tabletop surprises: simple, summer learning fun

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tabletop surprises week one


Summer is kicking us hard over here.

Actually, swim and dive are kicking us hard over here, like always.  And at five weeks in, between meets, practices, relays, pep rallies, and team events, our family has run a bigtime marathon.

So our Smart Summer Calendar and daily plan have morphed into something that is really, truly working out well for us: Tabletop Surprises.

Tabletop Surprises? Easy.

On their own time.  On my own time.

Creative learning and crafting opportunities for the kids on the craft room table.

Opportunities for open-ended play and learning–when it works best for them.

For now? It’s rocking.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Tabletop Surprises–Simple, Learning Fun:tabletop surprises button

What are Tabletop Surprises? If you follow me on Instagram, you’d know what I’m talking about because each day I’ve shared a quick photo of each day’s surprise each day of the week.

Tabletop Surprises are fun learning or creative thinking opportunities for the kids on our craft room table. Just sitting there.

Waiting for someone to come along and try ’em out.

How to I get the kids to actually sit down and do the activities?  A few ways:

1. The activities are fun and they want to do them;

2. At any given time, on any given day, I have been known to toss a few gems into the gem jars of people who have been spotted doing the activity. Not every day, but some days.

3.  I’ll join them. Kids–I truly believe–like to hang out with their parents. Especially if their parents are kinda cool or funny or at least act like they’re cool or funny. I like to hang out with my kids, so when they sit, if I can, I’ll join them.

Tabletop Surprises for this week:  Here we go. . . 

magnetic words

magnetic poetry tabletop surprise


That’s it. I started with a funny sentence on each tray, and I let the kids take it from there.

They liked it. Tried to sneak in a little potty talk, but lucky for us the set doesn’t really lend itself to such.

focus of this activity: creative thinking, reading, speaking


tabletop surprises shape blocks pattern cards

shape pattern cards

I put the cards out on the table, threw some shapes into three separate containers to avoid grabbing and arguing, and crossed my fingers. Owen hit the table without asking me to play Wii, and he sat and worked until breakfast. Win!

focus: geometry, critical thinking, fine motor skills


tabletop surprises perler beads cover

tabletop surprises perler beads

tabletop surprises perler beads

Kids can create patterns, letters, words, you name it, by placing the beads on the small pegs. When the creation is complete, you iron it to melt them together. Once it’s cool, it pops off of the pegboard and you have a little masterpiece.

focus: fine motor, patterning, creative thinking


tabletop surprises mazes

  • Mazes: I have fallen head over heels for KrazyDad and his amazing math site. Serious gold mine of printable puzzles, mazes, and so much more, it’s insanity.

All I did for today was dive into the maze area of his site, and I printed out mazes of varying difficulty.  I went for Easy, Intermediate, Challenging, and

Tough, and they all rocked.

tabletop surprises mazes

tabletop surprises mazes

Second day in a row that the O-Man chose unplugged fun vs the siren call of his Wii.

focus: critical thinking, fine motor, problem-solving


tabletop surprises magnets

tabletop surprises magnets

  • Magnets, Pipecleaners, & Paperclips: Easy, easy, easy. Magnets are so fun, and my kids have loved them forever and ever.

I used the disc magnets from way back when we made Bottle cap Ornaments, glass vase and some empty glass jars from the recycle box, colored paper clips, and pipe cleaners.

tabletop surprises magnets cover

tabletop surprises magnets cover

I cut the pipe cleaners into various sizes and threw them in the bottom of the glasses. I added some paper clips and scattered the magnets. Done. Invitation to explore.

Kids? Loved it.

focus: science, fine motor, critical thinking


Really? That’s it. So fun, so easy.

Next week we’ve got some really cool ideas up our sleeve for Tabletop Surprises.  Gotta love summer, and as the kids are yearning for more independence, I think this is the recipe for success.

Need some supplies for your own Tabletop Surprises? Click below:


fyi: affiliate links are included




  1. says

    We’ve had such a hard time fitting in any learning at home this summer. I know the boys are learning as we are out and about, but then we run home and I have tons of work , laundry, etc to do. These are great ideas with little prep for me and the kids can pick them up when they feel like it.Thanks for sharing.

  2. Kelly says

    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this idea. We are going to try it out this week! I think it would even be something I can do for the kiddos to have something to do while I homeschool their older brother. :)

  3. says

    Thank you so much for the reminder about magnetic poetry words! Such a wonderful thing to do with little ones. Since I catch my three year old reading to herself often, I know she would “write” her own stories by arranging the words — thanks for the post!

  4. says

    I was doing table time for my two boys in the mornings for a while. I would set out an activity at night and they could explore it when they woke up in the morning. It gave me an opportunity to introduce some fun extra-curriculars to them, and allowed me a few more minutes of shut-eye. Thanks for the inspiration to rekindle the habit.

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