family volunteering on martin luther king, jr day

family volunteering on martin luther king, jr day

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:

organize your family’s week: small step with big payoff

organize your family's week

post contains affiliate links



I’ve often talked about our house having a ‘command station’ or central hub, where you could find almost anything you need.

And though each family should have one, I’m sure that for each family it’s different.

organize your family's week

Ours command station is in our kitchen, and it always has been.

In our kitchen, near our phone, near our newly organized junk drawers, we have a tile that literally tells the story of our week.

It has been hugely helpful for us, and it’s something that I cannot recommend highly enough.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Organize Your Family’s Week–Small Step With Big Payoff:

So how do we make our week happy? Easy.

We share the love. We share the news. We share the schedule.

There’s no biggie calendar on the way with everything we need; we use google calendar for that.

Instead, we go weekly.organize your family's week: small step with big payoff

Here’s what helps me take our schedule day by day. . . the widget for my phone. . .

organize your family's week: small step with big payoff

. . . and this calendar widget shows our whole google calendar on one screen.

Monday through Sunday each and every week.

On an 8″ by 10″ ceramic tile–one kind of like this tile but bigger.

We use dry erase markers and a happy little photo stand.

organize your family's week:

organize your family's week:

Even when we were doing our kitchen renovation, we used the weekly tile. Just kind of in a different place.

What we do to make our week happy is we put it all out there. We lay out the week’s plan at the beginning of each week. That way, any time the kids want to see what’s going on, all they have to do is check out the tile. If they want to add something, they can.

The little letter on the righthand side of the tile? The letter of whomever’s day it is. No questions. No surprises.

And at the end of the week, we wipe it away and start fresh.

During the summer, we don’t go week by week; rather, we go day by day.


organize your family's week:

Our days together are longer in the summer, so there’s a lot more that happens in those hours between wake-up and bedtime.  On summer mornings, the very first thing I do is write down the daily schedule so that there are few surprises.

And from breakfast to dive to swim to lunch and afternoon pool time, it’s all covered.

It’s not perfect, by any means.

But it helps.

And for kids who oftentimes thrive on routine, it’s helpful for them to know that our schedule is always here.


So there you have it–a really quick way to organize your family’s week in super-small steps with big payoffs.

How do you stay organized? What do you use to keep your family organized each week? I’d love to hear it!


live focused 2015 b w collage



ive focused in 2015 organization sq

#livefocused posts:

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



new year’s family plan: 100 good deeds

new year's family plan: 100 good deeds

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new year's family plan: 100 good deeds

I’ve long stopped creating New Year’s Resolutions because, well, they always seem to be broken.

Instead, we, as a family, try to make some positive changes at the beginning of each year.

We use the time to get refocused.

We use the time to check in with each other.

We use the time to start some healthier routines.

Not always easy–this I know.

This year, we’re all starting the 100 Good Deeds plan.

As a family.

And it’s a pretty cool way of kicking off the New Year.

Join us.

Here’s the skinny. . .

We’re not alone in our 100 Good Deeds Plan; in fact, we’re part of a huger than huge campaign geared toward making some positive change.

The premise is that the wearer of the bracelet does good deeds–just put more good into the world.

The Rules of the Game? 

A ‘good deed’ means you’ve gone out of our way to help someone, and it only counts if the deed remains anonymous.

Each time you do a good deed, you move the rubber ring one bead closer toward the 1GD button.

new year's family plan: 100 good deeds

The 100 Good Deeds Bracelet was created by Mary Fisher – artist, author, advocate – who spent a decade partnering with at-risk women in Africa and around the world, designing jewelry made by the women to earn a dignified livelihood.

Fisher, a leader in global social change, launched The 100 Good Deeds Bracelet, a handcrafted collection that symbolizes a commitment to perform good deeds and bring about positive change in the world.

aFrF-s8D2yuz1pZrvHBma1iSk1fqQKmAL_Y30i9ZzBIFisher says,“The motivation behind The 100 Good Deeds Bracelet collection is to inspire simple acts of kindness around the world.

Each bracelet is a reminder to spread positive change through action and fulfill our mission to Do Good, One Deed, One Bead, One Act of Kindness at a Time.

I LOVE this.

Don’t you?new year's family resolution 100 good deeds blank


Want to grab your own 100 Good Deeds bracelet? Yes you do.

Check it out: 100 Good Deeds site

And please remember, to join the #DeedADay movement, share one of these images on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest using hashtag #DeedADay and tagging the 100 Good Deeds Bracelet. That’s it.


These Bracelets are made by vulnerable women who’ve been trained for this work in Uganda, India, Indonesia, Zambia, South Africa, Rwanda, IniInand Haiti. This project gives a women a way to support their families through earnings, while empowering them to also contribute to good deeds around the world.

Join me.

Actually, have your whole family join us–and together, we’ll make some serious change.

Join the movement. Buy your bracelet. Make #DeedADay your plan for the year.

Imagine the example we’ll be setting for our kids!


fyi: I was gifted this 100 Good Deeds bracelet to review and share with my readers. As always, all thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator. 

26 cool, new family traditions to start in the new year

26 fun family traditions to start this year

26 fun family traditions to start this year

I’m all about family traditions.

Not only does it make your life as a parent easier, but having traditions gives your kids something to hold on to.

Traditions give kids the feeling of security.

Traditions give kids the feeling of safety and comfort.

Traditions give kids the feeling of strength of family.

And yes, often there are years that traditions also teach kids about flexibility.

Especially when for whatever reason you can’t make the Flag Cake or you can’t organize a St. Patty’s Day Scavenger Hunt.

I’ve gathered 26 cool, fun, new family traditions to start in the new year.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 26 Cool, New Family Traditions to Start in the New Year:

 Here they are.

1. Complete the New Year’s Interview.  One of our all-time faves.

2. Volunteer on MLK, Jr. Day.  Spend the day doing something that counts.

3.  Make Surprise Notes for your neighbors.  It doesn’t matter when; it doesn’t matter which ones. Just do it.

4. Host a January Favorite Junk Food Party.  Everyone brings one thing: his or her favorite snacky junk food.

5. Make crafts for Meals on WheelsSimple crafts, pretty notes just to brighten someone’s day.

26 cool traditions for family -

6. Participate in a fundraising walk. For whatever cause speaks to your heart. We’ve got some starting points on our blog 4 cause post.

7. Make Valentines for classmates and friends.  We think that homemade is best. They don’t have to be fancy.

8. Do an Earth Day park clean-up. It can be as simple or as involved as you like, with one person or ten.

9. Use the Special Plate to celebrated good days.  The Special Plate makes every one of us smile. It’s a good day when you get to use the Special Plate.

10. Have ice-cream for dinner on the last day of school. Because why not? It’s SUMMER!

11.  Allow everyone to choose his or her birthday dinner. If the birthday boy (or girl) has a party, it’s a dinner in, and Mom and Dad cook a meal of choice. If there’s no party, it’s a dinner out.

12. Celebrate Golden Birthdays, when your age matches the date.  Maddy and Owen both celebrated their Golden Birthday on their 9th year; Cora will celebrate hers when she’s 23, but we’ll most likely celebrate a Half-Golden Birthday when she’s 11 1/2 years old.

13. Eat fondue on New Year’s Day.  Do it up. Cheese, bouillon, and chocolate with fancy glasses and sparkling cider.

14. Make a July 4th Flag Cake.  Strawberries, blueberries, whipped icing, and yum.


26 cool, new family traditions to start in the new year

15. Have a St. Patrick’s Day Scavenger Hunt.  Quick and easy, around the house.  At the end? A little pot o’ gold, of course. Or at least a fun little goodie bag.

16.  Make an Easter Bunny Cake. Round cakes, licorice, and jelly beans make this a special Easter treat.

17.  Organize a neighborhood Egg Hunt.  The eggs don’t have to be filled with jewels–kids love to find anything in their eggs–wrapped candy, pennies, you name it!

18. Have a 1st Day of Summer Cook-Out. Back yard, with hotdogs, chips, and watermelon.  Neighbors and friends. Make it a potluck so it’s easy on you.

19. Make Mom breakfast in bed for Mother’s Day. Awwwwhhh, one of my favorite things ever is when the kids make me breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day. Who cares if the coffee’s cold and toast is burnt? Not I!

20. Go on a family hike for Father’s Day. Let Dad pick the hike, or kids can surprise him. Pack a lunch, drinks, and a blanket. Enjoy!

21. Make Candy Wreaths for your schools.  Because who doesn’t love candy? And really, every single school staff member will love you for it.

26 fun family traditions to start this year

26 fun family traditions WHITE


22. Open new pajamas on Christmas Eve.  One gift before the big day, and it’s always pj’s. Fresh, cozy, new jammies for the big night. And everyone will have matching pjs on for Christmas morning photos.

23. Have the kids make dinner for parents on their anniversary. We haven’t done this yet, but man. I really want to.

24. Schedule a surprise no-school, Cookie-Baking Day in December. Hands down, it’s our absolute favorite day of the holiday season. Well, almost.

25. Boo! your friends in October. Even more fun if you gather a group of pals to do the ‘boo-ing’ with!

26. Make shoebox gifts for the needy at holiday time.  We do this every year, and every year it gets more fun for the kids and more meaningful.  Our church is a drop-off point, but many local newspapers also advertise places that they take these important boxes.

And that’s it!

I’d love to hear what traditions you celebrate and honor each year–there’s always room for more!

Want to download the fancy-schmancy 26 cool, new family traditions poster: 26 fun family traditions BKGD

26 cool, new family traditions to start in the new year |

26 fun family traditions BKGD

All I ask is that if you choose to share this post, please link to this post and not the attachment page–thank you!


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


create a bedtime routine that works

create a bedtime routine that works

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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

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

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

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 |


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. 

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.

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.


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.

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?

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

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

true holiday spirit lunchbox notes |


true holiday spirit challenge notes

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 |

gifts for sunday school teachers or CCD teachers |


kids and family gift guide from


teachmama gift guide 2012



holiday gift guide |


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

family holiday cards: how to get the kids involved

family holiday cards: how to get the kids involved |

post contains affiliate links
get kids involved in choosing holiday cards |


This year, ordering family holiday cards was totally different for us.

This year, our family agreed on the photos.

Each and every one.

And this year, we agreed on the card.

We agreed on the message, and we agreed on the language.

From start to finish, ordering holiday cards was a family affair, and this year, every single one of us was happy.

Mom and Dad were happy.

My tween was happy.

My third and second grader were happy.

No tears. Only a happy family, all five of us.

Thank goodness we were all happy, because last year was a total nightmare.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Family Holiday Cards–How to Get Kids Involved:

Last year, we sent out holiday cards that I loved.

I mean, I loved them. I loved the photos, I loved the way they were arranged, and I loved how everything looked once they were finished.

I thought they looked really great.

family holiday cards: how to get the kids involved

The photos were natural–the kids were outside in our yard, splashing and playing on a sunny-rainy-rainbow day, and they looked beautiful.

And my husband thought so too.

But my kids? Not so much.

Mom. These are awful.

I can’t believe you would choose these pictures. We look crazy.

Moooooom! I look like a baby. I am so embarrassed.

These are the worst photos ever, and I can’t believe we’re sending them to all of our friends and family.

Right. Three out of five people in our family–over half of us–didn’t dig them. At all.

And though I felt awful, they were already ordered. And they had already arrived at our house.

So I apologized sincerely and promised them that next year would be different. That I’d never, ever order photo cards without a family vote and that they would definitely have a say next year if I could just have their blessing to send them out this year.

That was the deal.

So here we are.

This year was different, from start to finish.

family holiday cards: how to get the kids involved


Here’s how this year was different:

1. We began by choosing a few holiday card designs from four different styles.  The idea is that by trying a few different styles, you’re introducing a variety of ideas to your kids.

I know that there are some styles that my husband would absolutely not entertain. So I kept our styles simple, choosing mostly from

The styles we tried were

family holiday cards: how to get the kids involved


2.  Upload 3-10 agreed-upon photos to the holiday card website. 

Do whatever is easiest: save a handful of photos to your desktop, create a special ‘holiday card’ folder, or flag a few dozen photos in your photo program on your computer.

Whatever you decide, you want to narrow down the photos to about 3-10 that everyone in your family is okay including in the holiday photos.

Then upload those photos to the website you choose.


family holiday photos

3. Choose four holiday card designs

Save each design as you go, and title the designs ‘holiday cards 2014 1, holiday cards 2014 2, holiday cards 2014 3, and holiday cards 2014 4.

And then when you have saved four designs, click on ‘compare designs’. Then you will be able to see each design on the screen. This makes discussion about the designs much easier.


family holiday photos

4. Take a silent family vote.

We numbered ours clockwise from 1-4, and we each wrote down the number of our choice on a piece of paper.

Then we tallied the votes.

Because Owen admitted that when he wrote down ‘1’ he really meant ‘2’, we had a vote that worked: 3:2. It was close, but we talked through the decision and figured out a way to make it work for all of us.


family holiday photos


 5.  Make final adjustments in layout and language. 

Here’s where you make the card work for everyone. We did some adjusting with ours, in both layout and language.

And finally, we found something that worked for all of us.


Super-duper important: before you order, remember to apply. Those. Coupons.

Right now, they’ve got a few seriously good holiday card deals going on.


Tiny Prints Cyber Monday
Really, remember that I shared a ton of coupons for photo books on our family photo book post, and many of those same companies sell rockstar holiday cards, too.

When you subscribe to via email or newsletter, you get access to some rockstar, super-special holiday deals. Check it out!

And that’s it.

When the photos arrive, we’ll create our family assembly line of addressing, stuffing, stamping, and sealing the cards–one of our favorite holiday traditions!  On the night of doing holiday cards, we make hot chocolate, put our pj’s on, and chat together while we prepare our cards.

Bringing out the old boxes of holiday cards is super-fun, too!

The more simple we can make the holidays, the better. . . and the more family time and simple gift-giving, the best!
Want a few more holiday-inspired learning ideas? 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’s16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”  For more information, please see teachmama media, llc. disclosure policy. 

something has to change and it must start here–with you and with me

if we want change to happen it must start here |


I rarely write posts like this.  And this one took me much longer than I’d like to admit.

But yesterday I realized something. Something big.

It’s this: if I want change to happen, it has to start here.

I’m a mother of three kids, 10, 9, and 7 years old, and if I want change to happen, it must. Start. Here.

With me.

With my family.

Because I know that though I am only one person, my voice makes a difference.

And so does yours.

Yes, you.  No matter whether you are sitting there reading this your running car in the driveway while your baby sleeps in the back, or whether you are reading this at the counter when you should be cleaning up after dinner, it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter if you’re reading this at your desk during your lunch break or standing at the copy machine after your students leave the building. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading this in line at the grocery store or in line at your kids’ pick-up.

It doesn’t matter if you’re reading this on the treadmill or at the park or at work or at a lunch with your girlfriends. It doesn’t matter if you work outside the home or you work inside the home.

It doesn’t matter if you work or don’t work. It doesn’t matter if you have kids or if you don’t have kids, whether you’re married or not married.

It doesn’t matter if you’re fat or skinny, tall or short, gay or straight, Muslim or Christian or atheist or Jewish.

It doesn’t matter if you breastfed or bottle fed your kids, whether you stick with organics or couldn’t care less.

It doesn’t matter.

What matters is that you are reading this.

And if you are reading this, then know this: you have a voice. And it’s time to use it.

Because if we don’t start using our voices to let others know that prejudice is not okay, that it’s not acceptable, and that it’s not to be tolerated, unacceptable things like this will continue to happen:

Seven white girls are accompanied by seven black men at a formal school dance.

And a school administrator retweeted this tweet:  @OrNahhTweets: Every white girls’ father’s worst nightmare Or Nah?

A school administrator. Retweeted. That. Tweet.

this must end


And this?

Check out these photos on Politicus Sports, in an articled titled White Students at St. Louis High School Wear Blackface During Football Game, by Justin Baragona:



 photos courtesy of . . . please read the entire article at

 A powderpuff football team. Wearing blackface. At a school event. November of 2014.


Do these things make you feel ill? They should.

I’m not here to debate either story or situation; I’m not here to discuss details of any of the photos.  Because if it’s not these photos, it’s something else. You know it as well as I do.

What I’m here to say is that I’m tired of it.

I’m tired of what I’m seeing. I’m tired of what I’m hearing. I’m tired of what is happening, here, in our country and around the world, in 2014.

And you should be, too.

If we want change to happen, it must start here.

With you. And with me.

And though it’s easy to tsk, shake your head, and ‘like’ someone’s angry comment when they share this kind of thing on facebook, that’s not enough anymore. Because you know what? It’s not working.

We need to do more.

Clearly we need to do more if acts of prejudice like this are still occurring in and around schools in 2014. Someone, somewhere is not getting a pretty important message.

So I’m presenting a challenge to you, and I’m taking it on myself. And I’m hoping–actually, I’m praying–that it begins to make a difference.

It’ll take all of us. And goodness knows we’ll need a little luck.

change to happen |

But this is the thing: if we want change to happen, it must start here.

With you. And with me.

Here’s what we need to do and here’s how we can use our voice:

1. Speak up.  In any way you are able. It doesn’t matter how. Just speak up.

Speaking up may look different to all of us, depending on where we are and where we’re coming from.

And I know it’s not easy. But it’s time we start to use our voice, even if it begins with a whisper.

  • Comment on a friend’s facebook status if he or she shares an article or a link about something that feels unjust.
  • Share your own findings–articles or facts or statements that express racial prejudice or injustice–via twitter or facebook or pinterest.
  • Shake your head ‘no’ and walk away when a friend or colleague starts to share his or her prejudiced ideas. Make it clear that you do not share his or her opinions.
  • Excuse yourself from conversations where prejudiced ideas or topics are being discussed. Explain that you do not share the same feelings and that you are not comfortable with the direction the conversation is going.
  • Don’t allow racial jokes in or around your home. If neighbors, extended family, or colleagues joke this way, politely ask them to stop.

This is the thing: if we want change to happen, it must start here.

With you. And with me.

And so we will also. . .

2.Talk about tough topics. With your friends, with your kids, with your spouse.

There’s plenty of material out there, my friends.

Start with our history books.  Watch today’s news.

Talk about slavery.  But talk about how far we all have come to abolish it and to bring our country to a better place. Talk about the awful and the ugly, but talk about the bravery. Talk about power in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words. Talk about the beauty of people taking risks to support their brothers and sisters, no matter the color of their skin.

Talk about why things like the powderpuff team wearing blackface is not okay and how hurtful and careless and demeaning it is.

Talk about what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri, and talk about the verdict once it’s shared.

Need a starting point? Black History Month Resources for Families last year. If it’s too overwhelming, just pick up Unspoken, by Henry Cole. It’s a wordless picture book about a little farm girl and a little boy, a runaway slave.  And though it doesn’t answer all questions, it can begin the dialogue for you and your children about this period in our nation’s history and how things are different today.

Talk about race with your friends. Openly and honestly. Talk about what’s happening in the news and how they feel about it. We must have the dialogue, my friends. We must open up the conversation.

And if you’re not completely comfortable with it, it’s okay.  Just be honest. Explain how you’re feeling, and as long as you’re honest and you’re coming from a peaceful place, you will be fine.

Remember that this is the thing: if we want change to happen, it must start here.

With you. And with me.

We will also come together and . . .

3. Celebrate differences.  Celebrate the fact that your children go to school with tons of different people, from all walks of life, with unique hair, skin, and eye colors.   Talk about how cool it is that some kids are preparing for their First Communions while others go to Hebrew school.  Talk about why some of them don’t celebrate their birthdays, while others get to go to Disney World each year for theirs.

Talk about how glasses help Bella see better in the same way that extra reading lessons help Alex read better.

Talk about why some kids buy lunch every day or eat breakfast at school while others bring lunch each day.

Talk about the fact that even though Carly zips through her Mad Minutes in no time flat, Mark can whistle like nobody’s business, and Maddy can do a back handspring on her own.  Lauren can recite an entire poem by heart, and Vincent can write with both hands. Everyone has different strengths; one is not better than another. They’re just different.

Talk about the fact that yes, Nina has a hard time sitting still in class, but she still deserves to learn at your school with your talented teachers.

Talk about the fact that Cole might need the teacher’s help more than the other students, but maybe that’s because his mom was busy working two jobs to put food on the table so she wasn’t able to help him with his ABCs before he got to Kindergarten.

Discuss the fact that some kids’ parents are divorced, some have two moms (or dads), some have one parent, and some are being raised by grandparents. Talk about why some kids live in a one-room apartment while others could land a small plane in their back yards, why some kids’ parents are able to help out in the classroom while others cannot.

Talk about how hard it must be for some families to attend Math Night–because English is not their first language–but how awesome it is that they came anyway. Talk about why your school must have an International Night every single year, even if it’s a homogeneous mix of students.  Make your kids read every single display there and walk around with them, talking about what you see and conversing with each family.

Fill your house with books that celebrate diversity. Read them. Share them. Read them again. Share them again.

Do all of this because really, if we want change to happen, it must start here.

With you. And with me.

Step back a bit, my friends, and . . .

4. Listen to what you say.  I mean really, truly listen to what you say.

  • Are you using derogatory racial terms but don’t even realize it? Think.  Really think hard.
  • Do you use the terms ‘gay’, ‘retarded’ or ‘ghetto’ to describe negative situations or events?
  • Are you singing songs that convey racial–or gender or any type–of stereotypes?
  • Do the programs or games in your home support stereotypes?
  • Do you express prejudice in what you say or do? In the way you interact with those around you?
  • Are you perpetuating the cycle of gossip and toxicity by contributing to negative conversations with friends and colleagues?
  • Do you welcome new people or groups to your clubs and organizations?
  • How do you respond to new ideas, to change, to revisiting old systems and processes?
  • Do you openly proclaim your faith but act in ways that are contrary to those beliefs?
  • Do your expectations for your children vary? Do you demand more from one and less from another?  Are those expectations just?
  • Do you treat your students, colleagues, or friends differently based on their race or gender? 

Just think about it. Be aware, and be brave.

Remember, if we want change to happen, it must start here.

With you. And with me.

Because we all have a voice and it’s time we used it.

Even if it starts as a whisper.


Thanks for hanging in with me. I know this is long, and I know it might be a lot. But you know what? I took a risk and used my voice.

Because really, something has to change, my friends. Something has to change.



fyi: One link in the post above is an “affiliate link.” 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 |

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:

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

holiday note gift idea for families: unique, thoughtful, and FREE

holiday note gift idea for families: unique, thoughtful, free |

post contains affiliate links



Post originally published on 11/24/09 but republishing because I think it’s worth it.  



holiday note gift idea for families | teachmama.comIt’s so easy for our little ones (and even adults sometimes!) to lose sight of what the holiday season is all about.

So last year, when I saw this idea on a late-night, dvr’d Oprah, I knew I wanted to use it. With a little prompting, my family tried out Holiday Notes with both sides of the family.

Even though some interpreted the exchange a little differently, it was a success overall. Most have said they want to do it again, and with a little tweaking, hopefully it will become a worthwhile and cherished holiday tradition.

This Quick Trick is far from quick, but it’s something that seemed to work well for us, so I thought I’d share.

  • Holiday Notes: The idea behind Holiday Notes is that everyone takes a small amount of time to complete one of three different note cards for each member of the family. Over the holiday season–or at a holiday gathering–the notes are then delivered to each person’s special box, envelope, or bag and is read at another time.

Since our immediate family presented both sides of our extended family with the idea, we made special Holiday Note Card boxes for each person–as our small gift.

holiday note gift idea for families |

I picked up the small wooden favor bags at the craft store, and each maybe cost a dollar. Then over the course of two or three weeks, Maddy, Owen, Cora, and I worked on the bags.

First we painted all of them. Then we glitzed, beautified, and decorated. We added bows, glitter (glitter glue is easiest!), sparkles, ribbon, sequins, feathers, and anything we wanted, trying to make each one special for every person in our family.

After everything was dried, we added appropriate name tags.


Then we sat down together and wrote short messages. And I mean short. The three Holiday Note Cards each begin a sentence, and the note cards are tiny.

All our personal messages do is complete the sentence. One note begins, What I love about you. . . The other is My holiday wish for you. . . , and the last one is Thank you for. . .

The Holiday Note Cards can be downloaded here if you’d like: holiday note cards

(Please, if you choose to share them, link to this post instead of the attachment page! Thank you!)

Sure, some notes were longer than others. Some messages turned out to be completely hysterical, and others were more sentimental. Some were really long, and others were just one sentence.

holiday note gift idea for families | teachmama.commore note bags

Maddy and Owen (as a 4 and 3-year-old) were very excited about what we were doing. As we worked on the bags, I’d ask them what they wanted to thank their Nanny for or what they wished for their sweet cousin.

I was often surprised at what they remembered (Maddy wanted to thank her Great Grandma for letting her “ice” her own bagels with cream cheese, and Owen loved his Great Grandma’s great big loud laugh and wished that his Nana’s cats weren’t always hiding around her house).

We wrote Cora’s for her because she was so young, but no one was too young to appreciate reading the notes that were written to them. We read them over and over and over. My husband and I both read and re-read our own notes from family members.

Sometimes even a short note–one or two sentences–can mean so much.

holiday note gift idea for families |


We’ll do these notes every year as an immediate family, and maybe the tradition will continue for a few years with our extended family–or maybe this will be the last year. It can become a lot to do when there are many people involved.

But for us, the act of sitting down together, really thinking about what we are thankful for, what we wish for for our loved ones, and what we love about them is what the holidays are all about.

Toys will come and go, but these notes–and the bonds they will help to create–we hope will last for years and years and years and years. Happy Holidays!

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



fyi: 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 |

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

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

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

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:
If I can’t answer it, I’ll find someone who can!


fyi: affiliate links used in this post