fun summertime learning for kids: tabletop surprises

fun summertime learning for kids: tabletop surprises

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the skinny. . .

Fun Summertime Learning for Kids–Tabletop Surprises:







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


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fun summertime learning for kids: tabletop surprises

kids make their own commercials: creative, techy fun

kids make commercials |

kids make commercials |


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Here’s the skinny. . .

Kids Make Their Own Commercials–Creative, Techy Fun:

So the note on the table read:

lights, camera, ACTION!

Make a commercial for any product you want!

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

Showing at 4pm TODAY

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

I just wanted them to have ideas. Starting points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cora grabbed the iPad and went nose to screen.

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

With permission, I’m sharing their finished creations:

Cora’s commercial:


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

I mean. . .I’d subscribe! (wink!)


Owen went for the scary edge.

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


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

Owen was good with his one scary movie.

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

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

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

And so was I.


Join us!

summer fun for kids |



Follow us on Instagram: @teachmama1  / #tabletopsurprises

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10 cool ways to read the Percy Jackson series

10 ways to read percy jackson |

post contains affiliate links




I’m always so thrilled to share with you fun literacy-related events and celebrations, and this summer, we’ve got a big one: it’s the 10th Anniversary of the publication of The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan. WOOT!

And, as part of the team of bloggers who will be celebrating all summer long the awesome that is Percy Jackson and the Olympians, I’ll be writing a bit each month about why this series rocks and why you—and your kids!—should get on board.

10 ways to read percy jackson |

I’m also giving away an entire boxed set of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. For real.

And I’ll be sharing some cool deals and freebies for you.

Talk about a sweet way to ring in the summer, right?

To kick off this event, I’m sharing some ideas for you. Some cool ways for you toget your Percy Jackson read on.

Here’s the skinny. . .

10 Cool Ways to Read the Percy Jackson Series:

1. In a museum.  Because this is where The Lightning Thief opens, when Percy realizes that something is just not right.

2. Near an arcade.  In the book, people never age in the arcade. But warning: you will.

3. In bed. Not Crusty’s Water Bed Palace where ‘Crusty’ tries to trick Annabeth and Grover, but your bed. You’re much more safe in  your bed.

4.  On a bus. Percy’s bus breaks down after he sees one of the three ladies cut the yarn with golden scissors. Let’s hope your bus makes the trip!

5.  While in a cabin. Percy goes to Camp Half-Blood, a Greek demi-god training facility on Long Island. Read this book in a cabin as if you’re a camper there, too!

6.  While wearing a baseball cap. Annabelle wears her invisibility Yankee’s cap given to her mom, Athena. Your cap will most likely not make you invisible, but you can pretend.

7. Near the ocean (okay, or a pool or some water).  Percy is the demigod son of Poseidon.  Poseidon is the god of water.  Read near the water to feel a little closer to Percy.

8.  By the light of a lightning bolt (or glow stick).  Percy’s quest in The Lightning Thief is to retrieve Zeus’s stolen master bolt.  Read by the light of a glowstick to feel inspired!

9.  While eating something blue.  Percy’s favorite color is blue, and his mom, Sally, is on a constant quest for blue food.  Eat a little something blue to get in the Percy and Sally spirit.

10.  Near a campfire. Hades appears in the campfire when the quest begins. And so? Your Percy Jackson experience can begin here too!

What do you think? Sound good!



GIVEAWAY: A complete boxed set of Percy Jackson and the Olympians series!

Do you want to win your own complete boxed set of Percy Jackson and the Olympians series??!  Yes, yes you do.

Please use the Rafflecopter widget below to throw your name in the hat:

a Rafflecopter giveaway
By entering this giveaway, you are demonstrating your understanding of and compliance with the Official Sweepstakes Rules.

This giveaway ends Tuesday, June 30, 2015 at midnight ET and is open to folks here in the US only. Winner will be chosen by ‘Rafflecopter’ and will be notified on or around 06/30/15.  Winner must respond within three (3) days of notification or forfeit the prize, in which case an alternate winner will be selected.  All Official Sweepstakes Rules apply.


But wait. There’s more!

There’s something for everyone here!


Check out the awesome freebies below: 

  • The Lightning Thief will be discounted to $.99 across all eBook accounts for one full week (6/15-6/22)! It also includes a sneak peek chapter excerpt from Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book One: The Sword of Summer.
  • Catch a sneak peek of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book One: The Sword of Summer — available online at!



fyi: I’m writing this post as part of a partnership with Disney-Hyperion; however, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my personal experience as a parent and educator–and, of course, my three little Percy fans.


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.

fun summertime learning for kids: tabletop surprises

summer fun for kids tabletop surprises wk 1 teachmama

summer fun for kids tabletop surprises wk 1 teachmama


Every weekday in the summertime, I start the day by sharing a #tabletopsurprises post.

Just one quick picture of what’s in store for Maddy, Owen, and Cora for their tabletop surprise that day.

Are you on Instagram? If so, I’d love to follow you.

And if you’re joining us in our tabletop surprises this summer, I’d love, love, love for you to share your photos tagged with #tabletopsurprises — it’s so cool to see what everyone is doing!  Use #tabletopsurprises on your photo, and I’ll follow you back.

So here’s the skinny for this week. . .

We started on a Tuesday because the kids’ last day of school was Monday. 

Fun Summertime Learning for Kids– #tabletopsurprises week 1:



Matchstick Math! #tabletopsurprises #math #familyfun #kids #summerfun #ontheblog

A photo posted by amy mascott (@teachmama1) on




Good, ole fashioned Play-Doh day! #tabletopsurprises #Iloveplaydoh #freeplay #summerfun #photooftheday

A photo posted by amy mascott (@teachmama1) on



Join us!

summer fun for kids |


teacher gifts for the last-minute parent

teacher gift -


teacher gift - 2

This week, my kids are out of school, but before they busted out of those doors, we wanted to give their teachers a tiny token of our appreciation for their hard work and dedication.

But we didn’t have a whole lot of time.

We were away last weekend. We were preparing for Maddy’s 5th grade recognition this week. We are in the middle of a basement renovation.  We’re finishing up spring activities and moving into summertime swim and dive.

It’s a lot.

So we had to think of something cute, clever, and quick.

Inspired by our Teacher Appreciation gifts last year, we made some pretty cool pencil holders for teachers this year, and they turned out really awesome.

In fact, we’re all quite proud of our work and think these gifts are really for anyone to make–last-minute or not.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Teacher Gifts for the Last-Minute Parent:

I always want to do something nice for our kids’ teachers because we know how difficult their job really is. But I always want their gift to be practical and useful. Bottom line.

teacher gifts for the last-minute parent

teacher gifts for the last-minute parent


This teacher gift for the last-minute parent is both practical and useful; it’s a lazy susan pencil holder with fun, funky words on it.  

Simple. And so cute.

teacher gifts for the last-minute parent

For this teacher gift, you’ll need:

Here’s how to make it:

1. Choose the word(s) you want displayed on the pencil holder.

We chose things like school, teach, learn, listen, math, read. I wrote the ideas down on paper and then told Maddy, Owen, and Cora to choose the words they wanted on their teachers’ gift.

teacher gifts for the last-minute parent

teacher gifts for the last-minute parent


2. Glue the words onto the gift. Easy!

We used our hot glue gun, and though it wasn’t perfect, it did the job.

teacher gifts for the last-minute parent

teacher gifts for the last-minute parent


Maddy and Owen each wrote a thank you note to their teacher, a la the freebie teacher appreciation printables I created for HP’s blog, but Cora’s was a bit different.

I was the room parent for Cora’s class, so we did things a little differently for her teacher.

A few weeks ago, I asked each parent to have his or her child write a quick thank you note to the teacher. Once I had them all, I rolled each note separately, then I tied a yellow or white ribbon around it.

We placed each note one of the compartments and voila!

teacher gift -

We also really upped the fun factor for Cora’s teacher.

Here’s what we did–we: 

  • added a pretty nice gift card to a great local store;
  • included some cool framed teacher appreciation quotes (you can totally grab these, too!);
  • gave her a copy of Jessica Turner’s Fringe Hours book and notepads;
  • wrapped it all in a nice gift bag.

teacher gifts for the last-minute parent

teacher gift |

And that’s it–a gift for teachers that the kids helped create and that took not a whole lot of time.

It’s a win!

teacher gifts for the last-minute parent
teacher gifts for the last-minute parent

teacher gifts |

teacher gifts |

teacher gifts |

What other ideas do you have for last-minute teacher gifts?

We’d love to hear them!


Follow amy mascott @teachmama’s board school & teacher appreciation on Pinterest.



fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

cool instagram accounts for tweens and new users to follow

cool instagram accounts for tweens and new users to follow |

cool instagram accounts for tweens and new users to follow |

Oh, friends.

How I’ve fought the hard Instagram battle with my tween this year, and finally I let in.

Under many, many conditions:

  • We signed an updated Family Media Agreement.
  • We still use Screen Time Cards.
  • Phone use is restricted to our main floor of our house (not used upstairs).
  • We approve only followers we know personally or that I approve.
  • Her account is private–not public.
  • The phone is ours–not hers–but it’s being used by her, so any time we want to check on things, we can and do.
  • I follow her friends.
  • And more, like constant conversation and an open door for questions any time.

But what I realized is that as a tween, teen, or new user, it’s hard to find cool accounts to follow, so it’s difficult to really know how to properly use Instagram.

Sure, you want your kids to be able to follow their friends, but do you know what most of their friends are doing? A whole lot of duck-faced selfies, that’s what. A whole lot of selfies. Lots. Of. Selfies.  Don’t get me wrong–selfies are fine. But all of the time? Gets a little old.

How about changing things up a bit? Showing our new, younger users cool ways to use Instagram?

Really, there are so many creative and thoughtful ways to use this platform; it’s designed to be visually appealing, creative, and memorable. The problem is that kids need models. They need good examples.

Just like when I was teaching kids how to write a strong paragraph, thesis essay, or research paper–they need models. Examples. So they know what good looks like.

So Maddy and I have been searching and searching and searching this year to find cool Instagram accounts to follow.

We’ve found a ton.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Instagram Accounts for Tweens and New Users to Follow: 

Remember, friends, this is not a perfect list. And it’s only a start.

If you and your spouse make the decision to allow your child to use Instagram, you must be aware of the Terms of Service. You must first take into consideration how the platform is used and why you need to be an active part of the use.

Our family decided that we’d allow Maddy to give it a try with a whole lot of support.

And with support comes a whole lot of great people to follow so our new user learned how to use the platform by viewing firsthand how some people were really rocking it.

Here are a few cool users to follow if you–or your child–are just starting out on Instagram:



It’s Robby the Kid President. On instagram. He’s inspiring and awesome. Everyone should follow him.

instagram accounts for tweens | kid pres




Yep. THE White House is on Instagram. Did you even know that? My thought is this: if our kids are on Instagram and the White House is on Instagram, then our kids should definitely follow the White House. At the very least they’ll know what their president is up to.

instagram accounts for tweens | white house


Online community of book lovers –a division of Scholastic.  Everything teen. Great spot to find new titles!

instagram accounts for tweens |



If you’re not following Humans of New York, you better be. It’s simply the most incredible photo journal I’ve ever encountered. Brandon Stanton is the photographer, and he basically photographs New Yorkers. And the coolest part? He shares their stories.

Buy the book. We’re obsessed. And though Maddy has asked me questions sometimes–because some of the stories are a little thought-provoking or sad–it’s a conversation worth having with your tween or teen.

instagram accounts for tweens | humans of ny



As in ‘playmobil’ and little photo scenes.  Just fun.  How cool is this? And what fun our kids could have with doing something like this themselves!

instagram accounts for tweens |



Food 52:

I like this account because the focus is to help people be smarter, happier cooks. And the photos of food are beautiful.

instagram accounts for tweens |



All photos taken with a GoPro–and if you don’t know what a GoPro is, it’s a teeny camera that mounts to just about anything, allowing for people to video very cool things. This account, as you can imagine, shares some really awesome photographs.

instagram accounts for tweens | gopro


I love the idea behind these bracelets–they contain water from Mt. Everest, the highest point on earth, and mud from the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. By wearing the bracelet, you are reminded to strive for balance in your life. The bracelets are photographed all over the world–it’s so cool to sea where they are and how people photograph them.

instagram accounts for tweens | gopro



Animal photos. Surprisingly human animal photos.

instagram accounts for tweens | animal planet



Not even joking when I say that the awesome of this profile is that Angie is mom to ‘Mayhem’–a 5 year old who literally creates runway dresses and costumes out of paper.  The outfits either come to her or she tries to replicate what the stars are wearing. Your kids–and you–will fall in love with this feed.

instagram accounts for tweens | mayhem



Gorgeous, breathtaking photos. We’re huge fans of the Discovery Channel over here, so this is a favorite.

instagram accounts for tweens | gopro



Love our littleBits sets, so this platform shares photos and videos of the littleBits at work–moving, blinking, beeping, and making magic happen, one circuit at a time.

instagram accounts for tweens | littlebits



Bright and beautiful school supplies. Everyone loves school supplies. Right? We sure do.  Have you ever seen them look so pretty?

instagram accounts for tweens | yobi



The official account for National Geographic Travel means Awesome. Photos. The. End.

instagram accounts for tweens |



Maya is a bulldog in NYC.  This profile chronicles her adventures.  I love it.

instagram accounts for tweens | maya



Pretty food. Pretty, pretty, absolutely gorgeous food.  Like food art in such a fun way.

instagram accounts for tweens |




Photos from National Geographic photographers. And stories to go with them.

instagram accounts for tweens | natgeo



You guys. Food art. More of it. But different in that these photos sometimes make you forget that you’re looking at food. It’s just awesome.

instagram accounts for tweens |



My girls love this magazine, and the Instagram profile is just as beautiful.  Sure, kids posing as models all glammed up isn’t my thing, but these kids look cool. And they’re low on makeup.

instagram accounts for tweens |


Tracey shares everything Young Adult and New Adult books. She’s cool. And maybe she’ll inspire our kiddos to do some more reading.

instagram accounts for tweens |


The ONE campaign is just plain fantastic. What they do rocks. And so do all their photos. Hoping that this gets users psyched to do something, to make a change. To get involved.

instagram accounts for tweens | one




Amy Poehler and her bff Meredith Walker created Smart Girls to celebrate awesome girls–every girl. The photos are fun. And the message is stellar.

instagram accounts for tweens | amy



From Macmillan Children’s Publishing–books and more books.

instagram accounts for tweens |



My sweet friend Jessica shares her photos of her gorgeous little familia and their furry boy. First it was #TheoandBeau and then it became #TheoandEvvie. The photos are incredible, and the awesome thing is that Jessica and her family are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside.

instagram accounts for tweens | jessica



BEFORE you follow this account, check it out for yourself. Most are positive quotes. Many are happy and really what we all need. Every day.

But some? A little edgy and questionable. Just check it out.

instagram accounts for tweens | quote

That’s right. A word a day. And why not celebrate words on Instagram?

instagram accounts for tweens | dictionary



Friends. Are we following each other? Let’s.

Check it out–


Follow me for fun, quick learning ideas and activities.  In the summer, every single day I’ll post our #tabletopsurprises. And on Friday I’ll share a round-up here.

instagram accounts for tweens | teach mama

On Instagram, I tend to keep things pretty simple withphotos of some of the cool things we’re up to that don’t always make it to the blog.

But this year, I’m adding a little quickie video as well. Should be fun.

And if nothing else, I do hope it inspires you to get a little crafty and creative with your crew during the long summer months.



What are your other favorite, must-follow Instagram accounts?

I’ll let you in on a little secret–this is the first of a series of posts. I have a ton of great profiles to follow that wouldn’t fit in this one post, so do let me know who yours are, and I’ll do my best to add them!

And remember–these are not all G-rated; you must use this platform, as in all social media platforms, with your discretion.

Check out our initial Instagram post for more information:

how to talk to your kids about instagram | #digitalliteracy #digitalkids


digital kids |



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. This small percentage of money helps offset the costs of hosting this blog, which helps me keep this content free for you. 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

cool activities for kids all summer long: NEW tabletop surprises

cool activities for kids all summer long: NEW tabletop surprises

cool activities for kids all summer long: NEW tabletop surprises


It’s here! It’s here! It’s heeerrreeeee!

I’m so happy. I’m so excited.

And more than ever, I’m over the moon thrilled and elated that summer is right around the corner!

Though I work from home, and it’s always an adjustment to have all the kids home all day long, and we have a busy swim and dive schedule, and ohmygosh I have to feed three kids three meals every single day for like a million days, I have found the most awesome plan for summer fun for my kids–tabletop surprises.

This will be the third summer we’re rocking tabletop surprises, and the kids–and I–couldn’t be more ready to rock and roll!

Here’s the skinny. . .

Cool Activities for Kids All Summer Long–NEW Tabletop Surprises: 

Tabletop Surprises are what works for us because I have three different kids–11, 9, and 8 years old–each with their own personality and plans.

And Tabletop Surprises work for us all.

What are Tabletop Surprises? Tabletop Surprises are invitations to learn, play, create, invent, and think–on their own time. 

Little fun activities just waiting for someone to come along and try ‘em out.

tabletop surprises 2

This year, everyone helped make the calendars. 

I brought out last year’s Tabletop Surprises calendars, and Maddy, Owen, and Cora wrote, scratched, added, and edited.

summer fun for older kids tabletop surprises

summer fun for older kids tabletop surprises

summer fun for older kids tabletop surprises

I want this summer to be fun for them. And I want them to have some say in what we do each day.

And though they had their own ideas about what they wanted their summer to look like (see below!), I added, adapted, and think they’ll be pretty happy with what we have planned.

Despite what it may look like, Tabletop Surprises allow for so much flexibility in our schedules. They’re short activities that can be done independently (for the most part), so if something fun comes up in our schedule, we drop and go.

That simple.

summer fun for older kids tabletop surprises

How to I get the kids to actually sit down and do the activities? 

A few ways:

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

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

3.  I’ll join them. Really.

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

tabletop surprises 2

What are the ideas and what makes them so fun?

The activities are hands-on. They’re cool. They’re creative and crafty. They’re unusual. They’re familiar. They’re old and they’re new. They’re digital and battery-free. They’re indoors and outdoors.

It’s a mix, and that keeps them going. And it’s only ten weeks. That gives us one week for vacation and one week to totally pound out math packets and summer school assignments.

And really? I have a whole bunch of back-up this year–4 extra weeks planned out roughly. Just a whole bunch of extra cool, fun things that kids might want to do if and when we find time.

tabletop surprises calendar 2015 |

What do you think? Ready to give Tabletop Surprises a look? 


  1. Print out the calendar: tabletop surprises calendar 2015
  2. Subscribe to via email.
  3. Download the Tabletop Surprises Resource Guide (you’ll get it when you confirm your subscription, yo!).
  4. Give your kids the skinny on Tabletop Surprises.  Tell them: This summer is totally going to rock. Each day, you’ll have a fun activity waiting right here on the table for you. All summer long. Not even kidding. You’re that lucky.
  5. Start learning, playing, creating, inventing, and thinking alongside your kiddos!
  6. And? Share your #tabletopsurprises via instagram or twitter  just for fun.  We will have a few goodies along the way for families who jump in on the fun. So start sharing and start learning.
  7. Now. Go ahead and create the summer of your dreams. Well. . .

tabletop surprises 2

Wait. What’s holding you back?

My kids. They’re totally not game for anything anymore now that they’re tweens and teens.

Um. I understand. I get it. My kids have days when they just want to hole up and ignore me. And that’s fine. But there are many days when they want fun things to do.

They want an excuse to play with their old faves, to get their hands dirty, to explore and have fun.

And Tabletop Surprises let them do just that.

tabletop surprises calendar 2015 |

Me. I’m busy. I don’t have time for this. 

Yes. You. Do.  I’ve got every single thing you need right here. Ten weeks.  Links to resources and everything.  Just print out a few things, gather supplies the night before and set it out on your table or a small shelf or somewhere so it’s all there when the kids wake up.  They’ll do it when they’re able.

In fact, I’ve so got this covered, that if you subscribe to via email (only a few emails a week–full of awesome for you and your kids!) you’ll have access to every single thing you need for the entire ten weeks. Every link. Every printable. Bam.


Okay, well. . . I may just be convinced.

Give me a look at this stuff. 

Sure. Check out last year’s Tabletop Surprises to get an idea about what we’re doing.

tabletop surprise 2015 sign up teachmam

Or check out 2013:

Or check out our

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

Disney SUPRISE |

Disney SUPRISE |

Last week, we went to Disney World.

For real.

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

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

So this time we wanted to do something different.

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

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

But we did it, and we had a blast.

Here’s the skinny. .

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

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

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

I think that worked best.

So we did this:

Disney SUPRISE |


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

Disney SUPRISE |

Disney SUPRISE |


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

On each suitcase was:

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

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

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

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

Disney SUPRISE |


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

Here’s the packing frenzy checksheet:

Disney SUPRISE |


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

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

Disney SUPRISE |


It was awesome.

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

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

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

Disney SUPRISE |

Parent Checklist: parent checklist _ disney surprise

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


Here are a few other post about all things Disney: 


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

coral reefs of Palau: The Nature Conservancy free virtual field trip and learning resources

coral reefs of Palauvirtual field trip

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coral reefs of Palauvirtual field trip

Right about now a lot of us are thinking about sun, sand, and surf.

I know I am. School’s almost out, and over here, we’re all ready for summer to begin.

But before school lets out for the year, there’s still a bunch of learning to be done.

And for those of us who are heading to the shore this summer, those of us who are planning on dipping our toes in the ocean, it might be cool to learn a bit about life underwater–the interconnected city of life in the sea.

Guess what? You can take a trip to the coral reefs of Palau with the click of a button.

Not kidding.

This month, with thanks to The Nature Conservancy’s Nature Works Everywhere, students can take a virtual field trip to learn about the miracle and magic of the coral reefs.

May 19th. 12pm ET.

You’re invited! You’re all invited.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Coral Reefs of Palau: The Nature Conservancy Free Virtual Field Trip and Learning Resources

For real.

Mark your calendars, share this post with your child’s teacher.

Forward this link to your school’s administration so that they can share the link with staff.

The Coral Reefs of Palau: Nature’s Amazing Underwater Cities is the latest in a series aimed to build students’ knowledge of and emotional connection to environmental issues that are at the heart of The Nature Conservancy’s mission.

Got it? Good!

Here are the details:

Who:  teachers, students, parents, anyone

What:virtual field trip! The Coral Reefs of Palau: Nature’s Amazing Underwater Cities free virtual field trip and learning resources  hosted byMarine Biologist Stephanie Wear.

Here, sharks snatch up smaller prey; decorator crabs apply bits of shell, algae, and sponge to their own backs for camouflage; and massive 2,000-pound sea cows graze. Our journey to the Coral Reefs will open students’ eyes to an amazing, interconnected ecosystem built on symbiosis and mutualism, where diverse organisms are designed to protect, clean, nourish, and even camouflage one another. In this underwater city, the coral supports its many “workers” and they, in turn, keep the coral healthy.

Called “the medicine chests of the sea,” Coral Reefs provide ingredients that are leading to new lifesaving medications. They are also an astonishingly rich source of food for many species, including humans, and provide a perfect buffer to protect shorelines from erosion. Join our expert scientist, , as we take a deep dive to learn about one of the “seven underwater wonders of the world.” May 19, 2015 at 12:00 pm (ET). Length: 40 minutes.

Why: to show students that in the Coral Reefs, everything is interconnected—and this includes people. The Coral Reefs function like an undersea city, with every organism having an important role.

Where: whatever works for you–

When: May 19th 2015 at 12 pm ET

How: sign up to take part in the virtual field trip here


Check out Stephanie Wear as she talks about coral reefs feeding and protecting us. (Hint: Use it as a background knowledge builder for the upcoming field trip!)


And more: Check out these supplementary resources to really hit the ball out of the park!

The Nature Conservancy provides tons of resources that bring learning to life.

And we can experience so many cool things thanks to Nature Works Everywhere.


The Nature Conservancy virtual field trip and learning resources: Wild Biomes-- From America's Rainforest to America's Desert


I have been in awe of the work that The Nature Conservancy’s Nature Works Everywhere has been doing to bring learning to life.

In fact, the kids and I have been a bit obsessed ever since I wrote about the Wild Biome Virtual field trip last month. To get a sense of what these virtual field trips are like, you can check out our last post or you can find two of the past Virtual Field Trips here.






Again, huge thanks goes to great organizations like The Nature Conservancy and Nature Works Everywhere, for their work to make learning and resources hands-on, accessible, and meaningful.

Check it out!coral reefs virtual field trip


Want to check out a past Virtual Field trip from The Nature Conservancy?

The Nature Conservancy virtual field trip and learning resources: Wild Biomes-- From America's Rainforest to America's Desert


fyi: This post was written as part of a partnership with The Nature Conservancy and We Are Teachers; as always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator. 

3 ways to stay connected with long-distance family and friends

3 ways to stay connected to family

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3 ways to stay connected to family

I’ve shared time and time again how hard it is for me to live hours from my parents and sisters, even if it’s only a three and a half hour drive.

Sure, it’s a short enough distance that we can make it there and back in a day if need be, but it’s too long to make a quick stop for a Sunday dinner. Or to grab a last-minute babysitter. Or to have a desperately-needed girls’ night out with sisters or mom.

Luckily, though, my kids have a great relationship with their Nanny and Pap and  their PA cousins, aunts and uncles, no matter the distance. But we’ve had to be creative over the years in order to stay in touch.

We’ve got three ways to stay connected with long-distance family and friends.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Stay Connected with Long-Distance Family and Friends:

1. Power Note-Writing

3 ways to stay connected to family

Especially for my Nana who is 92, the power note writing is really helpful because Power Note Writing is just that–writing a bunch of notes at one sitting.

Maddy, Owen, Cora, and I sit down for a few hours one afternoon, and we write tons of notes at once.

3 ways to stay connected to family

3 ways to stay connected to family

We essentially catch her up on everything that’s going on in our lives. We add photos, we add stickers, we add flowers and jewels.

We get crafty and creative and have a whole lot of fun with it.

3 ways to stay connected to family

And then we sign, seal, and stamp each note but add one more important element–a sticky note with a date on it.

3 ways to stay connected to family

3 ways to stay connected to family

That date tells us when to put the letter in the mail so that Nana isn’t inundated with mail on one day; instead every few days, we grab a note and put it in the mailbox so that every few days, Nana is surprised with a fun and happy little ‘hello’ from her Maryland great-grandchildren.


2. Panasonic HomeTeam™ app

One thing that sure does make staying in touch easier is today’s technology.

3 ways to stay connected to family

I’m always willing to take a look at the latest and greatest when it comes to apps and programs that make staying in touch easier–because goodness knows that we’re being pulled in a million different directions all of the time.

I’ve found something that’s really worth checking out: the Panasonic HomeTeam™ app.


3 ways to stay connected to family

3 ways to stay connected to family

It’s an online service that connects loved ones across generations and distance. And the cool thing is that family members can read stories and play games together even when they’re far apart. And the platform is super-easy to navigate for those less than tech-savvy family members.

HomeTeam is a platform where cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents–anyone!–can connect in a safe way and spend time together.

3 ways to stay connected to family

Hundreds of stories are available, like Curious George, Martha Speaks, 5 Little Monkeys, Tuesday, Mr. Wuffles, Jumanji, Animal Sounds, and more–as well as dozens of games like chess, checkers, tic-tac-toe, and more. HomeTeam gives families something to do together that packs a powerful punch–learning and fun.

Definitely check it out.

3 ways to stay connected to family

3 ways to stay connected to family

3 ways to stay connected to family

Though it is a paid platform, you get a free 30-day trial, so it’s totally worth trying and seeing if it works for your family.

fyi: Anyone can sample the entire HomeTeam experience, including unlimited access to content and all features free of charge for 30 days. After that, a premium subscription for continued access to unlimited content is available by month ($7.99/mo) and by year ($79.99/yr).

Find more ideas for memory-making with your family thanks to Scholastic and Panasonic.

3 ways to stay connected to family


3. Weekly Check-In Calls  

I know several friends who keep a standing ‘date’ on the calendar each week for a phone call with grandparents.

3 ways to stay connected to family

They pick a day and a time that works, and they know that every week at that time, the grandkids will have a quick catch-up call.

It’s a super time for stories to be exchanged, for questions to be asked, and for connections to be made.

3 ways to stay connected to family

Some may believe that the ole phone has become obsolete, but I beg to differ. It’s easy, it’s (usually) fool-proof, and it’s quick.

Put a reminder on your phone. Set the date in pen on your calendar. It’s easier than you think!


How do you stay in touch with long-distance family and friends? I’d love to hear it!


fyi: This is a sponsored post, written as part of a partnership with Panasonic. However, as always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator, trying to keep my family connected and in touch.

egg dying 101: making egg dying as mess-free, easy, and FUN as possible for families

egg dying 101 cover

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egg dying 101 cover

Many parents rank egg dying up there with pumpkin carving: a highly-anticipated activity that often results in a huge mess, complete with crying kids and frustrated parents.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. At all.

In fact, I have a few tricks for you that will make egg dying as mess-free, easy, and fun as possible for families.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Egg-Dying 101–Making Egg-Dying as Mess-Free, Easy, and FUN as Possible for Families:

It’s not rocket science, friends. In fact, these few steps will make

1. Have your tools and workspace ready.

egg dying 101 |

egg dying 101 |

You’ll need the following:

  • eggs! (We usually shoot for 6-10 eggs per child.)
  • egg dye tablets
  • plastic tablecloth
  • water
  • color cups
  • vinegar
  • whisk
  • PAAS egg dipper
  • paper towels
  • wire drying rack and/or egg dying box (did you know it doubles as a drying rack?)

Set up your work space.

egg dying 101  teachmama.com1. To determine which dye tablet belongs in which color cup, gently rub the tablet on a damp paper towel. SUPER cool tip, right?

2. Then place the proper tablet in its matching egg cup: blue tablet in blue cup, yellow in yellow cup, etc.

3. Dissolve the dye tablets by adding 1 Tablespoon of vinegar to each egg cup–EXCEPT THE PINK CUP!  The pink dye is more vibrant without vinegar–who knew?  And? Your welcome for that second really cool tip.egg dying 101

4. Once the dye tablet is dissolved, fill each color cup with water up to the line midway (about 1/2 cup).  Now the egg dyes are ready to go!

5. Dye eggs by dipping them one at a time into the egg dye and moving the egg around a bit with the egg dipper. The longer the egg sits in the dye, the more vibrant the color.

6. When eggs are the desired color, remove the egg from the dye and blot the excess with a paper towel.

7. Place on the drying rack and allow egg to dry completely!


2.  Make it easy for kids. 

A few tips for making egg-dying easy for kids:

Model for kids how to properly dye eggs so that we’re setting them up for egg-dying success!

egg dying 101

Show kids how to use the egg dipper–the smaller, skinnier end of the egg goes into the hole!  It does require balance, but it’s a great way to work on this skill!

egg dying 101

Let kids use a whisk to dip eggs into the dye if the egg dipper is too challenging.

Surprisingly enough, the egg can go in and out of the whisk very easily!


egg dying 101

Make sure kids have a sturdy spot to hold the eggs while decorating.

Whether it’s the egg stands that come in the decorating kit or whether you make your own–see below–the idea is that the eggs are still while kids are creating. This removes a ton of stress for our little ones!

Remember, too, that if the whole-egg dying is too much, that parents can dye eggs first and allow children to decorate them–kind of like letting kids put the icing a cake!

egg dying 101

Try using PAAS Monogram stickers to personalize eggs and to celebrate kids’ initials.  Consider even giving each person in the family another person for whom they should decorate an egg.

For example, I might decorate an egg for Owen; Owen would do one for Maddy; Maddy would do one for Cora; Cora would do one for her dad, and her dad would do one for me. Or something like that.

The only rule is that the person’s egg must be clearly theirs. So you could put the person’s name on it, initials on it, in some way personalizing the egg for the other person.

egg dying 101 |

egg dying 101 |

Or use the PAAS Color Sticks for super-easy and vibrant decorating with the snap of a stick!

Seriously, you just snap these little sticks up where you see the line, and then you let the dye run to the opposite end.

And then? The decorating fun begins–vibrant, rich colors via a tool that makes writing, drawing, doodling, and creating– easy!

egg dying 101

egg dying 101

egg dying 101

egg dying 101

egg dying 101

3.  Make it fun. 

Above all, egg-dying should be fun!

So remember:

egg dying 101

egg dying 101 |

Use the often-forgotten ‘magic’ crayon!

That little wax crayon is used to draw on eggs before they get dunked in the dye. When they come out of the dye, the wax has created a resist, so whatever was drawn will not be dyed.

The ‘magic crayon’ is a great tool to use to practice writing letters, shapes, numbers, and names!

egg dying 101 cover

Play with color blending! Encourage kids to mix colors, experiment with color shading, and try new things!

Use stickers!  Most egg dying sets come with stickers. Use them to decorate already painted eggs, or use them to block off color before you dye the eggs for a different type of color resist.

egg dying 101 |

Remember that your eggs will not be–and do not have to be–perfect!

Especially when you add a few kids to the mix, egg dying is perfectly imperfect, friends. The good news is that with the help of some great quality egg dying products, your eggs will look great no matter what!

egg dying 101 |

egg dying 101 |

Other fun PAAS egg-dying facts:

  • PAAS turns 135 in 2015!
  • PAAS was established in 1880 by William Townley in his New Jersey drug store. He sold packets of egg dye to neighbors and the company grew from
  • Townley named the company PAAS after the Dutch word for Easter, Pasan.   So PAAS literally means Easter!

Check out a quick PAAS video on egg dying:


Hope this helps, friends, and hope it makes egg dying as mess-free, easy, and fun as possible!

What are your tips for egg dying? I’d love to hear them!

Do you have questions about egg dying or the PAAS products? They’ve been around for 135 years. They know egg dying!

Connect with them and learn more: PAAS website | PAAS YouTube channel | PAAS Facebook page



fyi: I was asked by the good people at PAAS to share a bit about egg decorating with my readers, and I was happy to do so. I cannot remember an Easter that I didn’t use PAAS egg dyes on my Easter eggs, so of course it was a natural fit. PAAS egg dying kits are as much a part of Easter for my family as are daffodils and jellybeans. Though I was given PAAS products to try, as always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and lifetime user of PAAS products!