recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches

recipe reading for kids fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches MONSTER

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recipe reading for kids fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches MONSTER

Ever since my kids were tiny, I’ve let them play around in the kitchen.

It hasn’t always been pretty, but it’s been fun. And now, though they’re still learning, at 10, 9, and 7 years old, my kids are pretty skilled at cracking eggs, measuring ingredients, and navigating the wilds of cookie baking and meal-making.

Recently, Cora has been into some serious snack preparation.

Not only has this benefitted our bellies; what I’ve also been reminded of is how important recipe reading is for kids. 

Kids are decoding important functional, everyday words. They’re reading informational text. They’re analyzing words and phrases in a text and interpreting what it all means.

And the coolest part of the whole recipe reading for kids? They’re having fun and learning in the kitchen.

Cora rocked out some serious recipe reading and Monster-Sandwich making in our kitchen, and it was a blast for all of us.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Recipe Reading for Kids–Fun Learning in the Kitchen with Monster Sandwiches:

Cora used one of the recipe books I pulled out for our Tabletop Surprises: Favorite All-Time Recipes Silly Snacks (2004).

She flipped through the book, and she immediately declared that she was going to make each snack.  I knew she couldn’t because most of the recipes required something we didn’t have in our pantry.

recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches


recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches

So I encouraged her to use a sticky note to bookmark the snacks she wanted to make. And she could make one snack each day.

We need to make sure we have all of the ingredients, I told her. And this is the only way. You choose what you’d like to make, and then we’ll make a grocery list. 

So she did.

recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches

It was a weekend, so Monster Sandwiches would be our lunch.

We worked together making a grocery list, and then we hit the store.  It went surprisingly well, I think because she was focused and knew her recipe would be our lunch. She was totally psyched.

When it came to actually preparing to read the recipe, we did what every chef should do first: we read the ingredients and put them out on the counter.

recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches

Then Cora took the lead and read through each step, starting with opening rolls and spreading them with butter.

Step two required a layering of cold cuts, tomato and cucumber slices, and then finally making the monster tongue.

Though Monster Sandwiches are basically just a cold cut sandwich, it didn’t matter.  The simple 3-step recipe had a few crazy and exciting parts, and Cora loved it.

recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches

recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches


The photo in the book helped her as well, and that’s half the fun of being a chef–comparing the photo to your masterpiece and making changes where you see fit.

Hands down, the sweet gherkin ‘horns’ and black olive eyes were a super-cool part of this recipe, and little hands needed a bit of help in securing them.


recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches

recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches


Recipe reading for kids is a great way of sneaking in some reading and learning in the kitchen, for so many reasons.  Here are a few of our ‘learning in the kitchen’ posts:

Just a few years ago, we realized that Maddy was not reading closely at all–she was skimming during reading–so recipe reading really helped get her back on track. You can’t glaze over steps in a recipe; you can’t glaze over ingredients, or you’ll end up with something quite unlike what you set out to make.

Maddy and I had to have a serious ‘skimming vs reading’ conversation, and baking helped us through it.


recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches


How do you incorporate learning in the kitchen? I’d love to hear it in the comments below!


fyi: affiliate links used in this post–check out the books I recommend below


dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future

Dream Car of the Day: A unique Vine campaign celebrating the 90 finalists of the 8th Toyota Dream Car Art Contest

This post is brought to you by Toyota.


It’s no secret that most kids are highly influenced by their peers. dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future

Too often, parents forget that their children’s classmates can be a totally positive ‘push’ for our kids.  Sometimes, our children aren’t even aware of what they can do until they see one of their peers do it.

My Maddy had no clue what her body could do on the diving board until she watched a teammate flip and turn, and then she was determined to do the same.

Owen was pushed harder to excel in soccer by playing a year above his age group for the last two years.

Cora never believed she could glide smoothly across the ice until she decided to do the same as her classmates in ice-skating class last year.

So when I heard about Toyota’s Dream Car of the Day, a Vine campaign celebrating the 90 finalists of the 8th Toyota Dream Car Art Campaign, I was eager to share them with my own kids.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Dream Car of the Day–A Cool Look at the Car of the Future: Really, the creativity, thought, and innovation behind some of these designs is crazy.

For the last eight years, Toyota Sales & Marketing Corporation has hosted the Toyota Dream Car Art Contest which allows children from all regions and cultures to share ideas about the future of mobility and how cars can make the world a better place.

dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future

dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future

Hundreds of thousands of children from across the globe have submitted original artworks depicting their “dream car”, but the coolest part of this contest, in my opinion, is what they’ve done for the 90 finalists.

This  year, Toyota is highlighting the contest online through a first-of-its-kind Vine campaign, Dream Car of the Day.

Each of the 90 children who have been selected as finalists have been spotlighted as the hero for a day, and their dreams will be made into reality for all to see through animation: 

To bring the artists’ imaginations to life, Toyota has partnered with creative agency Saatchi & Saatchi Fallon Tokyo for the Dream Car of the Day campaign to transform 2D drawings into 2D and 3D animations, capturing each dream car in action with a 6 second Vine video.

These videos, like the one above, are incredibly cool. The 90 finalists seriously must feel like superstars.

What is amazing is the work that went into animating these dream car designs so that the integrity of the masterpiece wasn’t compromised.   Honestly one of the coolest things ever. 



dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future


dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future


But it gets even more cool: the 31 best finalists have been sent on a 5 day trip to Japan for the awards ceremony, where they also receive the opportunity to tour the Toyota factory and experience Japanese culture. (How crazy is that??!)

The kids and their families are in Tokyo now and will gather to hear the winners announced this Tuesday (Wednesday in Japan). Curious to find out the winner? Check the Dream Car Twitter page for the big reveal!

dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future


dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future


Maddy, Owen, and Cora each sat mesmerized at the screen as they scrolled through the entries.

They. Are. Incredible.

Here are some of our favorites, though they are all cool:  


Personally, I’ll take the Multi-Tasking Fun Car, thankyouverymuch:

And even though the contest is over, and they’re no longer accepting entries for this year’s contest, Maddy still felt the need to get her drawing and designing on.

She checked out dozens of cars on the Dream Car of the Day site, and then she grabbed some paper and some pencils. 

I’m pretty sure she’s counting down the days until the next Toyota Dream Car Art Contest. . .


dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future

dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future

I have a feeling that it’s something she’ll be working on for a while. . .

. . . Japan, here we come! (We can dream, right?)

Want to stay on top of next year’s Dream Car Art Contest?  Entries open soon! Stay updated at Toyota Dream Car Art Contest.


I’m curious. What would your dream car have or do?

Mine? It’d have to be able to self-clean.  Man, does Vanny McVannerson get dirty quickly with three kids in and out all of the time!


fyi: This is a sponsored post. I was asked by Toyota to share information about the Dream Car of the Day, and I gladly did. As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and by my three little dream-car designers.

backyard chopped challenge: creative outdoor fun

back yard chopped challenge

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

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

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

And really? It was so much fun.

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

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

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

For realz.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Backyard ‘Chopped’ Challenge–Creative Outdoor Fun:

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

back yard chopped challeng

back yard chopped challeng

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

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

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

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

back yard chopped challeng

back yard chopped challenge


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

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

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

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

back yard chopped challeng

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

They were.

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

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

back yard chopped challeng

back yard chopped challeng

(from the pizza round)

We played three rounds:

  • kid lunch
  • fancy dinner
  • dessert


back yard chopped challeng


back yard chopped challeng


back yard chopped challeng


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

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


back yard chopped challeng


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

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

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


It was fun. Seriously fun.

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

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

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

keeping kids busy in the summer: tabletop surprises

tabletop surprises fun for kids all summer long

tabletop surprises  fun for kids all summer long

We’re keeping our busy kids’ brains moving this summer with tabletop surprises.

Simple ways to keep Maddy, Owen, and Cora engaged when they’re able and when they’re ready.

It worked for us last summer, and it’s working this summer.

They’re called ‘tabletop surprises’ because the kids have no idea what’s coming. They just know that every day in the summer, there’s going to be something waiting for them on the table in the kitchen.

And if they carve out time to do it during the day–and I catch them or sit down to do it with them?  Gems in the Gem Jars! Conversation with Mom! Fun times to be had!

Take a look at this past week’s tabletop surprises, and if you want to get the updates as they happen (so totally exciting!) then do follow me on Instagram. I post the photo by 8 am or so each day.

It’s nothing super-crazy or complicated; usually it’s just some activity that involves reading, writing, math, or creating.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Keeping Kids Busy in the Summer–Tabletop Surprises:

Tabletop Surprises for our familia, week three. . .






Check out all the fun we’re having this summer! 

Follow along on Instagram and leave YOUR user name in the comments so we can follow YOUR #tabletopsurprises adventures!

Want the skinny on #tabletopsurprises? Wonder what in the world I’m talking about?

Check it out:

tabletop surprise email promo 400

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

how to turn an old tshirt to cool tank

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

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

Two or three meets each week and practice every day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the skinny. . .

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

Really. Ten minutes max.

Check it out:

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

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


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

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

tabletop surprise email promo


shrinky dink flag bracelet: super-cool patriotic craft

shrinky dink flag bracelet: super-cool patriotic craft

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

How cool is that?  So cool, right?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


shrinky dink flag bracelet: super-cool patriotic craft

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


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

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

shrinky dink flag bracelet: super-cool patriotic craft

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

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

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

shrinky dink flag bracelet: super-cool patriotic craft

shrinky dink flag bracelet: super-cool patriotic craft

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

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

shrinky dink flag bracelet: super-cool patriotic craft


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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

 rockstar sunday promo teachmama

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

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

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

other posts in the series:

kid craft sale: supporting young entrepreneurs (with Astrobrights giveaway!)

kid craft sale: supporting young entrepreneurs (with Astrobrights giveaway!)

sponsored post



kid craft sale: supporting young entrepreneurs

We have always supported our kids’ learning here at home; in fact, that’s the very reason was started!

Big on learning in the every day, we’ve always done what we could to find cool opportunities for learning in the here and now.  Fun learning in everyday events.  Really doing what we can to be in the moment and roll with the adventures as they unfold.

So this weekend, we hosted an impromptu Kid Craft Sale.

No joke.

What started as Maddy and I learning how to make the brightest and most beautiful origami cranes, somehow morphed into Cora teaching us how to make fans. And then Cora’s fan-making turned into a Fan Sale which then morphed into a candy, iced-tea, and ribbon barrette sale.

And then with neighbors jumping in on the kid craft sale fun, the day took a whole new and exciting turn.

It’s about encouraging our creative kids and supporting young entrepreneurs, right?

And you can do the same–thanks to a rockstar giveaway: a customized package of Astrobrights Papers (you’ll love them!) and a $50 Office Depot gift card. Yay!

Summer fun, here. We. Come!

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Kid Craft Sale–Supporting Young Entrepreneurs: I’m thrilled that the folks from Astrobrights hooked us up with a boatload of gorgeous, insanely bright and beautiful paper because that’s how this whole thing started.

The minute we opened our box of papers, Maddy declared, Mom I totally want to use this paper for origami. 

I said, That’s cool, Maddy, but first we need to learn how to do origami.

So that’s what we did.

support and encourage creative kids  teachama .png


support and encourage creative kids  teachama cranes.png

support and encourage creative kids  teachama


Maddy did a bit of research on our little Acer C720P Chromebook and found an awesome how-to site for making origami cranes.

She and I step-by-step folded our Rocket Red paper into a cool crane. (We did a lot of pausing and rewinding along the way.)

They were not easy, and we were pretty much just happy making one each. We’ll revisit origami again this summer is the plan!


support and encourage creative kids  teachama crane.png


Then Cora jumped off of her swing and decided she wanted in. But she didn’t want to make a crane–that took too long.

She wanted to make some fans.

So she showed us how to make the ultimate fan, and then she said she was going to sell them.  In our front yard.  Today.

support and encourage creative kids  teachama fans.pngsupport and encourage creative kids  teachama fans.png

support and encourage creative kids  teachama fans.png

She got to work.

Cora made signs advertising her Fan Sale and set prices for each fan.  She knew she wanted small fans and mini fans and super mini fans.

(Minis are perfect for dolls, you know.)

support and encourage creative kids  teacham


She assembled her money jar, her tray for her fans, and a tin that held all of her fans. And Maddy and I even let her sell our two origami cranes.

We dragged three chairs to the front yard–one for Cora, one for me, and one for the fans. And then we waited.


support and encourage creative kids  teachama fans.png

support and encourage creative kids  teachama fans.png

support and encourage creative kids  teachama fans.png

Meanwhile, Maddy and Owen pulled a table out to the curb along with iced tea, Maddy’s barrettes, and candy. They, too, made signs, set prices (though admittedly they were quite high. . . ), and they waited.

Before we knew it, a few neighbor kids joined in on the fun, and we waited together.

They flagged down passing cars, called to neighbor friends who were watering flowers or cutting the grass, and surprisingly, both sale tables made about $3.00, thanks to a few generous friends.

support and encourage creative kids  teachama fans.png

support and encourage creative kids  teachama fans.png

support and encourage creative kids  teachama fans.png


Bottom line? Our kids were outdoors, using their brains, getting all crafty and creative, and having fun.

And all I had to do to support my young entrepreneurs was encourage them to go with their ideas, carry a few chairs out, make a few fans, and remind them to use their manners before and after sales.

So fun.


Please note: Though we all want to support young entrepreneurs, it was brought to my attention that in some areas of the country, kids have been fined for having Lemonade Stands. Holy moly. Please do a bit of research before you go this route; a $500 fine is pretty hefty if you ask me.



GIVEAWAY: A customized package of Astrobrights paper and a $50 Office Depot gift card.

Do you want to win your own customized package of Astrobrights paper and a $50 Office Depot gift card??!  Yes, yes you do.


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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

By entering this giveaway, you are demonstrating your understanding of and compliance with theOfficial Sweepstakes Rules.

This giveaway ends Friday, June 20, 2014 at midnight ET and is open to folks here in the US only. Winner will be chosen by ‘Rafflecopter’ and will be notified on or around 06/20/14.  Winner must respond within three (3) days of notification or forfeit the prize, in which case an alternate winner will be selected.  All Official Sweepstakes Rules apply.


But wait. There’s another giveaway coming! #ColorizeYourClassroom Contest

  • Astrobrights is helping teachers in every state get started with a Back to School #ColorizeYourClassroom contest!
  • The skinny: Teachers share a photo of how they colorize their classroom on the Astrobrights facebook page from July 7-September 12. Winners will have Astrobrights Colorize their Classroom all year long! One winner per state plus a Grand Prize winner will be awarded. 
  • Find all of the details here:

fyi: This is a sponsored post but as always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my personal experience as a parent and educator–and, of course, my three little crafty-crafters.

Affiliate links are used for Acer C720P Chromebook.

summer activities for thinking, curious, and creative kids: tabletop surprises calendar

summer activities for thinking, curious, and creative kids tabletop surprises calendar

summer activities for thinking, curious, and creative kids tabletop surprises calendar promo.

I have been working and working and working and working and working on this calendar for weeks now, and I’m finally ready to share it. Woot.  No really. Woooot!

In fact, I’m so happy I’m literally dancing around the living room.

Why? I just mapped out the bones of our summer.

Ten weeks.

Ten weeks full of summer activities for thinking, curious, and creative kids.  It’s our tabletop surprises calendar, and Maddy, Owen, and Cora will totally dig it.

We’ll still start out the summer by making Summer Fun Cards so that we are sure to remember to fit in everything we love to do during the long summer months, but then we’ll rock out the #tabletopsurprises.

This year, my kids are 10, 8, and 7 years old. They’re getting older, but they still love games. They love to create. They love to play with the old standbys that we’re too busy for during the school year but that they look forward to in summer months.

They still have playdates. They still hold my hand. They still want hugs.  (Most days.)

So I’m milking this for as long as I can. Though learned the hard way last summer that because they’re getting older, we’re not all on the same schedule. Where I once used preschool mornings or rest time hours for games and learning, now we’re not on as strict a schedule.

I have an early riser and I have a night owl. And I have one kiddo whose mood is dictated by the weather, by the day of the week, or by the direction of the wind. So I’ve got to be flexible.

All I know is that what really, truly worked for us last summer was Tabletop Surprises because the activities ‘fit’ into our daily schedule. The kids headed to the table when they felt like it, sometime throughout the day.

And every day was kind of like Christmas because there was a surprise Every. Single. Day.

So we’re rockin’ them again this year.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Summer Activities for Thinking, Curious, and Creative Kids–Tabletop Surprises Calendar:

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

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

tabletop surprise 2014 a summer of fun and learning from

this year’s tabletop surprises calendar 2014, ready to download

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 calendar 2014

What are the ideas and what makes them so fun?

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

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

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

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

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

tabletop surprise 2014 a summer of fun and learning from

Cool. So now what?

  1. Print out the calendar: tabletop surprises calendar 2014
  2. Subscribe to via email. 
  3. Download the Tabletop Surprise Resource Guide (you’ll get it when you confirm your subscription, yo!). 
  4. Give your kids the skinny on Tabletop Surprises. 
  5. Start learning, playing, creating, inventing, and thinking alongside your kiddos!
  6. And? Share your #tabletopsurprises via instagram or twitter  just for fun.
  7. Have the summer of your dreams. Well. . .

tabletop surprise email promo

Give me a look at this stuff. 

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

Or check out some fun ideas from a our Smart Summer Challenge a few summers back.

Here’s to an awesome summer filled with fun learning and memory-making!

easter egg pattern match game: for kids, by kids

easter egg pattern match

Easter is right around the corner, and we’re psyched.easter egg pattern match

Not only does Easter mean egg painting and candy, family time and spring flowers, fresh starts and new hope, it means my kids get to spend some time with faraway cousins.

Maddy, Owen, and Cora are thrilled to see their little cousins who are much younger than they.  My kids are 10, 8, and 7 years old, and their Pennsylvania cousins are 3 years, 19 months, 12 months, and 4 months old.

So this year, as we relaxed a bit after a whirlwind Disneyland adventure (more on that later!), the kids put some time into a little homemade gift for their Keystone State cousins.

We worked together to make Easter Egg Pattern Match–a super-fun, made-with-love game for their 3-year-old cousin.  Matching. Patterns.

Perfect for a 3-year-old!

And really? Creating matching patterns was a fun mathy, brain-stretching exercise for my own kids.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Easter Egg Pattern Match Game–For Kids, By Kids:  These eggs are simple but full o’ love.

All I did was print out Blank Egg patterns, much like our Alphabet Egg Hunt–Uppercase and Lowercase Letter Match set but obviously without the letters.

I printed the eggs out on white cardstock, which I highly recommend so they are a bit more sturdy.

easter egg pattern match | teachmama

easter egg pattern match | teachmama

The  BLANK alphabet egg hunt  are here to download if you’d like: BLANK alphabet egg hunt.

This afternoon, after our third tv show and hundredth game on the iPad, I asked the kids to meet me at the counter.

I said, I found a really cute game that we can make for our cousins and bring to them at Easter, and I think you’ll love it. Who wants to grab a marker, crayon, and some stickers and give me a hand?

easter egg pattern match | teachmama

easter egg pattern match | teachmama

They were all game, even though it was 2pm and we were all still wearing pjs.

We’re going to make a matching game for Wyatt–matching is a super-important skill for 3-year-olds, and you know what? If Wyatt knows that his cool older cousins made him a game, I’m betting he’ll love playing it.

So here’s the deal: just like the Alphabet Egg Hunt where we matched uppercase letters with lowercase letters, this game will be similar. But instead of letter matching, we’ll make patterns that match.

easter egg pattern match | teachmama

easter egg pattern match | teachmama

Your challenge will be to create matching tops and bottoms for our eggs, like this: (I showed them two really simple eggs I did, each with one sticker on the top and bottom half of the egg.

The pattern-making and designing matching eggs proved to be a bit difficult for Cora, but even Maddy and Owen each had one ‘do-over’ egg. Sometimes they made eggs that just mirrored the pattern, and sometimes the pattern wasn’t clear after the egg split–it didn’t start low enough.

So we tried to keep it simple for the most part, but we did add a few challenge eggs:

easter egg pattern match | teachmama

easter egg pattern match | teachmama

easter egg pattern match | teachmama

We wanted to have several eggs that had the same colors, basic shapes, and same layout so that our little loves would have to look just a tad bit closer.

We didn’t want to totally frustrate him, but we thought that his name and his brother’s name, written in similar colors, and stickers with similar shapes, or even two with farm animals or vehicles would give him an extra challenge.

easter egg pattern match | teachmama

easter egg pattern match | teachmama

And after we were finished with all of the eggs, Cora and I matched them all up to make sure they worked. We checked patterns and we checked them again.

We eliminated some that didn’t work, and we included only the best.

easter egg pattern match | teachmama

Then Cora made a label: Wyatt & Myles Easter Egg Match. We threw the eggs in a plastic baggie, and we were ready to roll!

The kids cannot wait to play the game with their cousins!

Love these little ways that empower kids to create and teach other little ones.  The pattern-making and generating of top and bottom matches was a great brain exercise for my three spring breakers!

Just a quickie little something you can print out, bring to your Easter gathering, and have cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles, and friends create for the little ones of the crew!

Will these work for you? Let me know how your family will use them! I’d love to hear it!

earth month programming for kids: resources from PBS Kids

earth month programming for kids

earth month programming for kids

My friends at PBS Kids are totally ready for some fun, Earth-happy on-air programming, and my own kids are thrilled.

PBS Kids and the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) have partnered again to create the Explore the Outdoors! series.  It’s a series full o’ Earth-month love.

Programming that teaches kids how to celebrate and respect the world around them?  

Programming that is so fun and familiar that kids have no clue they’re learning?

Programming that is cool enough that kids talk about it even way after the show is over?

A huge win in my book.

For the last few days, we’ve been screening some of PBS Kids’  new outdoor-themed specials, and each and every one has been watched and re-watched. Tons of our fave pals, like WordGirl and Wild Kratts, and Arthur and Martha, have been getting outdoors, doing what they can to make Mother Nature smile.

And this mama sure is smiling.

All this awesome starts Monday April 7th. Seriously. So set your DVRs!

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Earth Month Programming for Kids–Resources from PBS Kids:  To ring in earth month programming, we did what we can to get our seeds started.

Easy as pie, in a soup can for larger plants, or in small cupcake holders that you can just drop into the earth, seed starting is easy. It gets kids psyched for gardening when the weather’s not yet warm enough to start backyard gardens.

planting gardening with kids - 11

planting gardening with kids - 11

We’ve been doing this for years. My kids love it.

But as for PBS Kids programming that you don’t want to miss:

  • Wild Kratts: Hermit Shell Crab Exchange
  • Wild Kratts: Bugging Out
  • Martha Speaks: Martha Says it with Flowers
  • Arthur: The Good Sport
  • Dinosaur Train Nature Trackers Adventure Camp

All great choices! Check out the PBS Kids station finder for tv times for your area.

Want a little more to really bring these episodes to life?

  • Check out Plum Landing, a platform created by PBS Kids and Boston’s WGBH where kids can access videos, games, and an entire site dedicated to learning about the great oudoors!  Y.E.S!!!
  • Visit PBS Parents/outdoors for articles, resources, and ideas.
  • Check out tons of cool games and activities for kids.
  • Follow #PBSExplore for the latest!

What do you think your kids will like best–the shows or the websites? Would love to know!


fyi: I work with PBS Kids via the PBS Kids VIP group of bloggers. Though I received a box of screeners and planting items, this is an unsponsored posts; all opinions, as always, are my very own.

april fools’ pranks and jokes for kids

april fools pranks and jokes for kids |

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april fools pranks and jokes for kids |

Seriously, April Fools’ Day is one of my favorite holidays, and I know that’s not normal.

I just think April Fools’ Day gives us a good excuse to get a little silly and throw a few laughs into your kids’–and our–day.   Because all too often, between  homework, activities, meetings, projects, and work, I don’t think we do enough silly things just to be silly.

So there.

I like April Fools’ Day.

I like good, clean April Fools’ pranks and jokes for kids, especially. I like unexpected, strange, and tricky.

I like April Fools’ pranks and jokes that make us do a double-take, ones that don’t hurt and are never super-scary.

And for as long as I can remember, googly eyes make me laugh hard–so I use them a lot.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • April Fools’ Pranks and Jokes for Kids:  I say ‘kids’ but really, these little sillies can be used for anyone with a decent sense of humor.

And as with anything you do with–and for–your kids, of course you must use your discretion. Like if your child is totally frightened of flies, don’t play a fly joke on him. Or if your spouse’s worst nightmare is to fall into a pit of snakes, then maybe you don’t pull out the fake snake.

Take a look at a quickie, three-minute look at all things April Fools’ pranks and jokes for kids:



 fyi: The youtube channel is all about sharing quick teaching tips, reading strategies, and parenting tricks with parents and caregivers. It’s about empowering parents to be the best teachers they can be for their children. Subscribe here so you don’t miss a thing!

april fools pranks and jokes for kids |

Our many hilarious ideas include: 

More April Fools’ Day ideas: 


Follow our board on Pinterest for more April Fools’ day ideas: 


Follow amy mascott @teachmama’s board april fools’ & simple, silly tricks on Pinterest.

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