lily pad number game: get kids up, moving, and counting!

lily pad number game | get kids up, moving, and counting!

lily pad number gameThe following guest post is written by Emma Craig. Emma writes P is for Preschooler blog which is totally worth checking out if you have a little one at home!


It recently came to my attention recently that Kay does not know what numbers mean. Sure, she can count, but she doesn’t get that “8” means eight things. I believe the fancy name is 1:1 correspondence. Whatever the case, it’s something we need to work on.
So when I saw this Lily Pad Hop from Toddler Approved, I wanted to give it a try.

  • Lily Pad Number Game:

Kay isn’t usually one to just sit and work on numbers or letters – in fact, if it has the slightest whiff of being educational, she tunes out.

But this involved jumping! I cut out some rudimentary lily pads from heavy paper, numbered them 1-9 and bought new stickers for the occasion.

At first she started putting one sticker on each lily pad, but then I reminded her that “This lily pad needs 5 stickers. Can we do it?” Of course! She carefully counted and recounted until all the stickers were on.
Now, the fun part.

lily pad number game | get kids up, moving, and counting!


We placed them on the floor in the sun room. I’d ask her, “Can you get me the 6 and 7?” and she’d run to the table to bring them to me.

I heard her counting the stickers when she didn’t know what the number was, and I had to smile.


lily pad number game | get kids up, moving, and counting!


Finally they were all set out and – hopping time!

lily pad number game | get kids up, moving, and counting!


This was undoubtedly her favorite part, and I joined in too.

I do wonder what people walking by our house at the time thought when they kept hearing, “Ribbit, ribbit!” over and over again!

I think our neighbors are starting to expect strange things from us anyway!How do you and your children play with numbers?

****Looking for more super-fun, sneaky math activities?

Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards, filled with indoor fun ideas:

Or check out the following math-happy posts:


p is for preschool Emma Craig is a stay-at-home mom to 4-year-old Kay. They keep busy through the day, all while sneaking in a little learning along the way. You can read more at:

lego baseball: creative math game for kids, by kids

lego baseball | sneaky, creative math fun

post contains affiliate links


lego baseball | super sneaky totally creative math fun


The following guest post is written by Heather Kauffman. Heather is a teacher and mom of three boys, a longtime we teach member, one of my dearest, closest pals.


I am the mother of three super-duper boys.  Boys who like to wrestle, play with light sabers, and generally participate in any activity that involves yelling and sweat.  My kids work up a sweat playing the Wii in the basement.

They get hot and sweaty playing the LEGO Baseball game they invented because they jump around and get excited when their “player” gets a home run or makes a diving catch.

What’s that, you say?  LEGO Baseball?  I am quite proud of my creative kids who invented a game using their baseball cards, a pair of dice, and their imagination.  The game can also be played with LEGO minifigures (or guys, as we call them) instead of baseball cards.

I will explain the basic rules for the game with baseball cards and how to also play the game with LEGOS.

My kids have their baseball cards organized in these simple notebooks.

I got the card protectors from and the notebooks from our dusty closet.  Once they have their cards sorted (mine sort by team) they go through and pick out the players they want for their game.

lego baseball | sneaky math funPlayers can be from any team but usually only one per position. Here are the nine positions you need for baseball:  catcher, pitcher, 1st base, 2nd base, 3rd base, short stop, right field, center field, left field.  Sometimes the boys will pick out an extra pitcher as a “reliever” or an extra batter for a Designated Hitter.  That’s optional.

Once each kid has their nine players, they prep for the game.  Flip a coin to see who is the home team.  The home team will pitch first.  They have created paper bases and a paper pitching mound.  The cards for the home team are placed on the field in the spots they are filling.  For example, put the first baseman’s card next to first base.

The away team makes their batting lineup.

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

Once the defensive players have been placed in the correct spots and the batters are ready, it’s time to start the game.  Grab the two dice and the sheet that shows the plays you can roll.

Roll the dice and add them together.  In this example, a 4 was rolled.  That means the batter gets a single.  Use the dice as the ball and the batter “hits” the dice and heads to first base.

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

Play until one team gets 3 outs.  Then switch.

It’s amazing how many times the boys have adjusted which play is assigned to each sum of the dice.  They quickly discovered that the rare plays in baseball, like a triple, should have a sum that doesn’t show up that often.

More common plays, like a single or an out, correlate to a sum that will appear more often.  Sounds like a lesson in probability, right?  I am pretty sure they didn’t think they were doing math problems and playing baseball at the same time, but they were!

My kids are baseball players.  When they play this game, they REALLY act it out. In fact, when the youngest (who is 5) wanted to play the older two instructed him he had to act it out really well to be able to play.  If your player makes a diving catch, you pick up that card and make it look real!  Not only do they line up their batters in a strategic order, theyalso have an on-deck circle.

To play with LEGOS, the rules are the same.  Pick out nine of your favorite LEGO dudes along with various weapons that can be used as bats (light sabers, axes, swords).


lego baseball | sneaky math fun

Set out LEGO bases and a pitching mound.

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

My kids have also created “fans” who are watching the game.

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

Check out the pitcher. . . lego baseball | sneaky math fun


. . . and the batter getting ready to use his light saber!

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

They use the scoreboard from their box of Baseball Guys.

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

And don’t forget the cameraman!

lego baseball | sneaky math fun


These are just two ways to play the game.  Your kids might want to adjust the value of the dice after they play a few times.

No matter how you play, LEGOS + Baseball=fun!

Want a printable version of rules and score sheet?

Lego Baseball Rules | sneaky, creative math fun by teach mama

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Heather and Seth and Matthew for sharing!

Heather Kauffman is the mother of three boys and is a former elementary & Gifted/ Talented teacher. She’s active in her kids’ school, teaches Sunday School, loves reading, and she basically chases her three Wii-loving, Star Wars and Lego-playing, baseball and basketball-playing, pool-crazed boys around all year long.


Looking for more super-fun, sneaky math activities?

Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards:

Or check out the following math-happy posts:

fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

math, writing, STEM apps for kids: tabletop surprises

tabletop surprises week seven

post contains affiliate links



We’re close to the finish line here, and my heart is heavy.tabletop surprises week six c

Though my own work is piling up by the second, the fun I’ve had with the kids this summer makes it well worth drowning in my ole inbox, missing a boatload of deadlines, and feeling like I am going to collapse by 7pm each night. 

We’re on week six of our tabletop surprises, our simple ways of setting Maddy, Owen, and Cora up for fun on their own time–and really I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well most of it has worked. And how not well some of it has worked.


This week, we rocked it out with some serious math and writing fun and a few new-for-us STEM apps for kids. It was a good mix of techy and non-techy, creative and critical thinking, new and old.

Personally, this was my favorite week, but two total days were pretty much bombs for the kids.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Math, Writing, & STEM Apps for Kids– Tabletop Surprises:

math, writing, STEM apps for kids: tabletop surprises

  • Create and Play Freely with Craft Sticks: Really. So free-bird and open, the sky was the limit here.

I dumped out large colored craft sticks, regular-sized craft sticks, and grooved craft sticks on the table, and that was it.

popsicle spopsicle sticks tabletop surprises - 2ticks tabletop surprises - 2

Sometimes someone would walk by the table and make a tower with the grooved craft sticks with a roof out of the other ones, and sometimes they’d use the craft sticks as poker for the dirt and grass out front.

Free and fun. That’s all we were shooting for.


tabletop surprises day math games

  • Make Your Own Math Games: This was based on a real oldie but goodie.

When the kids were tiny, we made a handful of personalized board games for them: Cora’s Color Game, Owen’s Beginning Sound Game, Cora’s Fancy Game, and more.

They always felt extra-special when I created a game just for them–and they’d never in a million years know how easy it was for me.


make your own math game tabletop surprises - 4

make your own math game tabletop surprises - 4


Depending on what they needed some support with (articulation, phonemic awareness, reading, basics, you name it) along with what they were interested in (Cars, princesses, jewels, etc.), you can create a game for nearly every person in the universe.

My little forumla:

blank board + a current challenge + a favorite bling or embellishment + cool die or spinner + fun pawns = BIG WIN for kids

I love the size of the blank boards you can pick up at Johnnie’s Math Page (for free!) or you can grab Cora’s blank heart board if you’d like (also for free!).

How do you play these simple games?

  1. Roll the die (I wrote 1, 2, and 3 on the back of a foam cube and called it a day).  I wanted the kids to roll low numbers so they’d have to do more problems vs roll high and have to do only one or two).
  2. Move your pawn that many spaces.
  3. Do the math problem in your head. If you get it correct, you move forward; if you don’t, you stay put until your next turn.

Easy and fun. Keep it light–and give kids all the time they need for do-overs!


tabletop surprises day fun with foamies cover

  • Fun With Foamies: Much like I’ve done with other art projects, I simply laid out blank paper and several containers of Foamie stickers.

That’s it.

I put out colored construction paper, markers, and Foamies of every shape and size that I could find: sports foamies, flowers and hearts, holiday foamies, Noah’s Ark foamies, the list goes on.

fun with foamies


Cora got right to work on a card for her Grandma and Grandpa, and Maddy just kind of shimmied on by.

This activity did not go over well with Owen or Maddy; however, Cora loved, loved, loved it. And I’m not sure why but I do know that everyone has different tastebuds so we live and learn. And that’s the beauty of tabletop surprises! Tomorrow’s a new day.


fun with foamies

fun with foamies


tabletop surprises day stem celebration cover

  • New-for-Us STEM iPad Apps: Loved this one, and so did the kids.

I stumbled across a rockstar pin from my friends at Cool Mom TechThe best FREE Educational Apps for Kids–the Back to School Tech Guide 2013 which inspired this activity: Apps. New ones. Bam.

I decided to create a folder on our iPads just for today’s Tabletop Surprise Apps and I labeled it as such. That way, I could tell them that they were free to use any of the new apps in the Tabletop Surprise Folder, and they’d know exactly what I was talking about.


new ipad apps tabletop surprise


new ipad apps tabletop surprise


new ipad apps tabletop surprise


Sticking with STEM apps (science, technology, engineering, and math), I chose BrainPOP Featured Movie and BrainPop Jr Movie of the Week (from Cool Mom Tech’s recommendations). I also added the Disney Planes Adventure Album, tangram, ArithFit, and Wings: motion math.

We’re still trying them out, but at this point, they seem to be a hit with Maddy, Owen, and Cora.



tabletop surprises day baby photos

  • Writing About Baby Photos: This was a throwback from last summer’s Everyday Journal.

Choose a picture from one of your baby albums. Describe you in the photo. What are you wearing? What expression is on your face? What are you doing?

Not a whole lot of analyzing or creative thinking but more of a descriptive piece. And because we had been looking at baby albums last week and they loved it, I thought for sure they’d love it this week.

But they didn’t. Not a huge hit AT. ALL.

I poked and prodded, but no bites. Okay, so we move on.


The last week of our tabletop surprises will be Kid Planned.  Woot.

So the last week is upon us, and what I decided to do is give Maddy, Owen, and Cora the reins. So I created this quick and easy planning sheet, and I handed it over to the kids.

Tabletop Surprises Planning Sheet by teach mama


I said, Okay, you guys definitely loved some of our Tabletop Surprises, and others, well. . . they were not a big hit. I could never tell which you’d love and which you wouldn’t so this last week? YOU get to plan. You, together, plan and organize the week’s worth of Tabletop Suprises, and lucky you, you’ll be able to do pretty much whatever you think will work best, within reason of course.

So they got to work.

And I’ll get up early, just like I always do, and I will follow their plan. And I bet I’ll know who will learn the most this week. . .

And that’s it. Simple, fun. Independent learning all the way.


Stay on top of the Tabletop Surprises by checking out the past few weeks if you’ve missed them:


fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

tabletop surprises: simple, summer learning fun

tabletop surprises week one | ideas for free exploration and play each day of the week

post contains affiliate links


tabletop surprises week one


Summer is kicking us hard over here.

Actually, swim and dive are kicking us hard over here, like always.  And at five weeks in, between meets, practices, relays, pep rallies, and team events, our family has run a bigtime marathon.

So our Smart Summer Calendar and daily plan have morphed into something that is really, truly working out well for us: Tabletop Surprises.

Tabletop Surprises? Easy.

On their own time.  On my own time.

Creative learning and crafting opportunities for the kids on the craft room table.

Opportunities for open-ended play and learning–when it works best for them.

For now? It’s rocking.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Tabletop Surprises–Simple, Learning Fun:tabletop surprises button

What are Tabletop Surprises? If you follow me on Instagram, you’d know what I’m talking about because each day I’ve shared a quick photo of each day’s surprise each day of the week.

Tabletop Surprises are fun learning or creative thinking opportunities for the kids on our craft room table. Just sitting there.

Waiting for someone to come along and try ’em out.

How to I get the kids to actually sit down and do the activities?  A few ways:

1. The activities are fun and they 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. 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 for this week:  Here we go. . . 

magnetic words

magnetic poetry tabletop surprise


That’s it. I started with a funny sentence on each tray, and I let the kids take it from there.

They liked it. Tried to sneak in a little potty talk, but lucky for us the set doesn’t really lend itself to such.

focus of this activity: creative thinking, reading, speaking


tabletop surprises shape blocks pattern cards

shape pattern cards

I put the cards out on the table, threw some shapes into three separate containers to avoid grabbing and arguing, and crossed my fingers. Owen hit the table without asking me to play Wii, and he sat and worked until breakfast. Win!

focus: geometry, critical thinking, fine motor skills


tabletop surprises perler beads cover

tabletop surprises perler beads

tabletop surprises perler beads

Kids can create patterns, letters, words, you name it, by placing the beads on the small pegs. When the creation is complete, you iron it to melt them together. Once it’s cool, it pops off of the pegboard and you have a little masterpiece.

focus: fine motor, patterning, creative thinking


tabletop surprises mazes

  • Mazes: I have fallen head over heels for KrazyDad and his amazing math site. Serious gold mine of printable puzzles, mazes, and so much more, it’s insanity.

All I did for today was dive into the maze area of his site, and I printed out mazes of varying difficulty.  I went for Easy, Intermediate, Challenging, and

Tough, and they all rocked.

tabletop surprises mazes

tabletop surprises mazes

Second day in a row that the O-Man chose unplugged fun vs the siren call of his Wii.

focus: critical thinking, fine motor, problem-solving


tabletop surprises magnets

tabletop surprises magnets

  • Magnets, Pipecleaners, & Paperclips: Easy, easy, easy. Magnets are so fun, and my kids have loved them forever and ever.

I used the disc magnets from way back when we made Bottle cap Ornaments, glass vase and some empty glass jars from the recycle box, colored paper clips, and pipe cleaners.

tabletop surprises magnets cover

tabletop surprises magnets cover

I cut the pipe cleaners into various sizes and threw them in the bottom of the glasses. I added some paper clips and scattered the magnets. Done. Invitation to explore.

Kids? Loved it.

focus: science, fine motor, critical thinking


Really? That’s it. So fun, so easy.

Next week we’ve got some really cool ideas up our sleeve for Tabletop Surprises.  Gotta love summer, and as the kids are yearning for more independence, I think this is the recipe for success.

Need some supplies for your own Tabletop Surprises? Click below:


fyi: affiliate links are included

summer learning eBook: 30+ free, fun learning ideas for summer

we teach summer ebook

We’re thrilled to share that our third annual summertime learning eBook has hit the presses today! we teach summer ebook

The fab parents and teachers of the we teach forum have submitted tons of rockstar ideas for keeping summer filled with creative, unique, and crazy-cool fun from start to finish.

We’re sharing these ideas in an eBook, free to all members of the forum–and anyone can join! The goal of the forum is really to share the tools and resources we all need so that we can learn, share, and grow as parents–and teachers–for our children.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Summer Learning eBook–30+ Free, Fun Learning Ideas for Summer:  That’s right. Free. Fun. Ideas for all summer long.

The eBook features:

  • Over 30 ideas for summer learning from talented we teach members
  • Craft ideas
  • Cooking ideas
  • Literacy ideas
  • Math ideas
  • Science ideas
  • Focused play ideas
  • Indoor and outdoor options
  • Considerations for taking learning a step further

we teach summer ebook chapters

From easy, cool crafts for rainy days, to dried flower stamping or hunting through local parks and playgrounds, from creating an A to Z summer to playing sudoku on your driveway, the ideas in this book are fabulous.  Pretzel-making, learning letters and numbers, practicing computation, and developing fine motor and gross motor skills, the book has you covered all summer long.

Your kids–and you–will have a blast.  We guarantee it.

we teach summer ebook


The great news? The eBook is totally and completely free for all members of we teach, and anyone can join the forum.

Though it is a public forum, membership is approved and some resources–like our rockstar eBooks–are reserved for members only.

we teach summer ebook dividers

Many thanks to the following we teach members who are contributors of this year’s eBook:

We will be pinning ideas and recognizing our awesome eBook sponsors on our we teach pinterest boards, so stay tuned.

Not only will the eBook contributors’ ideas be pinned, but we’ll also pin every single other submission–so it’ll be sure to be packed with cool ideas.


Join us for a twitter event on June 11, 2013 to kick off the publication of the eBook and to chat about summer learning. Here are the details: summer learning twitter event.

This will be sure to be an unforgettable summer, filled with fun learning for families!

alphabet and reading on the road

alphabet and reading on the road

alphabet and reading on the roadThe kids and I spent the weekend in Pennsylvania, showering my baby sister and her husband with love for their soon-to-be baby boy.

Though we experienced a little more excitement than we had planned (more on that later!), our trip back to Maryland was totally uneventful–and we spent the 3 1/2 hour ride unplugged, chatting, kids dozing, and playing some old school roadtrip games.

We brought back some oldies but goodies and did a wee bit o’ alphabet playing and reading on the road.

Silly stuff that got Maddy, Owen, and Cora’s brains moving and eyes hunting for letters, words, numbers, and more.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Alphabet and Reading on the Road: This was a simple throwback games with a bit of a new twist.

Our goal was to find the whole alphabet, similar to the days of our Alphabet Hunt on the road, but this time when we found a letter, the person who found it had to call out the word it was a part of.

So our focus wasn’t to find a word that began with each letter of the alphabet.  Rather, it was to locate each letter of the alphabet on the environmental print we encountered on the road–street signs, billboards, trucks, buildings, etc–and to read the word in which that letter was located.

And the really funny part is that between Pennsylvania and Maryland, there are a whole lot of towns, roads, highways, and the like with names that are heavily influenced by its rich Native American history.  We encountered lots of words that were really tough to pronounce, but they forced everyone–each one of us!–to slow down and do some serious stretching of the words.

alphabet and reading on the road

Sure, along the way we heard a lot of:

  • E! I see an ‘E’ and it’s in ‘Allentown!’
  • Got it! Found the ‘O’ in ‘Road’!
  • Ooooh, I found a fancy ‘L’ and it’s in ‘Cab-el-las’ –Cabellas!
  • Oh my gosh! Double ‘X’ in ‘next exit’! Doubles!!

But there was also a lot of

  • Uh, there’s an ‘M’ and it’s in uh. .  .Kroomsvale. No, Krums. Krums-ville. Krumsville. I think that’s it.
  • Hey! I found an ‘R’ and it’s Len- Lenhart-Lenharts-Lenhartsville! Lenhartsville!

It was cool–and it was a really fun ‘next step’ for the alphabet hunts we’ve done while on the road.

What I loved most was the kids’ excitement over finding letters in the environment–we were really, truly playing with environmental print but also using it for some reading work as well.   There were no winners.  There were no losers. We were just working together, on the hunt for the alphabet and reading along the way.

Though we played about three rounds, we took breaks in between for snacks or restroom stops.  And each time, they’d be all in it to win it–to find every last letter. I think we skipped ‘Q’ the second time around, but who’s really keeping track?

Jennifer Prior and Maureen Gerard, in Environmental Print in the Classroom: Meaningful Connections for Learning to Read, (2004, International Reading Association) cite the importance of environmental print in early literacy education. Though their research and resources are more directed toward using environmental print in classrooms, their findings hold true for at-home learning.  The authors state:

Our research suggests that the adult is the key element to effectively using environmental print to teach beginning reading skills. When an adult draws attention to the letters and sounds in environmental print words, children are more likely to transfer this knowledge to decontextualized print—text without color and graphics.

I truly believe that the adult who first brings environmental print into focus for kiddos–at home or on the road–should be the parent.  It’s all about creating word conscious kids, kids who love, appreciate, and celebrate language, appreciate it, right?  

So let’s get on the alphabet hunt–and start reading along with it!


huge thanks to the following for points of reference:

Prior, J., & Gerard, M.R. (2004). Implementing an Environmental Print Curriculum. In Environmental Print in the Classroom (pp. 25-74). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

homemade Scratch Art bookmark valentines: easy, cool, kid-happy

homemade bookmark valentines

homemade bookmark valentines coveraffiliate links are used in this post

It’s that time of year when hearts and love and pink and hugs and candy and kisses are in the air.

So the kids and I have been busy making Valentines for their classmates—one of our favorite holiday traditions.

This year, with the help of Melissa & Doug’s Scratch Art Bookmarks, our homemade Valentines stepped up a few notches on the cool meter.   Actually, they’re so cool and Maddy, Owen, and Cora are so excited to share them with their buddies, that these homemade Scratch Art Bookmark Valentines may actually be off of the cool meter.

They were quick and easy to make which is a plus when you’re working with a 9, 7, and 5 year old, but they’re still totally and completely cute.

Anyone can make them.  And all kids will love ‘em.

And there’s no glue involved. (Hey, that’s a plus for some families. . .)

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Homemade Scratch Art Bookmark Valentines: Scratch Art meets bookmarks meets Valentine’s Day. So fun.homemade bookmark valentines supplies

Our supplies are ready to go–hole punch, Valentine cards, and scissors!

Scratch Art Bookmarks are simply bookmarks that appear plain-Jane black and boring. But with the help of a teeny, little scratch stick, you can ‘scratch’ designs–letters, words, shapes, scenes, you name it–and the images appear in a fun ‘hidden’ rainbow pattern.

bookmark valentines stamp cora

It’s the same Scratch Art material that we used for Maddy’s Golden Birthday goodie bags back in December, but we used key chains, fashion dolls, and bracelets.

For our Bookmark Valentines, we used the Scratch Art Bookmark Party Pack which includes 12 bookmarks, 12 scratching sticks, and 12 ribbons for the bookmark.

homemade bookmark valentines stick


homemade bookmark valentines


What took the longest was creating the actual card part; though I knew we were going to rock it out with the Scratch Art® Bookmarks, I wasn’t sure how we were going to incorporate the bookmark and the card part.  But I played around with sizes, with folds, with where to put the stick and where the kids could sign the cards, and I think we nailed it.

I created the Bookmark Valentines 2013 sheet, and then I printed it out on brightly-colored cardstock, about 65lb.  There are four cards on each sheet, and the document has three pages of cards for a total of 12 cards each.

The Bookmark Valentines can be printed below:


homemade Scratch Art bookmark valentines by teach mama

I have no idea how many total I printed, but definitely enough to cover Maddy, Owen, and Cora’s classes.

After the cards were cut, the kids folded them in half.  It was easiest for them to figure out where to sign them once the cards were folded.

Maddy, Owen, and Cora each added a Valentine’s-type stamp—hearts, ‘LOVE’, flowers, and the like—and then they signed their names.

bookmark valentines owen stamp write

Next we added a fancy ribbon to the Scratch Art bookmark. The set comes with shiny red ribbons, but we mixed it up a bit and added some festive ribbons we had here at home—gold, white, pink, silver, and dotted.

While the kids were busy stamping and signing the cards and stringing their bookmarks, I was flexing my muscles with the hole-punch.

homemade bookmark valentines ribbon

I created the Valentine cards with two tiny ‘X’s’ on the front of each card. These were for me so I knew where to punch the holes.  Once holes were punched, the kids threaded the stick through, and the we were finished!

Miraculously, once the scratch stick was through the holes, the card stayed shut and the bookmark was safe.  So. Totally. Cute!  And so. Totally. Functional. No tape, no glue. Schweet!

homemade bookmark valentines ribbon


homemade bookmark valentines finish


So over several days, we cut, stamped, signed, threaded, punched, and sorted Valentines.  And while we worked, we chatted, laughed, and worked together to ‘tweak’ our process so that everyone was comfortable with what they were doing.

And we were all pretty positive that these Scratch Art Bookmark Valentines would be a huge hit for their classmates and teachers!  Such a fun way of celebrating our our kids’ love of reading with a Valentine treat that didn’t involve sweets!


homemade bookmark valentines finished


homemade bookmark valentines finished


homemade bookmark valentines finished


So there you have it, another year of homemade Valentines made simply–but with a whole lot of love.

Happy Valentine-making, friends!

melissa and doug ba logo

fyi: I wrote this post as part of the Melissa & Doug Blog Ambassador program.   I’m thankful for Melissa & Doug for always creating great, smart products for children of all ages. Products that allow for some thinking, crafting, and creative playing. 

fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

iPad apps: best apps for teaching, learning and fun

ipad apps for teaching and learning

ipad apps for teaching and learning

Here it is–the long-awaited post that I promised months ago: iPad apps for teaching, learning, and fun.

But what better day to share it than on a day when many–many!–families around the world will be ripping open a blank-slate iPad? And the cool thing is that you can find many of the same apps on any android device!

Many parents I know reach out like crazy those first few days, looking for ideas for apps–rather than spend a fortune blindly choosing apps from the App Store–many smart parents reach out to their circle of pals.

So here it is: the best iPad apps (we’ve found) for learning and fun for kids.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • iPad Apps–Best Apps for Learning and Fun for Kids: They can’t all be for learning–some can be purely for fun, right?

So don’t judge, but here are the apps on our iPad (and we’re always open for new ones, so do share your faves please!).

ipad apps literacy and language arts

Starfall ABCs, Spelling City, and Word Mover are some of our literacy faves. . .

Kids Literacy Apps:

  • Starfall ABCs: Just like the amazing website for literacy learning, Starfall ABCs app is rockstar and totally worth your kids’ time.  If you use the site, the games are familiar, so kids can jump right in and learn those uber-important ABCs!
  • SpellingCity: This app is one of my faves because of the complete ease of use–kids can play with word lists of colors, Dolche,  or customized lists.  All of the familiar games are here and ready to play!
  • Word Mover: I had a chance to work with this app for, and it’s seriously fun. Think: magnetic poetry meets the iPad. Love.

ipad apps for literacy and reading

  • Wordball: Just like The Electric Company, this PBS- video in combination with word games = big fun for kids.  Many of the standard rules of language are focused on and featured in videos. A Reading Specialist’s dream.
  • Dabble:  Like Scrabble, but player tries to create a 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5- letter word on each step using the letters provided. Very fun.  Not easy at all, but a great word puzzle.
  • Storia: By Scholastic, this well-known name in the world of literacy and reading has created an app that is really top of the line.  The texts are engaging and relevant and supporting readers of all levels.  Kids can listen to the books being read or read on their own, and activities that support the text are clickable throughout.  Parents can manage books, read reading reports, and assign books to each reader’s ‘shelf’.
  • Ruckus eReader: Classics and contemporary hits, this is an interactive-text app totally worth time and money–but parents must adjust settings so kids aren’t able to purchase every book in the program.  I love how throughout the text kids can find words, answer questions, and really engage–but not all kids like that all of the time.  Parents are able to see kids’ progress by logging into the parent portal.


ipad apps math

Numbers League *  Sushi Monster * AmericanGirl Shave Ice

Kids’ Math Apps:

  • American Girl Shave Ice:  This is Maddy’s favorite. Players race to complete patterns in the shave ice orders that come through Kanani’s stand. Love. It. It’s fun to see how fast you can go and what you can unlock next, said Maddy.
  • Numbers League: This app is awesome. Fabulous super-hero graphics and an engaging and fun focus, this can be a multi-player game solo game.  It’s about seeing what numbers you get, said Owen. Then figuring out how they work together.
  • Sushi Monster: A math app from Scholastic, this one is a fave of our kids’.  Players can focus on addition or multiplication, and then they choose the sushi plates according to the sushi monster in the middle. For sushi-lovers, this is total fun.
  • Click Sushi:  Players scramble to find the number of rolls that the menu board calls for, and though players have to be able to read–in order to determine which roll is ordered–Cora likes this one if I’m sitting near her.  Perhaps because my kids actually like–and eat–sushi–this is a fave, but I’m not sure how it would go over if the player wasn’t familiar with the sushi rolls?
  • Hungry Fish: Cora likes this one, and I like how it gets her playing with numbers–and helping the fish’s bellies grow as she locates the correct numbers.  Music is tropical, graphics simple, and focus–number play!


ipad apps just for fun

Cookie Doodle * Breakfast *  Teddy London

Kids’ Just-For-Fun Apps:

  • Cookie Doodle: Kids can literally choose recipes, add ingredients in the coolest way possible tilt iPad to add drops vanilla, shake to sift flour etc. Hands down, it’s Cora’s favorite.  You can bake cookies, design them, eat them (not really!), or make a puzzle out of them, she says.
  • Fifa Soccer 12: This is Owen’s real favorite. It’s not a video and not a game–it’s both, and you can play each other. Plus it’s the real teams and the real players on those teams.  Players can actually play soccer using the real guys from real teams. 
  • American Girl Gymtastic: Another of Maddy’s favorites, this one features McKenna, the gymnast, and she twists, turns, and jumps on the balance beam through different challenges.   Great for fine motor and reflexes. Maddy says,  It’s fun to see what moves McKenna will do when she jumps and if you can beat the high score.
  • Highlights Hidden Pictures Countdown: Hidden Pictures amped up in the most amazing way. Players find hidden pictures against the clock.
  • Breakfast: Breakfast. Made on the iPad. My kids love it. Loooove it. And I wish they were really making the incredible breakfasts they created here–but in real life.
  • Teddy London: We found this one during the Olympics, and it’s pretty simple–but they all love it. They create teddy bears. With clothes, colors, accessories. Watch for the ads–they’re heavy–but the teddy making fun is crazy.


ipad apps draw create

ColorStudio HD * Draw Along * Sketchbook Express

Drawing and Creating Apps:

  • Draw Along: This is a story-video-creation tutorial, and it’s great for little guys –and bigger ones. Drawings come to life while they share a fact or two with little artists.  So cool. Perfect for preschoolers and early elementary schoolers.
  • Sketchbook Express: This is insanity as far as creation apps go–it’s totally incredible what you can do, create, and control here. It’s a lot for even Maddy and Owen, but as they get older and become more savvy, I think this is the app they will turn to for design.
  • ColorStudio HD: By Crayola, this is a top-notch app that you can even spring for a special iMarker (we haven’t gone that route yet–and the app is STILL cool!).  Kids can color animated coloring pages.  Bottom line? Awesome.
  • Kids Doodle & Kaleido: We have the free versions here, and they’re both so cool. Kids can create a picture and then they can animate it. The kaleido one is the same, but drawings look like a kaleidoscope–so fun.
  • PBS Photo Factory: Kids can make photos using the characters from their favorite PBS Kids shows. It’s simple–but fun for little PBS Kids fans.


ipad apps reference

WorldFactBook * WeirdButTrue * GeoWalk

Fun Fact Apps:

  • WorldFactBook: An encyclopedia app at your fingertips. Every country is covered here (at least I think so), and
    users can search by location, map, and comparisons.  We haven’t used this much, but I love having it on hand in case we ever do–it’s everything we need to know about the world’s countries in one spot.
  • Geo Walk: Honestly, this app may be the most beautiful I have ever seen. The graphics, photos, and layout–aaaahhhh-mazing. Users can search articles by topics–plants, animals, people, plants, history, and beautiful ‘cards’ appear with information and details. Cool.
  • WeirdButTrue: By the National Geographic Society, this award-winning app is new for us, but my family looooves it. It reminds me of days when I’d page through the stacks and stacks and stacks of my grandparents’ National Geographic magazines–but with all of the coolest facts picked out. Graphics: awesome; facts: interesting; layout: easy. You can even ‘heart’ your fave facts or share them.


ipad apps fun and games

Angry Birds * Memory Matches * Rush Hour

More just-for-fun apps:

  • Angry Birds: We like it. And beyond the physics that kids are learning (c’mon, you know they are. . . ) the characters, challenges, and focus here is totally fun for kids . . . and adults.   We have Angry Birds Rio and Angry Birds Space. I’m not sure why.
  •  Memory Matches: Memory. Who doesn’t love memory? Play alone or in tourneys, choose card size, sounds, and pictures. Best memory game app we’ve found.
  • Rush Hour: I’ve shared the Rush Hour love before, but having it on the iPad–where images are larger, graphics cleaner–is really great.  One of my kids’ faves, hands down.  We also have ChocFix, another ThinkFun app and game.
  • Spider Solitaire: Owen met Spider Solitaire thanks to my dad and sister, but Spider Solitaire is solitaire on steroids–and really, the game of solitaire is luck, sure, but also a handful of strategy and critical thinking. I’ll take it.
  • geek kids Chess: The cleanest and coolest chess game app we’ve found, this one allows players to choose an opponent, his ‘skill’ level, auto moves, analysis, move history, and tutorials. Very cool.


My kids know that this screen is their screen–and they are permitted to use anything inside.

Phew!Now how to organize all of these crazy apps? Simple: folders.  To create a folder, all you do is drag an app icon onto another. Then start grouping and label the folder.

Our folders are labeled: games; watch; play & read; games 2; draw & create; and fun facts. And everything inside is organized accordingly.

My ‘watch’ folder has Feel Electric; PBS Kids, Disney Channel, and Disney Junior, and with permission, they can watch what they want, when they’re on the Game Time Ticket clock.

And that’s it–our family’s favorite apps for teaching and learning–and fun!

A whole lot of teaching and learning and fun app talk–but what’s your fave?  Let me know–I’m sure I’m missing a ton!

fyi: This is a totally unsponsored post, but I often consult friends, family, and colleagues on their favorite apps–and many have allowed me to try out apps on freebie codes.  That in no way influenced this list; these are our faves, on our iPad right now.

5 cool ways to use halloween candy (other than eat all it immediately)

5 ways to use halloween candy cover

We all want to eat our kids’ Halloween candy.5 ways to use halloween candy

At least I do.

But we can’t.

So here are 5 cool ways to use Halloween candy–other than eating it all immediately which is sometimes what I feel like doing.

And when we play with, sort, mash, soak, paint with, or save the Halloween candy, the whole world is more sunny.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 5 Cool Ways to Use Halloween Candy (Other Than Eat It All Immediately):

5 cool ways to use halloween candy (other than eat all it immediately)


1.  Make a Candy Countdown Put some egg cartons to use and let the kids choose their favorites so they can grab a dessert for their lunchbox or after dinner for a few days.

2.  Paint with it.  Seriously. It’s fun–and it’s a great way for your kids to take a look at how ink, coloring, and dyes are used in food.

3.  Perform some seriously cool science experiments on it.   It’s more exciting than you think–and it’s worth doing every single year. Guaranteed if you do, your kiddos will get something new from it each and every time.

5 cool ways to use halloween candy (other than eat all it immediately)

4. Save it for holiday cookies.  We always set aside a bunch of Halloween candy to use for our Fancy Pretzels, cookies, and gingerbread houses.

5.  Play some games with it.  Halloween candy is perfect for sneaky math games like sorting, counting, and more—who knew Halloween candy could provide so much learning fun?!  It really is okay to play with your food!

Don’t forget that it’s also cool to give it away–sell it back to your dentist if she runs a Buy-Back program like ours, send it overseas to our military, or give it to someone you think might really want–or need it.

These are just a few ways that we use our–I mean, the kids‘–Halloween candy for learning, fun, and for other great uses.   Three cheers for Halloween candy!

halloween learning ideas — silly and scary literacy, math, and science

halloween learning

halloween learning

Halloween is in the air, and though we’ve just gotten around to decorating our house, we never do a lot of scary Halloween over here.

We always stick to the silly or tricky.

But, like any holiday, I truly believe that there are opportunities for sneaking in a little bit o’ learning during this candy-filled holiday.

A whole lot of fun—don’t get me wrong—but also a whole lot of fun learning as well.

Here’s the skinny on a few Halloween learning ideas—both silly and scary–literacy, math, and science learning for kids at a time when the world is black and gold, black and gold, nothing in between. . . when the world is black and gold, then it’s Halloween!

Really, it’s scary how much fun you can have with your kids around holiday time.  We like to start with Halloween.

Halloween Literacy Learning:

  • Halloween GHOST Bingo: Cute—not spooky—Halloween friends cover the boards and kids can practice learning the letters of “GHOST” while they use their eyes to match up the Halloween friends on cards to the ones on their boards.
  • Halloween Word Search: Perfect for emerging readers, word searches provide a super platform for really looking for letters. Add some Halloween words, and kids love playing detective!

hallowen book collage

Some of our favorite Halloween books:

  • Room on the Broom, by Julia Donaldson — the witch’s hat blows away, and while trying to find it, the witch picks up more and more friends, all who want to ride on her broom. We love the language in this book, and it’s super-silly.
  • Too Many Pumpkins, by Linda Arms White and illustrated by Megan Lloyd — a sweet story about lonely and cranky Rebecca Estelle who loathes pumpkins only to have her yard taken over by pumpkins one season. In an attempt to rid herself of these pesky gourds, she bakes tons of pumpkin goodies and draws her entire town to her house for a pumpkin party.  Read it to chat about inferring like we did; read it and love the illustrations, characters, and story
  • Arthur’s Halloween, by Marc Brown — as a mom I love the lesson in this book, no never judge a book by its cover, but with a fun Halloween theme, Arthur and D.W. don’t let us down!
  • Zen Ghosts, by Jon J. Muth — the children in this story learn from their panda friend Stillwater on Halloween–and who doesn’t need a little zen on a spooky holiday?

hallowen learning

Halloween Math Learning:

  • halloween party estimate game 2013: a perfect quick game to help kids practice number sense and estimating, it’s as easy as can be to get kids psyched about counting and numbers when candy corn or spiders are involved!
  • Leafy Grid Games: same kind of literacy and math prep but with Leafy Grid boards.
  • Blank Grid Games: use Halloween stickers or stamps as markers to continue the spooky fun.

Halloween Science Learning:

  • Candy Experiments: Use that leftover Halloween candy for some super-fun science experimenting!
  • Halloween Treat-Making: Cooking is science for kids, so get them in the kitchen and have them help you make these super cute witches’ fingers, eyeballs, boogers on a stick, and frozen ghosts.
  • Dinner in a Pumpkin:  A perfect opportunity to show kids how crazy cool food can be, a fun Halloween tradition is dinner in a pumpkin!

That’s it! Just a few fun literacy, math, and science related Halloween learning opportunities for families and kids!

And if you need some Halloween class party help, some not-so-scary Halloween tricks, or our new-and totally cool Halloween scarf. check it out, or feel free to leave links with your own fave Halloween sites.

Have something awesome I should add to the ole Halloween Pinterest Board? I’d LOVE to! Leave me the link!

Happy, happy, happy Halloween!

3 quick, hands-on, totally cool math games

count by fives game

3 hands-on math games

Every summer, our school hands out summer packets–worksheets upon worksheets with ways that parents can continue the learning all summer long.

And among the worksheets are ideas that incorporate learning in everyday activities for both reading and math.  I have to admit, I (gulp!) actually like these packets, but I also have to admit (gulp!) that I don’t force the kids to do every single page.

If there’s a concept that Maddy or Owen don’t understand, we skip it.

If there’s an activity that’s too involved or complicated, we skim through it.

If there’s something on the calendar that just won’t fly with my kids, we do something different.

I feel okay doing this because the point–I believe–is to keep kids engaged, to get their brains moving, and to remind them of the concepts they learned the previous year. So we do what we can.

But this summer, Maddy’s packet had a ton of really awesome, hands-on, totally cool math games from a site that I am grateful to have discovered.  These games are quick, and they are smart.

We’ve played them more than I expected, and even Owen got into the fun once or twice.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 3 Quick, Hands-On, Totally Cool Math Games: Though there are more than three in the packet–and dozens and dozens on the site, these are among our faves.

Along with Magic Triangles, which I shared a few days ago, the games we liked the most were quick and hands-on. And who doesn’t like quick in the summertime, right?

magic triangle math

Magic Triangles was a fave

1. 11 MoreThe premise of 11 More is simple: adding 11 to the number rolled on a die. Players each choose a color counter and take turns rolling a die.  They calculate the total of the number rolled plus 11.

And then the player places a counter on the corresponding number on the ‘board’.  The first player to have four counters in a row (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally) is the winner!

11 more math game

We used gems as our counters. . .

11 more math game

. . . and though I tried hard. . .

11 more math game

. . . Maddy beat me several times.


2.  Count by 5’s –again, a very simple game.  But there’s something that kids love about flipping cards, taking turns, and trying to win.  In this game, players simply take turns flipping a card from the top of the deck and figuring out where on the board it ‘fits’.

We played that the first person to complete a row was the winner, but we played it pretty loosely.

count by fives game

We flipped. . .

count by fives game

. . . counted by 5’s. . .

count by fives game

. . . and completed rows!


3.  Magic Star Puzzle— The Magic Star Puzzle was the toughest of the games Maddy played.

The object is to position the counters marked 1-12 in the star so that each row and diagonal has a sum of 26. Sounds easy–but it required a lot of thought!

magic star puzzle

Magic Star Puzzle was a challenge!

And that’s it–just 3 quick, hands-on, totally cool math games that kept the kids’ brains and hands moving during the summer months.  What I love about these games is that they can be used any time of the year–for math centers, for math supplemental help, for tutoring, you name it!

Let the math fun begin!

fyi: Huge, huge, huge thanks to our school and fabulous teachers for putting together these awesome packets.  And thank you thank you thank you for introducing me to an incredible site, K-5 Math Teaching Resources–a simple site packed with really great resources for children. I am truly in awe!  If you want to find the games mentioned above, head to the 2nd Grade Number Activities.