get kids to play outside: 4 tips for summertime playground fun

get kids to play outside

get kids to play outside


Sometimes, getting kids to play outside is no easy feat, especially in the summer.

Because here in the DC Metro area, it’s hot.

It’s hot. Hot.

It’s muggy.

It’s oppressive.

When the sun’s beating down, the heat’s suffocating, and the last thing my kids want to do is go and play outside.

But last week, two friends and I got our big kids and little kids outside, playing, and having fun. Old-school style.

Free-bird, playing outdoors in the summertime.

We had some serious playground fun thanks to our friends at Clif Kids, and you can too. Get your kids to play outside, enjoying some summertime playground fun with these four tips.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Get Kids to Play Outside–Summertime Playground Fun: 

These days, it can be hard to get kids engaged in screen-free activities where their bodies are moving and where they’re using their imaginations and getting their creative ideas flowing.

However, it doesn’t take much to get kids to play outside.  These four things may help:

get kids to play outside |

get kids to play outside |

1.  Friends

Invite a few friends to join you!  Send an email, a text, or make a quick call.  If you have more than one child, reach out to 2-3 friends each.

Just a quickie invite will do:

Hey friend! Our family is planning on packing some drinks and snacks and will be heading to [insert park and location] on [date and time]. 

We’d love for you to join us for some old-fashioned outdoor fun! If your child needs a ride, I’m happy to pick her up! 

Let me know if you think this will work. We’d love to see you!

get kids to play outside |

get kids to play outside |

2.  Food

Food always makes an event, right? At least in our family it does.

Park playdate snacks don’t have to be elaborate or fancy. Really.

get kids to play outside |

get kids to play outside |

get kids to play outside |

This is all you need: 

get kids to play outside |


get kids to play outside |

get kids to play outside |

3.  A Few Simple Toys

Kids don’t need much, but if you’re having a hard time getting them out the door to play, then maybe some toys will help to kick-start the fun.

Go to the dollar store. Go to the thrift shop. Visit yard sales.

Don’t spend a fortune.

But consider grabbing things like:

Set the toys out and let the kids at ’em!

get kids to play outside |

get kids to play outside |

get kids to play outside |

4. Fun, New Surroundings

You guys, there are so many parks, playgrounds and nature centers around that we don’t even know about. All it takes is a little bit of research, and I’m betting you’ll find a fun, new park to explore.

Send a note to a local moms club, a church, girl scouts or boy scouts, library, or preschool if you aren’t sure about it, and I’m betting they’ll have a list for you.

And if there’s nothing around, even a pal’s backyard can be a fun place to play and explore.

Really. Give it a go!

get kids to play outside 2

Check out some cool ideas for getting kids outdoors, thanks to our friends at CLIF Kid!

Many of us have heard of CLIF Bars, but did you know that CLIF makes a line of healthy snacks for kids? I didn’t, either.

But they do.  CLIF Kid makes nutritious snacks for kids’ growing bodies with no high fructose corn syrup, synthetic preservatives or artificial flavors.  The snacks are really, really good.

And CLIF is all about getting kids outside and playing–moving their bodies, having fun, and exploring.

get kids to play outside |

get kids to play outside |

And to do that, they’ve created some awesome resources for parents:

Our Summertime Spraypark Playdate got us all outdoors and unplugged here in the DC Metro area. 

Last week, my pals Jessica McFadden of A Parent in Silver Spring and A Parent in America, Stacey Ferguson of Life is the Party and the Blogalicious Conference, and I gathered a bunch of our friends together for some good, old-fashioned outdoor fun.

get kids out to play | jessica mcfadden, amy mascott, stacey ferguson


get kids out to play | jessica mcfadden, amy mascott, stacey ferguson

We simply sent out an evite to our neighborhood pals, pool pals, school pals, and work pals and invited everyone to join us for an afternoon at the Spraypark in Silver Spring. It was an absolute blast.

It was just a quick get-together where our kids were able to play freely, splash in the water, and enjoy some healthy snacks thanks to our friends at CLIF Kids.

Check out our photos:


Huge thanks to our friends at CLIF Kids for providing the snacks. Not a single thing was left–the kids and parents loved them, and for two straight hours, all our kids did was play. 

It was awesome.


How will you get your kids outdoors, moving, and refueling in a healthy way this summer? I’d love to hear it!

Share your ideas below, or continue the conversation with others by following the hashtag: #outtoplay

Check out CLIF Kids on whichever social media platform suits your fancy:  facebook |  twitter  |  YouTube  |  instagram


fyi: This post was written as a partnership between CLIF Kid and One2One Network. As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and by my three little splash park splashers. 

fun summertime learning for kids: tabletop surprises

fun summertime learning for kids: tabletop surprises

summer fun learning for kids Week two of tabletop surprises is in the books, and it was a blast!

Because my crew was busy fighting off some pretty awful summertime colds, we did a bit of re-arranging with our tabletop surprises calendar this week.

But you know what? That’s the awesome thing about it: you can do what you want. When you want.

And the freebie 10 week resource guide includes a whole bunch of awesome extra ideas to use if one day doesn’t work for you. 

This week, we drew, built, wrote, and more.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Fun Summertime Learning for Kids–Tabletop Surprises:







What did you do that really rocked this week? We’d love to hear it!


Join us!

summer fun for kids |

Check out our summertime fun posts: 


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fun summertime learning for kids: tabletop surprises

matchstick math: patterns, puzzles and critical thinking

matchstick math

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matchstick math

The matchstick math activity we did last week for tabletop surprises was a real hit.

I had an inkling that the activity would be a favorite of Owen’s but really all of the kids were into it.

And when we didn’t bump the table, making the matchsticks fall all out of place and go everywhere, it was all good.

It was super-simple, and I thank the good folks who write Matchstick Puzzles blog for their ideas.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Matchstick Math: 

Really, I had heard about matchstick math years and years ago but never really tried it with my kids.

And the idea is simple: you have a simple challenge to complete with matchsticks. Move two to create a totally different object. Add three to completely remake a design.

matchstick math: patterns, puzzles and critical thinking

matchstick math: patterns, puzzles and critical thinking


Fun. And easy. But it’s not really that easy at all.

And when I stumbled upon this awesome matchstick math blog while planning our tabletop surprises calendar this summer, I like totally hit the jackpot.

All I did was make an easy printable for me which included three things:

  1. the before design
  2. the challenge
  3. the answer to the puzzle


Then, like all of the tabletop surprises every day, I set the matchstick patterns out on the table and let. It. Go.

So yes, you need matchsticks to do this.

matchstick math: patterns, puzzles and critical thinking

matchstick math: patterns, puzzles and critical thinking

And then throughout the day, the kids hit the table when they felt inclined.  When they were interested. It was great.

The printable includes six of the millions and millions of matchstick puzzles I found on the site, so if you really love them and want more, head on over. Really, what I have here is a fraction–and I mean fraction–of what they have going on over there.

They’re matchstick cray-cray.

But here’s the thing: if matchsticks make you nervous, DON’T. USE. MATCHSTICKS.

For real. You can totally get the same thing going on with these matchstick puzzles if you use something other than matchsticks.

Consider using:

The possibilities are endless.

Please don’t allow your fear–or aversion–to matches turn you away from this activity.

It really is cool, and it really does get your kids’ brains and bodies moving.

It’s quiet. It’s critical thinking. It can be a group or partner activity, and it’s a great way to pass time in restaurants if you need a little something unplugged to do.


matchstick math: patterns, puzzles and critical thinking

matchstick math


If you’d like to download the document: matchstick math

Please, if you choose to share–which we hope you do!–please share this post instead of the printable. Thank you!

What do you think? Cool?

I’d love to hear what you think!


And definitely do check out the awesome matchstick bloggy blog where all the puzzles can be found. Without that site, there’d be no matchstick math for us!

And so was I.


Join us!

summer fun for kids |



Follow us on Instagram: @teachmama1  / #tabletopsurprises

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Want a little more math fun?

Check out:



fyi: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Forever and always I recommend only products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” For more information, please see teachmama media, llc. disclosure policy.

kids make their own commercials: creative, techy fun

kids make commercials |

kids make commercials |


As part of our tabletop surprises last week, my kids became movie-makers.

Though it really didn’t start out that way at all.

The little tabletop surprise note challenged them to create commercials for a product. That was it.

But what they did with it was a whole other ballgame.

It was a good reminder for me that kids really, truly need free time to explore and play on their own, no matter the platform.

I didn’t step-by-step teach them how to use these movie-making platforms; rather, I gave them the tools and let them figure it out.


And really, the tools they used are pretty intuitive, but still. I was impressed.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Kids Make Their Own Commercials–Creative, Techy Fun:

So the note on the table read:

lights, camera, ACTION!

Make a commercial for any product you want!

Use: iPad (Videolicious or iMovie) or Chromebook (WeVideo)

Showing at 4pm TODAY

I set out a number of products around the table as inspiration: the Wet Brush, TinkerCrates, DoodleCrates, RushHour, AllQueens Chess, SoCozy products, Altoids, you name it.

I just wanted them to have ideas. Starting points.

Then when they were ready, I showed them the tools they could use.

I showed them iMovie, Videolicious, and WeVideo. I knew that Maddy had used WeVideo before at school and liked it, so I figured she’d go that route. She didn’t. She wanted to try iMovie.

Before I knew it, the kids were moving. They were choosing products, working together, disappearing for a few minutes and then reappearing in different costumes and clothes. It was a riot.

And yes, they had questions as they went, but we figured things out together.

I used iMovie to make my videos, but it’s a different animal on the iPad. 

So there was a whole lot of on-the-spot learning from my end, too. I didn’t realize how easy it was to create movies on the iPad. It doesn’t really have to be a huge event–I should be able to whip up videos in no time flat, thanks to Apple’s templates and creations. Awesome.

So what began as a challenge to create commercials morphed into movie and video card making.

Owen went right upstairs and got to work on the iPad mini.

Cora grabbed the iPad and went nose to screen.

Maddy was finishing something else and then got stuck with the super-old tablet, got frustrated, and decided to come back to it. I’m not sure why she didn’t use the Chromebook and WeVideo because I know she used it in school. Hmmmmm.

With permission, I’m sharing their finished creations:

Cora’s commercial:


Then, Cora said she wanted to make another movie, so I suggested she make a trailer. She did, and it’s awesome!

I mean. . .I’d subscribe! (wink!)


Owen went for the scary edge.

Be forewarned: if your little ones are looking over your shoulder, watch this one another time. He puts on his scary Halloween costume and gets a little creepy:


Cora went wild. She then made a Father’s Day movie for her dad, and she started on another family movie. She really liked the ease of the iMovie templates, but she said she was ready to make her own movies without templates. We’ll see how they go. I’m thrilled!

Owen was good with his one scary movie.

Maddy started creating a spy movie, complete with costumes, memorized lines, and scenery changes, but she didn’t finish. I’m hoping she does so soon!

Really, the coolest thing about this activity was that the kids learned on their own.

They tried, they re-tried, and they tried some more. It was awesome. And they were really proud of their final products.

And so was I.


Join us!

summer fun for kids |



Follow us on Instagram: @teachmama1  / #tabletopsurprises

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summer reading goals & reading logs: quick and easy

summer reading goals & reading logs: quick and easy

summer reading goals & reading logs: quick and easy


Woooo-hooooooo! Summer is here! Summer has arrived!

Let the party begin!!

Charge the iPads! Rev up the 3DS! Make sure there’s some juice in that phone because my kids are ready to PLUG. IN, man!

Or at least that’s what they thought.

Summer means unlimited electronic time, right?

Um. Nope and nope.

Here’s the skinny. .  .

Summer Reading Goals & Reading Logs–Quick & Easy:

So yeah. This week, this first week of summer, we’ve had to do a little ‘refreshing’ if you will.

Like everyone needed reminders that:

  • Kids use Screen Time Tickets. The End.
  • Kids do chores. The End.
  • Kids use electronics–all electronics!–on the main living area, not upstairs or downstairs. The End.
  • Kids clean up after themselves. The End.
  • Kids use their own money for the pool snack bar. The End.

summer reading goals & reading logs: quick and easy


summer reading goals & reading logs: quick and easy

Yep, just a little bit of a learning curve. But it’s been fine, and I am so happy to have my three favorite people home with me all day, every day. I really am. It’s such a blessing to have three cool kids. I am grateful every single day.

So how does this all tie into Summer Reading Goals and Summer Reading Logs? Right, well Maddy, Owen, and Cora needed some reminders and a bit of a push to complete their Summer Reading Goal Sheet.

I don’t remember us ever creating summer reading goals, but this year we did and for several reasons:

1. I want the kids to be aware of how they spend time and how much they read.

2. I wanted to do something other than straight-up reading logs.

3. I wanted to have a mid-summer check-in of sorts in case we were really trudging along.

We’ll see how it goes.

We began the week on Tuesday with a goal-setting tabletop surprise: 


A pretty easy way to start the week, right?

I set out several reading logs and a movie-book match-up sheet to get the kid’s brains moving. They really helped. We talked as the kids filled out their sheets, and then we clipped them to the magnetic board.

Here are the reading logs we have. Choose what works best for your crew!

We were ready to start the summer!

Happy reading!

Have you heard about how we’re keeping our kids’ brains moving, thinking, creating, and having fun all summer long?

Click the image below and find out more:

summer fun for kids |

summer swim team: an absolute MUST for families

summertime swim team |

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summertime swim team |

Summer swim has been a staple for our family for the last six years.

Ever since Maddy joined the pre-team the summer before Kindergarten, we’ve spent the first seven weeks of summer camped out at the pool in the mornings and have spent our Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings at swim meets and Sunday afternoons at dive meets.

We are grateful that our neighborhood pool is within walking distance from our home, and we definitely take advantage of it. But even if your family is not within walking distance to a pool, I cannot highly enough recommend that kids join a summer swim team.

It’s an absolute must for families for so many reasons. If you’re on the fence about it, I’m here to do what I can to push you in the ‘yes!’ direction.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Summer Swim Team–An Absolute Must For Families:

Our kids, 11, 9, and 8 years old, know that they’re on the swim team through middle school at the very least. But they really want to be. In fact, they’ve chosen to swim and dive, and the dive piece especially is their choice. They want to do it. They want to be there.

summertime swim team |

They are counting down the days until they can be the pre-team coaches, until they can be the ‘big kids’ and until they get recognized at the banquet for being swim and dive seniors.

I, on the other hand, am just doing what I can to savor each season as it comes, knowing that the summer days may be long but the years are short.

Thinking about summer swim for your kids?

We love it for many reasons, but here are our top ones:

Kids learn to swim.

Really, they do. Yes, kids on our team must be comfortable in the water, but they don’t necessarily need to know the strokes. That’s where the pre-team coaches come in.

Our littlest swimmers learn water safety and basic strokes, and they become more confident in the water.

summertime swim team |

Kids try new things and are challenged.

It’s not easy to walk into a pool on a cold June morning not knowing many people, but kids do it. And over time, those people on the team become good friends and playmates.

We all know how important it is for us to step out of our comfort zones every so often; joining a swim team–no matter the age–is a great way to do that.

summertime swim team |

Kids will learn:

  • the proper swim strokes
  • how far they can push their little bodies
  • how to play safely in the water
  • how to jump and dive into the pool
  • how swim meets work
  • sportsmanship
  • teamwork
  • listening skills
  • confidence
  • and more.

Older children and younger are brought together and support each other.

Swim teams consist of young swimmers, 8 years old and under, and older swimmers, up to age 18.  Swimmers are broken up into different age groups: 8 & under; 9 & 10; 11 & 12; 13 & 14; 15 & older.

summertime swim team |

All children are on the same team, but they rarely swim together. Except for the medleys and the graduated relays, where one swimmer from each age group takes a section of the race.

One thing I have loved is that our kids interact with other children from different age groups, and everyone supports each other through practices, social events, and meets. It’s awesome.

Families come together.

Our swim and dive teams pretty much create our social calendar for the summer.

Families gather to make the meets work, and they put in their time to make the swim season fun.

We eat meals together, play bingo, enjoy raft nights, support each other through losses, and celebrate our wins. We host book sales and evening events, party it up at an end-of-season banquet, and decorate homes for divisional and all-star meets.

summertime swim team |

Communities come together.

We drive all around the area for swim and dive meets, making connections all around our community.

Friends from other neighborhood pools cheer for their school buddies across lanes, and pals who only see each other during basketball season or dance class compete against each other in the water.

summertime swim team |

Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins often join in the fun. Meets become a really great way to see tons of familiar faces and connect with new ones.

It’s. Just. Plain. Fun.

It’s fun. It really, truly is.

Though it gets to feel long by week six or seven–I won’t lie–swim and dive season really is one of the most fun times of the year.

summertime swim team |

Early mornings, long afternoons, and hot and muggy evenings are overshadowed by the laughs and memories created each season. I know for a fact that when my kids look back on the highlights of their childhood, summertime swim and dive will come to mind immediately.

Every child can have a strong foundation in water safety.

Really. Even if you don’t have a pool nearby, I’m sure that somewhere near you is a YMCA with a water safety or water survival program for kids.

Thanks to people like Justina Pratt who is a Safe Start Swimming Instructor at a Florida YMCA, these programs–and the people who teach our littlest swimmers–can change lives.  Actually, they can save lives.

Check it out:

I have totally loved the workforce appreciation series over at Share them with your kids. Share them with your friends. 

Subscribe so you don’t miss a thing. They’re really cool clips, and they remind us to appreciate those people all around us every day who make our world a better place.

Check out:

teach kids workforce appreciation


teach kids to thank everyday heroes


kronos: workforce appreciationfyi: This post was written as part of a partnership with Find Your Influence, and as always, ideas and opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator. Find out more at 1 in one hundred million. Subscribe so you don’t miss any of their videos and follow #WorkforceStories and #1in100MM!


help kids stay in touch with friends when school’s out: autograph sheet

help kids stay in touch with friends when school's out: autograph sheet

I can’t even believe it, but school’s almost out for my kids.

Though I’m totally psyched to begin our tabletop surprises this year, I’m also always a little sad when the school year ends.

It means my kids are getting older and that time continues to move . . . quickly.

help kids stay in touch with friends when school's out: autograph sheet

This year, especially I feel like I’m having a difficult time as Maddy moves into the wilds of middle school leaving Owen and Cora behind in elementary school. It has been a true joy for me to have all three kids in one school for the last three years.

And I cannot even begin to wrap my head around the fact that I began this blog even before Maddy started Kindergarten. Insanity.

But also awesome, I know. I have so much to be thankful for–that is a fact.

So I’ll spare you the waterworks–that will surely come on Friday at her Fifth Grade Recognition Ceremony (sob!)–and instead I’ll share something that I created for all three of my little loves so that they can stay in touch with their buddies through the long summer months.

It’s pretty cool. And it’s something they’ll just shove in their binder for the last few days, pull out before and after school and maybe at lunchtime.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Help Kids Stay in Touch With Friends When School’s Out–Autograph Sheet: 

This is a super-easy and fun sheet, and the emphasis here is that kids will write their phone number or address so that they can communicate over the summer.

help kids stay in touch with friends when school's out: autograph sheet

help kids stay in touch with friends when school's out: autograph sheet

If kids are old enough and their parents permit it, then hopefully kids can write down their email address or instagram name.

Any way they want to stay in touch, they share.

help kids stay in touch with friends when school's out: autograph sheet

Download the printable and help kids stay in touch with friends when school’s out: help kids stay in touch with friends when school’s out: autograph sheet

If you choose to share this printable–and we hope you do!–please link to this page instead of the attachment page. Thank you!

It’s simple and easy.

And when I showed the kids today, they were pretty happy. And I’ll be pretty happy mid-summer when they ask for a playdate with a pal and I tell them to reach out and plan it themselves!


How do you keep kids connected with their pals over the summer? It’s not easy–so I’m open for ideas and suggestions!

Need a few ideas for summertime fun? Join us!

summer fun for kids |



Are your kids still in school?

Do you want them to do a little ‘thank you’ writing to their teachers? Definitely check out this post over on Scholastic Parents:

end of year thank you  teachmama  pinterest  scholastic

make The Wizarding World of Harry Potter more awesome than you ever imagined

Wizarding World of Harry Potter | universal orlando resort |

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Wizarding World of Harry Potter | universal orlando resort |


The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Have you seen it? Do you plan to?

We visited Orlando this month, and honestly, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was a highlight. THE highlight.

It’s nestled inside Universal Orlando Resort, and it’s an absolute dream come true.  You must see it.

We literally cried happy tears walking into Diagon Alley. Not. Even. Kidding.

I cannot strongly enough recommend a visit to Universal Orlando Resort, and I will even go as far as to say it will exceed all of your expectations.  But there are just a few things–a few secrets to keep in your back pocket–before your trip.

And these [little tricks] will make The Wizarding World of Harry Potter more awesome than you ever imagined.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Make The Wizarding World of Harry Potter More Awesome Than You Ever Imagined

Just a few little tricks, friends. Just a few.

First of all, though, you need to understand a bit about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter:

from universal orlando: wizarding world of harry potter

(image from Universal Orlando site)

Then, prepare your kids. 

Give them their very own Howwarts acceptance letter like we did:


hogwarts acceptace letter |

Before we left, we downloaded, edited, and printed out the Acceptance Letter from Mediafire.  Be careful–there’s a ton of spam over there.

You can download the Word form letter here: Hogwarts Acceptance Letter from Book Template

And here’s our pdf version so you can see how we adjusted: hogwards letter girls

Wizarding World of Harry Potter | universal orlando resort |


Wizarding World of Harry Potter | universal orlando resort |

Wizarding World of Harry Potter | universal orlando resort |

We printed the letter out on marbled cardstock.

And then we rolled it into a scroll, tying it with a gold ribbon.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter | universal orlando resort |

make The Wizarding World of Harry Potter more awesome than you ever imagined |

Here’s what you need to know and do to make your experience rock: 


1. Read the books and watch the movieharry potter wizarding world |

I mean. You. Must. Read. The. Book.

And if you can’t finish the whole series, then at least make sure that you read the first book and follow it up with the first movie.

Part of the reason Maddy, Owen, Cora, and I were so excited to see the parks was because we read the books. And we watched the movies. In that order.

I read the first book out loud with Maddy the summer before she went into third grade, and from there she took off on her own.

I read the first book out loud with Owen the summer before he went into second grade, and from there he took off.  He finished book seven this year.

We listened to the first book via audio books on our drive to Pennsylvania this past Easter because I wanted Cora and my husband to read it before we went to the park. And then we watched the movie.

Reading the book and watching the movie brings the park to life and gives you an appreciation for the beauty and details like you wouldn’t believe.


2. Buy the interactive wands

harry potter wizarding world wand | teachmama.comMake the investment.

The interactive wands are not cheap, but they are so cool it’s not even funny.

harry potter wizarding world |

They’re about $50–and I know!–that’s a lot for a park souvenir, but it’s worth it.  My mom and dad gave us money before the trip, especially for wands for the kids, so that helped. Maybe consider having the wand be an early birthday gift or something from relatives if they ask for a suggestion and you know you’re making the trip.

Why the interactive wand? Because with them you can actually make magic happen. Not kidding.  Over 30 spots in the two parks.

harry potter wizarding world |

harry potter wizarding world |

The wands come with a map of Hogsmeade on one side and Diagon Alley on the other, and it shows all of the places where you can stand and make magic happen. You simply stand on a gold medallion, say the magic word on the map, and move your wand in the direction indicated.

And then? Storefronts come to life, objects appear, water flows, and you’re a witch or wizard making magic.


3. Plan your visit wiselyharry potter wizarding world plan  |

For our quick stay at Universal Orlando Resort, we had five Park-to-Park Express Unlimited Passes, and we stayed one night at the Cabanna Bay Beach Resort.

Staying at a Universal Orlando Resort property allowed us to get into the parks one hour early (8 am vs 9 am), which was a huge plus.

Not only was the hotel awesome (more on that later, but essentially it is super family-friendly, has fab pools, and is priced very reasonably), but it provided free transportation to the parks early so that we could plan our short stay wisely.

harry potter wizarding world |

We suggest, if you have one day to really rock it out at Universal Orlando Resort and Harry Potter is your focus, that you: 

  • take the bus to Universal Orlando Resort to get the Early Park Admission to Islands of Adventure;
  • run like lightening through Islands of Adventure straight to Hogsmeade and right to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey so we didn’t have to wait in super long lines (remember, we did have the Unlimited Express Passes, but those passes are not available on all rides–the Forbidden Journey is one of those!);
  • enjoy the totally incredible Forbidden Journey ride, then. . .
  • zip right on over for a quick ride on the Hogwarts Express so that we could go over to Universal Orlando’s other park–Universal Studios–and ride the other biggie Harry Potter ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (this ride is another that does not take the Unlimited Express Pass!);
  • enjoy the absolutely fantabulous Escape from Gringotts ride, and then. . .
  • buy wands at Ollivanders and have lunch at the Leaky Cauldron;
  • do everything you want at Diagon Alley and then head back to Hogsmeade for the rest of your day.


4. Send a postcard from the Owlery (but bring stamps!)harry potter wizarding world owlery  |

You can actually send letters from the Owlery and have them postmarked from Hogsmeade. How cool is that?

Someone was there almost all day long stamping envelopes and postcards with a real Hogsmeade postmark, and the Owlery is big enough that you can find a quiet seat to write a quick note there, too.

We decided to wait on the actual sending while there, though, because stamps were pretty expensive. Instead, we asked to have the postcards we bought there postmarked from Hogsmeade, but we would send them once we got home.

Saved us a couple of bucks, which gave us more money for. . .


5. Try all three butter beers

harry potter wizarding world butterbeer | . . BUTTERBEER!!

Did you even know there were three types of butterbeer? There are.  And you must try them all.

Hot butterbeer? Check.

Cold butterbeer? Check.

harry potter wizarding world |

harry potter wizarding world |

Frozen butterbeer? Check.

All are different and all are awesome.

The Universal Orlando executive chef took three years to create the menus for this park. Three years. And he consulted regularly with J.K. Rowling on the recipes, too. When she tasted the butterbeer recipe–one that took 7 months to design–she knew it was the one. And you will, too.


6. Get the Universal Express Unlimited Passes

harry potter wizarding world unlimited express | teachmama.comUnless you live in Orlando and visit the park regularly, get the Express passes, friends!
With Universal Express℠ Unlimited, you can SKIP THE REGULAR LINES at participating rides and attractions in both theme parks to get the most out of every day. 


They had me at ‘skip the regular lines’ if you want me to be totally honest.

I just think that at theme parks, especially if you are pressed for time, you want to get on the rides as quickly as possible. So in my humble opinion, pay the extra.


7. Talk to the wizards (and witches!)

harry potter wizarding world witches | teachmama.comThere are ‘wizards’ and ‘witches’ (who are really park employees, so don’t get too excited!) kind of wandering around through the park. And they’re there to help you!

Ask them questions. Talk to them. Encourage your kids to do the same because the majority of the wizards and witches are actually from the United Kingdom, so you will feel even more as if you have landed yourself in another country, just by chatting with them.

harry potter wizarding world |

And the employees have been tested and retested on their knowledge of the books, too, so they know a lot. A lot.


8. Eat at the Leaky Cauldron.

harry potter wizarding world eat | teachmama.comYou guys. The LEAKY CAULDRON.

Right. So you must eat there.

The Leaky Cauldron is in Diagon Alley, and The Three Broomsticks and Hogs Head are in Hogsmeade.

Choose one. Just sit, eat, and feel like you’re in one of the books, eating alongside the characters you know and love.


9. Do it all.harry potter wizarding world do it all |

Do everything.  You will absolutely die because around each corner is something more awesome than the last.

A visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is not complete unless you:

harry potter wizarding world |

harry potter wizarding world |

  • ride the Dragon Challenge and the Flight of the Hippogriff;
  • search for the house elves hiding around each park–one in the rafters of the Three Broomsticks and one in the window of 12 Grimmauld Place;
  • creep through Knockturn Alley (this is a secret, kinda shady back alley in Diagon Alley);
  • get dripped on by the for real leaking cauldron in the Leaky Cauldron sign;
  • ‘cheers’ a pal with a frosty butterbeer glass;
  • drink a bit of Pumpkin Juice and then visit Florean Fortescue’s for some amazing and sinful ice-cream;
  • walk by Dumbledore’s office, peek into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and wish you could hang out in the Gryffindor Common Room;
  • overhear a wizard conversation in the hallway of the Hogwart’s Express.


10.  Take your time. Sit. Breathe. Watch.harry potter wizarding world time |

Really. At one point, my husband took Maddy, Owen, and Cora back to the Escape from Gringotts for a second ride, and I just stayed behind and sat on the steps nearby.

It may have been one of the most peaceful and memorable times I spent at the park.

harry potter wizarding world |

Yes, the rides are phenomenal. They’re amazing and unforgettable. But the time I spent just sitting–just taking it all in and appreciating that my three little wizards were here with me, enjoying the time of their lives and really bringing a beloved book to life–was worth more than I would have ever imagined.



Want to see all of our photos from our trip? Check them out: 


Have you visited Universal Orlando Resort’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter?  Do share your tips, tricks, and ideas for making the trip more awesome for other people!


fyi: This is a sponsored post, written as part of a partnership exchange with Universal Orlando Resort.  As always, all of my opinions and ideas are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and by my three little wizards.  When I say that this theme park was not to be believed, I am not exaggerating. We’re already planning our return trip so that we can explore the rest of what Universal Orlando Resort has to offer. This first trip, however, was all about bringing to life a book that each one of us loves and appreciates.

Disney SUPRISE: a checklist for parents who want to pull off a last-minute surprise for kids

Disney SUPRISE |

Disney SUPRISE |

Last week, we went to Disney World.

For real.

One of our most favorite places on earth and the kids’ as well.

We’ve been there before, and each time we’ve used the weeks leading up to our trip as a time to prepare with activities, to rock out some Disney word games, to earn Disney Dollars, and to build up pins for pin trading. We’ve even pulled off a rockstar Disney Surprise Scavenger Hunt.

So this time we wanted to do something different.

We wanted to pull off the last minute, SURPRISE! WE’RE GOING TO DISNEY!!! And tell Maddy, Owen, and Cora at the last possible second.

It has not been easy. I may be a bad secret-keeper.

But we did it, and we had a blast.

Here’s the skinny. .

Surprise! We’re Going to Disney–A Checklist for Parents Who Want to Pull off a Last-Minute Surprise for Kids:

Our main concern was that we didn’t want to wake the kids up in the morning and go directly to the airport; we know our kids and understand that they need a wee bit more time to process news like that.

So we decided we’d tell them the night before our flight so that they could help pack, gather their things, and be excited the whole night long.

I think that worked best.

So we did this:

Disney SUPRISE |


And we turned our surprise into a packing frenzy of sorts by sharing this:

Disney SUPRISE |

Disney SUPRISE |


We set out their suitcases in each of their rooms with the direction to ‘head upstairs before dinner to put clean laundry away’.

On each suitcase was:

  • the Packing Challenge Letter in an envelope
  • their super-cool bleached-out Disney shirt
  • their Magic Band
  • a Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry letter rolled up in a scroll (more to come on that!)

We followed them upstairs, hanging slightly behind them, and heard this: 

  • Um, what does this mean? 
  • Where are they sending us? 
  • Why are our suitcases out here? 
  • What’s in the envelope? 
  • What’s going on with Mom and Dad?

Before we knew it, the kids had ripped open their envelopes and were jumping up and down. We’re going to Disney! We’re going to DISNEY! We’re going to Disney TOMORROW! Oh my gosh!!!

Disney SUPRISE |


And though we were up a little bit later than I’d hoped, the packing frenzy check sheet helped us tremendously. It gave Maddy, Owen, and Cora a focus for their packing, and it gave us a timeframe in which to complete the task at hand.

Here’s the packing frenzy checksheet:

Disney SUPRISE |


You can download the sheet here: packing frenzy list- disney BLANK

And, if you choose to share it, which we hope you do!, please link to this post instead of the attachment page. Thank you!

Disney SUPRISE |


It was awesome.

And the trip, as we knew it would be, was an absolute blast. There’s more on that coming this week!

I just got way too excited to keep filming and shooting photos. There was way too much jumping up and down, hooting and hollering to be done!

Do you want our parent checklist so that you don’t forget anything, my friends?

Disney SUPRISE |

Parent Checklist: parent checklist _ disney surprise

And, if you choose to share it, which we hope you do!, please link to this post instead of the attachment page. Thank you!


Here are a few other post about all things Disney: 


fyi: As a participant in the 2015 Disney Social Media Moms Conference, I paid for my conference passes and was given hotel accommodations, park tickets, invitations to special park events, and some gift items.  I was not required to write about my experiences, and my opinions here are all my own, influenced only by my three little park-h0ppers and Disney-loving husband. 

haircare stress and kids: eliminate the stress with these three tips

stress free haircare for kids |

sponsored post



stress free haircare for kids |

I have always been a fan of short hair on little girls.


I just think it’s super cute and easy and fun. I kept Maddy and Cora’s hair short with little bangs for years and years, which is why now, they insist on having long, long, forever long hair.

They always want long hair. Always want to wear it down. Always takes 20 extra minutes in the morning to get the perfect pony or perfect braid, and it causes a boatload of stress.

Thankfully we’ve got a few ways that can help eliminate–or control–haircare stress.

Three tips that I really, truly think will help your familia.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Haircare Stress and Kids– Eliminate Stress with These 3 Tips:

Now, be aware that eliminating is a strong word and that it may take a little bit of time, effort, and energy on everyone’s part before the stress of haircare is totally eliminated. But know that with a few little ‘tweaks’, haircare stress can at least be controlled.

1.  The Fancy Brush.  

haircare stress and kids:

haircare stress and kids |

You can read all about the Fancy Brush here.

Though we’ve graduated from the Fancy Brush to the Wet Brush, both girls have one of their own, and they both do take good care of them.


2.  The Products.

haircare stress and kids | socozy

We have only been introduced to this line of products recently, but we have fallen hard for them: SoCozy haircare for kids.

The SoCozy line is a line of haircare products for kids created by Cozy Friedman, the owner of Cozy’s Cuts for Kids, which is a premier children’s hair salon in New York.  Fancy, right? The thing is, they’re actually solid products that really work.

According to Cora, the combination of Cinch and Behave makes the perfect pony. She’s been using the combo herself for the last few days.

haircare stress and kids | socozy

haircare stress and kids | socozy

Haircare products not your thing? It’s cool. I get it.

Then at least check out SoCozy Boo! Boo! is lice prevention shampoo, and the description is a riot: scares away lice. . . naturally. I’ll take it. Sign me up.

Can there be a rule that every kid in school must use SoCozy Boo!?  Please?

Take a quick look at a professional stylist telling me how she made Cora’s perfect ballerina bun:

We had the chance to hang out with the Cozy Friedman at a local event last week at Make Meaning in Bethesda.

It was a ton of fun.

stress free haircare for kids | teach mama

stress free haircare for kids | teach mama

stress free haircare for kids | teach mama

stress free haircare for kids | teach mama

stress free haircare for kids | teach mama

Check out all of the photos from our event:

Cozy Friedman first opened Cozy’s Cuts For Kids, a premiere children’s hair salon aimed at redefining the entire children’s haircut experience, in 1992.

Now, 20 years and multiple salons later, Friedman introduces SoCozy salon formulas for kids – the first ever premium line of hair care products made with the finest ingredients gentle enough for kids. Offering non-toxic products with no parabens, sulfates, phthalates, synthetic color, propylene glycol and free of gluten, wheat and nuts that perform at a salon level with packaging that appeals to kids and parents alike.

SoCozy celebrates all hair types and solves a range of common hair care problems faced by children. For more info visit


3. The Nighttime Ponytail.

haircare stress and kids | pony


Really, this is the most simple tip ever: have your kids sleep in ponytails at night.

It’s amazing how much it helps eliminate hair chaos in the mornings. Fewer tangles.  Hair manageable.  Happier kids.  Happier parents.

And? If the girls want to get a little crazy, make it a braid at night with damp hair. The waves will make just about any Disney Channel star green with envy.


How do you manage haircare stress for your kids? What works, and what doesn’t? I’d love to know!

Do you want to see if SoCozy and the crew are making your way to an event in your town?

Check out the SoCozy blog | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram  | Pinterest


fyi: This is a sponsored post, written as a partnership with SoCozy and Target. As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and a mom whose had her fair share of haircare stress–with kids who are only 11, 9, 8 years old. 

kings dominion: family-friendly amusement park in the dc metro area

family friendly kings dominion |

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family friendly kings dominion |

We did it.

We took the leap.

We visited Kings Dominion with our kids this weekend.

And? It was awesome.

My husband and I hadn’t been there in years, so we weren’t sure what to expect.  But we were pleasantly surprised.

Not only was Kings Dominion clean and totally beautiful, it was seriously more family-friendly than we expected. There was something for everyone, and my kids (11, 9, and 8 years old) are raring for a return visit–already.

Need a few reasons to take the trip to Doswell, Virgina–20 miles north of Richmond and 75 miles south of DC–to experience it for yourself?

Here’s the skinny. . .

Kings Dominion– Family-Friendly Amusement Park in the DC Metro Area

Here are my top 5 reasons families should take a trip to Kings Dominion this season:


1. It’s beautiful and clean.  

family friendly kings dominion |

family friendly kings dominion |

family friendly kings dominion |

Really. Gorgeous flowers. Green grass everywhere. Fountains, shops, restaurants– and restrooms!– all super clean.

It was something that my husband and I noted multiple times–we’d look at each other and comment about how beautiful the park was.

And I don’t even think it was that we were so grateful to be outdoors on a perfect spring day; the park really, truly is beautiful.

family friendly kings dominion |

family friendly kings dominion |


2. The color band bracelets make ride decisions easier.

family friendly kings dominion |

family friendly kings dominion |

The minute we arrived, we walked into a Height Guide station almost immediately, and this sweet gal was handing out bracelets to kids based on their height.

I loved it–it made deciding which rides Maddy, Owen, and Cora were permitted to ride much, much easier.

family friendly kings dominion |

Turns out that our kids were able to ride just about everything they wanted, which made the whole day totally stress-free.

The height guide is available on the website, so you can even measure your kids at home and plan accordingly.


3. Super-fun concert and event series. 

We were thrilled that the day we went to the park, Debby Ryan (think: Jessie, from Disney channel) and her band, The Never Ending, was playing.

family friendly kings dominion |

family friendly kings dominion |

family friendly kings dominion |

Our friends at Kings Dominion arranged for us to even meet her, which was an absolute treat for Maddy, Owen, and Cora.

They met Debby Ryan! And Debby Ryan was delightful. So sweet. So kind. So great with the kids.

family friendly kings dominion |


family friendly kings dominion |


We had a blast watching the show, and it was a huge highlight of our family’s spring break.

And honestly, the concert was free with park admission. So it was cool–everyone kind of moseyed on over around 5:30 for the 6pm concert. Great outdoor venue. So fun.

family friendly kings dominion |

family friendly kings dominion |

family friendly kings dominion |

family friendly kings dominion |


But this concert is just the beginning of the fun during the Spring Bloom Festival at the park; there’s a ton of other things planned this season:

  • Choo Choo Soul – For the younger ones, Choo Choo Soul is a children’s entertainment act featuring a hip-hop train conductor and her partner, a dancer and beatboxer dressed as a railroad engineer. The concert is free with park admission. Seating is limited and available on a first come, first served basis. Choo Choo Soul will perform at the Peanut’s Showplace Theater on Sunday, April 19 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Spring Bloom: An International Culinary Celebration – Take a culinary trip around the world with Kings Dominion’s Executive Chef! New food stations and restaurants will feature international food items from Switzerland, Italy, Jamaica, and many more! These delicious delicacies will be created using fresh spring ingredients from local Virginia farms.
  • Live Entertainment – Strap on your dancing shoes and enjoy toe-tapping entertainment from local Country and Bluegrass bands every weekend!
  • Happy Birthday KD! – Kings Dominion opened over the course of two years, with the official grand opening on May 3, 1975. Time to cut the cake and blow out the candles as the park officially turns 40 on May 3, 2015. The day will be filled with surprises, entertainment and more!

I love that there are things other than just rides to explore here.

4. Activities for all ages. 

It’s no secret that Cora is not a fan of big roller coasters. She, like her mama, prefers the lazy river type of rides. So when we discovered Planet Snoopy, we were both in friendly kings dominion |


family friendly kings dominion |


family friendly kings dominion |

family friendly kings dominion |

family friendly kings dominion |


Planet Snoopy is a PEANUTS™ happy area filled with 18 rides designed for entire families to enjoy together. These aren’t all ‘baby rides’ mind you; a few were rated ‘moderate thrill’ level 3, and I thought they were a little crazy.  The whole area was well-organized, and I liked that after a while we started seeing the same faces of kids and parents. It gave this big park a ‘small park’ feel.

Maddy, Owen, and their dad enjoyed some crazy fast and furious rides while Cora and I were rolling more slowly, and they loved every second of it.

family friendly kings dominion |

family friendly kings dominion |

family friendly kings dominion |

family friendly kings dominion |

They rode just about every big coaster they could, and after a while all the names started to sound the same to me. All I know is that they proudly survived the Intimidator 305, the ‘tallest, fastest, and most thrilling roller coaster on the East Coast’.  All I can say is thank goodness I wasn’t standing there watching them.

5. Great food choices. 

Food is huge for our family. We love food.

family friendly kings dominion |

family friendly kings dominion |

family friendly kings dominion |

And especially when we’re out and about, we like to have great food choices to keep us going.

Huge surprise to us was that Chick-fil-A® was there. Panda Express® and Rita’s® was there. Starbucks® and Subway® was there. There were a ton of really great options, and this is just the start–there were some super spots for sweet treats and sit-down meals as well.

Check out all of our photos from the day:

Do you want to get in on the fun, even if you’re far away?

Overall, we were impressed. It was an awesome, awesome day at Kings Dominion.

Have you been there? Have you tried it? Anything in particular that you loved or didn’t love? I’d love to hear it!


fyi: Huge and happy thanks to the team at Kings Dominion for extending an invitation to the park and the Debby Ryan Meet & Greet to our family and then asking me to write about the experience. As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator.