I'm excited to announce that I've contributed to a homeschool bundle sale, which means for a limited time you can get my introductory photography course for kids, along with 20 more phenomenal homeschool resources, for just $28. (The regular price for my digital course alone is $42. The value of the bundle is $287.) These resources cover science and nature studies, art, geography, American Sign Language, and on and on. Below is the full list of products in the bundle. You can find details on each product and make your purchase here. I hope you'll enjoy these resources as much as we are!
“The Home Educator’s Journal” Issues 1-3 by @SecularHomeschooler
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library - Online Book Club by Literary Adventures for Kids by @hidethechocolateblog
Deschooling Essentials Online E-Course by Fearless Homeschool
A Child's World: Winter Study for Pre-K/K by @yournaturallearner
Documenting Your World Through Photography - Introductory Course by @CalmCradlePhoto
Biome Collection by @chickieandroo
Pre-Kindergarten Game Pack by @BlimeyBox
Our Place in the Universe Homeschool Study by @Creativeandgrowingkids
The New Zealand Issue by @Curious WandererSociety
Body Books: Bundled Lessons by @weelittlenomads
A Child's World: My Body Unit - 1st Grade by @yournaturallearner
"Getting on Moon Time" MP3 - Issue No. 4 Article written by @wilderchild, recorded by @secularhomeschooler
Weekly Vocab - February for Early Elementary by @threelittlehomeschoolers
Five Beginner App Coding Projects for Kids by @bitsboxkids
ASL Alphabet Flash Cards by @familyasl
120-page Homeschool Planner - Soft Damask Style by @threelittlehomeschoolers
A Child's World: Myth & Fairy Tale Unit - 2nd Grade by @yournaturallearner
A Year of Temperatures: A 365 Day Weather Tracking Printable by @schoolnest
Visual Reminder Tool Pack by @thehiphomelife
"Whodunnit?" Bundle of Four Tracking Lessons by @fireflynatureschool
Homeschool Weekly Journal Lesson Printable by @schoolnest
It didn't occur to me that tonight was the end of the decade until the bombardment of articles began last week titled things like, "2010s: What the **** Just Happened?" I found myself reading these pieces and nodding in agreement.
What a strange, strange decade it was in terms of politics and culture. What a disappointing and confusing decade it was in terms of what those aspects uncovered about some of the people in our lives and our struggles to navigate those relationships. And what a depressing decade it was in terms of the contrast between our continuously increasing understanding of climate change and what it means for our children's futures and the ever-growing, insidious science denial and greed that have prevented significant mitigation efforts.
And yet. As I was tallying up the disheartening ways we've collectively failed our children and their peers during this decade (I'm an optimist, I know), I started to wonder if there was anything fundamentally different about this 10-year block of time than any other, or if my perception of the world and the people in it has just changed.
That's when it struck me: at the beginning of 2010, I wasn't a parent yet. I was a different person.
At the close of the 2000s, Jeff and I were newlyweds, young people with endless energy. We worked full-time jobs on opposite sides of town by day, then met at a state park near our house just about every evening to mountain bike together. Afterwards we'd grab dinner and head home to work on our new house or just snuggle up and watch a show together. Work hard. Play hard. Relax.
Eventually I left my job to write and start a small photography business. My lack of schedule combined with Jeff's remote job gave us something we both craved more than a stockpile of money: flexibility. We traveled more weekends than not and, for as long as we'd been a couple, we'd somehow pulled off being seasonal residents of the Colorado Rockies. A summer here. A winter there. Plenty of shorter trips in between.
Being married to each other came pretty naturally to both of us, too. Our family dynamics were, more or less, relaxed. And on a broader level, the country was progressing in a way that felt right to us, that jived with our personal morals of equality and so on. Social regression wasn't on our radar. We were so busy growing our own dreams and assuming the best in people that we missed the undercurrent broiling just beneath the surface.
I do actually think the 2010s were fundamentally different than other decades in certain ways, but it's also true that my entire perspective on life and my role in it flipped during those years. The reason is that we created an entire family from scratch in this decade: three girls. Our dream come true. They turned our lives upside down in the very best, and most chaotic, way. (You can stop asking if we're going to try for a boy, by the way. We've never tried for a boy. And I'm done giving an awkward courtesy laugh when you ask.)
Those first Mama-Bear emotions when you're looking down at your new baby are deep and primal. Your initial mission is to keep this fragile being alive—an overwhelming task. But as time wears on and you learn how to feed and tend to the basic needs of your child, those maternal instincts expand. You still feel the desperate need to keep your child alive, but at some point, you manage to glance up from her face and notice the world around you again. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s still there after all this time. But the angle is different, and now there is an eerie quality to the light. It's changed in a permanent way that you can't quite put your finger on.
You start to see the world for how it's going to affect your child, how it's going to hurt her, get in her way, let her down. You start to see what you need to try to do to change it, to give her the best shot at life.
I went through this process of reawakening to an altered world with each of my children, but it was the most dramatic with my last. She was 7 months old. I was nursing her on the bed. And when I looked up, what I saw staring back on that November night in 2016 were elections returns.
In a moment, the wool came off my eyes. The world I thought I had just brought three kids into was unrecognizable. (Yes, I've been schooled since on how naive I was to not have fully understood the undercurrents of hate coursing through the country before this moment and am grateful for that schooling.) This moment was not the same subtle awakening I had with the first two kids, but something else entirely.
In a split second, those maternal instincts shifted from focusing on my infant's survival to putting on my gloves and preparing for a larger fight. It was as if my role as a woman and a mother suddenly came into stark relief in a way it hadn't before. Gone was my good-hearted assumption that the world would respect my daughters and their peers. Gone was my inane notion that evidenced-based reasoning was a method people at least tried to use to make decisions, even if unsuccessfully. Gone was my desire to please others for the sake of keeping the peace or not making them feel awkward for their willful ignorance.
Keep your head down and get along? No, thank you. I see what my kids are up against now and will set false pleasantries aside. I'd rather be fighting for the health and safety of all children, regardless of how they got here; for the equality and dignity of vulnerable and marginalized populations; for the basic rights of women to define their own lives regardless of what any men do or don't do to them.
Thankfully, my husband has experienced a similar perspective shift in becoming a father, and we've spent the last years of this decade supporting each other in trying to translate some of these new instincts, awareness, and drives into our careers, personal lives, and family relationships.
Perhaps in the years to come, we'll find more similarities between the 2010s and other decades in our country's history that aren't obvious in the moment. But I can tell you with certainty that for me, no decade in my life will compare in growth. Nothing will compare to the joys of bringing three children into the world with the love of my life, the weight of the realization of what that world and the people in it really look like, or the constant struggle that has followed to figure out how to maintain hope for these kids of ours, and to figure out how I can best contribute in some way to making the future better for them.
Wool pulled off. Gloves on. 2020s? Bring it.
Photo: Watching the sun set on the 2010s at Jordan Lake.
I'm pleased to announce the addition of two new photography collections in my shop: Wild Horses of the Outer Banks and Wild Horses of the Pryor Mountains. Click here to view both series and place orders for prints and canvases. Drop me a line if you'd like to order custom products with these images.
I'll continue to add small, themed collections to the shop throughout 2020, so please check back or send requests for the type of work you'd like to see.
P.S. Don't forget to check out my introductory photography curriculum, which is 15% off through 12/8/19. The price is already marked down for the paperback version on Amazon. To receive the discount on the digital version, enter CYBER2019 at checkout on my website. Happy snapping!
Last March, I made a special trip up to New York City to take newborn portraits of my best friend Rachel's second baby. (You can see the photos and birth announcement I created for her first baby here.) What a treat!
Unlike during a typical newborn session, we had the luxury of spending a full day together, so there was no rush to get the perfect shot in a short time frame. Baby Hannah ate and slept and ate and slept. Big Brother Max ran off steam at the playground while I captured some quiet moments with Rachel and Hannah. And I got to spend some quality time with Max throughout the day too. Rachel and I even had a takeout dinner date together after the kids went to sleep (and before they woke up numerous times, of course).
When I started photographing newborns as a new mom of one, I found it less stressful to photograph first babies. There were no toddlers bustling around, acting unpredictably and making the newborns cry. But now that I have three kids of my own, I prefer sessions that include older siblings. Now I see that nothing could be sweeter than watching a brand-new sibling relationship emerge.
I'll say it until I'm blue in the face: it's such an honor to bear witness to the earliest days of a new life and all the changes that baby brings to a family.
My portrait work always includes context, meaning I try to capture a sense of place. When a family looks at newborn portraits later, I want them to remember not just the tiny toes, but the place they called home when those tiny toes arrived.
When I walked into Rachel's New York apartment, I knew right away the large windows in the living room needed to figure prominently into some of the photos, as did the gallery wall behind the sofa and the bold blue rug in the bedroom. I wanted her family to remember what this space felt like when Hannah became a part of it. And I'm so glad these elements made it into the images, because a few weeks later, Rachel found out they needed to move out of their apartment.
I found the transition from one child to two the most challenging part of parenting so far. It was hard to say goodbye and hop back on the plane knowing what Rachel and her little family were up against—the juggling act of managing a baby and a toddler, the exhaustion that would settle in, the demanding careers to return to. But I left hoping that whatever awaited them, these portraits would always serve as reminders of the pure joy of this moment.
Above: Front of birth announcement. Below: Back of birth announcement.
In my first post of this series, I wrote about the writing, workshopping/editing, and formatting process we've used to help my kids create books to print in hard copy for themselves. In this post, I'm sharing how we took Cricket's book, "Rascal's Life," to another level by independently publishing it.
(Side note: if you want to make an 8-year-old's day, please consider purchasing Rascal's Life for your kids. Cricket, who thought it much more authorly to go by her real name, Caroline, will receive $2.20 in royalties per copy. She says she will likely spend the money on the real-life Rascal. No surprise there.)
If you're just joining me, I suggest you first read the previous post in this series. Once you're caught up, come back here and read about the publishing process. The great news is that as long as you have access to Word to format your document, you can publish a book.
Independent publishing (also known as self-publishing) is a fantastic and empowering way to put work out there, for both adults and kids. Many successful authors now prefer independent publishing over traditional publishing houses, because publishers offer substantially less assistance and marketing support than they used to. I published my intro photo course for kids this way and will likely go the same route with the nonfiction book I'm writing, so I can maintain complete creative control and put the book out on my own timeline.
Independent publishing may also be the most viable option for the publication of most writing by kids.
Since there are many platforms for independent publishing today, I sought the advice of a highly successful indy author in deciding which to use. He recommended what is now Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), the platform he's used to publish several books. Amazon recently bought this platform, so you can sell your work directly on Amazon (with Prime shipping, no less).
There are no upfront fees to use the service. Your royalties are a percentage of the price you set, minus the printing cost, depending on which distribution option you choose. You can publish paperbacks and Kindle books.
KDP prints books on-demand when someone places an order, and you can unpublish your book at any time. This process appeals to me for my kids' books, because if they turn 20 and decide they no longer want to sell the work they published as 8-year-olds, they can simply unpublish the books and no new copies will be printed.
I won't get into specific details of preparing your manuscript, because KDP has numerous tutorials available. Use them. But I want you to see that the process is manageable. Here's the general process:
Independent publishing takes some elbow grease, but it's accessible and doable. Your kids can put their work out into the world, and so can you. Share your publishing successes with me!
In my next post of this series, I'll share how we celebrate a newly published book in our family.
This post reflects my own personal views and experiences and is NOT sponsored by KDP.
No, this blog isn't just about curtains anymore. But after the response to my previous post about $7 curtain panels, I couldn't help sharing one more variation.
At 10 feet, our living room ceiling is slightly higher than our bedroom ceiling. I wanted to find longer panels than the ones I used in the bedroom to add height and brightness to the north-facing living room. (I was also dying to hide the insane number of outlets and switches surrounding the fireplace.)
Here are the before photos of our living room:
The secret is these curtains aren't actually curtains; they're these XL queen sheets. I paired them with this rod and these clips. The full window treatment cost under $50 per window!
(Note the sheets were listed as 110 inches long, but once I washed and dried them on low, I measured them to find they were 107 inches.)
You can find my tips for hanging curtains for maximum impact here. I wanted to add height to this room by hanging the rods close to the ceiling but didn't want to hide the pretty, thick moulding. By hanging them a few inches below the moulding, both the interesting rods and the moulding are still visible.
These curtain panels and hardware are an affordable way to complete any room. Let me know if you try them out!
We just wrapped up one of our favorite activities of the homeschool year: a book-writing workshop. Can you imagine the joy and pride in the girls' eyes when their printed books arrived in the mailbox?
I've gotten a lot of questions about how we put the books together, so I thought I'd share our process. In this post, I'll describe the writing, editing, design, and printing methods we used for the books we wanted to print hard copies of but did not plan to actually publish. In the next post of this series, I detail how we went about independently publishing Cricket's book, which is now available on Amazon.
Pulling together a book is no small task for the child or the parent/educator/editor, whether you plan to publish it or not, but it's so worth the work. Why? Three reasons: 1) a book is a literal, physical, understandable representation that you can achieve an overwhelming goal by breaking it into manageable pieces and dedicating hard work to it; 2) a book shows kids their ideas and work have value; 3) telling kids they have to study grammar, spelling, mechanics, and literature in case they need them for their careers when they're 40 means nothing, but a finished book product shows them that with those elements, they're capable of producing meaningful work now.
Last year, Cricket wrote and illustrated a picture book. This year, Nora wrote and illustrated a short chapter book, and Cricket wrote and photographed a short chapter book. Our process happens in three phases: freewriting and re-writing, workshopping, and formatting.
Freewriting (and re-writing)
Once they completed a draft of the story (I put no time limit on them—a project like this is done when it's done), we began to work through the editing process together. I've done this part in two different ways.
For the books we wanted to print to have copies for ourselves but not to actually publish, I used an online photo printer, Snapfish, and put them together as hardcover photo albums. There are plenty of inexpensive photo printer companies, but I liked that Snapfish allowed us to choose from several different sizes and gave us control over the page design.
Odds and ends
The formatting for Cricket's published book happened a little differently, and I explain that process in my next post.
When the books arrive, we make a big deal out of them! A shiny, new, complete project is a big deal, whether it's technically published or not. (And legally, if I remember correctly from graduate school, if at least three people read something, it can be considered published regardless of any formalities.)
We also throw a "Book Release" tea party, which is a blast and I'll tell you about in another post.
I can't encourage you enough to build a book-writing workshop of some sort into your curriculum. Sure, I may be biased; I'm a writer after all. But regardless of their interests and skills, all kids need to learn to communicate effectively and break overwhelming projects into bite-size portions to succeed. Plus your heart will explode when you see how proud they are of their finished products.
Learn about my intro photography curriculum
Documenting Your World Through Photography: An Introductory Course for Elementary and Middle Schoolers
Book lists: Around the world
East Africa (Part I)
East Africa (Part II) and Central Africa
North Africa (Egypt)
I'm not ashamed to admit I have a nearly pathological inability to pay for things I could make myself or find elsewhere for less. Even so, I'm almost embarrassed to share this find. Why? Because I sort of want to use these glamorous curtains to trick people who come to our house into thinking I've moved passed my pathological ways.
Alas, my condition also makes me feel the need to share my decor secrets with others who suffer from the same affliction. So I'm laying bare my taste for $7 curtains for all to see.
Here are the before photos of our bedroom sans curtains. (These photos appeared in my Design Mom home tour last spring. Still swooning over that experience.)
Here's the room with my $7 curtain panels. Now the dirty little secret is...they aren't actually curtain panels at all. They're these extra-long twin sheets, which come in a pack of six. Their weight is somewhere between a sheer and a traditional drape, so they’re perfect if you want a light, airy curtain but not if you need substantial privacy or black-out shades.
(No sweet models on the sofa this time.)
For the wide window, I paired them with this classic curtain rod.
For the single windows next to the bed, I used this curtain rod. (I especially love this one and will be using it for living room curtains, too.)
While the curtain rods are thin enough to slip through the top seam of the curtain, I chose to attach them using these clips both for aesthetics and to make it easier to slide the panels.
TIPS FOR HANGING CURTAINS FOR MAXIMUM EFFECT
Point-and-shoot cameras seem like a relic of the past now that most of us carry smart phones, don't they? I imagined my kids would learn photography using my phone, then move on to a basic DSLR in a few years if they really caught the photo bug. But they had other ideas.
After a few months of sharing my phone to take photos as they slowly started to work their way through my intro photography course for kids, they wanted more independence and asked for their own cameras.
I heard them. And I'll do just about anything to encourage them to live creatively and independently. The point-and-shoot camera still serves a purpose after all!
The girls had proven their genuine interest in photography, so we decided to get them each a basic point-and-shoot for Christmas. They're only 6 and 8, so we didn't want to buy something expensive they'd drop in a mud puddle or leave behind at the museum.
You can spend as little as $40 or more than $300 on a point-and-shoot camera. I bought two different cameras in the $40-50 range and promptly returned them. They were terrible. And by that, I mean it was impossible to take a photo in focus on these cameras. I thought maybe the blurry photos were a result of the girls' unsteady hands until I tried the cameras myself. Despite 30 years as a photographer, I couldn't take a focused photo on either of these cameras to save my life.
On my third purchase attempt, I finally found a decent camera for $80: the Nikon COOLPIX A10. (If you buy this basic camera package, you'll also need this type of memory card, AA batteries, and a cable to connect it to the computer. Or you can purchase it in a bundle like this, though you still may need to buy the cable separately.)
The shutter release of the A10 allows you to press halfway down to focus before continuing to press all the way down to take a shot, which is essential in taking a sharp photo.
Here are some pros and cons of the camera:
Pros: It's 16.1 megapixels and takes beautiful, sharply focused photos; it's inexpensive, small, and light.
Cons: The zoom is not great—avoid using it; the basic camera package did not come with batteries, cable cord, or memory card; it uses batteries quickly (bring extra AA batteries in your camera bag).
Despite the zoom, I've been really impressed with the overall quality of photos the girls have taking using the A10.
Below is a photo (with light edits) by Cricket, age 8.
Below is a photo (with light edits) by Nora, age 6.
There are plenty of other mid-range point-and-shoot cameras to choose from, but here are three tips to help you find a functional one:
1) You need to be able to press the shutter release button halfway down to focus, then all the way down to take a photo. On the first two super cheap cameras I purchased, there was no halfway-to-focus situation. There was just no way to control the focus at all. If you buy a camera for your kids that doesn't allow them to control the focus, you're guaranteeing failure and disappointment. Read about the focus in the camera's description and/or the reviews before purchasing. Test out the shutter release when it arrives and return it if it doesn't allow you to focus by pressing halfway down.
2) Most cameras these days are 10-20+ megapixels. Anywhere in that range is just fine, especially for a beginner. My first DSLR was maybe 10 megapixels, and I was able to enlarge photos beautifully.
3) Make sure to purchase all the necessary pieces either individually or as a package: camera, memory card, batteries (and charger if needed), and cable to connect to the computer.
Once you've bought a point-and-shoot camera, here are two tips for using it:
1) Regardless of which camera you buy, TURN OFF THE FLASH. A built-in flash is the worst! Turn it off and leave it off. Forever.
2) On lower- and mid-level point-and-shoot cameras (and mobile phone cameras), DON'T USE THE ZOOM. The zooms are often poor quality. It's generally better to crop an image tightly on the computer afterward than zoom in with a cheap lens.
I may receive a small commission from the Amazon affiliated link on this page at no additional cost to you.
I'm kicking off the year in a big way: my photography course for kids has been published in paperback and is now available for purchase on Amazon!
The course can be incorporated into homeschools, co-ops, classrooms, and families looking to supplement traditional education. It can work with any school schedule, whether traditional, year-round, or piecemeal as you have time. You can learn more about the curriculum here.
I decided to offer a paperback version to make the course that much easier to implement. The 121-page paperback is 8x10 inches, making it easily portable for field trips and travel. The content is the same as the digital download, but you no longer have to take the time and money to print it. Plus shipping is free.
To celebrate the paperback publication, I'm discounting both versions of the curriculum right now. (More power to you if you've gone paperless.) You can head to my curriculum page to order the digital download, or straight to Amazon to purchase the paperback.
If you order the paperback and enjoy the course with your kids, I would love for you to consider writing a review on Amazon. More positive reviews will make the course more searchable and help get it into the hands of more students.
I'm going to try to post more of my girls' photography over on my Instagram feed throughout the spring and summer and talk about how we're working our way through the lessons. I hope you'll start sharing work over there from this course with the tag #documentyourworld . Happy snapping!
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.