how to host a summer reading book swap event

summer reading book swap |

summer reading book swap Summer is almost in full swing, and for our family, there’s no better way to begin our summer fun than with a Summer Reading Kick-Off Party!

Each year, we invite a few friends over and turn it into an easy Backyard Book Swap.

It’s a great way to ease into summer and to remind kids that they still have to keep their brains moving over the long, hot months.

We always make it super-casual, and we always keep it fun.  This year, we kept it even more simple by having Maddy, Owen, and Cora walk home with some swim and dive buddies, books in hand, ready to swap.

The cool thing is that anyone can host a Summer Reading Book Swap.  And the par-tay can be done in the backyard, basement, or playroom. It can be in the beginning of the summer, middle, or even the end of summer–morning, afternoon, or evening.

All you need are some eager friends and a few books.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Host a Summer Reading Book Swap: In my opinion, for any get-together, you only need a few necessities: food & fun people. That’s it.

But for the Book Swap, you’ll need a few books, of course!

We rarely send out formal invites–more of a quick email or phone call thing for us–but if you’d like, you can use the super-cute Summer Reading Book Swap invites below:

summer reading book swap invite

You can make your Book Swap a potluck where everyone brings something to share, or you can do what we did–provide snacks.

Our pals packed the main courses of their lunches (a sandwich or bagel) and we had fruit, veggies, chips, and drinks to share. And of course, we had freeze-pops for dessert!

summer reading book swap

Decorations? Easy. Big posters.

I’m a huge fan of graffiti walls, so we did what we could. A few posters where kids could write down their favorite books and characters. That’s it!

summer reading book swap

summer reading book swap

Kids ate lunch when they first got here, because hungry kids post-swim practice are no fun for Book Swaps!  So with full bellies, we were ready to move into the swap.

How do eleven kids actually swap without having the event turn into a big, awful brawl?

They draw straws!

summer reading book swap

 I cut a bunch of straws in varying lengths. Everyone picked one, and I told them to hide it once it was picked. Keep the size a secret.

Then I said, Okay, guys, we have to figure out who has the shortest and who has the longest and everything in between. So take a few minutes, figure out who has what and put yourselves into perfect straw-size order. When you’re finished, tell me by clapping three times together.

They were excited about it and got rolling right away–it’s a fun activity for a big bunch of kids and cool to see who steps up to organize.

summer reading book swap

summer reading book swap

summer reading book swap collage

It was a lot of fun.

Once the kids put themselves in order from smallest straw to tallest, I gave each child a sticker with a number 1-10.

Then I reminded them about how to choose “just right” books, and we talked about what it means to choose a book that “fits” you.

summer reading book swap collage

our ‘best fit’ bookmarks will be great reminders for the kids as they read

Then I called numbers 1, 2, and 3 up to choose their first book.

After the first group, numbers 4, 5, and 6 went up.

Finally, 7, 8, 9, and 10 hit the table to choose books.

We went through the groups a few times so that each child could grab 3-5 books, and if they really wanted another, after everyone went, they could grab another.

It worked out great.

summer reading challenge scholastic

summer reading challenge scholastic

Once everyone was settled with books, we chatted about the Scholastic Summer Challenge. My friends from Scholastic sent along some fun Summer Challenge goodies–books, bookmarks, pins, stickers, and tattoos!–so the kids had seen news of the Challenge and were curious.

Many kiddos had already grabbed a bunch of the Summer Challenge bookmarks and shoved them into each of their ‘new’ books.  I showed them that the bookmarks explained a little bit about the Summer Challenge and included a website where participants could actually track their time reading.

I also told them: scholastic summer challenge

  • The Scholastic Summer Challenge is a fun summer reading initiative that really makes it easy and fun for families to read. 
  • Scholastic is doing what they can to help kids prevent the summer slide–when kids forget what they learn during the school year–and to help kids read at least 11 books this summer–11 is the ‘magic number’ people think kids should read over the summer, but we know it should be more.
  • If you log your minutes read on the Scholastic Reading Timer, you can help beat Scholastic’s World Record from 2012 of over 95 million minutes read. Some schools are even doing it together and the winning school will get a visit from the author of Captain Underpants!
  • The Challenge runs from May 6th- September 6th, so there’s still a LOT of time to get involved!
  • Kids can log their minutes read each day and win prizes!

I showed them the Reading Timer on the iPad, and after our guests left, I registered Maddy, Owen, and Cora for this year’s Challenge. It only takes a few minutes to sign them up, and I know they’ll love logging their minutes. I tied their time to their school–so they’ll also love watching that time change throughout the summer.

Knowing how close we keep our iPads and phones, I know that updating the times will take no time at all. Cool incentive for our tech-savvy kiddos, too, to be able to log on and log time after they read.

And that’s it! Just a fun–hot!–Summer Reading Book Swap made so much more fun with great kids and a fab program.

Our summer plan:

What do you think? How do you kick off summer reading with your kids? Let me know in the comments!

fyi: Many thanks to Scholastic for sharing some sweet summer reading goodies with us.  This is an unsponsored post, written only as an honest parent and educator who is grateful and proud to work with such a great company as a writer for the Scholastic Parents Raise a Reader blog.

quick, easy father’s day surprise notes: kid-made and dad-approved

fathers day daily surprise cards

fathers day daily surprise cards Father’s Day is here.

Like practically tomorrow.

And with the whirlwind of the end-of-school excitement, Father’s Day often takes a back seat to. . . well, other things.

Not this year.

Even though we’re on the clock, the kids and I made these quick and easy Father’s Day Surprise Notes that I know their dad will adore.

Kid-made–all of their ideas–and totally Dad-approved–all things he will love.

But this is not your typical Father’s Day Ticket Book. We’ve been there and done that. And really? They don’t always work.  The dad in this house, at least, often forgets to use his tickets and then they go to waste.

Not this year.

New version. Guaranteed to work.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Quick, Easy Father’s Day Surprise Notes– Kid-Made and Dad-Approved: So instead of giving Dad all of the tickets at once, we’re keeping the kids in control this time.

We’ll show Dad the Dad Rules envelope on Father’s Day, but then we’re taking it back.

He sees it and then he doesn’t. Like magic.

fathers day surprise tickets

fathers day surprise tickets

The kids (and I, of course!) will surprise their dad every so often with a Father’s Day Surprise Ticket–fun little treats to make Father’s Day last a whole lot longer than one measly day in June.

We simply changed the wording of the tickets, added in a few more surprises, printed them off, and we’re done.

Maddy, Owen, and Cora added a few of their own–there’s a blank page for last-minute ideas–and they added a few before we sealed the envelope.

Fathers Day Surprise Tickets 2013 by teach mama

We added a few fancy stickers on the envelope, and we’re good to go.

fathers day surprise tickets

Father’s Day Surprise Tickets . . .

fathers day surprise tickets

. . . fun for the kids to make,

fathers day surprise tickets

sans glue and crazy craft supplies.

And that’s it–just a quickie little way for the kids to show Dad they care!

All you need for these is imagination and a dad who can roll with the punches, handle a few good surprises, and enjoys a few creative kids!

Happy Father’s Day, dads!!

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!

digital and hand-drawn bookmarks: modern kid masterpieces

digital and hand drawn bookmark designs

digital and hand drawn bookmark designsThe Washington Post’s KidsPost is hosting a bookmark design contest for its Summer Book Club.

So between shoving Cheerios and oj in their faces at breakfast on Tuesday, Maddy, Owen, and Cora decided that they were going to enter the contest–and win.

I’m doing mine on Pixie, Owen declared.

I’m drawing mine because I am so good at drawing and coloring.  Cora.

I’m using Pixie, too. I’m like getting really good at it, said Maddy.

With that, breakfast was over and kids shuffled into the craft room to work on their bookmarks.

It was only shared in Tuesday’s KidsPost, so the turnaround time is quick, but if you want your kids to get in on the bookmark design par-tay, then get them thinking, designing, and creating stat.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Digital and Hand-Drawn Bookmarks– Modern Kid Masterpieces: Modern kid masterpieces because in no time flat, kids can pull off something really fantastic when they put their mind to it.

And it always amazes me to watch my kids concentrating and working hard–whether it’s on the computer, creating a digital design–or whether it’s on the table, pen or markers or watercolors in hand, blank paper in front of them. It’s cool.

digital and hand drawn bookmarks

The bookmark contest skinny’s in Tuesday’s KidsPost.

So to get my kids started, I turned on the computer. Owen got set up with Pixie–still one of our top choices for digital creation for kids–and he didn’t stop until he was pleased with his bookmark–only about 10 minutes later.

Maddy and Cora started drawing. I cut several 5″ x 2″ blank bookmarks, and they colored, drew, and created.

summer reading bookmark contestl


summer reading bookmark contest


Contest Details can be found on the KidsPost site, but essentially:

  • it’s open to kids ages 5-13;
  • bookmarks should be 5″ x 2″;
  • it should be an original design with the “Animal Adventures” theme;
  • the winning design will be given to every participant in the KidsPost Summer Book Club;
  • the contest ends on Thursday, May 29, 2013 at 5pm;
  • bookmarks can be sent to the KidsPost offices or emailed to

That’s it.

They worked a little on their designs that night and a bit the next morning, and then I scanned the finished products and sent them in!


summer reading bookmark c


summer reading bookmark contest


What I think is so rockstar about this is not the bookmark design contest–sure, it’s cool but contests come and go. If one of them wins, it’ll be awesome. But if not, that’s okay too.

What I think is really awesome is how differently Maddy, Owen, and Cora thought about and then created their designs: Owen knew immediately what he wanted to do and used Pixie for one and drew another; Maddy used Pixie for her design and changed and re-arranged and changed and re-arranged.  And Cora’s had to be exactly as she pictured them and drew both of hers.

Though there was the inevitable quibbling through this event, I heard collaborating:

Um, Maddy, I want to make it so the dog is like thinking ‘Animal Adventures’ so do you know a way to make that bubble? or

Do you think kids will want an orange background or a green one?

our digital kidsHow do you spell ‘squirrel’ again?

That’s it.  Masterpieces by my modern, digital kids.

I am pleased that, with support from school and home, the kids are comfortable enough to use Pixie quickly and successfully.  Pretty cool.  And these skills? All transferable–can be used for this contest or another or something down the road.

Happy bookmark creating!

fyi: Thanks to The Washington Post’s KidsPost for hosting this and other kid-happy contests and for being just so . . . awesome.  And thanks to Tech4Learning (creators of Pixie) for also being just so. . . awesome.

how to make butterfly pens: a sweet spring garden gift

butterfly pens sweet spring garden gift

butterfly pens cover

For Teacher Appreciation Week, for Mother’s Day, as a birthday party favor, or for any occasion, these butterfly pens are indeed a sweet spring garden gift!

No glue, no sewing, no lengthy prep, these butterfly pens are totally quick and so easy.  And so beautiful.

And the really cool thing is that they’re easy enough that kids can get involved no problem. They can show their love and appreciation by helping to create these, while working their fine motor skills along the way.

With a little trip to the craft store, you’ll have everything you need–and some pieces you may have under your roof already.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Make Butterfly Pens– A Sweet Spring Garden Gift:  Another big win for these guys is that they make use of all that mixed-up, almost-on-the-outs PlayDoh that you’ve had sitting around.

butterfly pens sweet spring garden gifts

 Your Butterfly Pen Spring Garden supplies


Biggest tip? Spend the extra on good-quality butterflies. So worth it.

You’ll need: (affiliate links are included)

butterfly pens playdoh

Then get started!

1. Make weights for your pails. The pails are light. The pens are light. So if you don’t weigh them down somehow, they’ll tip over and just be a pain in the neck.

Maddy, Owen, and Cora just scraped together baseball-sized globs of old Play-Doh, rolled them into balls, and shoved them in the bottom of their silver pails.

butterfly pens playdoh bucket

2. Wrap Butterflies around the pens.  The way these butterflies are made makes it really easy to wrap them onto the pens.

Take the caps off of the pens and start from the top, wrapping the butterfly wire around the pen.

butterfly pens

The butterflies are already attached to wire. . .

butterfly pens

 . . . so wrapping the pen is totally easy.

butterfly pens

Now you just need to cover the wire with tape.

3.  Wrap the pen with Duct Tape.  This may be the most difficult part of the whole process, and it’s not even that difficult. Just tricky.

One thing to remember is that they do not need to be perfect. They can’t be perfect. And the more we remind ourselves of this, the more fun  you’ll have doing it.

butterfly pens duct tape

Cora cuts the tape–not easy–so better for an adult to do it.

We cut the Duct Tape long enough to leave a teeny, tiny bit over the top and then we cut it short enough so that it ended before the curve of the pen tip.

Totally impossible to make these completely flat, so we went with the bumpy, wavy look.

butterfly pens butterfly wrap

Owen wraps his pen for his teacher. . .

butterfly pens butterfly wrap

. . . and so does Cora.

One thing we were careful to do was to flatten the very tip of the wire and then double-up on the tape.

Otherwise, if we didn’t, the pointy part of the wire would poke fingers as they used the pen. Ouch. Lucky it was an easy fix!

butterfly pens wrap

Tiny bit of tape at the end did the job. . .

butterfly pens wrap

. . . and we thought the ‘wave’ of the wire through the tape made the pen look more ‘grassy’.

butterfly pens wrap

4. Fill the pail with grass. So easy. Plop it in.  Bam. Done.

Just don’t skimp on this because otherwise it’ll look strange. If you want to put a big bunch of glue on the Play-Doh to keep the grass in place, that works, but we didn’t do that.

butterfly pens grass

Crinkle-cut paper worked so perfectly as grass for our little butterfly gardens.

5. Add your butterflies and flowers to the little gardens.  So fun.

The very first thing Maddy, Owen, and Cora did was pick the colors of their butterflies, so when it came time to add theirs to the garden tins, they knew exactly which three to grab.

No need for glue; the butterfly pens stick in pretty tightly among the crinkle-cut grass. Woot!


butterfly pens planting the garden

Adding just a dab of glue to the flowers . . .

butterfly pens planting the garden

. . . so that they don’t fall out . . .

butterfly pens planting the garden

. . . of the garden. Just a wee bit because it’s really okay if they move around a little.

butterfly pens planting the garden

Final little butterfly pens and little gardens? So cute. So totally cute.

butterfly pens planting the garden

We love them.

They couldn’t be more beautiful, and really, each one of the kids was so proud.

And so was I.  Here’s to hoping that everyone who receives one loves her little butterfly garden!

And that’s it–just a little springy craft in the name of Teacher Appreciation and Mother’s Day. But really? It’s a super-cute something that could be used for any occasion!

We made one for each teacher, one for each grandmother, and one for great-grandmother. Shhhhh.

Though we made flower pens for our teachers and grandmothers and great-grandmother last year, the response was so great that we thought we’d do it again.  New teachers meant it wasn’t a repeat gift for them, but I’m betting that the ‘mothers’ used their flower pens so frequently, it just might be time for replacements!

Happy butterfly-garden building!


fyi: Affliliate links are used in this post, which means any time you click on one and buy from Amazon, we get a teeny, tiny, miniscule percentage of your purchase. Every little bit counts, and we totally and completely appreciate you using our links!

quick and easy inexpensive thank you gifts for teachers

easy thank you gifts for teachers

thank you gifts for teachersNo matter how or when you do it, it’s an important time of the year to offer a sincere ‘thank you!’ to teachers, especially with National Teacher Day and Teacher Appreciation Week just around the corner.

Teacher Appreciation Week is the second week in May! Every year! That’s right.

But as a mom of three, I know that often, it’s really hard to scrape together the cold, hard cash for all of your kids’ teachers’ gifts.  Especially if you include your kids’ extra-curricular teachers, or their para-educators, support teachers, and adminstrators, there are a lot of people who support your child’s education.

It’s also hard to find time for putting together a thank you gift.

There are ways, however, to say ‘thank you’ without spending a trillion bucks.

And without buying dollar store junk that will fare well as White Elephant gifts for holiday parties.  And without spending a trillion hours on a craft you saw on Pinterest that looked a whole lot cooler on a pinboard than it does in real life, on your kitchen counter.

Go simple.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Quick and Easy Inexpensive Thank-You Gifts for Teachers: These are simple but sweet. And seriously functional.


thank you gifts for teachers

Simple thank you’s for teachers that are fun, frugal, and functional.

What teacher couldn’t use a well-made plastic container?

And what teacher couldn’t use some sweets?

Right. And when you combine them and add a little happy message, it’s sure to bring a smile to his or her face, any day of the week.

For our little teacher thank-you gifts, which Maddy, Owen, and Cora gave to their teachers one day this year, we went with the Systema Klip-It minis.  The kids use the lunch cubes every day, and we have come to love and trust this brand.

We used bold, vinyl alphabet stickers and added the following words to one side of each container:

  • thank you
  • love
  • joy
  • peace

And then we filled each small container with hard candy.  Bam. Done.


thank you gifts for teachers - 01


Each child wrote a small note to the teacher, which we included with the gift.

Notes make a big difference for teachers–for anyone, actually.  Both my husband and I still have boxes of personal notes from parents, students, and colleagues, and it’s amazing how rewarding it is to look back and read those every so often.

Maddy, Owen, and Cora gave the ‘Thank You’ boxes to their classroom teachers, and they gave the ‘Peace’, ‘Love’, and ‘Joy’ ones to their Religion School teachers. However, I’m betting that any of these messages would work for either teacher.


thank you gifts for teachers

The Sistema colored containers looked great with white stickers. . .

thank you gifts for teachers

 . . . and the clear containers looked great with black or rainbow stickers.

All wrapped up with a little curling ribbon, these little tokens of appreciation looked pretty good to us.

And from what the kids said, their teachers were quite pleased.

All I know is that I am thankful Every. Single. Day. for the gifts that are my kiddos’ teachers. Every day I am thankful because I know firsthand how difficult their jobs are and how every year the demands are more and more great for teachers.

So to be a gifted teacher–to be able to reach children and teach children? Not easy.  Not easy in the least.

You better believe I’m saying thanks.

Tomorrow? A whole lot more on Teacher Appreciation. Woot.

fyi: Affiliate links are used in this post.

simple, sweet butterfly birthday with awesome ME boxes

butterfly birthday bash


post contains affiliate links


butterfly birthday bash

Our Cora had a Butterfly Birthday Bash Playdate, which was fun and simple and beautiful and full of butterflies and perfect for ringing in numero seis.

Our tiniest turned 6.  Six!

And all she wanted was rollerskates and butterflies and cupcakes. And a butterfly pinata.

So because she has an aunt who is having a baby any day now, we kept things simple for Cora’s butterfly birthday bash, in the event that I had to drop everything and run to the hospital to hang out with my youngest sister and squeeze and kiss and love on my newest nephew.

A four-gal birthday playdate is a big change from Cora’s party last year, but it was just as fun.

The girls kept busy with a simple, sweet craft–Awesome ME boxes–for each girl, that began as Butterfly Chests from Melissa & Doug but turned into so much more with a little love hidden inside.

And we enjoyed seriously beautiful butterfly cupcakes, pink lemonade, and a butterfly birthday pinata.

Here’s the skinny . . .

  • Simple, Sweet Butterfly Birthday with Awesome ME Boxes:  Three buddies from school with Maddy and Owen helping out, and it was great.

As the girls arrived, they decorated their goodie bags, which I always think is a great first activity because it gives kids something to do right away–especially if they’re younger and are hesitant in new places.butterfly birthday bash - painting boxes

Before the girls arrived, we set up their painting stations.

butterfly birthday bash - boxes

 That way, they were ready to roll right away–great for a short playdate birthday party!

Then they wanted to start painting.

I told them, These Butterfly Boxes are much more than just regular boxes. After you paint them and decorate them, they’ll become Awesome ME Boxes.  Anyone know what an Awesome ME Box is?

No one did. And no one wanted to even take a guess.

So I told them: Awesome ME Boxes are boxes made especially for awesome YOU. When you are finished, we’ll put teeny, tiny, special notes inside, just for you. And every morning when you wake up, you can open your box and read a message. And each message will remind you of how awesome and incredible and special you are.

They loved the idea.

awesome me notes |

awesome ME notes

The Awesome ME Notes are here to download if you’d like. 

We have one set for bigger girls: awesome ME notes

And another set for younger girls: awesome ME notes- little girls

If you decide to share the notes, great! Just please, please link to this post instead of note page. Thank you!

Cora’s really loving hers, and so is Maddy.

And I love that the girls start the day with a little reminder of how awesome they are.


butterfly birthday bash - painting

Cora works on painting her Awesome ME Butterfly Box. . .

butterfly birthday bash - painting

. . . and they all keep at it. . .

butterfly birthday bash - girls painting

until they finish!

butterfly birthday bash - boxes

They painted the inside –

butterfly birthday bash - finished

– and outside. The Awesome ME Butterfly Boxes were BEAUTIFUL!

After boxes were painted, we sang Happy Birthday and ate sweets.

Sweets? Really simple and so sweet– of course they were Butterfly Cupcakes!

My amazing and talented friend MaryLea gave me the idea for these cupcakes, which are simply regular cupcakes, iced with pink lemonade and white vanilla frosting (those were Cora’s color choices!), and a butterfly on top!

butterfly birthday cupcakes - 1

Cora chose the fancy paper at the craft store.

butterfly birthday cupcakes - paper

And then she helped me cut the wings. Can you see the cardboard wing on the bottom of the photo?

We used it to cut each set of wings.

The butterfly is totally adorable–we cut wings from fancy, double-sided scrapbooking paper, and added a gummy worm in the inside for the butterfly body. With a little fancy folding (not really–we just folded in a little space in the inside of the butterfly wings for the gummy worm to sit flat.

That way, the wings stood up, ready for flight, and the butterfly body sat comfy inside.

butterfly birthday cupcakes - wings

Our many butterfly wings. . .

butterfly birthday cupcakes - folds

 folded such that the gummy worm-butterfly body can sit flat inside.

butterfly birthday cupcakes - worms

Gummy worms, soon to become. . .

butterfly birthday cupcakes - cupcake


It’s a magical metamorphosis cupcake miracle!

butterfly birthday bash - cupcake tower

Cora helped choose bodies for each of the butterflies.

butterfly birthday bash cupcake tower

Yes, the paper got a little messy after being on top of the cupcakes, but we placed them on about 30 minutes before the girls arrived, and they just put the wings on their plates after they ate the gummy worm.

After cake, the girls batted around a butterfly pinata filled with sweets and super-small treats.  They used their goodie bag to catch and store treats, which worked out perfectly.

When the butterfly pinata had met its match, the girls made sure that everyone had about the same amount of candy and treats.

butterfly birthday bash - pinata

Butterfly pinata makes a playdate birthday bash crazy fun.

And then they played.

And then they sang. Because what 6 year old girl can be in the same room with a a full-blown rockstar stage and not want to get on the mic?

When they were ready to go home, we packed up their Awesome ME Boxes (Butterfly Chests) for them, using the same boxes they arrived in, but with name labels so we didn’t get mixed up.

We cut the Awesome ME notes and put them inside an envelope, along with the extra sheet of notes.  When the girls’ boxes are dry, their moms will put their notes inside the boxes.

butterfly birthday bash - boxes ready

Awesome ME Boxes are ready to head home!

butterfly birthday bash - awesome me notes

And each morning, the girls will open their box to find a special Awesome ME note. . .

butterfly birthday bash - notes

 . . . so they can begin each day with a pat on the back and an extra push of love and confidence.

Overall, it was a super-awesome, simple and sweet Butterfly Birthday.

Though there’s no new baby (yet!), we’ve got a six-year-old who hasn’t stopped smiling–or rollerskating–for several days.

What more could we ask for? 



melissa & doug BA badge 2013


fyi: I wrote this post as part of the Melissa & Doug Blog Ambassador program.   Melissa & Doug is currently working on a super-awesome Birthday Bash campaign, where tons of cool birthday party ideas will be shared. Read the Melissa & Doug blog to get the skinny!

beautiful, easy homemade flower barrettes

beautiful homemade flower barrettes

beautiful homemade flower barrettesWhile we were at the craft store this past weekend, picking up some supplies for Maddy’s after school club and for Cora’s Butterfly Birthday Playdate this weekend, we stumbled upon this AWEsome springtime craft.

Beautiful, easy homemade flower barrettes.

So beautiful. Like really, gorgeous and WOW! Beautiful.

So easy. Like made in under five minutes easy.

Maddy and Cora and I are in love with them.

And they will make the little loves in your life smile huge this Spring Break if you make ‘em. Promise.

Actually, make ‘em any time and you’ll find love fast.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Beautiful, Easy Homemade Flower Barrettes: So pretty, right? I know.

You only need a few things to make these babies, and one trip to the craft store will do it.  Any craft store will have ‘em but if you want to use these links, feel free:

Believe it. That’s all you need.   Maybe, if you want to get really fancy, you can add some gems and bling, but you don’t need to.

Now the whole deal, the start to finish, how-to-make-beautiful-easy-homemade-flower-barrettes is here in a quickie little vlog:

I love how beautiful these flower barrettes are but how totally simple they are to make.

I love that Maddy and Cora could ‘shop’ for their flowers and then wear them in their hair the very same day.

I love that my girls are not afraid to wear big, gorgeous, gaudy flowers in their hair to school, to the park, to anywhere.  Because it just really makes me smile.

Talk about a fun, simple, sweet springtime–or any time craft!   If your kids are old enough to help you with the glue-gun or help you with the cutting, it’s great fine motor skill work; if not, then put them to work in the choosing of flowers, arranging of leaves and petals, or blinging with some gems!

Have another idea for gorgeous barrettes? Have success adding something else totally cool to your own barrettes? Let me know! We’d love to add to our collection!


fyi: Amazon affiliate links are used in this post. Please feel free to use them–always appreciated because every little bit helps!

an easy-to-build stage for the performers in your family

how to build a stage |

how to build a stage

That’s right. A stage.

So your kids can totally rock it out during your spring break Staycation.  Or so your house becomes THE house for playdates.  Or so you and your husband can John and Olivia to some Summer Lovin’.  Or whatever floats your boat.

Think: a stage for plays, songs, acts, dances. Lots of pretending, lots of imagining, lots of dreaming.

Maddy, Owen, and Cora woke up Christmas morning to their very own homemade stage–a gift that came complete with rockstar karaoke machine and superstar lights. And it was–hands down–a big win for everyone.

We’ve had kids on stage, parents on stage, grandparents and aunts and uncles on stage. We’ve had cousins on stage and friends on stage and pets on stage.   And that’s only the beginning.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • An Easy-to-Build Stage for the Performers in Your Family:  I’m going to let my amazingly talented father-in-law take over here, since he and my husband were the masterminds behind this awesome stage.

They did the hard part. The planning and heavy lifting. I embellished.


from planner & stage builder, Tom Mascott:

Last fall our son asked me to help him build a simple stage for his and Amy’s three kids, ages 5, 7, 9.  Like most kids they love to do skits, sing karaoke and dance.  They thought a stage would be fun to highlight the kids’ performances.

We designed an easy-to-build 4’x6’ stage made up of two, independent 3’x4’ platforms, which can be used separately, or bolted together to make one larger stage.  Two platforms have the advantages of being lighter to move and being able to use only one when floor space is limited.

The kids love it.  Turns out to be fun for the entire family, including Grandma and I who perform a mean karaoke number.  On stage is a great place to spend fun time together with the family.

how to build a stage finished

Material list:

  • 4-  2”x6”x8’ pine*
  • 1-  2”x4”x8’ pine*
  • 1-  4’x8’x 5/8” plywood- good one side
  • 1¼ “ flat-head wood screws
  • 3”  flat-head wood screws
  • 2-  3½”x1/2” dia. hex bolts, four washers and two hex nuts
  • 8-  1½ “ corner brackets and approximately 35- ¾” round-head wood screws**
  • Wood glue
  • Linoleum or other flooring material and appropriate glue
  • Wood filler
  • Paint, we used interior, high-gloss enamel, latex black paint

*It is important to select framing lumber that is straight, without being bowed or twisted.

** We used ¾” sheet metal screws, which worked just as well.


build a stage tools

Tools required  

  • Power circular hand saw
  • Hand power drill
  • 10’+ tape measure
  • Carpenter square
  • Phillips head screw driver
  • Hammer
  • Selection of small drill bits, ½” flat drill or round drill
  • Counter-sink bit to drill for counter sinking wood screws.  You can use a standard, round drill bit but be careful not to drill too deep a hole.
  • Two clamps
  • Tools required for installing the type of glue and flooring you choose
  • Medium grade (60-80 grit) sand paper
  • Sanding block
  • Paint brush
  • Wrench to tighten bolts and nuts



1.  Cut the tops of both platforms.  Cut two 3’x4′ pieces from the 4’x8′ sheet of plywood.  All corners must be square.

build a stage: wood

cut framing lumber

2.  Cut framing lumber.  From each 2″x6″x8′ cut a 35 15/16″ piece and a 44 15/16″ piece.  (The 1′ length remaining from each 2″x6″ will not be used.) Use a carpenter square when drawing cut lines.  Place the 2″x6″s along the edges of the plywood to see if they are the correct length.  The longer pieces will fit inside the shorter ones. The 2″x6″s should fit just inside the edges of the plywood.  If they fit properly, they’re ready to be attached.   (see photo)

3.  Screw plywood to framing lumber.  The “better” side of the framing 2″x6″s should face out.  We preferred to screw the plywood to the frame using 1 1/4″ wood screws, 8”-10” apart, before screwing the frame together, however either order works.

Later, the two platforms will be bolted together along the 4’ sides.  Identify which 4’ sides will be fastened together.  It is critical that the 2’x6”s NOT stick out past the edge of the plywood along these sides.

build a stage

fasten one 2’x6′ at a time (photo 3)

Fasten one 2’x6” at a time.  Pre drill and counter sink screw holes in the plywood.  Spread wood glue on the top edge of the 2″x6″s before screwing down plywood.  The 2″x6″s should be attached just inside the edges of the plywood. (see photo 3)

4.  Screw the corners of the 2″x6″s together using 2- 3″ wood screws in each corner.   Pre drill and counter sink screws.


build a stage photo 3

install corner brackets (photo 4)

5.  Install corner brackets.  Fasten the corner brackets to each inside corner of each platform, up approximately 1″-1 1/2″ from the bottom edge of the frame using 3/4″ round-head wood screws.  Pre-drill screw holes.  (see photo 4)


build a stage photo 5

cut and attach 2’x4′ supports (photo 5)

6.  Cut and attach 2″x4″ supports.  Turn both platforms upside down.  Cut the 2″x4″s to fit snugly inside the 3′ sides of each frame.  Apply wood glue to one edge of the 2″x4″s.  Place the glued edge down on plywood half way between sides of frame.  Screw in place with 2- 3″ wood screws at each end.  Pre drill and counter sink screws.  Turn platforms right side up and screw plywood to 2″x4″s with 1 1/4″ wood screws.  Counter sink screws.  (see photo 5)

7.   Prepare frame for painting.  Fill the groves between plywood and 2″x6″s, and the holes in the frame with wood filler.  Also, fill all screw holes in frame and plywood.  Sand wood filler when filler dries.  Refill any holes that remain and sand.  Also, sand any splinter edges on the plywood and frame.

We primed and painted the frame before installing linoleum.

8.  Install the flooring to the top of the platforms.  The surface of the plywood should be smooth with no screw heads sticking up and free of dust and debris.  Cover each platform separately. Refer to manufacture’s instructions when gluing flooring to plywood.

If you use linoleum, cut 2 pieces, each piece at least 2″ longer and wider than the platform.  If there is a pattern in the floor covering, be careful to cut and install each piece so that when the two platforms are side by side the pattern is repeated from one platform to the other.  Remember, platforms will be attached along the 4′ sides that you identified in Step 3.


build a stage photo 2

trim excess flooring (photo 2)

After glue dries, trim excess flooring back to edge of plywood.  We used a utility knife to trim our linoleum.  (photo 2)


build a stage photo 6

fasten two platforms together (photo 6)

9.  Fasten the two platforms together.  Stand up the two platforms on the 3’ sides such that the two 4’ sides that will be bolted together are next to each other.  Clamp the two platforms together.  Check to be sure that the surface of the platforms are flush, as well as the 2”x6” sides.  If adjustment is necessary, loosen the clamps slightly, adjust the frames as needed and re-tighten the clamps.  (photo 6)


build a stage photo 4

drill holes (photo 4)

Drill two ½” holes through the double 2”x6”s, each about 8”-10” from the end.  Put a washer on each bolt, tap the bolts through the holes, slip on a second washer and turn on a nut.  Tighten snugly.  Remove clamps.  Lower top edge of stage to floor.  (photo 4)

how to build a stage: bottom

My husband (and Brady) tighten up the stage before we set it out. . .

how to build a stage: decorate - 01

. . . and now it’s ready to go!

Your stage is finished!


Do you want the Easy-to-Build Stage Directions to download and print? Here they are: Easy-to-Build Stage Directions.

Have questions as you’re building? Feel free to tweet with my father-in-law: @TMascott

Thank you, thank you, Tom for doing an incredible job with this!!


 Now? Make that stage even more beautiful than it already is! Decorate!

how to build a stage: decorate - 04

taping our mirror plates

how to build a stage: decorate - sheers

We hung two plastic hooks on the wall for the ‘curtain’. . .

how to build a stage: decorate - ribbon

. . . and secured it with a fancy-schmancy ribbon.

These may not be exactly what we used, but they’re pretty darn close. 

The possibilities are endless–I’d love to see what other people come up with, so do please share your photos here or on our facebook page!


how to build a stage--finished

My dream was a curtain that opened and closed, but that was just too much for us with the holiday crunch. Maybe soon!


And that’s it–an easy-to-build stage for the little (and not-so-little) performers in your family.  Something that will yield hours of fun family time, loads of memories, and (okay, I’ll be honest) maybe a headache or two. . . but it’s so worth it.

What are you waiting for? Get the stage plans printed, get to the hardware store, and start building–then watch those creative-kids go!


fyi: Affiliate links are used in this post.  Many thanks for your consideration in using them!

Huge, huge, huge and happy thanks to my husband and his talented dad, Tom Mascott,  for their hard work in making our stage dream come true! Thanks also to Tom for writing this detailed and difficult post with easy-to-follow directions. You both are amazing, and we are s lucky to have you!  What’s that next project going to be, I wonder? . . . 

read across america week: resources GALORE!

we teach #RAA twitter event

we teach #RAA twitter event One of the reading and literacy world’s biggest months is just around the corner, so we’re kicking it off with a fantabulous twitter event–and we want you to join us!

Read Across America Week is the first week of March, beginning with Read Across America Day on March 1.

The Leadership Team over at we teach is hosting a twitter event this Wednesday, February 27, from 8:30- 9:30pm ET, and we’re thrilled that we’ll be joined with some really incredible education rockstars. Celebrities.  Famous folk.

Think: tons of lesson plans, crafts, cooking, and learning ideas for how you can ring in Read Across America day in your home or classroom–or home classroom!! And add to that happy thought some really big guns in the education space, and you’ve got yourself a pretty hot event.

Prizes. Plus, there will be prizes. Woot!

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Read Across America Week–Resources GALORE!: After some serious brainstorming about how we could get our forum members really excited about all of the awesome resources out there for reading literacy, Jacquie, our fearless Community Manager, suggested: How about a twitter event?!

And we all agreed: perfect.

So whether you have your own resources to share (super!) or you are searching for some innovative, exciting ways to celebrate Read Across America (cool!), we hope you’ll join us on Wednesday night for a little reading and literacy loooove.

And we’ll be rockin’ some awesome prizes as well!

we teach header
Join us for a twitter event with we teach members
weteach community managers  & celebrity experts

to share resources for teaching and learning on Read Across America Day!
**  follow:
#weteach #RAA  **

Who:     Parents, teachers, caregivers, expert panelists, and YOU!

Celebrity Experts:

What:    February 27th resource-sharing twitter event!
Why:     To enlighten, share, and promote awesome Read Across America Day resources, ideas, and more!
Prizes:   2 Melissa & Doug education-fun packs; 1 PBS festive Cat in the Hat prize pack; 5 $25 Storia gift cards
Where:  Twitter! ( #weteach #RAA
When: Wednesday, 02.27.13 from  8:30-9:30 pm ET
  1. log onto twitter
  2. follow the hashtags #weteach #RAA
  3. tweet, re-tweet (RT), and tweet some more!
Helpful hints:
  • visit all of our celebrity experts’ sites and bring questions, comments or concerns to the event
  • make sure you are following all of the the hosts and all of the celebrity panelists so you don’t miss a beat!

We’re looking forward to seeing you there–and if you can’t make the event, we’ll have all of the resources listed on a page on the we teach forum. We’ll share the link here!

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