Nature Photography Art

steam activities header

Today’s Theme: Science, Tech, Art, Math
(yup, 4 for the price of 1… and technically, you could say it’s Engineering too if you use your items collected to build something…!)

With my life as crazy busy as it has been lately, I’m going to be perfectly honest with you that we’ve been doing a lot of super free, unplanned play.  Like watching a lot of Sesame Street.  And Creative Galaxy.  And Super Why.  And building train sets.  And marble runs.  And working puzzles.  And coloring in coloring books and on plain paper.  Ya know, the ordinary, unexciting activities that make up MOST of our normal lives.  Not a whole lot worth blogging about and saying “wow, isn’t this fantastic?  Don’t you want to do this with YOUR kids?”  HA!  But, I know that one of the things my readers comment on the most is how they feel inspired by what I share.  And honestly, that is humbling.  And it helps hold me to a higher standard for my own kids.  And I appreciate that.  Maybe it’s something about turning 31 today (really?  31?  I remember when 30 seemed ancient… and now 50 doesn’t sound that old…), or maybe it’s just because my life has been so crazy that I’ve had to think about hitting the “reset” button on our school time… but for whatever reason, I came up with a super fun, EASY activity to do with Becca this past week that she absolutely loved.  And hopefully your kids will too!  (And hopefully I can come up with some more fun ideas very soon!  Might be time to pull out my Raising Creative Kids book again and snag some more ideas from Colleen!!  Have you gotten her book yet?  OMG.  You need it.  You really do.  The link is on the right hand side of this page… or at the bottom if you’re on a mobile device.  And yes, it’s an affiliate link, so I make some dough from your purchase – THANK YOU!)

Wow.  That might well have been the longest run-on paragraph I’ve ever written here on my blog.  Thank ya’ll for sticking with me through that!  HA!

And now to the nitty gritty – Nature Photography Art!

Becca LOVES to get out in our yard and explore.  We are so blessed to have some amazing land for her to roam around on, and even more blessed that we’re on the edge of Texas Hill Country, so our wildflowers each Spring are just simply incredible.  With zero work on our part.  God just paints our land every single year for us, and we are so blessed!  Cody and I both love to take nature photos – it’s one of the things that we first found that we had in common when we met.  So our kids see us take pictures of flowers and trees and butterflies and random rock formations ALL. THE. TIME.  And Becca often asks me if she can take the picture.  But I hesitate to let her hold my phone outside – especially on a day like the one when we did this activity – because the ground was moist and there are random rocks… ya know, my luck I’d hand her my iPhone 6 Plus and she’d drop it face down into a mud puddle with rocks at the bottom (I know Apple Care is great, but…)!  So I came up with this idea to get her involved, let her take nature photos, and yet do it in a structured environment.

IMG_8425I took this photo in our front yard while we were working on collecting our flowers for this project.  The butterflies were fluttering EVERYWHERE, and the Indian Blankets are just gorgeous!

Here’s what you’ll need to do this activity:
A bucket or basket of some sort
A source of wildflowers, leaves, grass, or rocks
A sheet of white butcher paper
A good lamp
A magnifying glass
A digital camera of some sort that you are willing to let your child use
Optional extension:  A computer with internet for photo editing (I use

So just take your bucket to your source of nature, and collect objects.  It can be ANYTHING.  Any small piece of nature can be a fabulous source for photography.  Keep in mind that live objects such as caterpillars are harder to photograph – especially for kids – because they are a moving target.  So encourage your child to select STILL LIFE objects.  You can explain that still life is a type of art that depicts objects that are alive, but not moving.  Flowers don’t get up and walk away.  Nor do rocks or grass.  So they work great for this project.  Try to pull an entire wildflower plant up – root and all – to examine with your child.  If that’s not possible, no worries, but it certainly extended our conversation GREATLY to have a couple full plants.  We talked about the parts of the plant while out there in the yard, and also again once we got into the house – a fabulous science lesson.  You can totally do this with rocks as well, and get into discussing and sorting the features of the rocks, and create a rock collection box.

Once your basket or bucket is full, head inside and lay out your white butcher paper.  Set up your lamp and grab your magnifying glass and camera – the fun is about to begin!  Start laying out your objects on the paper.  You can talk about their shadows, their colors, examine them close up, and watch the paper closely with your magnifying glass as lots of teeny tiny little bugs will crawl off of the flowers and begin to explore your paper.  This is a fabulous time to talk about the features of the camera with your child – especially how to make it focus.  If your little one has shaky hands and you’re using a phone for your photos, work as a team – you hold the phone, let your little one select where on the screen to focus, and push the shutter button to snap the picture (that’s what we did).

Try laying your objects out in all different ways – you can get as creative as your child wants.  You could spell nature words with your objects, you could spell your child’s name, you could build something with your rocks, or you could just do random grouping nature shots.  Encourage your child to try holding the camera closer to an object and farther away to see the difference in the two shots.  How does the shadow look on the screen?  Can you move your camera to a different location to make the shadow longer or shorter?  Etc.  The possibilities with this activity are ENDLESS.  And totally repeatable!!  Just collect different objects each time, and you can do this activity over and over and over.

If you want to extend the activity further in the tech area and your child is really into it, you can easily upload your photos to your computer and check out (totally not an affiliate link, I just love them so much and use their site for everything!).  Try making a collage of your photos together, or even play around with their favorite photo to make a sign for their bedroom door, an inspirational saying for their bathroom mirror, or add text to several of the photos to create a book that you can print out and stick in a 3 ring binder for them.  You could also do this activity throughout the seasons and use these photos instead of paintings for your 2016 calendar!  You could also add some math to this activity by measuring each flower and sorting them by length!  The possibilities of where you can go with this activity are truly limitless, and think of the OWNERSHIP your child will have in this project – and the fabulous opportunity to do something one on one with your child.  (I know I’m frequently looking for something special I can do with JUST Becca so that she feels special and grown up.  We did this while Grayson was napping.  If your younger child doesn’t nap anymore, you can easily have them go on the hunt with you and collect their own items in a separate basket, then give them white paper as well and let them play with the objects.  They could draw ovals around them with crayons, count their objects, and sort by color, just to give you a few ideas.)

Here are some of the beautiful pieces we came up with together:

apr 30 nature photography art

Jesus Loves Me


Becca Door SignI am truly so excited about this activity, and I can’t wait to do it with her again with other objects and different flowers!!  I especially loved her root picture (she wasn’t that fond of it, but she loved examining the roots and playing with the shadows!)  IMG_8446


I hope that you will try this activity with your kids, and that you’ll SHARE your results on my Facebook page!!!  I would love to see what you are doing!!!  Check back next week – I’m hoping to get more posts up before then for the start of our next new month!!

Colored Sensory Tubs

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Now that I do all kinds of interactive sensory bins for Becca, I had to really dig deep to remember how I started with her.  There’s a picture of 8 month old her floating around Pinterest playing with her very first sensory bin… and sadly, the link is broken because my old blog doesn’t exist anymore.  But, it’s a super cute picture, and hopefully the picture alone has given lots of moms ideas.  It brought me back to my “roots” of how to start for him.

It’s as simple as sorting your Baby Bees’ toys by color.  If you’re like us and have an older child, you probably have a MILLION baby toys that your Baby Bee has “adopted” from their older sibling(s).  And then there are the Christmas presents that just never seem to stop, that equip your Baby Bee with even more toys they probably don’t need.  So, take all those excess of toys and turn them into a learning experience!!!

Don’t have an older child and an over abundance of toys?  Just wait!  HA! No, seriously, what I did for Becca was to sort her toys, and then I added additional things that were ok to go in her mouth – like long strips of colored ribbons and fabric tied together into a large knot.  Think dog chew toy.  Seriously, ya’ll, it works for Baby Bees, too.

So, you’ve got all these toys to sort.  What to put them in?  Well, you probably know that I’m a huge fan of Dollar Tree.  Get some of their little colored buckets to help you organize.  Then the great thing is, the toys are organized, too… plus they are sensory bins!  Double bonus!!


Right now, Grayson’s color sensory tubs are for blue, yellow, and red.

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The rest of his toys are also organized in Dollar Tree bins – I especially love the big basket I found for all of his cloth books, which are never organized and needed something larger to just throw them in so they stay off the floor!

As an extension for play for an older sibling, have him or her help you sort the toys.  Let your Big Butterfly help you sort them by color, deciding which color is most prominent on that toy.  Your Big Butterfly can also select which color your Baby Bee will play with – and encourage Big Butterfly to talk to Baby Bee about the color, and point to that color if the toy has multiple colors on it.  If your Big Butterfly is anything like mine, they’ll love the challenge.  Becca is all about teaching Grayson things.  She’s quick to say, “Look, Brother, this is yellow.  And this is yellow.  But Pooh’s sweater is red.  And so is his hat.”  It’s also a great extension to the activity to have Big Butterfly help clean up – remembering to sort the items into the correct bucket.

After they’ve been sorted by color for a while, get creative – sort into soft and hard, or noisy and quiet… so many ideas for using those toys!!

And again, if you don’t have a million toys, first, praise God!  (Seriously, ya’ll, I think we have toys coming out of our ears!!)  Second, look for things around your house that would be safe that you could add to the toys you do have. Do you have colored washrags?  Do you have colored plastic bowls or plates that perhaps your Baby Bee isn’t ready to eat off of just yet?  Look for items at Dollar Tree that could be considered “toys” now, and could grow with your child – like colored plastic cups that for now can be a toy and later they can drink out of.  Or those little plastic measuring cups that right now they can just chew on, but later they can use in a sensory bin and then later use to learn about measuring.  If you feel your Baby Bee is lacking in soft stuffed animals, Dollar Tree also has a million of those… or we could donate a few to your cause. 😉  Remember, however, that with your Baby Bee, less is more.  You don’t need a box of 30 red items.  5 is plenty.  Ideally, they’ll have different textures, weights, etc, but even if you have five identical items, it’s all good.  The focus is to introduce colors.

As your Baby Bee gets a tad older, you can begin providing two tubs to play with, and see if your Baby Bee gravitates toward one color or the other, and see if Baby Bee can put the items back in the bucket.  (At 7-9 months Baby Bee should be really awesome at pulling everything out of the bucket, and may begin to start setting things back inside closer to the beginning of the 10th month.  Don’t expect color sorting til Baby Bee is much older – for some Baby Bees, color sorting between two colors won’t happen until well after Baby Bee’s first birthday.  Remember always – every Baby Bee is unique and different!)

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Colored sensory tubs are a great way to keep your Baby Bee happy during tummy time, and encourage Baby Bee to keep reaching for toys, trying to crawl, and practicing rolling!

Pumpkin/Halloween Center

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A few weeks ago, I posted about play with orange colored rice.  (Here’s that post)  And then a few days after that, I took the purple rice I had, and added lavender essential oil.  I’ve heard that it has calming properties, and thought – what better thing to add to Becca’s rice?  Well, so I added a couple drops too many and the whole house smelled like lavender for two days.  Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.. just unexpected.  To try and combat the strong lavender scent, I mixed the purple rice with the orange, and then let it sit for about a week or maybe even two before we used it.  Now, it has a nice lavender scent, but isn’t overwhelming.

I love our water table – such versatility.  You can get yours here (aff link).  It works great for centers like this because I can fit several activities on the different layers.

I will give a qualifying statement to this post – like I did on my Apple Theme Center – if you are just starting to do sensory activities with your kids, you might not want to take the time or have the energy to put together an entire theme center.  THAT IS OK!!!  Just pick one or two of these and start there! 🙂


So here’s the big picture – the overview of everything.  This center has a high emphasis on math and art, where my Apple center was a combination of Language Arts and Math concepts.


First we’ll look at that sensory rice.  Isn’t it pretty?  And it fit so well in the top of the water table.  I added some fall cookie cutters – they are super fun to sink down and bury in the rice – as well as a variety of sizes of pumpkins that I had collected the past couple of years at Dollar Tree.  She definitely likes the cookie cutters the best.  She likes to hide them and then dig around to try and find them.

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Another fun activity is the pumpkin coloring activity.  We went to Michaels and picked up a white craft pumpkin, and I actually introduced this activity with her BEFORE putting it in the center.  We talked about how this pumpkin is MADE for coloring, and remembered that other pumpkins we have around the house that are decorations were NOT made for coloring.  We also remembered that crayons are only for coloring on paper (and this pumpkin) – not on the table, the couch, the hearth, or any other surface.  So I felt confident that I could put this activity in the pumpkin center and allow her to pull it out and take it anywhere to color, without getting crayon everywhere.  So far, she has done great with it, and will occasionally just go grab it and go to town coloring!  It’s really starting to look cool, and she can definitely take ownership of this and next week, I’ll let her select where she wants to put it to decorate our home!


I also gave her a little pumpkin ice cube tray that I had bought at Dollar Tree – and I added the numbers 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 to reinforce counting by twos.  My thought was that she could put one little pumpkin in each space, and count them by twos.  She had another idea all together – which reinforces the differences in the way she thinks vs the way I think… and makes me glad I didn’t limit her thinking by telling her what to do with it.  She put two grains of rice in each pumpkin on either side of the two, four by the four, six by the six, and up.  She actually sat there and counted out ten grains of rice two different times to fill up the “10” pumpkins.  Not quite the skill I was hoping to cover, but she kept saying 2,4,6,8,10, so it did end up reinforcing the skill after all.

In addition, I gave her a mesh bag that she could practice putting her pumpkins into (for a gross motor skill of holding a bag open and coordinating the drop to put them in), along with these little black bags for sorting (definitely a much more fine motor skill – these bags are LITTLE).  I got this “fall scatter” (shown below) at Michaels for super cheap.  She had fun sorting them by color and shape, holding them up to the lights to look through them, and of course, making patterns.  (Note: we ended up having to put the acorns away because she kept wanting to pretend she was a squirrel and put the acorns in her mouth, which is of course not safe.  She hasn’t done that with the pumpkins.  Not sure what it was about the acorns – other than her desire to be a squirrel…)

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We also used the cookie cutters, plastic pumpkins, and pumpkin scatter to sort small, medium, and large, and talk about “big, bigger, biggest” and “small, smaller, smallest.”  She informed me that NONE of the pumpkins were big, so it wasn’t correct to use those words about these teeny pumpkins, so then we said they were “teeny, teenier, and teeniest.”  That was super funny, and giggles ensued.

Apple Theme Center

apple theme center

This post contains affiliate links.  Thank you for your participation!

I’m all about quick, easy ideas that I can throw together in just a few minutes.  This center was not one of those ideas.  So if you are just starting with sensory activities for your kiddos, this is not the place to start.  BUT – any one of these ideas on their own IS a fabulous start.  You just might not be ready to put them all together on one day to create a center.

If you’ve read my blog much, you know that Becca is typically satisfied for quite a little bit the first time I intro an activity, and then beyond that, it usually only gets about 5-10 mins of play in a day, every now and again.  The great thing about this center is that she has really been glued to it for quite a while, and will go and select a different activity different times… which makes me happy since I did take about an hour to put it all together.  (As an aside – I’ve started this week going around and putting away old activities – storing them in labeled Ziploc bags – so that in a couple months I can pull them back out and they will be new again.  Sneaky Mommy! 😉 )

The first thing you’ll need for your center is a place to put everything.  Maybe you have an adorable little bookshelf that everything goes on fabulously.  Or maybe you have a water table like ours (aff link) that is just waiting to be filled…

Here are the activities in my Apple Theme Center:

Word Building/Reading
Apple Sorting/Tossing
Rock Dumping/Shaking
Ten Apples Up On Top Reading/Building


Word Building/Reading
This activity has been in my brain for  a while, but I hesitated to do it with her because I actually don’t have a set of magnetic letters.  And then it hit me – I DO have magnet tape!  So, I wrote the words I wanted on index cards, and cut out the letters.  Then I stuck tiny pieces of magnet tape on the back!  This little sheet tray I got at Dollar Tree in the cooking section.  It’s also the perfect size for her little hands to haul out of the center and over the automan or couch for more intense play just focused on this activity.  She has begun to try to read the words as sight words, and is doing really well.

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Apple Sorting/Tossing
Again with Dollar Tree – I found these little green and red apples in the home decor section, and then I pulled the red and green buckets from her Farmer’s Market Set (Get Yours Here – Aff Link) and she can sort them.  She has also enjoyed setting the bucket on the ground and stepping back to toss the apples into the correct bucket – making it a great gross motor activity, as well.

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Rock Dumping/Shaking
I read somewhere that you could make rocks or other hard materials scented by adding tea leaves to them (I honestly don’t remember where), so I got these green rocks, again, at Dollar Tree in the home decor section – literally right next to the apples – and I added Apple Crumble Black Tea to it – so they smell like apples!  I had thoroughly cleaned and dried out a coffee creamer bottle, which is absolutely perfect for this activity.  She loves to use the funnel and scoop to put the rocks into the bottle, then close the lid, shake it, and then open the lid and shake the rocks back into the bowl.  It’s turned into a super fun activity that covers several of the senses.  (SO IF YOU’RE JUST SELECTING ONE OF THESE ACTIVITIES TO START WITH, THIS IS A GREAT ONE!)


Ten Apples Up On Top Reading/Building
We LOVE the book Ten Apples Up On Top.  So when I saw this idea from Ellen over at Cutting Tiny Bites, I just new we HAD to do it.  Here’s how we extended her activity a tad.  I printed up this sheet (FREE PRINTABLE HERE!) of ten apples, and let Becca paint them.  (I had planned to do red, green, and yellow, and then discovered we were out of paint.  So that might be an extension you’d want to add.. so that as you build, you can build a pattern!)  After they had dried, I cut them out and taped them onto ten blocks.  We only had nine that matched, so the tenth one is the “roof,” as Becca calls it.  So here’s how you do it – as you read the book, you stack an apple block on top each time that the animals in the book add an apple.  It’s super fun.  Although if you pick a heavy top block like we did, you’ll end up with all ten apples up… and then dropping.  But, that just adds to the fun!
Looking for the Ten Apples Up On Top Board Book? Here you go! (aff link)
Looking for wooden blocks? Try this set! (aff link)

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Fyi – your Apple Theme Center will not stay looking like my top picture for very long.  After lots of love, it might look something like this… IMG_9061but just know that this means its being well loved, and your child is getting lots of benefit from it… and if your magnet board looks like ours, you’ll know your hubby has been playing as well. 😉


Total Mommy Prep Time: All told, it probably took about an hour to put it all together – maybe a little longer?
 Total Becca Play Time: She spent about 45 minutes here the first day, and has easily spent 15 minutes every day since then on these activities.  VERY beneficial and well worth my time to put it together!

Traveling Tuesday – Sensory Bins for Grandma’s House

As a travel agent, I often look for tips to help my clients have a better experience wherever they are going.  Even on road trips.  Especially on road trips.  Especially on road trips… with kids.  Our own children are far from easy to deal with on the road.  Grayson is NOT fond of his car seat.  On many levels… but especially if the car isn’t moving.  Sadly, there’s not a whole lot I can do for him.  BUT – the other thing he’s not fond of, I do have more control over – that being Becca’s volume.  When she gets tired and frustrated, she gets LOUD.  Really, really LOUD.  And then Brother starts crying even harder and louder.  And then Mommy and Daddy really just need ear plugs because there’s nothing we can do.  We have been known to pull into a Burger King parking lot way after dark and attempt to tame the savage beasts a little by reading books and feeding a bottle.  But honestly, we are still on the search for what works for us in the car.  (And yes, I’ve tried a million cute games and magazines and magna doodle things.  But, when it’s bed time, it’s just bed time, and nothing can change that.)  So, my “Traveling Tuesday” posts the next few weeks leading up to your holiday travels for Thanksgiving will have tips and tricks for traveling with your kids, but it may be a while before they include anything for on the road… B/c we are still searching for that secret.

So today’s tip is about once you get to your destination – our trip was to the Grandparent’s house.  The grandparents have great toys that are different from what we have, but I also know that it’s good to bring something familiar just in case little Miss Picky decides she doesn’t like any of the toys and the “I’m BORED!” statement comes out.  Thankfully, we did really well on this trip – I think because Mommy packed lots of stuff to do in addition to all the fun stuff already there.

Becca loves sensory bins.  And she loves sorting.  She played with this bin a little bit there, and then has played with it a lot at home.  So… how do you travel with a sensory bin?  Because you’re probably thinking of a large tub with a lot of messy junk in it, right?  WRONG.  A traveling sensory bin should be something basic and simple, and not very messy.  And most importantly, it needs to go in a traveling container that has a lid. You need something like this. (aff link – thank you!)  I found some that were different colors, so mine is purple, not white like this one.  But the important features are the lid, the clips to hold it closed, and the handle.


So what did I put inside mine?  I got paper flower petals from (not an affiliate link, but it seriously should be as much as I love their stuff and tell everyone in the world about their website…), threw in some little white shiny poms for a different texture, and then did what I’m starting to become famous for – took foam butterfly stickers and stuck them together to create some nice thick, cushy foam butterflies.







Here’s one way she can interact with the bin – by sorting the flower petals by color, and putting the poms in a bowl.  She seems to enjoy pulling out the butterflies and flying them around the room more, though.  I’m good with that.  In a couple days, I plan to throw all this stuff in a big ziploc bag, and hide it in the cabinet til Spring comes around.  But with a little girl who loves flowers and butterflies, it’s NEVER off-season to make a butterfly/flower petal sensory bin! 🙂  I’m already starting to contemplate what sort of non-horribly-messy fall stuff I can throw in a bin… pictures will no doubt come later.

Total Prep Time for Mommy: This one took a tad longer than it should have b/c I had the darndest time peeling the back off of some of the butterflies to stick them together!  I had estimated it’d take me about three minutes to dump it all together into the box, but with my sticker issues, it took more like 10 minutes.
Total Play Time for Becca: The first time, she was highly distracted (at grandparent’s house, remember), so she played with it off and on over the course of 30-45 minutes.  At home, she has played with it exclusively for up to 15 minutes.