Visiting Norton Simon Museum with Kids

Norton Simon Museum with Kids

This year we are studying Impressionism and the works of several impressionists. As such, we are currently studying the works of Edgar Degas. When it’s time to plan out the art study portion of our school year, I always look for artists who have pieces in art museums somewhat close to our house so that we can go see the works in person. As I planned for this year I realized that Norton Simon is a gold mine for impressionism! With a mix of museum and gardens; art spanning the ages from Renaissance to the 20th Century and audio tours specifically geared toward kids, it’s a great environment for kids to learn about and experience art. Even if you’re not from Southern California, the Norton Simon has resources for you!!!

Why We Like It:

The Sculpture Garden: The gardens are beautiful and it’s a great place for littles to take a break. Keeping quiet and keeping their hands to themselves can get really hard, if not impossible after awhile. The gardens have beautiful paths to explore, ducks to watch and a cafe to get lunch or a snack.

Norton Simon Museum with Kids | Motherhood in the Trenches

Breathtaking Classics: Dirk and I had visited this museum as young college students but we were both so much more “wowed” this time. This museum really is a gem. You will see works from very well known artists like VanGogh, Picasso, Monet, Manet, Degas, and so many more. There were a few works that literally took my breath away.

Norton Simon Art Museum with Kids | Motherhood in the Trenches

Kid’s Audio Tour (this is good for those of you not near So Cal): For $3 you can rent head phones for an audio tour, but the great thing is that there are about 30 works that have a children’s audio tour. The children’s version are lively and fun. You can also pull these up online. If you don’t live near Norton Simon or can’t get out there, you can still listen online which is a fun way to introduce kiddos to various works of art. Here are links to a few pieces with children’s audio:

Before You Go…

Check out the Norton Simon Booklet/Social Story for kids. It was a very effective tool to talk to our kids about appropriate behavior in the museum and what to expect. Our kids were SO good, even our 2 year old did so well. I mostly attribute it to the fact that they were hearing the “rules” from another source besides us. It wasn’t just mom and dad’s rules but it was for everyone. I guess the intimidating guards also helped in that regard…more on that in a sec.

Also, take time to check out the family page for tips for visiting with children.

norton simon with kids

Things You Should Know:

  • The museum and garden is stroller friendly. I read a Yelp review saying that they will not allow you to wear a baby on your back or wear any kind of backpack. I didn’t look into that but if you are hoping to wear baby on your back or wear a backpack, definitely give them a call.
  • They do not allow noisy toys. I saw a guard ask a mom to put a musical baby toy away. Bring soft toys and toys that don’t make noise.
  • Parking is free.
  • Admission: Children under 18 and students with a valid ID are free! Seniors are $12. Adults are $15
  • We went on a Monday and it was a great day, not many people at all. We talked to a guard outside as we were leaving and he said that the weekends are really busy but Mondays are usually pretty slow. If you can, get there on a Monday

Overall this was a really great first art museum trip for our kiddos. If you head out there we’d love to hear all about your trip!

Pre-School At Home: What are my options?

Preschool at Home | Motherhood in the Trenches

I’ve had quite a few people ask me for ideas for doing pre-school at home so I thought, “Why not jump back on the ole’ blog and make a post?”  It’s been a long break and I have missed blogging so much. Since I’ve been gone, we’ve had another baby, sold our house, bought some land and SO MUCH MORE. As always, the blog has taken a back seat to the craziness. But I’m back…at least for today… ;)

Okay, so there are a lot of ideas about preschool. Some say, “Just let them play!” others say, “No, they must know how to read before Kindergarten!” And then there’s all sorts of in between. I personally don’t think preschool is necessary but I do think it’s fun! If you have a kiddo who is not interested then just let them play and don’t fret! So far my two oldest kiddos were big fans of both “tot school” and preschool, so we’ve had a fairly consistent preschool schedule. In my educated opinion, preschool is all about following your child’s developmental cues. Some kids want to sit and do activities, while others would rather run around and play. Both are totally okay! Just follow your kids’ lead!

Okay, so here we go…

Let’s break it up by age…

2 year olds

My favorite thing for this age is Tot School. I first heard this term 7 years ago when Carissa from 1+1+1=1 was posting all about the Tot School activities she was doing with her daughter. I started implementing them with Big Sis and it was SO MUCH FUN!!! I could sum up what Tot School is but Carissa does such a great job that I’m just gonna direct you to her, check it out here. And just for fun here are a few pics of Big Sis when she was just a little tot.



Tot School | Motherhood in the Trenches

If you want something more “open and go”, check out Timberdoodle’s Tiny Tots Kit, or their Pre-School Kit. If you’re not ready to drop $600 on a full kit, they still have a lot of components that you can pick and choose from. See the next age group for our FAVORITE item from Timberdoodle.

Lastly, if you are comfortable with something less open and go, but more thorough than Tot School. Check out ABC Jesus Loves Me 2 Year curriculum.

They have free lesson plans and printables, all you need to do is buy supplies and borrow or buy the books recommended. I haven’t used it myself but I know a few friends who have and have really enjoyed it.


Okay, so this is where I’ve had the most fun. Seeing your kiddos excited about learning is just so great! I still like to keep it fun and light hearted and I never force them to do any work. If they’re having an off day, I just say, “Okay, and we’re done for the day!” as if I had nothing else planned so that the kiddo doesn’t think that they’re being punished for not being interested. At this point I just let them learn at their own pace.

If you want a boxed curriculum, again I’ll direct you to Timberdoodle.

They have both Preschool and Pre-K curriculums. If you’re not sure which kit your kiddo should use check out their Early Education Placement Test. Don’t forget, if you have sticker shock for the whole kit, you can still purchase the pieces that you think your kiddos would most enjoy and benefit from.

ABC Jesus Loves Me also has free curriculum for ages 3, 4 and 5 so be sure to check them out if you’re looking for a full curriculum with less cost.

After much research and some experience here’s what I’ve pieced together that has worked for us:

Farm Math:

Preschool Curriculum Ideas | Motherhood in the Trenches

This is our favorite item from Timberdoodle. There’s book with different math scenarios to go over each week. It starts easy with sorting and goes all the way up to addition, without them really knowing that their adding, heh. This is a perfect mix of play and learning. My preschoolers have loved the lessons and A (2) loves to play with the mat and animals. I make up math stories for her using color and animal identification and she LOVES feeling like she’s doing school.

Handwriting Without Tears- My First School Book:

We use HWOT for all handwriting lessons and we really like them. I haven’t used any other handwriting curriculum to compare this to but Big Sis (8) has beautiful printing and cursive and E (4.5) did great in this book and is now onto the Kindergarten book. I bought the Teacher’s Guide when I used it with Big Sis but I didn’t use it much so I don’t buy them anymore. The wood pieces are a great manipulative to have but if you’re tight on money, space or both, you can definitely use construction paper or cardboard to make these.

All About Reading – Pre-Reading:

I can’t emphasize how much I LOVE this program. We have used it up to the end of Level 4. The Pre-Reading is hands on and both girls really loved it. If you look at the samples and think, “My kid can already recognize all of his/her uppercase/lowercase letters” know that there is so much more to it. From the very beginning this program teaches rhyming, syllables, word segmenting, so many skills needed to learn to read well. If your kiddo can recognize all upper and lower case letters, you can use the alphabet sheets as fun craft sheets for review.

Kumon Workbooks:

Both of my girls have enjoyed the Kumon books. Their favorite is the cutting book but they’ve also enjoyed the Differentiation and Mazes.

Read Alouds: There are obviously hundreds of amazing books to read aloud to your kiddos. I have found that my kiddos this age have some faves and we often read the same books over and over, which is great for comprehension. If you’re just not sure about what books to read check out Sarah Mackenzie’s book list which has some great suggestions.

Hands-On Manipulatives:

Our faves: Floof, Mad MattrThinking PuttyKinetic Sand, Homemade Playdough (our favorite recipe)

Day and Night: This is a fun and challenging puzzle that both of my girls have enjoyed.

Lastly, some of our favorite Preschool supplies…

Faber Castelle Beeswax Crayons: vibrant color with an easy carrying case to keep them all organized.

Training Scissors: These are great for 2 and up. They cut well, won’t cut hair (although thankfully we haven’t tested this) and can go from training scissors to regular with a flip of the little spring.

Golf Pencils: These are the perfect size for little hands. You won’t need as many as Amazon sells but it’s the cheapest option I’ve found.

I think that about sums it up. If you have any Preschool faves I’d love to hear them.

Exploring with Kids: Newport Bay and Muth Interpretive Center

This week’s adventure took us to Upper Newport Bay and the Muth Interpretive Center. This is one of my personal favorites.

Exploring Newport Bay with Kids | Motherhood in the Trenches

Why We Like It:

Hike for All Ages: This is a really great hike for all ages. Even our three year olds did great and nobody complained of exhaustion. It was a warm day but the ocean breeze made the hike enjoyable. If you are new to hiking, this is the perfect trail for you. Just enough hiking to be called a hike but still really easy. There are quite a few opportunities to stop and look out. Toward the end of the loop (see map below for the loop we did), there was a beautiful lookout spot to take a little break.

Exploring Newport Bay with Kids | Motherhood in the Trenches

Nature Finds: There are usually a lot of birds, but on this trip we didn’t spot too many. We spotted a snowy egret flying by, a pair of ducks and a lot of sparrows. While hiking along the bay we spotted some round stingrays swimming near the shore which was a really fun discovery. We also spotted a few salt marsh caterpillars and a ton of snails.

Exploring Newport Bay with Kids | Motherhood in the Trenches

Muth Interpretive Center: This is probably our favorite nature center/interpretive center. The center itself teaches all about the estuary which is fascinating. There’s also a really cool “classroom” where the kiddos can play puzzles, color a large picture of the Upper Bay, play puppets, read books, check out some live reptiles and a large tarantula. My girls could spend forever in there.

Exploring Newport Bay with Kids | Motherhood in the Trenches

Outdoor Amphitheater: This is a great shaded area to have lunch. The kids love climbing on the rocks and logs and playing there. It’s also a great place to see the planes taking off from John Wayne airport. They’re super low and so cool to see close up.


What Should You Bring?

  • Strollers: The trails are stroller friendly. If you have a BOB or something similar, you’ll be great. I have an old, very basic Graco and it did okay but with a bit of struggle.
  • Baby Carrier if you don’t want to use the stroller
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: There is no shade on the trails and the sun can be pretty intense, even in the morning during the late spring and throughout the summer.
  • Light Jacket: If you’re exploring during the early spring you’ll want a light jacket as it can tend to stay pretty overcast in the morning. Definitely check the weather forecast before you go so you can see what the cloud cover will be like.
  • Lots of cold water: Between the hiking and the hot sun, you’ll need lots of water.
  • Binoculars: You don’t get too close to the bay using the trail so you’ll want binoculars to see the bay and birds flying by.

How to Get There:

This site is a little tricky so I thought I’d share some tips for getting to the center.

For starters you’ll park in a dirt parking lot right off of Irvine and University. The Interpretive Center is down below, so you’ll hike down hill a bit to get there. When you’re in the parking lot you’ll see a map:

Exploring Newport Bay with Kids | Motherhood in the Trenches


and a sign like this:



Follow the trail to the right of the map to get down to the interpretive center.

There is a map on the Newport Bay Conservancy site but it wasn’t very helpful. I’d suggest you look at the satellite version on Google Maps to familiarize yourself with the trails.  I created the map below to show you where to enter, where to park, how to hike down to the center and the that trail we took. The loop we did was the perfect length for all of the kiddos, and mamas too. It took us about an hour with quite a bit of stopping to observe and play. NOTE: When you start the trail you’ll want to stay on the dirt path, not the asphalt bike path. The dirt path is a bit hidden by some benches but you’ll see a fence that separates the dirt path from the asphalt bike path. Make sure you’re on the dirt path. (click the map to make it larger)

Exploring Newport Bay with Kids | Motherhood in the Trenches

Things you should know:

  • The Muth Interpretive Center is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10am – 4pm
  • Wild Tales is a one hour program for kiddos ages 2-5 and is held on Friday mornings from 10:30 am – 11:30 am. There is storytelling, crafts and activities and a nature walk. It’s $5 per kid and you must pre-register
  • Family Science Sundays are held one Sunday each month. This is for kiddos ages 3-12. This is a free event with self-guided activities to help you explore the center and the area around it.

If you guys get to check out the Newport Bay I’d love to see your photos! You can hashtag them #bravelittleexplorers and also check out our Instagram account just for our outdoor adventures! IG: @bravelittleexplorers

Happy exploring!


A Visit to Amy’s Farm

A Trip to Amy's Farm | Motherhood in the Trenches

This week our nature group visited Amy’s Farm. We have loved Amy’s Farm for years, there is so much to offer for the whole family in a variety of capacities.

Why We Like It:

The Heart of the Farm: Amy’s Farm is one of those places where you leave knowing it’s a special place. Their desire to educate, to give back to the community, to love others, it’s all evident in the way they run the farm and treat those who visit. During our tour Farmer Randy came and talked with the kids about the need for young people to become farmers so that they can keep the farming tradition alive. He also taught them how God gave us sun, water, seeds and our hands to grow plants. I just love that the heart of the farm isn’t simply to exist but to teach and encourage others.

A Trip to Amy's Farm | Motherhood in the Trenches

They Give Back: Amy’s Farm has established relationships with various food banks within the Inland Valley and they donate fresh produce to the food banks. Do you know how rare it is to find fresh, organic produce at a food bank? I just think it’s so cool that they give to the food banks. If you visit you can also bring canned goods to donate and they will take them to the food bank when they deliver the fresh produce.

A Trip to Amy's Farm | Motherhood in the Trenches

The Organic Produce: During your tour you will tour the organic garden and pick some of the veggies that are growing. I love that my kids get to see where food comes from. I think it’s so important for our kids to understand that food doesn’t just magically appear at the grocery store. There are hard working farmers who grow our food. This is a great opportunity for them to see that. Amy’s Farm also has a farm stand where they sell fruits and veggies, organic beef, organic pork, eggs, goat cheese, goat’s milk soap, raw honey and other goodies.

A Trip to Amy's Farm | Motherhood in the Trenches

It’s SO fun: Seriously the farm is just so fun. You get to pet goats in the petting zoo, milk a cow, brush a horses and feed the pigs. It’s really just so much fun.

A Trip to Amy's Farm | Motherhood in the Trenches

Picnic Area: There’s a big grassy area and picnic benches suited for large or small groups. After the tour we headed over there to have a snack and let the kids run around in the grass field. The kids had a blast.

A Trip to Amy's Farm | Motherhood in the Trenches

What Should You Bring?

  • Water Bottles
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, etc. (there’s not much shade and it can get really hot in the spring and summer so be prepared for that)
  • Rain boots if you have them. Rain boots are the best because you’ll be walking through mud and poo and they’re so easy to wash off when you get home. If you don’t have rainboots then definitely wear shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty.
  • Cash or Credit Card to buy some goodies from the farm stand and to tip your tour guide

Things You Should Know:

  • The farm is mostly stroller friendly. It is all dirt or wood chips but I’ve used a cheap Graco stroller there with little problem. If you have an infant, I’ve found it best to bring both the stroller and the baby carrier because you can ditch the stroller for a bit while you meander through the garden with the baby in a carrier. Belle is a year and a half and while she wasn’t easy to redirect, she was able to walk the whole tour without problem.
  • You can book a tour for groups of 10 or more. If you want to just go with your own kiddos, you can call and see if there’s a tour you can join.
  • The tour lasts between 60 – 90 minutes
  • Cost is $8-$10 per person depending on what tour you do. Kiddos under 2 are free.
  • You and your kiddos can volunteer! I’m hoping to get my kiddos out there this summer to help out. I know the farmers usually need the most help pulling weeds. We have volunteered once in the past but I’m hoping we can do more in the near future. Click here for more info.
  • They have some really great events and workshops for kids, adults and the whole family so be sure to follow them on FB to get the latest news. Some of our favorites are the 8 week farm class called Fun on the Farm with Your Little One, which I posted about here and Bethlehem in the Barn which is a special event they do during the first week of December to kick off the Christmas season.

My Top Five Favorite Podcasts

Top Five Favorite Podcasts | Motherhood in the Trenches

I love a good podcast. When my sink is piled up with dishes or the floor needs a good mopping or the mountains of laundry need to be folded, a good podcast can change my attitude from dread to anticipation.

It was my hubby who first got me hooked on podcasts, we would separately listen to various TED talks and then discuss them afterward but TED could only carry me so far. I started looking for more and more podcasts and now I have a few that I really look forward to listening to each week. I love hearing about new podcasts so I thought I’d share my faves and I hope you’ll share your’s too!

Favorite Mommy Podcast: Coffee + Crumbs

Motherhood in the Trenches: Favorite PodcastsMy friend Jen recently told me about this podcast and I am hooked. There are some really great podcasts on motherhood out there but this one is for real. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a no frills kinda girl. I like jeans and t-shirts maybe an occasional blouse. I’m a glass half empty, or maybe even completely empty, kinda gal because from there things can only look up. I’m really trying to work on that perspective this year though! There are some podcasts out there that talk about a lot of precious things in motherhood but skip over the really hard things. I’m in the “trenches of motherhood” and I need to be reminded that I’m not alone here. That is what Coffee + Crumbs is all about, it’s three moms of little kids, who love Jesus and also know that motherhood is hard. I love their real perspective, the encouraging interviews and just everything about them.

Favorite episodes:


Favorite Homeschool Podcast, Not Just for Homeschoolers: At Home

Motherhood in the Trenches: Favorite PodcastsI’ve been following Greta Eskridge and Kristin Rogers on Instagram for a really long time. Even though I’ve only met Greta once and haven’t had an opportunity to meet Kristin, they are like some of my favorite people. They share real life but still bring so much joy, encouragement and beauty to their feeds and those who follow them. When I heard that they and a few other homeschool mamas were starting a podcast I was SO excited and I haven’t been disappointed, it is my absolute favorite podcast ever. In each episode they have a roundtable discussion about a given topic. I love hearing different perspectives on the same topic and while they are all further ahead in the parenting journey than I am, they still keep it real and I love that about them. I always leave encouraged and challenged to think through some of the things we’re doing at home. It’s hard to pick favorites because I really love almost every episode but here are a few you really have to check out, whether you homeschool or not…

Favorite episodes:


Favorite Kid Podcast: Brains On

Motherhood in the Trenches: Favorite PodcastsSo this podcast can be a little cheesy but Big Sis loves it. It’s all about science, which is her favorite and the two older girls love to guess the mystery sound in each episode. One thing to note, this is a secular podcast and as such, some episodes have a strong bent towards evolution so you’ll want to use your own discretion there.


Some of Big Sis’ favorite episodes:


Favorite “Girly” Podcast: The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey

170x170bb-3If you listen to this podcast, be ready to expand your personal reading list. Each week Jamie Ivey talks with a “girlfriend” about the big things in life, a lot of times these “girlfriends” have written books and the show allows you to hear just enough of her story that you totally want to go out and buy her book. I am fairly new to this podcast so I haven’t listened to the episodes in order, I’m sure there are some amazing episodes I’ve missed but these are my favorites that I’ve listened to so far…

Favorite Episodes:


Favorite Podcast for Anybody: TED Radio Hour

Motherhood in the Trenches: Favorite PodcastsEach episode of the TED Radio Hour is a compilation of several TED talks that center on one theme such as screentime, the source of happiness, artificial intelligence and other interesting topics. I think Guy Raz is a great host and while I tend to listen only when a subject seems interesting, I really enjoy the way they compile the TED talks.


Favorite Episodes:


Here are a few other favorites that I enjoy listening to:

I’d love to hear what you’re listening to, especially if it’s something that doesn’t fall into one of these categories. I need to expand my podcast listening! :)