organizing play spaces: 4 steps to awesome and tips every parent needs

organize playspaces 4 steps to awesome teachmama.com

Friends.

I’m  hoping that you’re still doing a rockstar job taking control your three things this month because, sweet mercy–you can manage to organize three things.

Whatever it is that has been bugging you, whatever it is that causes you the most stress or anxiety, start there.

That sock drawer? The coat closet? The laundry room? You can do it.

This is the year, friends. We’re taking control of our life and our time, and we are living focused.

Need the whole deal? Check out the get yourself organized post as a refresher.

organizing play spaces: 4 steps to awesome and tips every parent needs

I do understand that often it’s overwhelming if you choose something big to organize.  We often don’t know where to start or what to do after we get started. Or sometimes we just get sick of doing it in the middle and want to quit (I do, at least).

Lucky for us, I have recently joined forces with the amazing Rachel from Rachel and Company, and we have some really cool projects in the works.

For real.

Like cool ways to help you and your family get organized–and stay organized.

Like cool things just for your tween. Or just for your kids. Or just to help you organize some super-tricky parts of your life.

Can’t wait.

Until then, I have Rachel sharing some awesome tips for organizing play spaces over here for us today.

You’ll love her.

And you’ll totally love the Organizing Play Spaces Printable we’ve created.  (Scroll on down–you’ll find the link!)

Here’s the skinny. . .

Organizing Play Spaces–4 Steps to Awesome and Tips Every Parent Needs: 

Organizing Play Spaces, by Rachel Rosenthal

The holidays are over but are the new toys, games and books your kids got for the holidays taking over your home?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone! They’re taking over my home too and I do this for a living.

Now that everyone is back in school and we’re all back in somewhat of a routine, it’s time to stop tripping over that new toy fire engine when you get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. It’s also time to finally organize all this new stuff!

So, what to do?

To start, find a designated “play space” to keep everything organized, or as you know, the toys and games will take over your home.

organizing play spaces: 4 steps to awesome and tips every parent needsorganizing play spaces: 4 steps to awesome and tips every parent needs

Even if you don’t have an entire room to devote to “play”, creating a space in the corner of another room can really help contain the clutter in one area (or at least give you a starting point!).

Without a place to put something, we can’t expect our little ones–or even ourselves–to have an organized play space. And while as moms we are prone to taking on all the organizing ourselves, I am giving you permission to stop doing it all yourself.

Depending on the age of your children, I say, get them involved.

There are age-appropriate organizing tasks that your children can do, and now is the time to empower them to be involved in living an organized life.

Things might not be “perfect” or the way you want them, but that isn’t the point. We want to empower our children and ourselves in creating a space truly conducive to play.

organizing play spaces: 4 steps to awesome and tips every parent needs

organize play spaces teachmama.com 3

Below are some tips on organizing your play space that even your youngest kids can help with!

  • Put all small items like doll accessories, toy cars and even game pieces in labeled containers without a lid. This keeps similar items together and makes for easier play and clean up. Adding a label (a picture or words) helps little ones participate with the organizing.
  • Don’t try to organize your entire play space at once. Choose one category of items, like dress up clothes or board games and focus on just that before moving on. Our printable on organizing your kids can help. It lists out some of the top items that need to be organized in a play area and gives just a few easy steps for paring down what you have and getting an organizing system into place.
  • Have a “hide the clutter” basket. Keep a large empty basket or container in your play area. This can be used two ways. Just make sure that you set a time limit on how long items can stay in this basket. We recommend no more than one week.

1. A quick hide all:  if you need to get things off the floor in a flash (think unannounced guests).

2. An easy organizer:  Whether it’s you or your kids who are reorganizing the play area at the end of play time, fill the container with everything that is left out, then carry it with you to put the items away where they belong.

_____________________________

Rachel Rosenthal of Rachel and Company is an organizing extraordinaire.  Rachel uses creativity, style and a little elbow grease to help families get their homes, schedules, routines and lives in order. As a professional organizer, Rachel empowers families of all ages and sizes to live more organized, productive lives and has helped over 900 clients since starting in 2008.

Rachel works nationally with clients, is based in Bethesda, MD with her 7-year-old identical twins, and she has been featured in publications such as Better Homes and Gardens, Huffington Post, Washingtonian, The Washington Post, Parents, NBC4 and Fox5. Rachel can be reached through her website: www.rachel-company.com.rachel and company  rachel collage

_____________________________

_____________________________

Thank you, Rachel!

I love Rachel’s idea of the open containers, especially for younger kids, and I love the idea of the ‘hide the clutter’ basket–with limitations and guidelines.

So smart.

So let’s get you organized, my friends.

 

Here’s a super-cute printable that Rachel and I collaborated on. I think  you’ll dig it.

Organize Play Spaces Printable: organize play spaces teachmama.com 3

If you choose to share or link to the printable (and we hope you do!), please link to this post rather than the document itself. Thank you!

 

 

So there you have it–a really quick way to organize your child’s play space, wherever that may be!

How do you stay organized? What do you use to organize play spaces? I’d love to hear it!

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live focused 2015 teachmama.com b w collage

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ive focused in 2015 organization teachmama.com sq

#livefocused posts:

family volunteering on martin luther king, jr day

family volunteering on martin luther king, jr day teachmama.com

Last year was the very first year we volunteered as a family to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.

But it will not be the last.

Already, we’re looking for other ways we can give back to our community this year to celebrate the life of this great man.

Family volunteering on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is easy, thanks to a handful of really awesome organizations designed to make finding volunteer opportunities the easy part.

Not even kidding.

family volunteering on martin luther king, jr day

 

It takes five minutes to find a great option for your family and then register right there and then. And registering means only that you’re letting someone know you’ll be there.

No fees involved.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Family Volunteering on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: 

Friends. You will be so happy to see these resources and how organized and awesome they are.

Is one better than the next? You decide.

They’re all actually like brother and sister and cousins, so find what works for you!

Here are several starting points for family volunteering:

Points of Light | The world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service – mobilizes millions of people to take action and change the world.

 

 

family volunteering on mlk day

 

Points of Light is like the starting point. The Big Daddy. The homebase. The command center.

Everything you need is there, and the organizations below (many of them) can be found there.

—————————————————–

All for Good | All for Good is a hub for volunteerism and community service on the Internet, and a service of Points of Light.

family volunteering for mlk day

We found our volunteer activity here last year, and we’ll use it again this year.

It’s super simple to use, and you can search by area of interest (think: adult education, animals, culture, environment, schools, sports & rec, technology, seniors, etc.).

You can search by National Service Events, and you can search by dates.  Most importantly, you can search

—————————————————–

HandsOn Network | They inspire, equip and mobilize people to take action that changes the world.

volunteering for families for mlk day

HandsOn Network puts people at the center of change and connects them to their power to make a difference by adhering to these values:

  • People drive change
  • Passion overcomes obstacles
  • Service bridges and bonds
  • Innovation drives results
  • Servant leadership transforms

The cool thing about this platform is that you can really share your awesome with others, too.  You can share your skills in different ways, at any time of the year.

You can join an HandsOn Action Center and help where it is most needed.

—————————————————–

Host a Sunday SupperAmerica’s Sunday Supper is a key program of Points of Light.

volunteering for families on mlk day

Inspired by Dr. King’s vision of people of diverse backgrounds interacting on personal levels, America’s Sunday Supper encourages people to share a meal and discuss issues that affect their communities, to increase racial and cultural understanding and to promote unity. 

I love it.

Will we do it? I’m not sure we’ll do it this year, but I want to.

Points of Light provides resources like talking points–conversation starters–and tons of recipes.

The goal? Inspire each of your guests to host their own Sunday Supper. I mean, what better way to have these important conversations?

—————————————————–

GenerationOnTheir mission is to inspire, equip, and mobilize youth to take action that changes the world and themselves through service. 

I am so excited to share about this site. So excited I found it!

 

volunteering for families

 

Really, allowing your kids to check out the GenerationOn site may be a super way to get them inspired for volunteering.

They’ve got videos of teens and tweens and elementary schoolers talking about why they volunteer.

They’ve got a site that is uber user-friendly.

They’ve got tons of important causes clearly outlined.

They’ve got tons of project ideas.

They’ve got a boatload of really worthwhile resources.

And I’m betting that for many kids, this will be all they need to really get psyched to make a difference–make their mark–on the world.

 

generation ON mlk day

 

—————————————————–

And that’s it for this year! Hopefully this will get you excited about volunteering for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day–or any day of the year.

What do you to celebrate this day? I’d love to know!

Have you used these platforms before? What was your experience?

Want a little more for MLK, Jr, Day? Check out: 

fun ways to celebrate martin luther king jr day cover

fyi: affiliate links are used below:

new years eve guess the word game

new years guess the word game teachmama.com

new years eve guess the word game

Much like our Christmas Guess the Word Game, the New Year’s Eve Guess the Word Game totally rocks.

Okay.

There you have it.

Plain and simple.

Rocks. 

The kids loved playing our holiday version on the way to see their Pennsylvania family this week, so I made another version.

Actually, I made both versions on the same day.

And actually, the kids helped brainstorm words for both.

So fun.

Here’s the skinny. .  .

  • New Year’s Eve Guess the Word Game:

The premise is the same for both games, and it’s super-simple.

One person holds up a card with a word on it and tries to guess what it is.

Easy.

new years eve guess the word game

new years eve guess the word game

Remember, though, that the card holder does not look at the word.

And everyone else gives one-word clues to help the person guess it.

We often play in a few variations:

  • the fewer words it takes to guess, the better;
  • the person who can guess the most words in row wins;
  • for a challenge: all of the clues must begin with the same letter; or
  • all of the clues must rhyme with the word on the card;
  • add a timer.

new years eve guess the word game

new years party word guess game

Want to download the cards?

The New Year’s Eve Guess the Word Game is here to download as a pdf if you’d like: new years party word guess game

The last page is blank so you can add your own!

(If you choose to share this post, super! Please just link to this post instead of the attachment page, though! Thank you!)

Keep it simple.

And have fun with it.

And if you change things up a bit, let me know!

Want a few more cool New Year’s Eve activities? 

 

create a bedtime routine that works

create a bedtime routine that works teachmama.com

sponsored post

 

 

 

create a bedtime routine that works For a long, long time I’ve talked about the importance of rest in our kids’ lives, and along with that goes routine.

We all need rest, and we all thrive on routine.

Especially our little guys.

So it’s super important that from the start we create a bedtime routine that really, truly works for our kids. 

What I’m finding is even now that my kids are older, they still need. The. Routine.

When my friends from Scholastic asked me to help create a printable for parents all about the bedtime routine, inspired by the talented Caroline Jayne Church, you bet I was game.

I was happy to do so. It’s a great reminder for the parents with bigger guys, and some of the resources I have here are super for parents of littler guys.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Create A Bedtime Routine That Works:  

1. Give your kids a gentle reminder that bedtime is around the corner. Have a little, low-sugar snack if dinner was early.

create a bedtime routine that works  teachmama.com

2. Bathtime, shower, clean those bodies.  Really. We’ve got to get our kids into the habit of staying clean, and for us that really means having a nail brush (because man their nails get dirty–especially in the summertime!), and having washcloths close by all the time.  If kids don’t need a full-fledged shower or bath, then they definitely should still clean face, hands, and feet!

3. Brush teeth. Our big guys still need help with this, especially if they’re rocking some metal in their mouths. Flossing, brushing adequately, and making sure teeth are brushed in the morning and evening is so important!

create a bedtime routine that works   read teachmama.com

4. Pajamas on!  Dirty clothes away, wet towels hung up to dry.

5. Night time clean-up. Once pj’s are on, we also stress that kid have to do a quick pick-up of their rooms. No one wants to wake up to a total mess in the morning!

6. Books, books, books!  I still think it’s super-important to read with your kids before bed, no matter how old they are. It doesn’t matter what kind of reading it is–magazine, children’s book, graphic novel, or chapter book–we just want them reading!

create a bedtime routine that works   read teachmama.com

7.  Quiet conversation and love. Whether it’s prayers or a quick What was the best part of your day? or What are you most looking forward to tomorrow? Closing down the day this way is a great way to wrap up the day and prepare for tomorrow.

 

Check out the entire Scholastic Parents’ Caroline Jayne Church resource page, including the Bedtime ‘Cheat’ Sheet: 7 Simple Steps to a Sweet and Cuddly Bedtime Routine.

All of Caroline Jayne Church’s books are the perfect addition to bedtime routines and are totally worth checking out!

create a bedtime routine that works | teachmama.com

 

And that’s it. That’s the routine for us. I’d love to hear the routine for you!

Or check out a few other posts that may help you develop strong and healthy habits for your family:

 

fyi: This post was written as a partnership with Scholastic. As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as an educator and parent and by my three little loves. 

homemade ornaments for digital kids

homemade ornaments for digital kids

post contains affiliate links

 

 

 

My kids are getting older.homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

At 11, 9, and 7, they needed a little something different this year in order to get them excited about ornament-making.

And I think I found it.

In all things they do they’re like most kids.

They want to have control.

They want freedom.

They want to know I have faith in their ability.

So I created ornaments for digital kids–ornaments that any ‘digital kid’ would totally dig because they combine their tech-savviness and some hands-on, old-school crafting.

I’m sure all of the aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents will love them.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Homemade Ornaments for Digital Kids:

I love school pictures. I don’t care how ugly or funny they are, I just love them.

I think they’re classic in a nerdy and silly way, so I often try to use them for holiday gifts for family.

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

 

Sure, I love the natural, outdoor, casual shots of family, too, but there’s something about school pictures that have always made me laugh a little.

Plus I think they’re even more fun to edit than other shots.

So for ornament-making for digital kids, what you’ll need is:

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

 

And because Maddy, Owen, and Cora knew from the Advent Activity Calendar that today was the day to finish up holiday gifts for family, they knew from the start that they’d be crafting in some way, shape, or form today.

So when I said, Hey guys, let’s meet in the kitchen in five minutes to get our craft on, they were cool.

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com collage

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

(This one did not pass the ‘okay for family’ test)

I said, So today we’re going to start–and finish–our photo ornaments for aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. But we’re not just going to slap some glitter on the ornaments and call it a day.

Instead, you guys are going to do some serious digital creating. You are going to be the ones to put together your photos in any way you’d like. All I ask is that you make it so that we can clearly see your faces on each one. And each ornament needs to have all three of you on them, okay?

The kids had worked with PicMonkey before, so they were pretty psyched.

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

Like I said, it always seems that my kids are game to do things like this when I give them control, freedom, and my faith in them.

So all I did was load PicMonkey on each computer–my laptop, the chromebook, and my husband’s computer. And I put all three of the kids’ photos on a zip drive, then I loaded them into each computer.

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

On PicMonkey, very simply, I set the kids up for success. I didn’t want them to frustrate, I just wanted them to have fun creating. To get them started, I:

  1. Went to ‘Design’
  2. Chose the square
  3. Made the background white
  4. Clicked on the butterfly (for overlays) on the left sidebar
  5. Clicked ‘Your Own’ to add my own overlay
  6. Added each of the kids’ school photos to the blank square
  7. Let. Them. At. It!

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

I taught the kids how to use PicMonkey for their ornaments.

They simply went to the little snowflake for Themes and some highlights of each Theme. I showed them how to add Santa beards, hats, and snowflakes.

I showed them how combining elements (clicking the little stack of papers with the arrow pointing down, right next to the gear on the top right of the screen) allows you to use Touch-Ups (click the lipstick), Effects (click the wand), or Frames (click the frame).

They figured out how to add text and change color, font, and size.  They figured out how to add elements, change the background, and do more than I probably know, even after two years of using the platform.

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

 

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

 

Owen really got comfortable using the Halloween-inspired overlays.

He begged me to let him make an ornament of his face all morphed and crazy, but I told him that he’d most definitely give his grandparents a heart attack and make his little cousins have nightmares for years.

PicMonkey is super-easy to use, and though you don’t need the ‘royal’ features, I use it often enough that the royal features are way worth it for me. And now that the kids are more fluid in it, they can use it for school projects, invitations, or fun. I love it.

After the kids finished, I saved their ornaments onto the zip drives and moved them onto my computer. Then I added each of them to one word document. I made two columns and resized each ornament to 2.1″ x 2.1″.  Our ornaments were tiny, but I wanted the whole thing to fit.

 

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

 

We printed their creations on white card stock and then we got to the crafty-crafty part.

We grabbed our blank ornaments, divvied up the family members who we needed to create for, and got working.

 

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

Creating the ornament was super-simple. 

1.  We mod podged one whole coat on the blank ornaments.

2. We added the photo and all of the sequins and bling we wanted.

3.  We let them dry.

4.  We mod podged over top of everything.   Sparkle mod podge added a bit more bling, so some went that route.

5.  We wrote ‘Maddy, Owen, and Cora 2014′ on the back with black sharpie and mod podged over the whole back.

6. We added a fancy ribbon, and we were finished!

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

 

homemade ornaments for digital kids | teachmama.com

 

And that’s it.

Super cute, super exciting for the kids, and super-beautiful when finished!

The most important thing? Maddy, Owen, and Cora were honing their ‘digital kid’ photo editing skills at the same time they were making something really cool for family members.

It makes gift-giving all the more fun and meaningful when kids are excited to share this way.

 

 

 

Want a few more holiday-inspired gift ideas or activities? Check out:

 

must have gifts for kids and families | teachmama.com

gifts for sunday school teachers or CCD teachers | teachmama.com

 

kids and family gift guide from teachmama.com

 

teachmama gift guide 2012

 

 

holiday gift guide | teachmama.com

 

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

true holiday spirit notes for kids: remembering the meaning of the season

true holiday spirit notes for kids: remembering the meaning of the season

post contains affiliate links

 

 

 

December is here. true holiday spirit notes for kids: remembering the meaning of the season

I can hardly believe it.

So this season I’m trying a little something different.

Rather than focus on the receiving part of the season, this year, I’m really trying to focus on the giving component. 

The being a good person component.

The remembering the holiday spirit component.

And I’m starting with an Advent Season challenge for my family: to try to incorporate the true holiday spirit into our every day of December.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • True Holiday Spirit Notes for Kids–Remembering the Meaning of the Season:

All month long.

http://teachmama.com/?attachment_id=19938

http://teachmama.com/?attachment_id=19938

We’ll open our Advent Activity Calendar in the morning like we have for the past few years, but at lunchtime, the kids will have a challenge.

A simple but meaningful challenge.

Twenty-five days of incorporating the true holiday spirit into our every day. I’m excited about it and think the kids are, too.

Though Owen is home sick with me today, I introduced the ‘challenge’ to Maddy, Owen, and Cora today at breakfast.

 

http://teachmama.com/?attachment_id=19938

 

I said, Okay, so you know that for the last few years we’ve done our Advent Activity Calendars–the one on the tree and our cool k-cup advent calendar from last year, right? 

This year, we’re doing something a little different. We’re going to continue to do our Advent Activities like we have in the past. That way we remember to fit in all of the fun things we love to do each holiday season. 

But we’re all going to try a new type of holiday Advent Activity too. A challenge. Just something super small that will help us remember the true meaning of the busy holiday season. 

http://teachmama.com/?attachment_id=19938

http://teachmama.com/?attachment_id=19938

We’ll talk about what we do each evening, but the cool thing about it is that it’s kind of a secret. Like today’s is ‘be extra nice to one person’. 

You’ll be extra nice to one person, but you won’t make a huge, weird deal about it. You’ll decide on who to be nice to, and you’ll do it. 

Maddy asked, Won’t some of our other friends feel left out if they’re not being treated extra nicely? 

http://teachmama.com/?attachment_id=19938

I said, No, not really. Because hopefully you’ll be nice to everyone–you’ll just be extra nice to someone else. 

And then we’ll share our challenge answers at home each night. Does that make sense? Kind of a secret thing that we’ll share as a family.

The kids got it. And they dug it.

 

Here’s our True Holiday Spirit Challenge sheet: true holiday spirit challenge notes teachmama.com

(If you decide to share, please share this post instead of the attachment page. I truly appreciate it!)

true holiday spirit lunchbox notes | teachmama.com

 

true holiday spirit challenge notes teachmama.com

I created the challenge to work as lunchbox notes because my kids love them and look forward to them. I wanted the notes to be small enough that they could read them inside their lunchbox, and I wanted there to be one note for each day of Advent, one for each day of the holiday season.

The notes are numbered–very lightly–from 1-25. And they include things like:

  • be extra inclusive at recess;
  • say ‘thank you’ to someone–and mean it;
  • ask a quiet classmate how he or she is doing;
  • hold the door for someone today;
  • and more.

So we’ll see how it goes.

Want a few more holiday-inspired gift ideas or activities? Check out:

must have gifts for kids and families | teachmama.com

gifts for sunday school teachers or CCD teachers | teachmama.com

 

kids and family gift guide from teachmama.com

 

teachmama gift guide 2012

 

 

holiday gift guide | teachmama.com

 

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

our favorite thanksgiving printables for BIG kids!

our favorite thanksgiving printables for BIG kids

our favorite thanksgiving printables for BIG kids!

This week is the big week for us–lots of travel, lots of family, lots of friends, and lots of food!

Officially, the fun winter holiday season is upon us, and from here until January 2nd, it’s a wild ride.

But often that wild ride means that our kids tend to be kicked off of their normal schedules.

They get tired.

We get tired.

They get cranky.

We get cranky.

And they need some down time.

We need some down time.

So we’ve gathered a few of our favorite Thanksgiving printables–ones we are printing out and bringing to Thanksgiving meals–so that the kids have some unplugged down time.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Our Favorite Thanksgiving Printables–for BIG Kids:

If you need some conversation starters for the dinner table, I like these from Written Reality.   Especially if it tends to be quiet at your holiday, these may be fun for the family. And hey–even if it’s loud at your house, these might work toward giving everyone a chance to be heard.

As for printables, my kids still love a good, ole fashioned puzzle every now and again:

Word searches still get kids’ brains moving a bit:

And BINGO! Big kids still dig bingo:

Even though my kids are getting older, they still love to sit down with a box of crayons and color every once in a while:

I think these are super cute for the big kids to put on a little Thanksgiving finger-puppet show for the little kids: 

And I’ll take it.

Happy, happy, happy Thanksgiving and safe travels, friends!

 

Want to stay on top of all of our rockin Thanksgiving ideas for kids and families? Follow our pinterest board:

thanksgiving pinterest board

 

 

Get the bigger kids involved, too, with some of the food prep!

They’ll love to help arrange this Thanksgiving veggie turkey:

thanksgiving veggie turkey

must-have gifts for kids (and families!): 2014

must-have gifts for kids (and families!): teachmama.com

post contains affiliate links

 

 

must have gifts for kids and families | teachmama.com

 

Friends! It’s only the second week of November but already I’ve received two dozen emails from you asking for my gift picks for this holiday season.

What should you get for your preschool nephew?

What does your second grader absolutely need this year?

What will your tween totally love you forever if she receives?

How about your babysitter, your mother-in-law, or your sisters?

Right! I love this time of the year, and I love gift-giving.

And I’m so flattered you care about what I think.  I am so excited to share!

I’m trying and have finally assembled it all: the must-have gifts for kids and families 2014.

And though I usually can shove all of our faves into one happy post, this year? Not so much.

So yes–here are the must-have gifts for kids and families. Our holiday picks.

But we’ve also got our Must-Have Gifts that Give Back and Must-Have Books as Gifts posts, too.

So hold onto your seats.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Must-Have Gifts for Kids (and Families!)–2014:

must-have gifts for kids and families BABIES 2014

For our teeniest teenies:  (babies – first year)

  • Match & Build Soft Blocks by Melissa & Doug K’s Kids: Soft blocks with patterns, numbers, letters, and more.  Perfect for any new baby’s first holiday.

best gifts for kids family 2 to 4 | teachmama.com

For the little guys:  (ages 2-4)

  • Deluxe Pounding Bench by Melissa & Doug:  My sisters have been eyeing this set for their boys for a while now. I know that my nephews will love this.
  • Cool Rain gear: I loved having super cute rain boots, raincoats, and umbrellas for Maddy, Owen, and Cora when they were tiny.  Kidorable has sweet patterns for little ones, like the lady bugs, frogs, and fire trucks. [Use coupon code UMBFR and add a FREE umbrella to your $20.00 purchase. You need over $20 without umbrella cost. YAY!]
  • Personalized Cozy Chair: Every kiddo in my family gets his or her own personalized reading chair when they turn two. Really. And honestly, the kids love ‘their’ chair so much that often they become their ‘go-to’ cozy spot for reading, relaxing, and playing.  You don’t have to go crazy here, but you can if you’d like. Check out these chairs that I adore from The Land of Nod; they start at $99, and they’re the perfect holiday gift!
  • Personalized Story Books: We have had personalized story books for our kids for as long as I can remember. Every kiddo needs to feel like he or she is the star, and seeing a first name in print will do the trick! Love these from Frecklebox.
  • Spot-It: Super little game for kiddos with super-sharp eyes, we have had Spot-It for years and still pull it out often to play. Love. This. Game.
  • Play-Doh Fun Factory Deluxe: All kids need Play-Doh, and all kids need a play center where they can make Play-Doh spaghetti and snakes.
  • Role Play Sets: I’ve gone on and on about the benefits of pretend play, even as recently as this fall. Cora loved the Magician Role Play set, and she had a blast entertaining her pals on the soccer sidelines. I highly recommend any of the Melissa & Doug role play sets for little ones; they’re perfect for getting those imaginations going strong!

 

 

best gifts for kids and families 5 to 7 | teachmama.com

For the bigger guys:  (ages 5-7)

  • Order’s Up! Diner Play Set or School Time! Play Set: We had a chance to try both of these sets this year, and they are totally and completely adore them both. Both sets are like little treasure boxes of fun. Everything that kids need to play a full game of diner–from cooking to serving and eating the goodies–and everything kids need to play school–from lesson planning to learning to grade reporting–is included.
  • National Geographic 24 in 1 Space:  There’s a Dinosaur set with this collection, too, and both are awesome. Kids build things that actually light up, and each set has a ton of different objects to build, so kids aren’t limited to a once-and-done thing.
  • Personalized Bean Bag Chair: Though my kids’ aren’t personalized (poor kids!) they do have beanbag chairs and love them. Owen plops down on his while playing video games, and everyone uses the bean bag chair in our book nook.
  • PlusPlus Building Blocks: These? So cool. Picture tiny little plus signs made out of plastic. They come in a zillion colors, and kids simply use them to build 2D or 3D objects. Very cool. Popular in Denmark, I think, but may be tricky for little ones who aren’t super savvy with their fine motor skills.
  • Deluxe Roominate: I actually met the gals behind this product at both Toy Fair and at a Radio Shack event this summer, and honestly? They’re awesome–the inventors and the products. Created by two women, an electrical engineer and a mechanical engineer, who wanted better toys for girls, this whole line is geared toward bringing girls into engineering. The Roominate products are a blend of hands-on building and circuits. So totally awesome.

best gifts for kids and family 8 to 11 | teachmama.com

For the biggest guys and gals: (ages 8-11)

  • GoldieBlox and the Builder’s Survival Kit: We’ve written about our love of GoldieBlox, but I seriously continue to share the GoldieBlox love to anyone who will listen. We love this set, and it’s a super gift for our tween girls.
  • littleBits Electronics Kits: I was introduced to these kits at a Radio Shack event our family attended this summer, and my kids absolutely were in awe of them, as were my husband and I. There are several options here, but each one of the kits involves kids actually playing with light, sound, sensors, and energy–without the hazard of soldering.  Young ‘makers’ could do a ton with the Base Kit, but I’d probably think about getting the littleBits Electronics Deluxe Kit for all three kids to share.
  • Zing Bow and Arrow Set: Owen received two of these sets for his August birthday and loves them. He and the neighborhood kids play with them for hours. The only problem is that they come only with three arrows.  For Christmas, we’re getting Owen the target and extra arrows.
  • Gravity Maze: My kids have totally loved playing with this new game from ThinkFun that is literally a marble run and logic puzzle all in one. So cool.
  • Skallops: From E & M Labs, these are crazy little wood clips that actually hold playing cards together so that you can build structures with playing cards. Remember Marcia and Greg’s card tower from way back when? Our lucky kids have it so easy. No dangling bracelet will knock this tower down!
  • Crayola Virtual Design Pro-Fashion Set: This would be a huge hit for Maddy and Cora, I know. I saw it at Toy Fair this year, and I was in awe of how absolutely awesome it was. Combines traditional coloring with graphic design, and then it all comes to life in an app. Sounds involved, but it’s not. Simple and so cool.

 

best gifts for kids and family  stockings  teachmama.com

For stockings:

  • Fandango Gift Cards: Going to the movies is such fun for kids, but it does get expensive after you add it all up. We’re huge Fandango fans over here, so gift cards will definitely be stocking stuffers for my three, okay, Santa?
  • Amazon Gift Cards: My kids are becoming savvy shoppers, so Amazon gift cards are a big win for them, since they can find just about anything their little hearts desire over there.  Even Aero for Maddy, Game Stop for Owen, and Charming Charlie for Cora would be a huge win.
  • Tenzie: It’s a fast frenzie. . . it’s TENZIE! One of our most favorite summertime games, Tenzie is a dice game. With a million, trillion options for play.   Pair it with the 77 Ways to Play Tenzie book, and it’s a perfectly awesome game for kids of all ages.
  • Word-A-Round: Love this game from ThinkFun. Word-A-Round is a little tricky, but basically it’s words in a circle and you have to figure out what the word is. Fun for everyone. It’s my personal fave because (cough) it’s the only game I’m able to beat Owen in at this point.
  • Create super-cute custom bracelets, necklaces, and rings for your kids at My Bling Place: LOVE these and they’re surprisingly affordable!
  • Tooth brushes: Not sure why, but we always had tooth brushes in our stockings. And so do my kids.

For families:

  • Trampoline: I can barely believe I’m sharing this, but our kids have begged and pleaded for a trampoline in our back yard for so many years, that I finally think we might cave. I think we might cave. I know they’d love it. But I’m not sure I will be able to handle it.   The Skywalker 15 ft round trampoline comes with very high reviews, as does the much smaller Skywalker 8 ft round trampoline. I secretly with my kids were small enough to fit the Little Tykes 3 ft trampoline, but that one would be a better match for our tiny nephews.
  • Tumble Trak: My kids have wanted a mat like this–one they can practice their flips on–for months and months. It is a super gift for kids in gym, cheer, or tumble classes!
  • Subscription Services:
    • Kiwi Crate sends monthly crafts and cool, hands-on activities to kids. Packages include Koala Crate (ages 3-4 years), Kiwi Crate (4-8 years), Tinker Crate (9-14 years), and Doodle Crate (9-16+ years). Subscription Services like these are SUPER awesome gifts because kids are thinking, moving, and creating. They love these.
  • Little Passports is another fun subscription service, and this one focuses more on teaching kids about the world around them. Early Explorers (ages 3-5 years), World Edition, (5-10 years), and USA Edition, (7-12 years) has something for just about every kid on your list!
  • Playstation 4 Destiny Bundle or XBox OneOur kids have played our Wii long and hard for the past five years. Five years. So we’re thinking it’s time to move on since at this point there are no new games being made for the Wii. I’m keeping my eyes open for a good deal on the Playstation 4 or an Xbox One.  Any advice? I’d love to hear it!

That’s not even it.  I’m on such a roll and I know there are like a million awesome things that I’m forgetting.

 

Want a few rockstar deals on some of these products and more?

subscriber thank you long newsletter | teachmama.com

 Subscribe to teachmama.com and have access to our super-special holiday deals page. So fun.

 

Also check out: 

gifts that give back  teachmama.com

 

must have book gifts for the whole family  teachmama.com

 

Need a bit more inspiration?

Check out our gift guides of years past. Though the dates have changed, the suggestions are still some of our faves.

Click on the picture for the link:

teach mama gift guide 2013

 

gift guide teach mama

Want a few more holiday-inspired learning ideas? Check out: 

 

 

 

fyi: We did receive some of these products from companies to try, but the large majority were purchased (or will be purchased!) by our family on our own dime.  I do work with some of the companies above, but I also work with a ton more that I didn’t mention.  As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experiences as a parent and educator. I’m sharing the best of the best here–our faves.

 

must have gifts for kids and family teachmama.com 2

 

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’s16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”  For more information, please see teachmama media, llc. disclosure policy

a must-read for raising confident kids: ‘God Made Light’

a must read for raising confident kids | God Made Light | teachmama.com

post contains affiliate links

 

 

 

a must-read for raising confident kids: 'God Made Light'

As parents, one of the things that we want most for our kids is that they grow to be happy, healthy, and confident adults.

And one simple way that we can do that is to spend quality time with our kids, reminding them daily that they are special and that they are loved.

Reminding them, too, that God loves them and that through them, His light shines is another super-important piece to remember.

Recently one of my friends published a book that focuses on just this fact. The book is called, ‘God Made Light‘, and it’s beautiful and important and moving.

It’s something that every child should have on his or her bookshelf and a perfect addition to bedtime–or any time–reading.

You’ll love it.

Here’s the skinny. . .

I’ve known that my pal Jessica and her husband were working on this book for quite some time, so when it finally arrived at my door, I was over the moon.

a must-read for raising confident kids: 'God Made Light'

a must-read for raising confident kids: 'God Made Light'

And it was even more amazing than I imagined it to be.

The message of God Made Light is simple: that God made light and that light shines within all people. And that it’s our job to share the light with others.

I love it.

So even when times are tough for our kids, when they are having a tough day or are afraid of the shadows or when the sun sets, that need to remember that they are important and special and loved. a must-read for raising confident kids: 'God Made Light'

One of my favorite passages from the book is:

‘Cause you’re just like the sun

and the moon in the sky. . .

You’re as lustrous as twinkles that dazzle the eye.

You’re as splendid as lightening,

when it flashes so bright.

’cause on the day you were born,

God said, ‘Let there be light!’ 

Written by Matthew Paul Turner and illustrated by Matthew Paul Mewhorter, this book is the perfect combination of engaging, rhythmic language, a meaningful message, and engaging illustrations.

 

a must-read for raising confident kids: 'God Made Light'

a must-read for raising confident kids: 'God Made Light'

My kids love it. Cora has asked for it every night for the past few weeks. And without question, I’ll read it.

And to carry on the message of love and light and confidence, I’ve also been sending the kids to school with the God Made Light Encouragement Notes for Kids: 32 reminders that God’s light shines in you.

Love, love, love them.

Along with our Positive affirmation notes for kids, it’s a rockstar combination. And the fact that the notes carry on the same messaging as this special book? Rockstar.

a must-read for raising confident kids: 'God Made Light'

 

My feeling is this: the more that we talk about the fact that each one of us–including our children–carry God’s love with us everywhere, all day long and all through the night, the better.

I’m hoping that knowing they are not alone as they walk into these crazy tween years will make it that much easier for them.

 

a must-read for raising confident kids: 'God Made Light'

 

I’ll give this book to my nieces and nephews for Christmas, and I’ll give it as gifts for Baptisms and First Communions.  I love it.

And I do believe it’s the perfect thing for all families to find under the tree this season.

 

 

There are a few ways to buy God Made Light and the related products.  I’m doing what I can to grab the best deals possible for you:

Tons of great resources on the God Made Light website. Definitely check them out: http://godmadelight.com/

god made light freebies

 

It’s heartbreaking for us as parents to watch our little loves go through the inevitably difficult pre-tween, tween, and teen years. Let’s do what we can to make them as seamless and enjoyable and meaningful as we are able.

 

fyi: Though I did receive my copy of God Made Light from my friends Jessica and Matthew Paul Turner, my opinions here are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator.  Affiliate links are used in this post

what to do when your kid just doesn’t ‘get it’

what to do when your kid just doesn't 'get it' | question from reader and answered by @teachmama

post contains affiliate links

 

 

 

I admit that I am the absolute worst with emails. The worst.when your kid just doesn't get it | teachmama.com

But I’m trying to be better.

I’ve got thousands of emails just sitting there in my inbox, and I rarely respond because I’m always busy.

And I’m so far behind that I don’t even want to go there because there’s no end in sight.

But lately I have been tackling a handful of emails each week. And it makes me feel so much better to be able to connect in this way to the readers who have become my good friends over time.

Today, one email stuck out.

And I spent a good bit of time answering, and then I felt like I had answered it before, so I looked back and not one, not two, but three other people have written to me in the past few weeks about their kids struggling with reading for unknown reasons.

So I thought I’d share my response. (And the gal who emailed said it was totally cool to do so.)

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • What to Do When Your Kid Just Doesn’t Get It:

note from reader

Subject : Struggling readers

Message : So…..what do you do when your kid just doesn’t get it? My [son] is in 3rd grade and he’s super depressed because he’s in the lowest reading group (haven’t confirmed that with the teacher, but kids know, don’t they? And given who else he says is in his group, I know, too.) and he doesn’t get to do the pull-out GT activities that his friends do.

His reading is okay, but when it comes to spelling, it’s terrible–large letters, sloppy, no punctuation or capitalization, many misspelled words, can’t get the letters on the page.

We’ve had him tested and the doc says it’s phonological processing. He doesn’t qualify for an IEP or 504 and the teachers last year dismissed the doc’s findings all together. He’s been doing a reading tutoring program for the past year. But feeling really frustrated with the school and teachers. Any advice?

**************

my response

Oh, [friend]. I’m sorry he’s struggling. It’s so hard–for you and for him. Believe me, I get it. Thank you for reaching out.

My advice is this:
1. meet with the teacher. talk to him/her about your concerns, and ask what you can do at home. Maybe she’ll give you some insight into strategies that have worked for other students or hand you some resources that could be helpful.

when kids don't get it school  teachmama.com

2. read with him every night. Seriously. You read out loud to him. No pressure for him to read to you. Just get him back into being excited about reading, even if that means you have to pry open your tired eyes at 8pm to read to him with energy and excitement (said from the mom who FELL ASLEEP last night while Cora was reading her book out loud to me before bed and still feels guilty about it today). Try Harry Potter. IT ROCKS. OR try silly Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Or try Magic Treehouse to start with. . . Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is SO GOOD and great for read alouds.

3. play on his interests. He likes (gag!) Pokemon? Find Pokemon books and READ them! He loves Minecraft? There are great Minecraft books on the market now (finally!), and there are books on everything from Skylanders to Star Wars to LEGOS to chess. Do some research. Surround him w/ reading material about stuff he totally digs. Magazines totally count. Get him a subscription to a magazine for the holidays–get everyone a subscription to their favorite magazine. Be excited when it comes in the mail even if you have to fake it. Dance up to the door w/ it and then make it a treat to read it. He’ll catch on. I promise.

when kids don't get it interests  teachmama.com

4. talk about reading. Not directly, in a super boring way, but do it casually. Talk about the books you’re reading for pleasure (start doing it if you’re not already!); talk about what you read in the newspaper; talk about books he’s reading in Guided Reading and what the media teacher read to him on media day. Just a simple, ‘Hey listen to this!’ . . . or ‘Can you believe that. .. . ‘ is great. The Washington Post Kids Post is super for finding daily bits of fun stuff for kids to read. Or find the National Geographic Kids app– strange and amazing facts? something like that–my kids LOVE it.

5. make reading a family affair. Instead of plopping on a movie on Sunday afternoon or instead of letting the kids zone out in front of electronics, have a family reading date. Pop popcorn, make hot chocolate, and make a fire. Everyone grabs a book and reads in the living room–even if it’s only an hour. Then kind of talk about what you were reading. Or if that’s too hard, you and your partner (or your mom/ dad if they’re close) or sister or friend take turns reading children’s books to the kids. Each kid picks two, and you read them aloud like a silly little old-school read aloud during preschool circle time. Do it. They’ll love it.

when kids don't get it consistent  teachmama.com

Hope this helps. I would love to hear how it goes, and just know this: you are not alone. I should probably even just post this whole answer as a blog post, because I’m asked it more often than you know. . . Hmmmm. Maybe?

Oh, and don’t forget this: hang in there and KEEP UP THE ROUTINE. I’m not yelling at you, I’m just keeping it all caps because it’s that important. It won’t make a bleep of a difference if you do this for one week or one day. Set small goals: reading aloud at night for two weeks. Then four weeks. It will make a difference–but the secret is in the consistency.

You got this. And so does he.

*hugs!* and thank you for reading.

**************

What do you think? How would you have answered her question?
Do let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page!
Do you have a question that’s literacy related? I’m happy to give it a stab if you want to hit me with an email: amy@teachmama.com
If I can’t answer it, I’ll find someone who can!

 

fyi: affiliate links used in this post

holiday baking with kids: eBook

holiday baking ebook for kids teachmama.com

post contains affiliate links

 

 

holiday baking ebook for kids teachmama.com

 

This time last year I was scrambling around doing what I could to finish our holiday baking with kids eBook in time for the actual holidays. 

This year? Done and done.

And ready for you to use at Thanksgiving! Woo-hooooo.

And though it’s called ‘Holiday Baking with Kids’ I can’t tell you how many times through the year Maddy, Owen, Cora, or I reached for the book so that we could make our favorite muffins, cookies, and sweet treats.

A lot.

So grab it while it’s hot.

What better way of kicking off this exciting and joyous, sweet-filled season than by bringing our kids into the kitchen for some serious holiday baking?

The Holiday Baking with Kids eBook is here to save the day.

holiday baking with kids

 

Here’s the skinny. . .

Really. It’s pretty cool.

  • 15 kid-friendly recipes.  Fifteen.  Many never before shared on teachmama.com.

holiday baking with kids eBook teachmama.com

teachmama holiday baking with kids ebook

  • Favorites.  Like Kiss Cookies and Chocolate Chip and Sugar Cookies.  And Iced Pumpkin Spice Cookies and Death by Chocolate and Lemon Squares.  And? Our Christmas Morning Ugly Breakfast recipe.

holiday baking with kids ebook from teachmama

  • Made kid-friendly with large, clear font.  Created with attention to what early readers need as they learn and expand their reading skills, the font is large so kids can read it even the recipe book is on the counter and they are standing on a stool.

holiday baking with kids ebook ingredients

teachmama holiday baking with kids ebook

  • Layout that works.  Kid-tested for the last five years, this layout really works.

Recipe step-by-step instructions are large and are accompanied by a relevant photo to clarify instructions.  Kids can check off ingredients as they gather them, and if the paper is in a plastic sheet protector, a crayon or dry erase marker will easily wipe clean when finished.  Photos for every ingredient and recipe step.

holiday baking with kids ebook ingredients

  • Consistent format. Actions are in bold. Ingredients are underlined. Photos for almost everything.  The format is consistent. Kids especially thrive on consistency.

See? I’m looking out for you. We’re in this together. I got your back. Always.

holiday baking with kids eBook teachmama.com

teachmama holiday baking with kids ebook

Sure, it’s hard when kids are involved sometimes because the mess may be bigger, or we may be crunched for time, or we may just want to enjoy some peace while kids are watching tv and we can prepare dinner, but as parents, we must jump on these prime opportunities for learning and fun with our kids.

holilday baking with kids ebook print - 1

 

holilday baking with kids ebook print - 2

 

holilday baking with kids ebook print - 3

 

holilday baking with kids ebook print - 4

teachmama holiday baking with kids ebook

Ready? Let’s do it.

My friends, the Holiday Baking with Kids eBook is a sweet $4.25 through November 2014.  Then it’s all the way back up to $8.50.

You can print it as many times as you need, so really, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Mostly because my readers are rockstar and always read their email from me first thing. So I wanted to offer you guys a little gift.

The Holiday Baking with Kids eBook is quite the holiday deal.  Buy it now for only $7.97.

HUGE and happy thanks to my awesome mama for always inviting us into the kitchen with her when we were little. I would never be so welcoming into my own kitchen if I hadn’t learned from her as an excellent example.  Big *hugs!* to you, Mom!  Love you!

What about you?  How do you feel about kids in the kitchen?  Is there a favorite recipe I need to add to the next one? Let me know!

holiday baking with kids eBook on teachmama.com
http://holidaybakingwithkids

fyi: Affiliate links are used in this post.