kids, and after playing with the first batch, they wanted to make a variety of colors. This was quick and easy to make and the kids have really enjoyed playing with it…which is a win, win, win!

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Dump out the glue into the bowl. Tip those bottles upside down and get out as much glue as you can!

    elliot adding glue to make slime putty

    Elliot Dumping Out Glue

  2. Mix in the food coloring. Start with a few drops, stir, and then add more as needed to achieve your desired color.

    elliot adding food coloring to make slime putty

    Adding the Food Coloring

  3. Make the borax mixture. Fill up a cup with warm/hot water and mix in about a teaspoon of borax. Let it sit/stir it until it dissolves.

    mixing borax and water for making slime putty

    Mixing Borax and Water

  4. Add the borax mixture to the glue. *This part is really tricky and very easy to mess up! If you add too much of the borax mixture, it will turn to a hard blob, if you don’t add enough, it will stick to your hands.
    adding borax mixture to glue to make slime putty

    Adding Borax Mixture to Glue

    You want to add just a little bit, stir, stir, stir, add a bit more, stir some more, mix with your fingers (about 2 minutes), then only add more if it’s still sticky. Trust me, add less than you think you’ll need and you’ll be just fine.

    mixing slime putty mixture by hand

    Mix it By Hand

  5. Final Slime Putty: The consistency should be soft and stretchy, but not sticky. (Although, if you do what Elliot is doing below, pieces WILL get stuck in your hair, and watch out, because this stuff can get stuck in carpet and on clothes too if you’re not careful!)

    Elliot Wearing His Slime Putty on His Head

    Elliot Wearing His Slime Putty

  6. Play with your goo! Stretch it, pull it, roll it, and have fun! Store it in a ziploc bag when you are done so that it won’t dry out.
    Elliot Rolling Out Slime Putty with a Rolling Pin

    Elliot Rolling Out Slime Putty

    *Now that you’ve got your Borax out, you might want to whip up a batch of some homemade laundry detergent!

Embracing Motherhood How to Make a Mudpit for Summer Fun

How to Make a Mud Pit for Summer Fun

“You want to make a mud pit…on purpose…in our yard?!?” I can imagine your spouse yelling as you try to present the idea of creating a mud pit in your backyard, but hear me out…

Having Fun in Our Mudpit

Having Fun in Our Mudpit

We kind of made our mud pit on accident when we were trying to cover a dirt hill with sod (which is a story for another blog post), and in the process, I noticed how much the kids absolutely loved playing on a hill of pure dirt. They would climb up it, roll down it, dig tunnels through it and holes in it, and basically get really, really muddy. We would have to strip them down before they entered the house, and it created a lot of messy laundry.

Well, the hill was eventually covered with sod, and the parts that weren’t covered sprung up with grass and other foliage, but the hole that we dug the sod out of still remained, ready to be used. We originally were going to make another sandbox on top to mimic the one we liked at Blandford Nature Center, but well, we kind of ran out of money and were looking for a cheaper alternative.

I had a bunch of leftover seeds and plants from planting our summer garden and the kids were still begging for another dirt hill, so I went to work digging and made a dirt hill surrounded by a moat, surrounded by a path, surrounded by some plants. We stretched three hoses connected together to allow water to flow to the furthest regions of our yard, and walla! Mud pit!

Materials

Directions

  1. Plan It. Find a space in your yard that will be just perfect for a mud pit…preferably away from any pools you have, not right near the front door, but close enough to a water source.
  2. Dig It. Using a pointy shovel, dig out small squares of sod. You can use them to build a small grassy hill if you’d like. Just place the sod pieces on top of each other. Eventually they will settle in and make a nice little hill. Our kids love playing on ours!
  3. Shape It. Try to give it your mud pit some character. Build it up high in some spaces, level it out in others, use your imagination, and try to visualize how your kids will use it. I really think having a moat type structure is a good idea because it traps the water in and makes it more usable.
  4. Use It. I highly encourage all play in the mud pit to be conducted with bathing suits on! This way, kids can be sprayed off with a hose, jump through a sprinkler, or jump into a kiddie pool to get clean afterwards! With a few shovels, buckets, and watering cans, this mud pit has entertained our kids and their friends for hours.
Playing in the Mud Pit

Playing in the Mud Pit

Conclusion

Yes, making a sandbox is probably an overall cleaner project, and one that our kids have enjoyed just as much, but there is just something so primal about a mud pit that I think all kids should have a chance to experience. Being able to interact with nature, feeling the cool mud with its abundance of free electrons boosting your immune system, getting completely filthy, and creating, digging, and exploring the properties of mud are all hallmarks of any good childhood.

Embracing Motherhood Why We Are Giving Technology a Break

Why We Are Giving Technology a Break

It started out with educational apps on ipads, playing Starfall and Pixie 4 on the computer, and watching educational programs mixed in with a moderate amount of choice, but then we got lax on the rules and noticed one day that technology had taken over our lives.

We debated a gradual reduction or a reinforcement of the original rules, but it was too late for that…

We had to quit technology cold turkey.

First, the iPads

One evening, during our nightly wrestling routine with daddy, our daughter Ruby (6) just wanted to watch Digimon (I don’t even know how we came to allow this in the first place). Usually, we can ask her to put her iPad away and she does so graciously, but this time, there was ATTITUDE! When daddy asked her to put the iPad down, she flat out said no, and then when daddy got more stern she said,

“What are you going to do if I don’t?”

Hubba wha?!?!?!? We both looked at each other in shock! Where did this mouthy little teenager come from all of a sudden?? And so daddy said what all parents of teenagers must say,

“Trust me, you don’t want to find out!”

Well needless to say, we knew something needed to change. That night, I took all of the iPads and our touch screen computer and hid them away. I also unplugged our WiiU, Playstation, and computer in the homeschool room.

The Aftermath

We weren’t really sure how to handle the explanation of the disappearance of the touchscreen devices, and when Elliot asked me the next morning where they were, I relied on a little white lie to get me through it.

“Someone stole our iPads!” I explained.

Phew, that was easy. 🙂 Elliot was quite upset, but still a pretty easy sell. He said, “God must be mad at us to let this happen.” Honestly, I don’t know where he gets these notions!

But when Ruby came home from school, she was a little more skeptical. First she wanted to know every detail of said robbery including why they miraculously didn’t take my laptop. Smart girl. Then, she wanted to conduct an investigation including knocking on the door of every neighbor and writing letters to all of her classmates. When she wouldn’t drop it, I said, “You’re right, it probably wasn’t a robbery. I’ll bet Julian just took them and hid them somewhere.”

“Are you sure you didn’t just do it mom,” she asked.

I explained that no, I didn’t do it, but even if we had our iPads, we were going to restrict their use anyways because we didn’t like how addicted everyone was getting to them and the attitudes that were emerging as a result.

To explain the unplugged video games and computers, we said that we couldn’t afford the electric bill, and so we couldn’t play them until our budget was caught up. We talk about money and finances a lot, so although they were a little upset, they really understood and accepted this explanation.

Technology Free Days

The first day without technology was TOUGH! No ABC videos to distract Julian while I was cooking, no TV during breakfast, and no choice time to entertain them while I stole some time to myself.

As they engaged in play, it was almost like they forgot how to entertain themselves. So I sat on the floor and played with them as they went from room to room trashing everything in sight. I felt like I was constantly cleaning and constantly on the move!

We spent the rest of the day engaged in play outside, and my the end of the night, they were exhausted. So was I!

By the second and third day, something beautiful started to happen. They asked about their missing iPads less and less, the negative attitude was disappearing, and we were having so much fun as a family! Whenever it would get really quiet for awhile, I would worry, “Oh no! They found them!” But then I would sneak into the room to see them engrossed with reading, playing quietly, or find that they let themselves outside to play. It was beautiful.

“Why didn’t we do this sooner?” we wondered.

Well, at least we’re doing it now…especially as these fleeting summer days beg to be enjoyed.

It’s Okay to Be Bored

Children don’t need to be constantly entertained, and neither do we. Boredom is actually a gift, a mind break that allows us to come up with new and creative ideas. The longer our children went without technology, the less they relied on us to entertain them, the fewer messes they made as they became engrossed in sustained imaginative play, the more they interacted with each other and nature, and the closer we became as a family.

As we settled into this new routine, I started finding pockets of time for myself again to work out, blog, and create. Something else pretty amazing started happening too. As the children settled into their boredom, they were more interested in what I was doing and wanted to help!

Who knew that helping me make cookies, fold the laundry, and sweep could be so much fun!

The older ones were also more willing to pitch in and do chores, and I really appreciated their help. Ruby decided she wanted her job to be laundry, and so one day she helped me put daddy’s bin of clothes into the washing machine and put away her and Elliot’s clothes. Elliot said he was really good at picking up, so he picked up the toys in one room…then he got distracted and started playing with the toys, but hey, it’s a start!

Finding a Balance

After about a week of nothing, we decided that they (we) could watch one movie during rest time. Previously, they were engrossed in their own little iPad worlds watching toy videos on YouTube and Digimon on Netflix, but with a movie, it was something we could all cuddle up and watch together. We love finding old classics like the Last Unicorn, Little Nemo, and Home Alone and watching them over and over.

When school is out and summer gets into full swing, we plan on implementing our summer routine where the older kids have to do four workbook pages (handwriting, math, cursive, etc.), three activities, and one chore to have an educational computer choice (Pixie 4, Storymaker, working on Favorite Things books, etc.) or watch a movie.

We also are going to let them have 3o minutes (from 4:00-4:30 when daddy gets home) to have a choice to watch whatever they want if they good and do all of their work, activities, and chores. Having this time gives us some leverage (i.e. by taking away a positive reinforcement it becomes a logical consequence for misbehaviors).

In Conclusion

During the long winter months, we may bring back the WiiU, Playstation, iPads, and touchscreen computer in limited and regulated amounts, but we definitely agree that taking a break over the summer is what is best for everyone. Technology can serve a valuable role in many educational opportunities, but it is just too easy to let it be a babysitter and let limits slide until the devices seem to take over. Going cold turkey and taking a break really worked for us and is something we will continue to implement as needed with all things in life.

Embracing Motherhood How to Make Stepping Stumps

How to Make Stepping Stumps

Making stepping stumps is a fun and easy project that will provide a fun and natural play area for your children (and a fun little place to sit and rest as well).

Children love things that are just challenging enough with an appropriate amount of risk and danger. They also need to be able to play unsupervised and interact with nature. These stepping stumps may become an ongoing yard project that you continuously add to (like it has for us). We are always on the lookout for more stumps. It makes for a fun scavenger hunt while we’re driving! 🙂

Materials

  • Stumps: When I was driving my husband’s pick up truck out on some country roads, I found several stumps of varying height that had been nicely cut from a fallen tree. Then, when we were coming home from Ruby’s spring concert, we spotted a few more, loaded them in the back of our van, and brought them home!
  • Shovel: You want one with a point that you can really step on.
  • Gardening Gloves: These are optional, but be warned, you will end up with dirt under your fingernails!

Directions

  1. Make a Plan: Try to envision the full potential of your stump arrangement. If you’re like me, you’ll want to leave room to keep adding on as you find more. I am hoping to copy Blandford’s meandering circular pattern that starts with shorter stumps and works up to taller stumps, but there are many other things you could do like placing the stumps haphazardly in one big configuration or making a straight path that’s very symmetrical. You might even make them almost flush with the ground and use them as a pathway from one place to the next. I encourage you to type “stepping stumps” or even “stepping stones” into Pinterest for some more ideas.

    Blandford Nature Center's Stepping Stumps

    Blandford Nature Center’s Stepping Stumps

  2. Dig a Circle: You’ll want to dig a circle larger than each stump. If you leave the sod intact, you can use it for another project like making a hill or making little grass stepping circles. After taking out the sod, dig down enough to bury about one-fifth of the stump. Make sure the dirt underneath is nice and soft to level out the stump.
  3. Level the Stump: After placing the stump onto the loose dirt in the hole, wiggle it around until the top is level. Then sit or step on it to help it settle in.
  4. Fill in the Dirt: Pack the extra dirt around the sides of the stump and step on it to really pack it in.

In Conclusion

Having stepping stumps is just one part of creating a backyard full of natural and fun ways to play. Once you see how your kids interact with the stumps, it might give you more ideas for extensions in the future. I hope to gather some shorter stumps so that it extends much further and begins and ends with descending stumps like a staircase.

Ruby and Elliot Playing on Our Stepping Stumps

Ruby and Elliot Playing on Our Stepping Stumps

Check out some of our other backyard projects:

Embracing Motherhood How to Make a Backyard Obstacle Course

How to Make a Backyard Obstacle Course

This backyard obstacle course is the simplest thing I have ever put together, but the kids LOVE it and play on it constantly. I’m always rearranging it, changing it, moving it, and adding new components to keep it fun and interesting…all using things that we have lying around or that I can find on trash day. 🙂

Children love things that are just challenging enough, and they need opportunities to play unsupervised with just the right amount of risk and danger. That is why I like setting up my obstacle course in an arrangement that isn’t too easy or too challenging. While I do enjoy cheering them on from time to time, I am happiest to see them play with the obstacle course independently. If I notice that it isn’t getting played with, I know it’s time to move it around.

How to Make a Backyard Obstacle Course Embracing Motherhood

How to Make a Backyard Obstacle Course

Materials

  • Tires: When we get new tires, I save the old ones. I also keep my eyes open on trash day to pick up any old tires that might be thrown away. *We cut holes in the sides of the tires so that they won’t hold water (which can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes).
  • Long Skinny Pieces of Wood: These are for the balance beams. It’s nice to have them varying lengths and thicknesses. 2’x4’s work great, but you can make anything work.
  • Blocks of Wood: These are for the base of the balance beams. You’ll need 2-3 that are the same height for each balance beam.
  • Wide Boards: These are for placing on top of the tires. You can make any size work. I like using long and narrow pieces. We had particle board laying around, so that is what we used, but you can use any type of wood. You can treat the pieces of wood if you’d like them to last longer.
  • Drill: This is for drilling holes in the tires. We added a circular attachment to our drill to make a bigger hole.
  • Screws: You’ll use these for the balance beams.

Directions

  1. Balance Beams: Attach blocks of wood to the ends (and middle if the board is long or weak) of your long skinny pieces of wood with long screws.
  2. Preparing the Tires: If you leave tires out without drilling holes, they will collect water and it will become the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. By drilling 3 large holes on the side, it will prevent water from collecting. We drilled holes on both sides so we wouldn’t have to worry about which side was facing up.
  3. Set Up: There is really no right or wrong way to set this up. You might want to have everything in a straight line, arrange it in a circle, or place individual pieces scattered throughout the yard. I like arranging the pieces in a circle because it encourages children to complete the course repeatedly. By putting tires underneath the edges of the long boards, it becomes a fun platform for kids to stand on and it also doubles as a bench for sitting and can even be used as a makeshift table during an outdoor picnic. I’ve also had fun putting a tire in the middle of a board to create a sort of teeter totter and on one end of a board to create a ramp.
  4. Rearrange: Whenever the kids stop using the obstacle course (or every 2-3 weeks, whichever comes first) I like to rearrange everything. This helps to prevent the grass that is underneath from dying and keeps it fun and interesting for the kids.
Rearranging the Obstacle Course

Rearranging the Obstacle Course

In Conclusion

The sky is the limit with this style of backyard obstacle course! I hope to keep collecting more tires to make some stepping tires and add some teeter totters (by placing one tire or two stacked up) in the middle of a long board. You will want to tailor your obstacle course to meet the specific dimensions of your yard and abilities of your kids, but the important thing is to make it just slightly challenging and have fun!

Check out how we’re getting our backyard ready for summer with our sandbox, stock tank pool, garden, teepee, stepping stumps, and more!

The Importance of Growing Up with a Garden

The Importance of Growing Up with a Garden

Gardening is a fun way for the whole family to eat nutrient dense food and enjoy the outdoors at the same time. Neither my husband or I are professional gardeners by any means, but by growing our own garden for the past few years, our entire family has learned a lot, enjoyed some good food, and had a lot of fun in the process!

Last Year's Garden Embracing Motherhood

Last Year’s Garden

I am excited to write this article as I reflect on our past gardens and start planning our garden(s) for this year! (We’re thinking about having three gardens this year: The area above for tomatoes and peppers, an area next to the house for herbs and lettuce, and an area by our teepee for corn and beans.)

My Brother Jarrod and I Enjoying a Garden as Kids

My Brother Jarrod and I Enjoying a Garden as Kids

Benefits of Gardening for Kids

There are many different benefits of gardening with kids. These are some of the benefits that we have noticed.

  • Learn About Life Cycles: Why read about the life cycle of a plant when you can grow one? By planting seeds, watching them grow, and caring for the plants, children become heavily invested in the life cycles of their plants.

    Elliot Planting Seeds Embracing Motherhood

    Elliot Planting Seeds

  • Learn About Photosynthesis: Photosynthesis (how plants get energy and grow) and cellular respiration (how humans get energy and grow) are two of the most basic and primary functions of life, yet we gloss over them very simply or hardly even mention them at all. If children can learn about such concepts in depth at a young age, they will build a lifelong understanding that will prepare them for even greater scientific understandings in the future.
  • See Where Food Comes From: No, food does not come from the grocery store! By seeing the time it takes for the plants to grow and finally harvesting the fruits of their labors, children will have a deeper appreciation for where their food comes from.

    Ruby and Elliot Picking Beans Embracing Motherhood

    Ruby and Elliot Picking Beans

  • Helps a Picky Eater: Even the pickiest eater can’t resist a tomato warmed from the sun or a freshly picked bean. I love watching my kids devour the fruits and vegetables they pick from the garden.

    Elliot Loves Eating What He Picks from the Garden

    Elliot Loves Eating What He Picks from the Garden

  • Connect with the Earth: If simply going barefoot on the earth’s surface (earthing or grounding) can boost the immune system by providing the body with an abundance of antioxidants (free electrons), imagine what actually digging in the dirt can do?

    Ruby Barefoot Picking Beans Embracing Motherhood

    Ruby Barefoot Picking Beans

  • Get Some Sun: Sunshine provides the body with much needed vitamin D, boosts the immune system, helps skin conditions, gives you more energy, and boosts serotonin levels, just to name a few of the benefits. So get out there in the sun! If I’m not worried about sunburn, I don’t worry about sunscreen, but if we’re going to be out for a long time and I think that by kids might get a burn, I like to use this sunscreen.

    Ruby Getting Some Sun in the Garden Embracing Motherhood

    Ruby Getting Some Sun in the Garden

  • Help with Chores: Kids really do love to help with chores, and this is pretty much one of the funnest chores to do! By working in the garden, they will learn the joy of helping out around the home in a very fun and hands on way!

    Elliot Putting Scraps in Our Compost Bin

    Elliot Putting Scraps in Our Compost Bin

  • Get a Green Thumb: In my experience, gardening is a skill best learned about by doing. By jumping into gardening without much knowledge, we have learned about the best planting times, different varieties of plants, what plants grow best together, how to prepare the soil, and so much more. By gardening with our children from a young age, they will enter their adult years with this knowledge tucked securely under their belts and a joy to accompany it.

    Ruby Planting Seeds Embracing Motherhood

    Ruby Planting Seeds

How to Grow a Garden

Now, I’m sure you can find a better expert than me to learn about all of the intricacies of gardening, but for what it’s worth, here’s how we garden. 🙂

  1. What to Plant? I like planting things that are easy to grow and that the children will have fun picking and eating. I like planting lots of tomatoes to make my tomato purée that I will freeze and use year round, many different kinds of beans that the children love picking, lettuce and herbs (cilantro, parsley, oregano, basil, and dill), peppers, cucumbers, carrots, sunflowers, corn (new this year), and maybe a few carrots and green onions.
  2. Start with Seeds: Starting in April or May, we like to start growing some seeds indoors in pots. Seed packets are fairly cheap (I picked up some organic seed packets at Walmart for 97 cents a piece.) and are way more cost effective than spending a few dollars per established plant. Once it’s above freezing at night, they can stay outside. I hear beans like to be planted when it’s still a bit frosty out.

    Sunflower Seeds Embracing Motherhood

    Sunflower Seeds

  3. Choose a Location and Prepare the Soil: Our original garden location (as seen below) is nice because it’s close to the house, but it is very damp which caused many of the plants to get a fungus last year. It also doesn’t get the best sunshine. This year, we are going to get a long hose, bury it, and set up a garden in the far corner of our yard near our teepee. For our original location, we used a rototiller, but in our new location, we’re digging up all of the sod by hand, so we’ll see how we manage without a tiller over there! I’m sure there’s lots you can do with fertilizing the soil, but we don’t do more than dumping the contents of our compost bin into the mix.

    Preparing the Soil for the Garden

    Preparing the Soil for the Garden

  4. Planting: I have made the mistake of planting things too close together (they’re so little at first), but then they grow too close together and compete for nutrients, so this year I will spread them out a bit more.
    Planting the Garden

    Planting the Garden

    Tomatoes from Last Year

    Tomatoes from Last Year

  5. Watering: In the past, we have used an arc shaped sprinkler, but I’ve since learned that it’s not good for the plants to get so much water on their leaves (because of the fungus) so this year, we will be putting in a soaker hose system (hopefully).

    Watering the Garden

    Watering the Garden

  6. Weeds: Weeding is really my favorite part of gardening. It’s very therapeutic and calming. I usually just pull out the weeds by hand, but every time my husband mows with the bagger, I collect the grass clippings and spread them out over the garden floor. This really helps to prevent weeds from growing.

    Using Grass Clippings to Prevent Weeds

    Using Grass Clippings to Prevent Weeds

  7. Composting: This is an excellent way for children to learn about recycling and to really see first hand what decomposition looks like. We dug out a square in our yard, added beams and boards around the sides (just like making a mini sandbox), and covered it with hinged doors with handles.

Getting Kids Involved

We don’t ever force our children to work in the garden. Whenever we’re going out there to work, we always invite them along, and if they refuse, that is perfectly fine. In the past, our kids have mainly enjoyed the planting and the harvesting process, but now, our oldest daughter Ruby (6) has been VERY helpful preparing the soil and getting things ready. She really enjoys talking about the planning of the garden now that she has seen it through to completion a couple of times. 🙂

In Conclusion

Growing a garden is truly a family event that is bonding in so many ways. I love working in the garden with our kids during every single stage. And when it’s harvesting time, the children see first hand the benefits of all of their hard work.

Happy gardening!

Check out some of our other backyard projects:

The Benefits of Allowing Kids to Interact with Nature (Without Being Hovered Over) Embracing Motherhood

The Benefits of Allowing Kids to Interact with Nature (Without Being Hovered Over)

Research shows that when kids are allowed to play in nature without someone hovering over them yelling, “Be careful!” and “Get down from there!” every five seconds, they flourish and grow in so many ways.

Ruby and Elliot Climbing on Rocks at Blandford Nature Center

Ruby and Elliot Climbing on Rocks (There Due to Construction) at Blandford Nature Center

When you think back to the fondest memories of your childhood, do you remember the times you were closely supervised while playing on a plastic or metallic structure for an allotted amount of fresh air time, or do you remember the times when you were wading in a creek catching tadpoles and crayfish, digging in the dirt looking for treasures, building forts, playing imagination games with neighbors and siblings, and exploring the world with fresh eyes without being hovered over (as I was lucky enough to be able to do)?

My Brother Jarrod (1) and I (2) Exploring Together

My Brother Jarrod (1) and I (2) Exploring Together

We live in an era of fear which has led to a dangerous amount of helicopter parenting where kids are constantly hovered over and controlled. Kids need elements of risk and danger. It helps them to be better problem solvers. by overcoming small obstacles where the risks are real, they will be able to overcome larger obstacles later when the stakes are higher.

Yes, getting exercise, sunshine, and fresh air are important, but even more important is that kids need time to be free, to get dirty, to fall down and get back up again, to explore nature, to be in the woods, the dirt, the sand, to gather sticks, to build forts that don’t follow any directions, and to do so without us supervising their every move.

Below is a picture of my children playing on the stepping stumps at Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids, MI. They have an amazing natural playground, a little log cabin, trails that meander through the woods into wigwams and other structures, boardwalks that take you through the woods and showcase rescued animals, and much, much more. This is a great example of a place dedicated to providing children with opportunities for children to learn, explore, and play in nature.

Ruby and Elliot Playing on Stepping Stumps at Blandford Nature Center

Ruby and Elliot Playing on Stepping Stumps at Blandford Nature Center

Benefits of Kids in Nature

The Children and Nature Network, an organization dedicated to reconnecting children with nature, has an impressive collection of research showing the benefits of allowing children to interact with nature which is nicely summarized here. A part of me is like, do I really need to reference research to show how kids being in nature is beneficial? But since the research is right in line with what I have observed with my own children, I used it as a framework for my ideas. The following is a summary of the meta-analysis of research about the benefits of allowing children to interact with nature coupled with my observations as a parent of four children who love interacting with nature.

  1. Increases Observation and Creativity: Studies prove that being in nature increases both observation and creativity. I like giving my children magnifying glasses, a microscope, an insect viewer, and collection baskets to further their observation skills. I really enjoy sitting or lying with them in the grass and helping them to notice what is going on around them. I might ask, “Do you see that little ant walking in the grass? Where do you think he’s going? What sounds do you hear right now? Do you hear birds chirping? What color is the sky? Do you see any clouds? Do you see any shapes in the clouds? And so on…” I also like doing art projects that bring in the elements of nature that helps my children to see the beauty of nature.
  2. Encourages Imagination and Sense of Wonder: Research shows that when children have early experiences with nature, there is a positive correlation with their development of imagination and it gives them a sense of wonder. I love encouraging creative and imaginative play with my children, and never do I see their imaginations stretch further than when they are outdoors in nature. I remember during my 7 years as an elementary school teacher, I was always amazed when children didn’t know what to do with themselves at recess. I would love to see us do away with standard sets of playground equipment and instead erect elements that encourage creative and imaginative play like some little log cabins, stepping stones or stumps, meandering paths of natural foliage, or even something more wild like this revolutionary new playground!
  3. Builds Language Development and Collaboration Skills: Studies show that the increased imaginative and creative components that occur when children are in nature foster language development and collaborative skills, and that they also have more positive feelings about each other in doing so. What better way to learn than being outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine, running and playing with your friends and/or siblings in nature! I love watching my kids interact with each other in nature. The world is such a big place and by exploring many different elements of nature firsthand, they are learning about the world. When I was a classroom teacher, I loved using an “outdoor classroom”.
  4. Increases Skills in Multiple Domains: Research shows that when children engage in authentic play in nature-based outdoor spaces, they develop skills in a variety of domains simultaneously. There is really no limit to what children can learn when they are out in nature. It gives any learning a sense of purpose, authenticity, and wonder. While I was teaching a unit on ecosystems during my classroom years, we took a weekly field trip to a local pond to observe, collect samples, and take notes about what we saw. This first hand learning experience was so powerful for the children. They loved the hike there, the open ended nature of the project, being in the elements, wading in the water, walking through the brambles, and really paying attention to their surroundings.
  5. Improves Physical Health: Studies show that children who regularly have positive personal experiences with the natural world show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility. I mean, it goes without saying that kids will have improved physical health from playing outdoors, but we have to think one step beyond structured and monitored play on predefined playground structures to allow our children to explore the elements of nature, to get dirty, to have danger and risk, to stretch themselves, to be free, and to discover things we never could really plan for or create for them.
  6. Improves Mental Health: Research shows that being in nature helps children to deal with adversity and minimize stress. What’s amazing is that the more time they spend in nature, the greater the benefits. Researchers at the University of Illinois (Andrea Faber Taylor, Frances Kuo, and William Sullivan) discovered that children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) performed better on schoolwork after having contact with nature.
  7. Appropriate Risk Minimizes Accidents:  Studies show that playgrounds where there are genuine risks actually have fewer accidents than traditional playgrounds. When children are given real risks and learn how to handle them, true life-long learning takes place. On the other hand, children who are given sanitized play places are less conscious of risks and actually have more accidents. It’s understandable that we don’t want our children to get hurt, but letting them get a few scrapes and bruises when they are little can actually prevent them from breaking bones…or worse as they get older.

Detriments of Kids Not Being in Nature

I feel like we all know that being outside is good. Getting fresh air and sunshine, being involved in physical activity, participating in the elements of nature…these are all things that promote good health. But beyond the positives, there are some negative things that happen when children are deprived of nature. By not being in nature, children are missing out on so much. Research shows that beyond just the negative health concerns from spending too much time indoors, children can also develop an unhealthy fear of nature.

  1. Fears of Nature: When children are exposed to frightening environmental issues when they are young without fully understanding and appreciating the elements of nature or understanding how these issues can be solved, it causes them to be anxious about nature and want to avoid it. Children fear things they don’t understand (Don’t we all?), and if they first learn about pollution, endangered animals, and overpopulation before getting a chance to freely explore nature and create positive memories in it, is it any wonder that they would just prefer to stay inside with their ipads?
  2. Fears of Injury: When parents are constantly hovering over their children and yelling, “Be careful! Watch out! Get down from there! Get away from that!” they may think that they sound like they’re being good protective parents, but they are not helping their children learn how to assess and deal with risk on their own at all. We were at Blandford Nature Center the other day, it had just rained, and my kids were enjoying splashing in the water, getting dirty, climbing on everything, and having a BLAST. Another family came along while we were there and the mom was constantly yelling, “Don’t get wet! Stay out of the water! Be careful! Get down from those stumps!” She quickly left with her brood in a huff…everyone was still perfectly clean. My kids on the other hand, were soaked, dirty, and sooooo happy. Personally, I would rather keep a spare bag of clothes in the car for each child and let them get dirty and have fun rather than thinking that staying clean is the ultimate reward of childhood.

    Ophelia Having Fun in the Water

    Ophelia Having Fun in the Water

  3. Negative Health Issues: When children do not get adequate exposure outdoors, it puts them at risk for vitamin D deficiency which is a risk factor for rickets, cardiovascular disease, cancer, or autoimmune conditions. A U.S. environmental health report showed that most people spend 90% of their time indoors. Dr. Dennis Ownby states that,

“Maybe part of the reason we have so many children with allergies and asthma is that we live too clean a life.”

 In Conclusion

There are a few key pillars to my parenting philosophy such as feeding my children nutrient dense food, being a stay at home mom and completely devoted to their needs, teaching them about language, reading, and math from a young age, sustaining creative and imaginative play…and this, being in nature. I want my children to be completely comfortable being in nature. I want them to enjoy it, to crave it, to know what to do in it, to not be afraid of it, and to let it shape their brains during these early stages of development.

Ruby and Elliot Playing on Our Stepping Stumps

Ruby and Elliot Playing on Our Stepping Stumps

Check out my blog: How to Create a Backyard Haven for Children (coming soon) for ideas on how to add more natural elements to your backyard such as growing a garden (coming soon), making a natural teepee, creating stepping stumps (coming soon), designing an obstacle course (coming soon), building a sandbox, converting a stock tank pool, and more!

Here’s a video of our backyard as we get ready for summer. Ideally, we’d be living on 40 acres of wilderness, but we are doing the best we can with our one acre tucked within city limits. )

Embracing Motherhood How to Make an Outdoor Teepee

How to Make an Outdoor Teepee

Making an outdoor teepee is a fun and easy project that will provide a natural play area for your children. Who needs expensive plastic playground equipment when there’s old free tree branches lying around anyways?

There are lots of different variations and ways to embellish your teepee once you get the frame up…anything from being completely covered with bark to having living walls with something like beans or flowering vines!

Materials

  • Long Sticks: I drove around in my husband’s pick up truck and stopped along the side of the road whenever I found some really good long branches. Look for a few that have like a “v” at the top so that they can interlock and form the base when you get started.
  • Shovel: You want one with a point that you can really step on.
  • Gardening Gloves: These are optional, but be warned, you will end up with dirt under your fingernails!

Directions

  1. Make a Circle: Stand in the center of where you want your teepee and using a small to medium stick, draw a circle around yourself. Mark the edges of the circle by scoring it with your shovel.
  2. Plan Your Opening: Consider the position of the sun (if you want to have shade or not) and the location in relation to the rest of your yard. I wanted my opening to face the center of the yard so that I could always see who was inside, even though this meant that it would be really sunny inside all the time.
  3. Dig Holes: You’ll want to start with three holes for the anchor sticks. Dig a circle (much bigger than your stick…about 8-10 inches in diameter) and take out the piece of sod intact. Continue to dig down about another shovel’s depth. Make sure you leave a lot of loose soil at the bottom.
  4. Anchor Sticks: You might need some help to steady the three anchor sticks as you place them in at the same time. If you can find at least one stick that has a “v” at the top, it will really help to lock the sticks together at the top. Position the sticks in the ground, and lean them into each other until they are steady.
  5. Bury the Sticks: Fill in around the stick with all of the loose dirt that was taken out, and then place the piece of sod back on top. Stamp it down with your feet.
  6. Fill in with Sticks: I buried about eight more sticks, and then I just started leaning the rest of the sticks against other sticks. My little ones liked weaving in and out of the stick openings, so I left some spots more open than others.
  7. Cover: You can choose to leave the sides somewhat open, continue layering with sticks until it is filled in more, or find some other material such as pine needle branches or bark to fill it in completely. You might even want to grow something like beans or morning glories along the sticks to create some living walls.

In Conclusion

I probably had as much fun building this teepee as the kids have had playing in it. Once the weather starts to get nice, my husband and I like having outdoor projects to work on. It’s a fun way to be outside, get a bit of physical activity, and accomplish something! We are currently working on making some big dirt hills covered with sod, stepping stumps, obstacle course, and preparing our garden as we try our best to transform our 1 acre of regulated city land into as natural and fun of an environment as we can. (Here’s a little video of our backyard projects.) It’s going to be a fun summer!

Ruby and Elliot Playing in the Teepee

Ruby and Elliot Playing in the Teepee

Embracing Motherhood How to Make a Stock Tank Pool

How to Make a Stock Tank Pool

What’s the one thing that always feels good on a hot summer’s day? Water. Running through a sprinkler, splashing in a kiddie pool, going down a slip and slide, and floating in a pool are all ways to make the summer heat mesh nicely with your body.

ruby mini pool

We love water!

With four young kids five and under, we don’t really like to go anywhere, and this stock tank pool has been an amazing cost effective addition to our yard for both us and our kids. When the temperature is above 70º F (we’ll even settle for 60º F on an early spring thaw), our kids will play in it for hours every single day.

Another early spring swim on a 60 degree day!

Swimming in our stock tank pool in mid April! Brrrr…

They love sitting in their round doughnuts bouncing up and down, riding around on pool noodles, jumping off from the ladder, and just splashing around. My husband and I like to find a way to float and relax. When we close our eyes and feel our bodies bob around in the water, we can almost envision that we’re floating on the shores of some tropical island…until Elliot does a cannonball that is!

With our stock tank pool, homemade sandbox, garden, backyard teepee, stepping stumps, and homemade obstacle course, we are content to just stay home all summer long! *Video note: We don’t typically run the filter while kids are swimming in it. The suction is incredibly strong and can be quite shocking if you accidentally press your butt against it! 🙂

When we started researching pools last summer, I was almost tempted to buy a 12 foot Intex pool, but after reading reviews about patching pinholes and knowing that my kids like to play rough (which it couldn’t sustain), I didn’t think it sounded like a good idea.

Growing up, my Aunt Sue always had a round stock tank pool that she placed on a deck in her backyard. She always kept the water crystal clear with a filter and had it set up on a little deck. It was beautiful! We had an oval shaped horse trough pool growing up, but we never really kept it clean, and it turned into a holding tank for the tadpoles and turtles that we would catch in our nearby lake. It was still really fun though!

I scoured the Internet for some good directions for making a stock tank pool and could only find really cute pictures (that often showed crystal clear water with no filter…not possible!) without many good directions, so I hope that in this post, I can be a little more specific. Needless to say, we learned how to do everything wrong before we learned how to do everything right, so hopefully, if you’re looking to make your own stock tank pool, you can avoid some of the pitfalls we had.

Summer fun in our stock tank pool

Summer fun in our stock tank pool

Materials

  • 10 Foot (diameter) Stock Tank Pool: We picked up ours from a local Tractor Supply Co., sorry, it seems that they only seem to sell 8 foots now. Basically, you want a round, galvanized steel pool with a diameter of 10 feet, but 8 feet should do too, and 2 feet high – which is pretty much shorter than anyone who is really good at walking. You might be able to find something on the internet like this for $545, but I think your best bet is calling around to local farm stores. We paid $350 for ours.
  • Sand Filter Pump: You don’t have to have a pump if you’re okay with just emptying the pool when it gets dirty or using some chlorine or bromine tablets, but I highly recommend buying one for the long haul. People reviewing this particular filter used it for much much larger pools than what we have, and they said it works great. We have loved it for our little pool. We paid $157 for ours.
  • Pool Filter SandWe just used some sand from our sandbox, but this type of sand that I linked to was recommended by our pool filter system manual.
  • *Additional Filter Systems:
    • Saltwater System: It pretty much makes its own “natural” chlorine. You could use this in addition to the sand filter for optimum performance.
    • Floating Dispenser and Bromine Tablets or Chlorine Tablets (bromine is safer than chlorine…slightly).
    • Pool Water Shock: Kills bacteria and algae in one big “shock” of chlorine.
    • Because of the dangers of chlorine, we try our best to avoid it. We’d prefer not to use any of these methods, but we have used the pool shock a time or two when things got bad (mainly because we didn’t use our pool filter properly). It did a fine job of killing the algae, and we just avoided the pool until it all evaporated, 24-48 hours. 
  • Drill: You’ll need to drill two holes into the pool if you’re going to attach a filter. As convenient as a cordless drill can be, we have had much more success with drilling projects that need a lot of power to use a corded drill. You’ll also need a hole saw kit to attach to your drill.
  • Hose Conversion Adapter KitWe got some metal hardware from the store, but the plastic ones I linked to here should work fine as well. Basically, you just need something to attach the pool filter to the hole you’ll make in the pool.
    For attaching the pool filter tubes to the hole in the pool.

    For attaching the pool filter tubes to the hole in the pool.

    We cut our hole too small, so we needed some extra pieces!

    We initially cut our hole too small, so we needed some extra pieces!

  • Plumber’s PuttyThis stuff is waterproof and great for plugging up all leaks! If I could do it again though, I think this epoxy would’ve worked better.

Directions

  1. Get the pool to your house! You can order a stock tank pool online and they will deliver it, or you can purchase it from a store and for a fee they can probably deliver it too. My husband knew someone who had an open trailer. They went to the store, picked it up, strapped it down, and drove it to our house.
  2. Prepare the pool location. You want a place that is flat and level that isn’t close to too many trees that will annoy you with their random leaves cluttering your pool. When we made our sandbox, we put an extra load where we wanted our pool, and it made an excellent base. (You don’t have to do this, it’s just a nice touch.)

    laying down the stock tank pool

    Getting the pool settled

  3. Set up the pool filter. This seems a lot more complicated than it really is, especially after you watch the instruction video, but bear with it, it’s not that bad. Basically, you’ll need to put it together and fill it with sand. You can put it on a base, but we never did and it worked just fine.

    Pool Filter

    Pool Filter

  4. Measure the pool filter tubes. We made the mistake of measuring the interior diameter rather than the exterior diameter of our tubes and since the drill bit needs to connect with the center, once you make a hole too small, you can’t make it bigger. This made the entire process of connecting the tubes turn into a HUGE ordeal for us (and is why you’ll notice lots of adhesive covered with cloths over our tubes). We had to get extender pieces and everything leaked in every possible place, but we eventually got it all sealed up and running great. So basically, measure twice and cut once!
  5. Cut two holes in the stock tank pool for the filter tubes. You’ll want to position the holes about 2-3 feet apart from each other in about the middle of the top half of the pool walls. Use a drill and a metal drill bit to cut the holes. Some protective eyewear is probably a good idea. 🙂
  6. Attach the hardware into the holes made in the stock tank pool. Get as snug as a fit as you can, and then seal everything up with epoxy or plumber’s putty. You might even want to put some plumber’s tape around the threads.
  7. Attach the pool filter tubes. Once again, get everything to fit as tight as you can then seal everything with plumber’s putty or epoxy. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to detach the tubes at the filter to drain the pool. (Plus there’s a little screw thing near the bottom of the pool that you can take out to drain the pool too.)

    Stock Tank Pool

    Stock Tank Pool

  8. Fill with water. Fill the water just above the holes to make sure they are not leaking. If they are, drain the water a bit and seal any holes. When we did this, we just used whatever sealers we could find in our house. It made a big mess, but it did the job!

Additional Pool Items

  • Pool LadderThis is the one we got, and it’s quite a bit taller than our pool, but our kids love it!
  • Solar CoverThis works great to keep debris out of the pool and to warm the water. If you get this, I don’t think you need a pool cover.
  • Pool SkimmerThis is great for getting out grass clippings, small leaves, and any other little floaters.
  • Life Jackets: These life jackets are our favorites for the little ones (30-50 lbs) and are great for teaching kids the mechanics of swimming.
  • Swimming Diapers: As much as I love to have my kids run around naked in the summer, I don’t like them peeing and pooping in our pool!
  • Flotation Devices: This pool isn’t that big enough hold anything too big, but our kids have enjoyed some basic round tubes. We have also enjoyed getting some fancy full body floating devices for a really tropical experience!
  • Pool NoodlesThe kids have enjoyed playing with these in the pool more than anything! Scott and I like tucking one under our neck and one under our ankles and floating like we’re in the middle of the crystal clear waters of some tropical resort!
  • Diving Rings and Sticks: Once kids can hold their breath underwater, these diving rings and sticks (with goggles) make for a lot of fun!
  • Foot Rinsing BucketWe like putting a large rectangular bucket in front of the ladder so that the kids will rinse their feet before going in.

Maintenance Tips

  • Running the Filter: Pay close attention to the owner’s manual for your filter and run all scheduled maintenance. We did a poor job of this the first year we had our pool, and as a result, the tubes filled up with green algae as did the filter, and it became very hard to keep clean. I highly recommend watching the instruction DVD that comes with your filter (if you choose to use one…you really don’t have to). It has a 24 hour timer attached, so it’s easy enough to schedule about an hour every day for the filter and rinse. Just don’t forget the backwash and rinse…very important!
  • Cleaning it Out: After the first fill up during the first year of having our pool, it stayed pretty clean and clear for about 6-8 weeks. Then, it started to get a little green looking, and then like the next day we couldn’t see the bottom of the pool! When this happens, FIRST clean out the filter chamber from any debris and completely drain the pool (by detaching the tubes at the filter and then removing the screw at the bottom of the pool with a pair of pliers). Then scrub it out until all of the green gunk is gone. I like using a bit of bleach for this part.
  • Keeping Junk Out: We made sure to establish some rules with the kids about not putting sand or other debris into the pool and put a little foot rinsing bucket in front of the ladder. I also like using a pool skimmer about once a week or so to fish out any stray floaties. But seriously, we don’t get too strict here because it’s no fun if you start getting paranoid about every speck of dirt that might get in.

In Conclusion

If you want something sturdy and fun that will allow you to enjoy hours and hours of backyard fun in the summer sun, I highly recommend getting a stock tank pool set up. If we had gone with one of the cheap Intex pools of a similar size, we would constantly have to nag the kids to be gentle and then it would probably still pop a hole at some point anyways. This has stood up VERY well to lots of roughhousing, and I’m hoping that it will last for years to come!

Enjoying the Stock Tank Pool

Enjoying the Stock Tank Pool

Happy swimming!