15 Indispensible Items we don’t tour without

When we tour, most of what we carry is stored on my back so I try to pack light. Here are the essentials that we just don’t skip.

  1. Our packing list starts with an appropriate backpack; I use a Timbuktu Candybar backpack. It’s sturdy and a good size for our needs. I also covet this one from Patagonia, which I’ve admired on other mama’s while out and about.
  2. Clipboard & Pencil – We take photos, of course.  But I also love asking B to draw what she’s seeing and experiencing.  I prefer the ½ size, mini clipboards. I update them with a small piece of stick on Velcro in the upper corner, and then wrap a small piece of Velcro around the top of a pencil. I’ve found this works better than string, which tends to get tangled.   I then cut a few pages of standard letter size paper in ½ and load the clipboard with a supply of 5-7 pieces.
  3. Sunscreen – A tiny sun protection stick fits easily in the pocket of my backpack and doesn’t have a risk of leaking. If we forget to apply before leaving the house, or need to reapply during the day, I’m ready to go. This is a staple even when I think we’ll be indoors – you never know when you might decide to enjoy a picnic lunch.
  4. Light blanket –I was given so many receiving blankets at my baby shower, and kept one with me at all times through B’s early days. I quickly realized just how useful they could be. Too chilly? Use a blanket. Need a picnic snack but the grass is a little damp? Blanket. B needs a quick costume change but there’s no private place in sight? Screen with a blanket. Bench, seat, or slide is wet? Dry it with the blanket. Honestly, the uses are endless.
  5. Hand Sanitizer – Soap and water is always preferable but not always available. When my daughter touches something questionable on the bus, interacts with live animals at the zoo, or… whatever… I feel much better knowing I can at least offer this.
  6. Snacks – I’ll never forget the first time I heard the expression “Hangry” and realized I’m not the only one who quickly becomes unbearable when hunger strikes. As it turns out, my daughter is the same way. We pack fruit, crackers or some cheese into reusable snack bags. I bought mine from Kustom Kate on etsy, she’s a high school friend of mine and SO talented.  Always pack a snack!B snacking
    AND…. my readers can pack a snack in super cute snack bags too!  Use the rafflecopter below to enter to win a $10 gift certificate to Kustom Kate. Use the coupon code TTG10 to get 10% off any purchase in her etsy shop.
  7. Reusable water bottle – Thirst, like hunger, can ruin an otherwise lovely day. I always carry a reusable water bottle and refill as needed throughout the day. This one is our favorite.
  8. Cash– Cash is king in so many situations. Even if I plan to pay with plastic or think our plans will be free, I’m always sure to keep a bit of cash with me. There are inevitably situations that arise when it’s helpful to have.
  9. Membership/Discount Cards – I keep my teacher ID, as well as zoo and museum membership cards in my wallet. If you’re a teacher, a military family, a member of AAA, a member of any museum… I recommend keeping those cards with you. It never hurts to ask, “are there any discounts available?” as you enter a fee-based site.
  10. Business/Contact Cards – These can be quickly and inexpensively designed using VistaPrint, Kinko’s or your local printer. Put one in your child’s pocket so if he or she becomes lost your contact info is readily available. Keep a few in your backpack to hand to people you meet and may want to connect with again. Left your sunglasses/hat/coat somewhere in the museum and hope to be reunited with it? Leave your card with guest services with a note on the back describing the lost item.
  11. Camera – It’s possible that your phone works for this. However, I sometimes prefer to bring a separate camera. It takes better photos, and I avoid the temptation of checking email between shots.
  12. Comfortable shoes – for both adults and kids. I sometimes wonder if I should choose cute over comfort but experience tells me it’s just not worth it. I’m making an effort to invest in more shoes that fit both categories – cute and comfortable – but these tend to be pricey and my humogo feet mean selection is limited. I hope someday uncomfortable shoes are a non-issue because they don’t exist in my closet….
  13. Weather appropriate clothing –  This varies of course but – here in Chicago anyway – something is always on the list. Rain gear, winter hats, sunglasses, extra layers… check the weather, hope for the best and assume the worst. If any of you are reading in Southern California you can just rewrite the title of this blog as “14 indispensible things we don’t tour without” or add sunglasses here…
  14. Minor first aid items – a few bandages and an alcohol pad or antibiotic ointment, adult pain reliever for noisy-kid induced headaches, tissues, eye drops if you wear contacts, maybe an antacid. These small items fit easily in the pocket of your backpack and can mean the difference between ending the day and carrying on despite a minor setback.
  15. My iphone – Oh, how it pains me to admit this one… I strive to stay away from the phone when I’m with B. I tell my husband at least every few months that I think our phones are a waste of money and we should return to something simpler like… oh, I don’t know, my beloved Razor. But, I really don’t mean it. Despite the addictive pitfalls this is one useful little piece of technology. Maps, a camera, note taking capability, weather, my contact list, public transportation information, our calendar…. I don’t leave home without it and I’m guessing if you have one you don’t either.

What do you consider essential? Anything here that you think is extraneous? Anything I missed?

Don’t forget to enter the rafflecopter below for a chance to win a gift card to Kustom Kate on etsy.  Also, browse Kate’s shop and use the coupon code TTG10 for 10% off anything.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Reflecting on our failed trip to the shoe store

Well, the shoe store outing was a failure on a few levels.

The most glaring failure… the fact that I haven’t yet blogged about it 2 weeks later!  We’ve been traveling, sick and dealing with family issues.  To be honest, I consider it a small victory that I’m getting this post up in September – but I’m also embarrassed and realize that I suck as a blogger right now!  I am committed to blogging more regularly moving forward… although I’m not making any specific promises as the month of September was a big reminder of how much I cannot control.  To make it up to you, my readers (is there anyone still there??) I have some fun plans for the blog in the near future – including a giveaway and a guest post!

So, now to the other failure… Betsy still does not have boots!  We set aside an afternoon for boot shopping.  We went to Target, to Famous Footwear, to Payless, and to Carters… nothing.  Apparently girls boots are a hot commodity and sell out instantly.  Betsy tried on some fireman boots in the “boy” section at Carters that I could easily get excited about… but she didn’t like them.  She also tried on some girly Minnie Mouse boots at Payless that she was excited about but the didn’t fit well, were priced high, and seemed cheap… I didn’t like them.  I figured we’d keep our eyes out in errands moving forward, as well as place an ISO (in search of) post on our local facebook garage sale…  we’re still looking.

boot shopping

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Planning: A Trip to the Shoe Store

Betsy has been growing like a weed and, all of a sudden, none of the clothes in her closet fit. Perhaps you’re familiar with this phenomenon? I stockpile next-size-up clothing when I see things on sale. But I’m always afraid to buy ahead with shoes. Every time we go to the shoe store it seems her feet have grown 2-3 sizes… I am convinced that her feet grow multiple sizes in a matter of days…

A few weeks ago, we realized B needed all new shoes. We took advantage of the Nordstrom anniversary sale to pick her up some cute, affordable sneakers… but realized when the weather changed that she could really use a pair of boots as well. I prefer to try shoes on so I figured B and I would make an afternoon of boot shopping and try to learn from the experience as well.

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So we call this… homeschooling

I’ll be back next week with more curriculum posts.  Here’s some bonus reading in the meantime!


Home school, summer school… or just having some fun?

When I’ve described my preschool plans for Betsy to others I am generally met with enthusiasm. However, it’s become clear to me that when I use the term “homeschooling” within that description, the reaction is somewhat… I don’t know… dampened. I struggle with this – I’m aware of the stereotypes and I don’t believe they fit our family – but I also made the choice to homeschool, and I’m disappointed when that term changes others’ perception of what we’re doing.

So, I’ve spent time thinking about a synonym for homeschooling. I’m mostly coming up empty. The curriculum I’ve designed utilizes place-based learning, but I’m not sure it’s entirely accurate or helpful to use that particular term. What we’re doing can also be described as experiential learning, but that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. I use both terms at times in conversation, but still find myself describing what we’re doing as “homeschooling” more often than not. I guess that’s because… it is.

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Reflecting on our time at the playground

It feels like just yesterday that I was waiting for B to be big enough to go to the park. With a May birthday, we spent her first summer doing newborn things… rocking her all night, walking in circles around our neighborhood with her in the moby wrap, etc…. A trip to the park to push her on the swings or watch her go down the slide was a diversion that I was eagerly anticipating! During her 2nd summer, she was crawling and I scoped out every park in a 3 mile radius finding the best options for tiny tots – no mulch to fish out of her mouth, shady, not too many “big kids.” We discovered B LOVED slides – she was going up and down them independently long before she was walking. The following summer B was finally walking! A whole new ballgame… pretty much any park was fair game and she was so ready to explore. Swings, slides, climbing structures… she tried it all while I watched and spotted as needed.

park water play

Water Play

Not surprisingly, this summer was – once again – a new experience when it came to how we explore and use parks. One change that I was aware of is that I’m spending a lot more time at the parks this summer on the bench. B often tells me, “go sit down mama. I’m playing.” I happily oblige and head to a bench – it is SO rejuvenating to sit outdoors and just relax while I watch B play.

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Planning: Another Trip to the Playground, with friends


Last week we took many trips to the playground… nothing new there, we are regulars! But, rather than simply go to the playground, we treated it as our school experience. This is a play-based curriculum; one of the things that as a teacher in a play-based preschool I learned that curriculum planning is largely about teacher preparation, rather than about worrying what exactly the kids are doing at every moment. We create situations that invite children to learn, we observe their interactions with each other, adults and the environment, and we respond accordingly.   I’ll reflect more thoroughly on our experiences later this week, but I will say now that our trips to the playground last week were a significant learning experience for me. B played, as always… but I was much more engaged in observing her and noticing her interests and learning; I was relatively surprised by what I saw!

This week we’ll continue to explore the playground but with a new focus. We live in a busy urban area where playgrounds are usually filled with kids. The books we read this week will focus on friendship and interacting with other children. During our time at the playground, we’ll set up conditions that encourage socialization (more about that below) and I’ll focus my observations on noticing how B socializes with her peers.

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Planning: A trip to the playground


It’s back to school time… the carts at Target are filled with school supplies, my daily facebook feed shows photos of cute kids boarding yellow buses, and playground chit chat has quickly turned from “where are you vacationing this summer?” to “where will your kids go to school this fall?” Clearly, it’s time for B and I to get back on the ball with our Teacher Tour Guide curriculum! I’ve spent the past few weeks planning, prepping and scheming and I’m ready to go for at least the next 6 weeks or so, we’re back to school!

But…. the weather right now is in the high 70’s and sunny with a light breeze, the days are still fairly long, the trees are still filled with green leaves offering a bit of midday shade. While I share the back to school excitement, I’m also thankful that neither B nor I are confined to a classroom during these final weeks of summer.

We’re going to ease back into it with a few weeks of trips to the playground. Yep, you read that right; we’re heading to the playground for school. One thing I hope to convey through this blog is that play is learning. The most successful lessons and curriculum are fun – for both the student and the teacher. I have no doubt that the next few weeks of curriculum will meet that criteria.


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Reflecting on our trip to the Field Museum

You might recall that a primary goal of Teacher Tour Guide is to develop a curriculum that is accessible to a variety of families. I realize that destinations like The Field Museum are not available in all areas!

We are – without a doubt – a city family. As part of that, there will be some tours that are easily accessible to us that may not be to others. Even if they aren’t easily available to you, visiting museums while traveling or exploring the museums in your region is certainly a worthwhile endeavor.

One of my primary goals when visiting The Field Museum is to keep it appropriate for B’s attention span. I have spent days upon days in the museum and have not seen everything… there is absolutely no reason to try to do it all with a preschooler in tow. Instead, my goal was to focus our attention on a few key exhibits. We are lucky to have world class institutions like The Field Museum at our fingertips, but the truth is smaller regional museums are often even better for young children because they force visitors to focus on a few key exhibits by their very nature.

For B, The Field Museum is first and foremost the home of Sue the dinosaur. Sue is the largest and most complete T-Rex ever found and does not disappoint. She is on display in the main hall of the museum and impossible to miss during a visit. Despite our intention of seeing Sue, we began our visit downstairs, choosing to enter through the accessible entrance rather than the main entrance. This allowed us to bring a stroller just in case the massive museum became too much for B. Entering downstairs also started our visit near the Field Museums’ Play Lab, a special exhibit geared towards young children.

The Play Lab has a variety of hands on exhibits related to the “big” exhibits throughout the museum. One of these is uncovering dinosaur bones in sand using a variety of tools. I hoped that B would be interested in this but she was distracted and unfocused and didn’t spend much time looking at anything in the Play Lab.


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I fell into a baby snuggle black hole…



Well, I disappeared from the blog for a few days there… Where was I?

B & A 2

The short answer is that B and I headed to Indy to meet my new niece and B’s new cousin. While there I was rarely online and we were both in full on relaxation mode. Something about newborn baby snuggles make it easy to ignore everything else for most of each day!!

The long answer to is that I’ve been thinking about how the first few weeks of preschool have gone and what types of adjustments I’d like   to make moving forward. My intention all along was that this summer would be a “pilot” of the Teacher Tour Guide curriculum and that I’d hopefully work out any major kinks by fall.

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Planning: A trip to The Field Museum

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It’s summer! Perhaps you’ve noticed? As a former classroom teacher, I experienced “summer break” well into adulthood. Many of my good friends are still classroom teachers; although my work schedule has not included a summer off in years, this season still takes on a busy, fun vibe that is notably different from much of the year.

A good friend of ours, a teacher, is visiting from out of town and mentioned she might like to go to The Field museum. We love the Field; B is enamored with Sue the Dinosaur so I knew she’d be game. Because of the pre-existing interest in Sue, I decided that we would focus on dinosaurs during this particular visit and I might as well make it the first museum visit of our curriculum.

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