backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best

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reading under the stars | teachmama.comSummer is in full swing, and what better way to really rock it out in the summertime than by camping?

Not for real camping, my friends–I’m talking backyard camping.

In my book, backyard camping counts. Especially if you’re not all that much of an outdoorsy family.

We have been talking about backyard camping for awhile now, so I decided to surprise the kids with a tent.  Not a huge tent, but a 6-person, easy-to-assemble, totally affordable tent.

Because we really rocked it out with our spring break trip to Disneyland, we are laying low this summer, and no biggie beach trip means that we’ve got to be creative with our summertime fun.

So creative we were.

We set up the tent, made some s’mores, and did some reading under the stars until we . . . decided to come back in the house and sleep in our beds.

It’s hard really roughing it with backyard camping.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Backyard Camping and Reading Under the Stars–Summer Reading at its Best:

We invited some friends over during the afternoon for a playdate and a tent set-up. They loved it. Playing in the tent was a huge hit for the whole neighborhood crew.

 

backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best

backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best

 

The afternoon was spent playing in the tent, so really the kids spent the greater part of the day excited about our ‘camp out’.

They played campout. They had snacks in the tent. They played games in the tent. After dinner, at about 6:30pm, Maddy, Owen, and Cora brought sleeping bags and pillows into the tent along with their EVEREADY® flashlights, lovies and books.

 

backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best

 

They knew that part of the reason we were doing our serious backyard campout was because we wanted to have a chance to read under the stars, just like the Scholastic Read Under the Stars summer reading challenge they were doing.

Really, the reading’s been happening all summer. It was the camping that was totally new.

 

backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best

 

We had s’mores. We danced a little. We were ready for a campout.

We were all cozy in the tent, teeth brushed, dirty feet tucked into sleeping bags, listening to the crickets and the owls and the distant barking dogs when all heck broke loose.

 

backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best

The chaos began.

The storm had arrived.

The tides were a’ changing.

backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best

backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best

 

Cora started crying because the Maddy was too close to her and because the window panel was hanging down by her arm and it wouldn’t stay tucked into the wall.

And then Maddy started getting angry because Cora was not being nice.  And so when Cora yelled, I WANT TO GO SLEEP IN MY BEEEEEDDDDD! Maddy said she wanted to sleep in her own bed, too.

And then Owen said, I want to go inside to sleep too. I don’t want to sleep out here anymore.

 

backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best

 

And so yep.

At 9pm, right after my husband had put his feet up and settled comfortably into a show and a snack, thinking his family was out back sleeping peacefully and that he had a quiet house to himself, the troops came marching in.

Sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, flashlights, and books in tow, and a lonely tent out back.

Poor confused Brady was happy to have his family in the house again.  Cora was happy, Maddy was happy, Owen was happy, and I was happy. Back in the cool air conditioning, dirty feet in their own beds, flashlights on and open books in hands.

And? The kids spent the entire next day in the tent.

And what I realized is that we’re not failures or big losers for trying the backyard camping thing and not actually following through; we are winners for trying it. Right? I mean, we came close, didn’t we? We kind of had the experience and maybe we’ll try it again?

I don’t know. The cool thing? The kids were reading. Books and summer reading was a natural part of our attempted backyard campout, so that’s what counts.

reading under the stars

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Huge and happy thanks to Scholastic for always coming up with cool themes and ideas for their Summer Reading Challenge and for partnering with us for this post series. This year’s Summer Reading theme is Reading Under the Stars, and is powered by EVEREADY®, the maker of batteries and flashlights, to encourage families to discover new and fun ways to explore reading outside this summer.

 

 

fyi: I am happy to share my experience with our backyard campout as part of a sponsored campaign.  As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and by my three little kinda-campers and summertime readers.

Affiliate links are used within.

the fox and the crane: shadow puppets with printables

the fox and the crane: shadow puppets with printables | guest post by @liskarediska on teachmama.com

This week, Liska from Adventure in a Box shares a super-cool, totally new-to-teachmama.com idea.  So cool, it’s nuts.

Liska is a toymaker, a creator, a mom, an artist and a lover of books.  She is a Russian who has settled in Canada with her son and husband (and her husband just so happens to have one of the coolest jobs around!).

Today, Liska created printables for us and delivers a unique way of sharing The Fox and the Crane fable–with shadow puppets that you can print and use today. Awe-some.

Huge and happy thanks, Liska!

the fox and the crane: shadow puppets with printables | guest post by  @liskarediska on teachmama.com

  • The Fox and the Crane: Shadow Puppets with Printables, by Liska

Greetings to the readers of Teach Mama! My name is Liska, and when I do not run around, trying to keep up with my little son, I make toys and write at Adventure in a Box. Thank you, Amy, for inviting me to write here today. Teach Mama is a regular inspiration, so I am proud to be making an addition to such a fun resource.

When I was a little girl, personal computers had not made their way into most houses, and we only had two TV-channels. If I was lucky, I could catch one cartoon a day. However, we had a slide projector with a couple of cartoon-based slide shows. In my mind it is one of the dearest memories of my childhood: in the evenings someone would put a white bed sheet on the wall, and then tinker with the projector until the focus was just good enough, though never great. We would sit down, and watch the slides.

Where did that slide projector go? I do not know. However, I want for my son to have something as magical and mysterious to remember, and that’s how we came to stage shadow puppet shows, based on our favourite stories. In the evenings we dim all the lights, except for the one we place behind the parchment screen, and the shadows start moving.

Making a shadow puppet theatre can be very easy. Take a box and cut two holes in it, then stretch vellum or parchment paper across one hole. In the dark, place a direct light source behind the screen. Now try putting something between the light and the screen: it can be your hand or a toy.

The audience on the other side of the screen will see a silhouette. Usually, the closer you put the object to the screen, the crisper its silhouette will be.

the fox and the crane: shadow puppets with printables | guest post by  @liskarediska on teachmama.com

If, however, you feel like crafting and making a long-lasting project, you can also follow my tutorial on how to make a wooden puppet theatre.

For actors we sometimes use the previously-mentioned toys and hands, but our favourite ones are silhouettes, cut out of stiff black paper (80 lb or more). Held next to the screen, they give beautiful crisp shadows.

You can make elaborate performances with these card stock actors! Of course, it might be difficult to stage Alice in Wonderland right away, but most traditional fairy tales have a straightforward plot and few enough characters – they are the likeliest choices for being turned into shadow puppet shows.

the fox and the crane: shadow puppets with printables | guest post by  @liskarediska on teachmama.com

We have already made Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs, and today I would like to make one of Aesop’s fables – The Fox and the Crane. It is also known as The Fox and the Stork, and it has only two actors.

Once, the fox and the crane decided to become friends. The fox invited the crane to come over for a visit. When he came, the fox served soup in a shallow dish.

The fox could lap it up easily, but the crane could not. Nevertheless, he thanked the fox and invited her to come over the next day.

When the fox came to visit, the crane served soup in a flagon with a long narrow neck. The crane could access it, but the fox left hungry.

The moral of the story is usually presented as “if you trick someone, you might get the same treatment back”, but told with a slight change of accents, can also tell children that different households might have different traditions.

Making the designs of silhouettes is my favourite part, and I am happy to share them with you now. Please, download the silhouettes of the fox and the crane here. Transfer them onto the black paper and cut them out, using scissors for outlines and a hobby knife for small details. Alternatively, you can print the designs on a thick white paper and colour its back black, then cut the silhouettes out.

Print the silhouettes here: The-Fox-and-the-Crane-printables

the fox and the crane: shadow puppets with printables | guest post by  @liskarediska on teachmama.com

The-Fox-and-the-Crane-printables

Next, you will need some bamboo skewers and scotch tape. Tape the skewers to the back of the puppets and they are ready!

Now the lights will dim, and the play will begin. “Once, the fox and the crane decided to become friends…”

the fox and the crane: shadow puppets with printables | guest post by  @liskarediska on teachmama.com

If you like having a shadow theatre, you can always take this game further.

Make a program and tickets together with children, then give them to relatives and friends, inviting them over. The shadow theatres are great because they are suitable for many different ages: even a three-month-old baby will be naturally attracted to the high-contrast figures! Older children will like choosing stories to stage and giving a new dimension to their favourite books, helping to make puppets and tell their own stories with them.

I will be happy if you share pictures of your shadow shows!

Other articles by Adventure in a Box you might enjoy:

the fox and the crane: shadow puppets with printables | guest post by  @liskarediska on teachmama.comLiska lives in Southern Ontario, Canada, where she enjoys simple adventures among the vineyards and peach orchards with her family. It consists of her husband, an armourer, and a one-and-a-half-year-old son, who is as inquisitive and mischievous as any one-and-a-half-year-old could be. When not chasing him around, Liska likes to read books and make toys. Then she writes about it in her blog Adventure in a Box: there you can find book reviews and book-related activities that can interest children of different ages, as well as tutorials on how to make toys with and for children.
You can also find Liska onFacebook | Pinterest | Instagram

 

 Thank you, thank you, thank you, Liska!

I have absolutely been blown away by the Rockstar Sunday posts over here.

Each week, we’ve been highlighting one ‘rockstar’ in the parenting and education field.  These posts? Seriously awesome.

Anything from innovative reading activities to clever math crafts, from ways to teach kids shapes to ways to use gallon ziploc bags for fun and learning.  It’s awesome.  Crazy awesome.

If you’ve got an idea brewing and want to share, do let me know. You need not be a blogger or professional writer to share your piece.

Simply submit your idea to us! Easy peasy!

 rockstar sunday promo teachmama

You don’t have to have a blog of your own–just cool ideas to share! We look forward to hearing from you!

other posts in the series:

let kids play: remembering the importance of free time outdoors

let kids play: remembering the importance of free time outdoors | teachmama.com

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It’s easy for parents to fall into the trap of thinking that summer means camps, amusement parks, pool trips, beach, camping, picnics, and activities nonstop.  Busy, busy, busy.

And when we’re not going, going, going, many of us feel guilty.

Like our kids always must be doing something.

And it’s easy for parents to fall into the trap of thinking that ‘downtime’ means ‘plugged in’ time: free play on an electronic device–a tablet, phone, iPod, computer, DS, Wii, or whatever.  Our kids are learning, right? And having fun? So it’s all good.

But what I am realizing more this summer than ever is that our kids need down time outdoors.

They need it for their mind, body, and spirit.

Like good, ole-fashioned nothing planned, nothing scheduled, just backyard, outdoor fun.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Let Kids Play–Remembering the Importance of Free Time Outdoors:  I think because my kids are getting older–10, 8, and 7–that it’s easy for me to forget that they still really need a whole lot of free play time outdoors.

Though it’s no secret that I am an advocate for parents doing what they can to sneak in some learning into their children’s days (it’s what I’ve been writing about for almost six years now–and boy, the tabletop surprises have really taken off!), I’ve also written many times about the importance of free play and time outdoors.

let kids play: remembering the importance of free time outdoors

let kids play: remembering the importance of free time outdoors

And I still often get emails and questions:

How can parents set kids up for free time outdoors? 

What do you say when you ‘unleash’ your kids in the wilds of your back yard and they mope around, complaining that they ‘don’t have anything to doooooooo’?

My kids don’t have neighbor friends like yours do. How do they play outside alone?

How do you ‘force’ your kids to play outdoors if the kids don’t really like being outside? 

 

let kids play: remembering the importance of free time outdoors

 

I don’t know all of the answers, but I do know this: some kids need a little help. They need a little nudge. They need a little guidance in how to play and what to do when they’re handed free time on a silver platter, and here’s how parents can help:

  • Ask questions:Why do you think this bush has thorns? What do you see over there hiding in the grass? How many sounds do you hear? 
  • Make observations: I cannot believe how gorgeous that bird’s feathers are!  Look at those tiny toadstools!  Have you ever seen a leaf with so many colors?

 

let kids play: remembering the importance of free time outdoors

 

let kids play: remembering the importance of free time outdoors

 

  • Get dirty: Jump in the puddle at the end of your front staircase!  Splash in the muddy water under your swings!  Tear apart a flower that is on its last leg!
  • Be still: Lay on a blanket and look at the clouds. Just sit in the sunlight on a porch swing and enjoy the sun on your face.
  • Take risks: Put a few peanuts out on the porch and see if the squirrels come for a snack.  Buy a bag of birdseed and feed the birds. Look under a rock and see what’s there.

 

let kids play: remembering the importance of free time outdoors

We’re pretty sure that Cora pulled apart a walnut here. . . we think.

 

  • Move out of your comfort zone: If your kids aren’t comfortable outside, could it be because you’re not 100% comfortable outdoors? Think about it. Try to spend a little bit more unstructured time outdoors if you can, and drag your kids along. See if it gets easier. See if it becomes more natural as time goes on.
  • Play together: Throw a baseball with your kiddo. Kick a soccer ball. Bounce a tennis ball. Jump rope. Blow bubbles. Dig in the dirt. Plant a garden. Do anything. Just do it together.

It doesn’t matter what you do; the goal is just to get kids outside and eventually to have them enjoy it. Really!

 

let kids play: remembering the importance of free time outdoors

 

Psychology Today ran an article in April 2014 by Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D. which explained the how the benefits of playing outdoors far outweighed the benefits of indoor play. Narvaez says:

Outdoors, a child learns on multiple levels with each new adventure . . . With all of the imaginary castles, lands, creatures, the brain develops at a much faster rate than for those who play indoors. There are numerous effects. Not only do they become better learners, and do well in school, but they are more fun to be around (i.e. they make more friends)–everyone wants to play with the kid with the active imagination! Consequently, children will be much happier because, hey, they’re smart and they have a lot of friends. All of this comes from just playing outside; you can bake many loaves in the same oven.  (Psychology Today. “What’s Better: Indoor or Outdoor Play?” April 5, 2014)

Narvaez also goes on to explain the physical effects of outdoor play on children. She explains that starting outdoor play while kids are young will have long-lasting effects: Years down the road, the child will still be more active and less likely to be overweight. If you think about this, it makes perfect sense; teach a child when they’re young to love the outdoors and they will love it forever.  The article’s really worth reading, especially if your kiddos (or you!) need more convincing. 

And really, that’s it. Just a good reminder for everyone to give our kiddos the ‘go’ to play outdoors and to just be kids. Because really? They need it.  We all do.

 

fyi: This post was written as part of a partnership with Mosquito Squad.  May seem totally random, I know, but it’s because of Mosquito Squad that this year our family has really been able to enjoy our yard again.  Thank GOODNESS.  

Living in the hot, muggy DC Metro area means that we have our fair share of mosquitos. Up until this year, our yard was basically unusable, awful, and painful from mid-June through mid-September; we would literally be eaten alive by mosquitos at any time of the day. This year, it’s been incredible and a totally different experience. Mosquito Squad takes care of our yard, and we are  happy campers (except thank goodness we’re not really camping–).   

As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as an educator and a parent, and of course by my three little outdoor explorers. 

find out more about Mosquito Squad | find answers to FAQ about Mosquito Squad 

tweet with Mosquito Squad (find your local branch and connect from there!)

@MosquitoMDsquad   |  Facebook chat with Mosquito Squad 

MosquitoMDsquad on Pinterest  |  MD Mosquito Squad blog  |   MD Mosquito squad on g+

backyard chopped challenge: creative outdoor fun

back yard chopped challenge teachmama.com

Many of my longtime readers will think I’ve officially lost my marbles after reading this post, and maybe I have.back yard chopped challeng

I just think it’s worth sharing because though there isn’t any serious learning going on, my kids were sure using their brains for this one.  And their creative juices were a’ flowin’.   And their bodies were moving. And there was a whole lot of laughing.

And they were outdoors, unplugged, and doing just what they wanted.

And really? It was so much fun.

It’s just a quickie reminder to get those kiddos outside and to see what happens. Because this afternoon? We were all totally surprised at where the day took us.

We had a backyard ‘Chopped’ challenge. As in, Chopped, the Food Network show, in our backyard.

Except where on Chopped the chefs compete using food, in our Backyard Chopped Challenge, the kids competed using plants, sticks, and flowers as food.

For realz.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Backyard ‘Chopped’ Challenge–Creative Outdoor Fun:

My kids are huge, huge fans of  The Food Network and will watch just about any show they run.

back yard chopped challeng

back yard chopped challeng

Chopped is a fave; Diners, Drive-ins and Dives is top of our list, as is Guy’s Grocery Games and Cupcake Wars and Cutthroat Kitchen.

Every single summer, we make the Next Food Network Star a fixture and the highlight of our Sunday evenings. We’re hooked.

And when Rachel v. Guy: Kids Cook-off was on, we were literally glued to the screen and watched each episode too many times to count.

I like most of these cooking shows because quite often, my kids want to cook. They want to try new foods, new recipes, and new dishes in the kitchen.

back yard chopped challeng

back yard chopped challenge  teachmama.com.png

 

A few days ago Maddy, Cora, and their neighbor pal were just hanging around out back while Owen was at basketball camp. The kids were just poking around the plants, playing with bugs and making designs.

I brought out a few recyclables for them to use—some popsicle sticks, plastic takeout containers, jars and yogurt containers.

I gave them a challenge: use anything in our yard to make a pizza.

They immediately got to work. They ran. They scrambled. They collaborated (Cora and our neighbor) while Maddy rolled solo. They wanted me to time them, and when they were finished, they wanted me to judge them.

back yard chopped challeng

So? I said, Okay. Let’s make it official. We’re doing a Backyard Chopped Challenge, then. Who’s in? 

They were.

So everyone decided to work individually, and they wanted some guidelines. They wanted five minutes for each round, and they wanted three rounds. And they wanted separate work spaces. (Clearly they’ve watched too much Chopped. . . ).

Anyway, that’s what we did. And I was amazed. Blown away. Totally surprised and excited by their dishes.

back yard chopped challeng

back yard chopped challeng

(from the pizza round)

We played three rounds:

  • kid lunch
  • fancy dinner
  • dessert

 

back yard chopped challeng

 

back yard chopped challeng

 

back yard chopped challeng

 

I judged not after each round but at the end. I knew I wanted each child to win one round. (Come on. You know I’m like that. . . )

The focus was both on their dishes and on their description. They had to convince me that their dish was the best and use clear and colorful words to describe what they made.

 

back yard chopped challeng

 

Cora won the first round. Her sandwich was incredible, and she included a chocolate chip cookie! She had to win!

Maddy won the fancy dinner round. Her meal was a spin on a Thanksgiving dinner, complete with chicken (easy to forget.. . ) and cranberry sauce!

Our neighbor pal won the dessert round. His Hawaiian cookies actually had purple flowers on them! They were gorgeous!

 

It was fun. Seriously fun.

And the coolest thing? They’ve played it several times since then.

Woot! Three cheers for bringing the cool to the back yard and for crazy creative kids.

Now I’m off to figure out what to make for dinner tonight. . . 

teach letter sounds using 26 kid-centered photos

teach letter sounds using 26 kid-centered photos | guest post by @totschooling on teachmama.com

teach letter sounds using 26 kid-centered photos | guest post by @totschooling on teachmama.com

We’re thrilled to share another Rockstar Sunday guest post with you–this time from a multi-talented blogger, Viviana.

Viviana is a mom of two and the creator of Totschooling, a blog filled with cool printables and tons of early education ideas. I’m thrilled she’s sharing this post with u s.

 

  • Teach Letter Sounds Using 26 Kid-Centered Photos, by Viviana

Hi! I’m Viviana, a mom to two little girls – a toddler and a preschooler. We do a lot of early learning activities that I share on my blog Totschooling, and I am so happy to be here to share this super fun activity that has been a big hit with my daughters!

Kids love to look at photographs, especially photos of themselves. There is something so fascinating about seeing their image transferred onto a piece of paper.

I find that my 3 year old daughter not only loves to look at photos but she also enjoys posing for them, making silly faces and seeing how the pictures turn out. This creates a double opportunity for learning – the act of taking the photos and then later analyzing them.

Since we’ve started working on letter recognition and letter sounds, I thought it would be fun to use photographs as a way to practice these concepts. Here is how we did it:

Each time we learned a new letter, I asked my daughter to find things around the house that start with that letter sound. For example, for the letter B we found a baby doll, a blue ball, a book and a banana.

 

teach letter sounds using 26 kid-centered photos | guest post by @totschooling on teachmama.com

 

I taped a piece of paper to the wall with that letter, and helped her pose for the picture.

For some of the letters we couldn’t find objects around the house, so we improvised. We used action words instead. For Y she yawned, for J she jumped, and for Q she made a quiet “ssshhh” sound.

She had a blast posing for these pictures and didn’t even notice she was learning!

Here are some ideas for the less common letters:

J – jump, jacket

Q – quiet, queen

U – umbrella, under

V – vitamins, violin

X – x-ray, xylophone

Y – yellow, yawn, yo-yo

Z – zipper, zebra

teach letter sounds using 26 kid-centered photos | guest post by @totschooling on teachmama.com

 

After you have all this fun taking photos for every letter of the alphabet, what do you do with the pictures?

The possibilities are endless! First, print out the photos, either at home or at your local print shop – 4×6 is a great size for these activities.

I printed them myself, 4 per page, then laminated and cut them out.

 

teach letter sounds using 26 kid-centered photos | guest post by @totschooling on teachmama.com

 

1. Create a photo ABC book – You can do this simply by hole punching the photos and then using a ring or a piece of yarn to thread them together. Or, you can purchase a photo album and insert all the pictures into the sleeves. This book is great to look at casually or to play a “look & find” game where you ask your child to find all the things that start with each letter sound.

2. Alphabet Wall Chart – Create a unique and custom wall chart that everyone will love to look at again and again.

3. Match the Letters Game – Lay out a few letters, either from a moveable alphabet or write the letters on pieces of paper, and ask your child to find the photos that go with each letter.

4. Match the Objects Game – Lay out a few objects and ask your child to find the photos that go

with each object. These objects can be ones that were used in the photos or different ones.

5. Memory Game – You would need two copies of each photograph. Place them face down and play a classic memory game.

6. Bingo Game – Put together 9 or 16 of the photos to create the bingo mat. Then, call out letters while your child puts tokens on the correct photos.

7. Story Time – Come up with a story about what is happening in each photograph. This is great for language development, imagination and can help your child to remember the letters.

You can also try this activity with many different concepts, such as learning colors, numbers, emotions, or just about anything else that can be learned visually.

I hope this inspires you to create your own playful learning experience with photographs and have as much fun as we did!

 Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, Viviana, for sharing these ideas! I know many readers will be inspired to do the same!

teach letter sounds using 26 kid-centered photos | guest post by @totschooling on teachmama.com

 

Viviana is a blogging mom to a toddler and a preschooler, sharing ideas and resources for early learning. She specializes in educational printable activities, which you can find on her blog Totschooling. You can also follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Google+.

 

Looking for more fun ways to sneak in some literacy learning into your day? Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards:

This post is part of our new Rockstar Sunday posts.  Each week, I will highlight one ‘rockstar’ in the parenting and education field.  These posts? Seriously awesome.

Have something you’d like to share that in some way relates to fun learning, school, technology, education, or parenting? For a short time we’ll be accepting Rockstar Sunday guest posts.

 rockstar sunday promo teachmama

The response to our Rockstar Sunday feature has been overwhelming. I am in awe of the ideas, submissions, and shares!

Having been in the blogging space for 5+ years, we know for sure that our readers are always up for fresh and fun ideas on literacy, math, technology, parenting, and learning in the every day. They love crafts, hands-on teaching ideas, printables, cooking with kids, and anything that makes their job as parents easier, better, and more fun.

You don’t have to have a blog of your own–just cool ideas to share! We look forward to hearing from you!

other posts in the series:

how to turn a t-shirt into cool tank top: 10 min or less

how to turn an old tshirt to cool tank teachmama.com.png

how to turn an old t-shirt into cool tank: 10 min or less

We’re knee-deep into swim and dive season, and with three kids who participate in our neighborhood swim team and dive team, we’re crazy busy.

Two or three meets each week and practice every day.

It’ll all come to a screeching halt in just a few weeks, though, and the kids will be twiddling their thumbs and pestering each other between tabletop surprises and Fun Sticks.

This past week our spirit theme was red, white, and blue, with tie-dying t-shirts being a huge part of the patriotic attire. The night before the spirit pep rally, when all the tie-dying was to be done, we realized that we didn’t have plain t-shirts for the kids to dye. 

It was late. I was tired. And I was not going to run out to the store. No way, Jose.

So we scoured our dressers, closets, and under the bed boxes for a few white shirts that Maddy, Owen, and Cora could use.

And to our excitement, we found a few too-small t-shirts that we bought for Owen so he had something to wear under his First Communion suit. 

I sent the shirts to the pool with the kids, knowing they’d come back dyed and ready for some TLC.

And it worked. We turned a few t-shirts into cool tanks in a matter of minutes. Ten minutes to be exact.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Turn an Old T-Shirt into a Cool Tank–10 Minutes or Less:  

Really. Ten minutes max.

Check it out:

fyi: The teachmama.com youtube channel is all about sharing quick teaching tips, reading strategies, and parenting tricks with parents and caregivers.

It’s about empowering parents to be the best teachers they can be for their children. Subscribe here so you don’t miss a thing!

 

What do you think? Will you bling out your t-shirts with a few beads and cuts? Let us know!

And remember, if you are looking for some fun ways of keeping the kids busy this summer, we have what you need.  Do check out our 10-weeks of free super-cool activities for kids: tabletop surprises.

tabletop surprise email promo teachmama.com

 

4 sums in a row: quick & easy math game

4 sums in a row: quick & easy math game | super summertime game for pool bags or car rides from teachmama.com

4 sums in a row: quick & easy math game | super summertime game for pool bags or car rides from teachmama.com

This summer, we’re all about quick and easy.

We’re all about games and activities that pack a powerful punch because goodness knows we’re doing the best we can just to keep our heads afloat during our busy swim and dive season.

One super-quick and easy game that Owen brought home this year from school has come up several times this summer. It’s quick. It’s different.

He really likes it.

It’s simple in concept but requires a bit of strategy.

It’s called ‘4 sums in a row’ and the goal is just that: to get four sums in a row, so kids are playing with numbers and strategizing ways of choosing numbers that will give them a big win.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 4 Sums in a Row–Quick and Easy Math Game:  Like I said, the object is simple–two players work to get four sums in a row.

It’s a game that is great to shove in your purse or pool bag for times when you’re in waiting rooms, on the sidelines, or at restaurants.

4 sums in a row: quick & easy math game | super summertime game for pool bags or car rides from teachmama.com

4 sums in a row: quick & easy math game | super summertime game for pool bags or car rides from teachmama.com

Here’s how it works:

You’ll need:

  • 4 Sums in a Row boards (download them here: 4 sums game _ teachmama.com
  • two different types pawns, one for each player (use Cheerios, gems from gem jar, beads, buttons, pennies–anything)
  • 2 paper clips

4 sums in a row: quick & easy math game | super summertime game for pool bags or car rides from teachmama.com

 

1. Player one moves the paper clips over two numbers along the bottom row.

2. He or she then adds those numbers and puts a pawn over the sum on the board above.

3. Player two moves one paper clip to another number and leaves the other on the number Player one chose.

4. Player two puts his or her pawn on the sum of the two numbers covered by paper clips.

5. Play continues back and forth until the first player gets four sums in a row!

4 sums in a row: quick & easy math game | super summertime game for pool bags or car rides from teachmama.com

Love it.

Print it out on a piece of cardstock or slip it into a plastic sleeve, and it’s more likely to have a longer life.

I also made a blank sheet to go along with it. Allowing kids to use their brains and creativity to actually make their own boards is a sneaky way of keeping them engaged and learning. And? They totally love it.

Again, here’s the board: 4 sums game _ teachmama.com

Want a few more at-home, make-em-yourself-games? Check out: 

shrinky dink flag bracelet: super-cool patriotic craft

shrinky dink flag bracelet: super-cool patriotic craft

shrinky dink flag bracelet: super-cool patriotic craftThe following Rockstar Sunday guest post is written by one of the coolest gals on the planet, Becky Morales.  Becky is a mom, teacher, and creator of Kid World Citizen, where she shares activities that ‘help young minds go global’.

How cool is that?  So cool, right?

Becky is super-passionate about global education, geo-literacy, service learning, educational technology connecting students to the world, and cultural exchange.

She’s getting more awesome by the second. I know.

Today, she’s sharing a fun way that you can help your kiddos ‘go global’ in time for July 4th.  Super-cool craft that involves flags, tracing, beads, and shrinky dinks.

You’ll totally fall in love with her by the end of the post. You must check out her blog.

(But read this first. You’ll be glad you did.)

————————-

  • Shrinky Dink Flag Bracelet–super-Cool Patriotic Craft, by Becky Morales

When a good family friend from the UK recently moved from the US to Canada, we wanted to give her daughter something small and special to take with her.

 

shrinky dink flag bracelet: super-cool patriotic craft

I was playing with the idea of incorporating the three countries’ flags and decided to have my kids make a DIY shrinky dink bracelet: patriotic charms that we would draw onto plastic, and then shrink in the oven.

Materials:

  • #6 plastic (trust me, the other numbers do not work!)*
  • sharpies or other permanent markers
  • pictures of flags
  • foil
  • elastic or string (for the bracelet)
  • other beads

The best place that I was able to find lots of #6 plastic was the salad bar at our supermarket. #6 plastic is very thin and will shrink down evenly without warping like other plastics.

shrinky dink flag bracelet: super-cool patriotic craft

If your kids would like to trace the flags, print out a copy of them and tape down the plastic.

The flags we used were sized around 2 inches wide (because remember they will shrink!).  The kids can trace and color in the flags, and also make little charms of anything else they like: little globes, fancy names, hearts, peace signs, etc.

Next, punch holes in each charm before you bake! The plastic will be too hard to make holes after it shrinks.

shrinky dink flag bracelet: super-cool patriotic craft

shrinky dink flag bracelet: super-cool patriotic craft

Lay the plastic charms on a single sheet of foil. Bake for only a couple of minutes at 350 degrees (you can watch them shrink!).

Once the charms have cooled down, string them together to make your bracelet. My kids had so much fun working on their project, and loved being able to give our friends something they had made themselves.

shrinky dink flag bracelet: super-cool patriotic craft

 

We looked up where Canada and the UK were in comparison to Texas, and saw their relative positions.

We also tried to guess differences in the weather between our home and their new home in Calgary. Once they made the Canadian and British flags, they began to notice them everywhere: at the airport, on a t-shirt, at school.

These fun little geography lessons really do stick and begin to form a foundation that children will recall later.

Thank you, Becky!! This is such a cool idea–I cannot wait to try it!

0Aboutpic_small

 

Becky is the mom of 5 multicultural kids, an ESL teacher, author of The Global Education Toolkit for Elementary Learners and founder of KidWorldCitizen.org. She is passionate about activities that teach kids cultural and global awareness.

 

Looking for more ways to create a literacy-focused environment? Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards:

This post is part of our new Rockstar Sunday posts.  Each week, I will highlight one ‘rockstar’ in the parenting and education field.  These posts? Seriously awesome.

Have something you’d like to share that in some way relates to fun learning, school, technology, education, or parenting? For a short time we’ll be accepting Rockstar Sunday guest posts.

 rockstar sunday promo teachmama

The response to our Rockstar Sunday feature has been overwhelming. I am in awe of the ideas, submissions, and shares!

Having been in the blogging space for 5+ years, we know for sure that our readers are always up for fresh and fun ideas on literacy, math, technology, parenting, and learning in the every day. They love crafts, hands-on teaching ideas, printables, cooking with kids, and anything that makes their job as parents easier, better, and more fun.

You don’t have to have a blog of your own–just cool ideas to share! We look forward to hearing from you!

other posts in the series:

frozen birthday party: best ideas for crafty kids

frozen birthday party games, crafts, and more  teachmama.com.png

post contains affiliate links

 

 

 

frozen birthday party: best ideas for crafty kidsI’m singing ‘Let it gooooo, let it gooooooo. . . ‘ now, as I realize that this post was to have gone live three months ago, and it’s just happening now.

After our rockstar Frozen birthday for Cora, well. . . life got in the way. So here it is.

The companion post to our Frozen snowball tower post, here’s our Frozen birthday party: best ideas for crafty kids.

It’s everything else we did for Cora’s Frozen birthday–the crafts we made, the activities, and everything that made it awesome.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Frozen Birthday Party–Best Ideas for Crafty Kids:

Cora knew what she wanted to do from the start–she wanted to have a Frozen birthday and watch the movie with her friends.

But I knew that we needed a little bit more than just the movie for her party.

Cora knew from the start that she wanted to watch the movie Frozen, so that was one of the main activities she wanted. But she also wanted to do crafts. Big kid crafts because really? Her friends were seven after all.

We came up with a two craft party plan: 1. make-your-own cozy fleece blanket; and 2. Frozen sparkly bracelets.

Here’s the skinny:

  • Make-Your-Own Cozy Fleece Blanket: We thought these would be fun so that the girls could get all comfy while they watched the movie, and they’d have a usable gift to take home after the event.

frozen birthday party: best ideas for crafty kids | teachmama.com

 

Plus, Owen made a fleece pillow at one of his buddy’s parties a few months back, and I loved, loved the idea.

My amazing mother-in-law helped me a ton with the fleece blanket part of this party because she’s not only a crafty crafter, but she’s a math whiz.

For our blankets, because we were using them as party favors, we really did want to keep cost in mind.  Fleece comes in different weights or thicknesses and can vary greatly in price. We wanted ours to be nice but we knew we didn’t need super-high end here.

frozen birthday party: best ideas for crafty kids | teachmama.com

frozen birthday party: best ideas for crafty kids | teachmama.com

We bought 7 yards of solid fabric and 7 yards of print fabric.  The solid fabric was less expensive, at $3/ yard and the heavier weight print was on sale for $6/ yard.

We made two blankets/ 2 yards with each blanket using a total of two different pieces of fleece—a top and bottom, a solid and a print.

frozen birthday party: best ideas for crafty kids | teachmama.com

frozen birthday party: best ideas for crafty kids | teachmama.com

frozen birthday party: best ideas for crafty kids | teachmama.com

If you want to print out the instructions for making our fleece blankets, you can do so here: fleece blanket – frozen party _ teachmama.com

You’ll need:

1.  We cut each yard in half to make two 30x 36” blankets per yard of fabric.

To cut the fabrics, lay out the fabrics together, one on top of the other, with the ‘good’ sides both facing out.

2.  Trim the outside edges slightly to make them even, and then cut down the middle.  You’ll have two complete blankets, each about 30” x 36”.

3.  Next, with two fabrics still together, cut a 3” square from each corner.

4.  Then cut strips of 1” x 3” along each side to be knotted together.  The idea is that the kids can tie the pieces together as an activity during the party.

5.  Tie several knots at each corner and one knot along each side to make it easier for the kids.

6. Iron on the letters following package directions and place wherever children would like!

7. Get cozy, pop some popcorn, and enjoy your fleece blanket!

frozen birthday party: best ideas for crafty kids | teachmama.com

frozen birthday party: best ideas for crafty kids | teachmama.com


The second part of the party activities involved having the kids make super-awesome, sparkly Frozen bracelets.

 

Brace yourself. These were goooooorgeous.

frozen birthday party: best ideas for crafty kids | teachmama.com

frozen birthday party: best ideas for crafty kids | teachmama.com

 

 

[Read more…]

online virtual playground for animal and science fans

online virtual playground for animal and science fans | teachmama.com

Admittedly, we’re a little slow on the draw when it comes giving our kids the ‘go’ on most online activities.online virtual playground for animal and science fans cover.png

I’m over-cautious and because my living is made in the social media space, I know what’s out there. And I know there are way too many kids with way to much freedom online.

And sometimes that frightens me.

So when I find something that gives my kids a little sometimes-needed space, keeps them safe, engaged, and interested, and is fun? I’d say that ‘s a huge win for us.

I’ve recently found an online virtual playground of sorts for animal and science fans. For kids who dig the outdoors, for kids who love creating their own, customized spaces, for kids who love playing games and really love learning.

It’s called Animal Jam, and right now, my kids are loving it.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Online Virtual Playground for Animal and Science Fans:

Thanks to the great people of National Geographic for creating this online space for our kids with the goal of providing a fun, exciting, and safe environment for kids to play online.

online virtual playground for animal and science fans | teachmama.com

online virtual playground for animal and science fans | teachmama.com

Really.

Apparently, it’s been around for a few years now, but we just discovered it.

It’s the only ‘online virtual playground’ I’ll let my kids hang out in, and here’s why I like it:

  • It’s fun.  It’s been the ‘go-to’ game for Owen and Cora for the last two months. They want to play because they enjoy the ever-changing platform and the challenges.
  • Kids have control. They can customize their characters, name and care for pets, complete missions, attend ‘parties’, buy things, and design anything from their hut to their outfit.

online virtual playground for animal and science fans | teachmama.com

 

  • Kids are learning.   They keep track of their adventures in their JourneyBooks, and they collect pictures for each place, a kind of chronicle of their history of the game.  When they click on a picture of an animal, plant, landform, you name it, a little bit of information comes up about that thing. It’s SO cool.
  • The Golden Rule is stressed often. Little reminders for kids about being nice and interacting kindly are prominent on the site and are shown regularly.  Nice Jammers trade, become ‘buddies’ and the idea of being a good ‘digital citizen’ is mentioned often.

online virtual playground for animal and science fans | teachmama.com

online virtual playground for animal and science fans | teachmama.com

 

  • It’s safe.  I control the levels of ‘chat’ that my kids can engage in, and I have access to all account information. Safety tips are shared, just like the Golden Rule reminders.
  • There’s tons of follow-up and extension activities. I love the Animal Jam Academy, which offers free printables, experiments, activities, videos, and more.
  • It’s totally worth the money.  You can play free, but members have access to everything on the site–more than just anyone who drops in. I rarely buy these kinds of programs and platforms, but with the added bang for my buck in terms of science learning along the way, I think it’s a no-brainer.

online virtual playground for animal and science fans | teachmama.com

online virtual playground for animal and science fans | teachmama.com

Is it perfect? Probably not. But for us, it works–and especially during the long summer months when kids start getting antsy and need something new, this can be it.

Reading, learning, planning, and thinking. Designing, questioning, and collecting. It’s cool.

Our kids are also loving using the  Acer C720P Chromebook for the game–it’s a touchscreen meets laptop, and it’s totally fab for little hands. 

 

fyi: Though I am a new member of the National Geographic Kids Insiders group, this is an unsponsored post. All opinions are my own, as always, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator. 

fyi: I am in a partnership with Intel AIO . Through this partnership I gain access to content, product, or other forms of value. Affiliate links are used in this post.

disney pin trading: why it rocks for families

disney pin trading: why it rocks for families

post contains affiliate links

 

 

 

disney pin trading why it rocks for families  teachmama.com.pngThis spring, my family was elated to have been invited to attend the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration in Disneyland.

It. Was. Amazing.

Not only did we hear from amazing speakers and make incredible connections with talented bloggers from around the country, but we also had the chance to explore Disneyland for the very first time.   Disneyland rocks.

We prepared with our Disney Fun Fact lunchbox notes, and we totally pulled off the most amazing Disney surprise scavenger hunt ever for our kids. And the trip did not disappoint.

For the very first time, we pin traded. We Disney pin traded.

And I totally think it rocks for families. Every family should try it, and the Disney vacation–no matter whether it’s Disney World or Disneyland–is taken to a whole new level.

Our kids were the perfect ages at 10, 8, and 7 years old.

We’re totally and completely hooked on pin trading.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Disney Pin Trading–Why it Rocks for Families:

disney pin trading | why it rocks for families | teachmama.com

disney pin trading | why it rocks for families | teachmama.com

Essentially, Disney pin trading is just that: trading Disney-themed pins at Disney parks. 

Simple, right? Right.

You can take Disney pin trading to just about any level you want, or you can challenge yourself to gather entire lines, sets, or mini collections. We went simple. Believe me.

We started with a handful of pins to get us started.

disney pin trading | why it rocks for families | teachmama.com

disney pin trading | why it rocks for families | teachmama.com

For the six or so weeks we had to prepare for our trip, Maddy, Owen, and Cora worked hard to earn their pins. We:

  • purchased a beginner set of Disney pins from Amazon;
  • found some lanyards we had around the house (you can buy lanyards pretty inexpensively);
  • explained that for every 10 gems the kids earned, they could earn one pin;
  • took time each Sunday evening to count gems and to choose pins;
  • whomever’s day it was chose first–he or she handed in 10 gems and grabbed a pin from the dish;
  • added pins to lanyards as the weeks went on;
  • began trading once we hit the parks!

It was awesome. And for so many reasons I believe Disney pin trading rocks, but I share my top 5 reasons here:

fyi: The teachmama.com youtube channel is all about sharing quick teaching tips, reading strategies, and parenting tricks with parents and caregivers.

It’s about empowering parents to be the best teachers they can be for their children. Subscribe here so you don’t miss a thing!

 

We all really had a blast with pin trading.

I know the kids now look at their lanyards much differently–they know the story behind nearly every pin.

 

disney pin trading | teachmama.com

 

disney pin trading | teachmama.com

 

Need a little more info before you get started? Check out my friend Tiffany’s post: Disney Pin Trading 101. It’s awesome.

 

 

 

 

Here are a few other ways to countdown or celebrate your own Disney vacation: 

 

fyi: Affiliate links are used in this post.