how to help kids choose just right books

how to help kids choose just right books

how to help kids choose just right booksIt’s hard to watch a child struggle trying to read a book that is too difficult, especially when the kiddo is adamant about plowing through it.  Whether the struggles be with decoding the words on the page, with reading fluently, or with understanding what’s being read, it’s hard to watch.

Because though for many of us reading comes naturally and without thought, for others, reading is a continual struggle.  A long and laborious, difficult and painstaking process.

That’s why book choice is so important.

Muy importante.

Like really, really, really important.

Though children do need to be able to choose the books they read, if the child doesn’t choose a book that ‘fits’, it can really be downhill from there. He or she can get into a pattern of choosing books that won’t fit, making reading difficult and unpleasant.

But there are techniques and strategies that parents can employ to help guide children into choosing the ‘best fit’ books for their kids—books that match the child’s own strengths and abilities.

Nothing fancy or difficult, just a few quick reminders that your child can commit to memory that will ultimately provide him or her with skills that will make trips to the school library, media center, or book corner a whole lot more meaningful.

Here’s the skinny . . .

  • How to Help Kids Choose Just Right Books: I say it loud and clear right here. . .


And if you want the bookmarks to use for your own kiddos or classroom, please help yourself.

Best Fit Bookmarks: best fit books bookmarks

best fit bookmarks |

best fit books bookmarks |

I’d appreciate a pin, link back, tweet, or shout if you do choose to use them.  And if you have suggestions, I’d love to hear ’em!

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

How do you help kids choose just right books? Let me know what has worked for you in the comments section below.

3 all-time best games to play with sight words

3 all-time best games to play with sight words

how to play games with sight wordsWhat games do you play with sight words?

Sight words are words that we all need to be able to read quickly and automatically in order to be strong readers, and the more we allow emerging readers to interact with these words, the better!

There are tons of hands-on ways to play with sight words, but these three games are total winners in our family’s book.  We’ve played them year in and year out with sight words so that Maddy, Owen, and Cora learn these little–but important!–words.

And the great thing? Play them with spelling words, vocabulary words, any words your kids need to learn and know.  Mix it up and play it with numbers and numerals. Bam.

But wait. How do you know which list of sight words to use?

Where do you get the cards that you need in order to play these three games?

Glad you asked.  It’s all right here.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 3 All-Time Best Games to Play with Sight Words:  Here are three fun and easy games that get your kids playing with–and learning—these important little words.

3 of the All-Time Best Games to Play with Sight Words



So there are just three of my kids’ all-time favorite ways to play with sight words.

But where are the words themselves?

In order to pick up some freebie word cards for playing sight word games, click on the photo of the post to grab some word cards:


go fish--sight words

Go Fish! A fish out of water–games for playing sight words

sight word memory

Sight Word Memory  –All of the word cards are here, including ABC cards

wordo sight words

WORDO! A game for word-learning

Wait. Sight words. High frequency words. Early emergent words, fluency words. Word wall words.

What in the world is the difference?

Essentially, they’re all focusing on words that all readers must know, and commit to memory, in order to be the best readers they can be. That’s it. Many school districts and counties offer their own specific list, or maybe they go with the Dolche or Fry list. The Dolche list is older, the Fry list is more updated.

Word Walls? What? Word Walls are walls in a classroom used as a tool to help teach young readers new words.  Word Walls are just that—words filled with words! Words are placed in alphabetical order and are introduced to children throughout the year, and after introduction, the child needs to lean and know the word.  These words include word family words (-at, fat, cat, mat, etc) and high-frequency words, many of which are sight words.

Need or want more on word wall words?

Need or want more on sight words?

The main thing?  Don’t sweat it. Your kids will learn these words eventually–and the best way to ensure that is to read early–and often!

And okay. . . play some games with sight words as well.  Questions? Let me have ’em!  I’m happy to help!

nursery rhymes old and new: listening, learning and comparing

nursery rhyme old and new

nursery rhyme old and newWe’re on a crazy nursery rhyme kick over here.

But instead of sticking to our more modern nursery rhyme poems and calling it a day, we branched out a bit from our nursery rhymes 2.0, the Mary Had a Little Jam, by the amazing Bruce Lansky.   We upped the fun factor and added a little piece of comparison.

We looked at traditional nursery rhymes–the not always happy and cheerful and sometimes actually a little nutty nursery rhymes–from books I had when I was a child.

Old school nursery rhymes which might not sound like a big deal to you but when your kids are raised on mostly Mary Had a Little Jam and you give them the no-frills nursery rhymes, straight-up The Real Mother Goose, you’re in for a little shifting.

Wide-eyed, Maddy, Owen, and Cora listened to the sounds, learned a bit, and compared these powerful little poems.

And though yes, a little shell-shocked, it was a really worthwhile look at nursery rhymes old and new.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Nursery Rhymes Old and New– Listening, Learning, and Comparing: Like I said before, we had been on a real Nursery Rhyme kick.

So when I added two books to the mix, Mother Goose Rhymes by Platt & Monk and The Real Mother Goose, by Blanche F. Wright, the kids were naturally curious.

I didn’t say much.

In fact, all I did was color coordinate sticky notes between books, and I left them in a pile.

I put hot pink sticky notes on “There Was an Old Woman” in both books, I included as many colors as I could, matched up poems, and I let them go.

nursery rhyme old and new

nursery rhyme old and new

The O-man checking out the old–and new–nursery rhymes.

And after bath, when I noticed Owen reading the old nursery rhyme book, I said, Oh Owen, did you match up the sticky notes? I linked the poems by color–find the hot pink ones in each book and let me know what you think.

He opened the books and searched for the poems.  He looked at the page and then looked up at me.  Mom, why’d this old woman whip her kids? What’d they do?  I mean, was she trying to hurt them? Or were they bad?

nursery rhyme old and new

I said, Owen, I’m not sure. Let’s read it again.  We read it together. And we talked about what broth is and how even though it’s not true–it’s just a story–that it’s still not a pretty picture of hungry kids and a nasty old woman.  And then we read the ‘new’ nursery rhyme.

I like this one a whole lot better–it’s funny. And nicer,  he said.

I know–I have to agree, I said. This is the book of rhymes I had when I was little, and though some are funny, a lot are kind of . . . not so funny. And I wondered the same thing when I was your age.  When Aunt Mary found this book for us, the new one, I was like so happy I think I danced around the house.

nursery rhyme mice

nursery rhyme old and new

Let’s look at some other ones.

By this time, Maddy and Cora had joined us. We read a bunch of them:

  • Three Blind Mice
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb
  • Humpty Dumpty
  • Peter Peter
  • Little Bo Peep
  • London Bridge
  • Yankee Doodle

nursery rhyme old and new

The kids were speed-flipping through the pages of the book in order to find the poem’s ‘match’.

We laughed, re-read, and listened to the sounds in each poem.

We talked about the similarities–and differences we heard in each.  And we talked about how and why the authors made the decisions they did.

  • Was the old poem trying to teach a lesson?
  • Which illustrations did we prefer–and why?
  • How many years ago was each poem written? (We used the copyright for each book.)
  • Was the poem funny? Memorable? Silly?
  • What did we like–or dislike–about each poem?

nursery rhyme old and new -


Not for every one, mind you, but a few here and there. And we had fun with it–which is why, I’m sure, for the next few nights the kids argued over who got to read the nursery rhyme books before bed.

So cool, if I do say so myself.

And it only took a teeny, tiny amount of effort in matching up the poems, riding the wave of something the kids were already interested in: nursery rhymes.

Who knew that a 9, 7, and 6 year old would enjoy them so much?  I may bring out a few more oldies but goodies in the next few days. . .

I just finished reading “Let Me Tell You a Secret: Kindergartners Can Write!” by Amanda R. VanNess, Timothy J. Murnen, and Cynthia D. Bertelson in this month’s issue of The Reading Teacher.  I learned a ton from their article and case study, and what it made me realize is that even young children, emerging readers, can do well with confident, supportive teachers.

Cora, though only in Kindergarten, was holding her own in our little nursery rhyme right-bef0re-bed-analysis, listening to Owen and Maddy and adding her own insight to our discussion. It’s exciting. And amazing.

Moral of the story? Let’s bring it on–even for our little guys. They may be ready–but we’re just not always letting them have it.


fyi: Huge thanks to the following books for coming in handy for the last few days: Mary Had a Little Jam by Bruce Lansky;  Mother Goose Rhymes by Platt & Monk; and The Real Mother Goose, by Blanche F. Wright.

Affiliate links are used in this post.

nursery rhymes: powerful poems for fluency and more

nursery rhymes: powerful poems for fluency and more

nursery rhymes coverApril is National Poetry Month!

Did you know that?

It is, and it’s not too late to jump in on the celebration!

We have been doing little things over here when we can, where we can.  The great thing about poetry is that there is so much to choose from that you can certainly find a poem or two to fit in any amount of time you have.

The majority of our poetry reading has been done at night, right before bed. And it’s been a whole lot of oldie-but-goodie nursery rhyme reading.

Nursery rhymes totally count as poems, you know. And even the bigger kids love ’em.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Nursery Rhymes: Powerful Poems for Fluency and More:  It’s really simple. We don’t read the whole book of poems every single night–we pick one per page.

 We’ve been leaning on one of our favorite books, Mary Had a Little Jam, by Bruce Lansky.

And each night, after showers and baths and teeth are brushed and we’re all finally settling down for the night, we take turns picking one poem per page.  One nursery rhyme.

Nursery rhymes are tiny little poems, often reserved for the little ones–right out of the nursery!–but not in our house.  Nursery rhymes are fab with rhythm, great with rhyme, and these little ditties are funny. So my kids love ’em.  In my opinion, they deserve a little more air-time.

We mix it up, but the basics are the same: one poem is read on each page, until we’re through the book.

Some days we:

  • have the person who picked the poem read it;
  • pick one poem and the next person reads it;
  • echo read– we all read the poem together;
  • start reading the first two lines, close the book and finish the rest by heart;
  • say the title of the poem chosen, close the book and try to recite it by heart.

And sometimes, we do half the book one way and finish it in another way. Not a big deal.

The important part is that we’re reading. Together.

And Maddy, Owen, and Cora are listening to fluent reading (which helps create fluent readers). They’re working their brains (memorization helps with that!), and they’re feeling successful because they feel great about committing even short poems to memory.

Jerry Johns and Roberta Berglund published a fabulous article on fluency, “A Quick Orientation to Fluency.” They state,

Modeling, demonstrating, and thinking out loud are some of the explicit actions you can take to help students become fluent readers. You can model fluent reading and take time to discuss what makes reading fluent. Teaching phrasing and providing guided practice will also help remove some of the mystery of fluency. Johns, J.L., & Berglund, R.L. (2010). Enter Here: A Quick Orientation to Fluency. In Fluency (pp. 1-26). Dubuque; Newark, DE: Kendall Hunt; International Reading Association.

Even though we weren’t explicitly discussing how to make our poem-reading fluent, the constant modeling does the job.  It’s key. We’ve read and re-read these poems so much that the kids know what sounds right.  Poems, just by the way they’re written, lend themselves to easy phrasing.

Love, love, love it.  Happy poetry reading!


fyi: Affiliate links are used in this post.

reading tips and more: scholastic raise a reader blog

scholastic raise a reader blog cover

scholastic raise a reader blog

It’s been an incredibly exciting 2013 so far, with all of the awesome going on over at we teach and the sweet redesign over here at teach mama.

But another something totally fabulous that makes me want to sing and dance is the new role I have taken on with one of my favorite brands of all time: Scholastic.

Along with my longtime pal and good buddy, Allie McDonald, of No Time for Flashcards, I am anchoring the Scholastic Parents Raise a Reader blog along with the amazing Vice President of eScholastic, Maggie McGuire

Woot. Yes. For real. So awesome, right?

It’s a blog chock-full of reading tips and more, with the focus being on doing just what you think: raising readers.

Right up my alley. Totally my ballgame.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Reading Tips and More–Scholastic Raise a Reader Blog: It’s been months and months–well over a year–that we’ve had this in the works, so the fact that we’re finally up and live is so exciting for us all.

On Scholastic Parents site, the Raise a Reader blog provides:

. . . the latest advice, tips, and resources on helping your child read at every age and every stage. Each week, find kids’ book reviews, ways to extend the reading experience, and tips on how to spark a reader’s interests from our expert contributors and editors.

scholastic raise a reader collage 2

photos from Scholastic Raise a Reader blog

We’ve covered topics such as:

scholastic raise a reader blog collage 1

photos from Scholastic Raise a Reader blog

We’ve also written about:

Allie and I are open to any topic, question, concern, or focus that readers need, so anything you’d like to hear specifically, please let us know.

We’re really excited that on May 6th from 9-10pm ET Allie and I will be hosting a Facebook chat on Scholastic Parents’ Facebook page.  It’s a Summer Reading Kick-Off par-tay of sorts, and we’ll be talking all things Scholastic’s Summer Reading Challenge.

Please join us to find out more about available resources and ways to make summer reading more fun for your crew.  And ask questions! You can submit questions, either below in the comments section or on the Scholastic Parents thread.

Seriously, I love that we’re even close enough to summer to talk summer reading!  Yeee-haw! I can’t wait.


Haven’t had enough of Scholastic yet?

Check out some recent photos from a meeting at the Scholastic building in NYC with some of the Scholastic superstars:


We look forward to chatting with you on May 6th, and thanks for checking us out over at the Raise a Reader blog!

5 min reading tricks for raising rockstar readers

5 min reading tricks for raising rockstar readers

5 minute reading tricks

It’s here.

My first eBook on reading and literacy and all that stuff I really, really love.

And I’m totally psyched.

5 min reading tricks for raising rockstar readers.

There you have it. That’s all you need, right?

Sure it is.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  •  5 Min Reading Tricks for Raising Rockstar Readers: 15 of ’em, my friends. Fifteen tricks that are in themselves filled with several other tricks.

So it comes out to a whole lot more than fifteen, but who’s counting?

Essentially, it’s a busy parent’s guide to all that you need to get on the road to raising a rockstar reader. And we all want our kids to be reading rockstars, right?

5 min tricks to raising rockstar readers

Here’s why:

Reading is my favorite thing.

But I totally get that it might not be yours.

So because I love it, and because I am continually amazed, in awe, and humbled by the process of reading acquisition—kids learning to read, working hard at reading, and becoming better readers—I want to help you.

I want to help you because I know I can—and I know you can. It’s easier than you think. And with just a few minutes a day, a few times a day, you, as a parent, can help your child become a strong reader—even if you don’t consider yourself one. It’s cool. I’m not great at math. At all. I need help. Still do. It takes a village, and I need a math guy (or gal) in mine.

The crazy thing is that even before children are able to read texts on their own, they can develop vocabulary, oral language, comprehension strategies, phonological awareness, and print awareness just by participating in a read-aloud with an adult.  It’s amazing how much power and potential exists in that small amount of time.

We got it. We know what to do, now let’s get moving!

5 min reading tricks clip

The 5 min reading tricks for raising rockstar readers eBook is a $10 download that includes 15 tricks covering:

  • comprehension strategies
  • reading readiness
  • fluency
  • what parents should say during read-alouds
  • books as gifts
  • the importance of series
  • and much more!

AND everyone who purchases the eBook is invited to join a special, private group on the we teach forum–just for sharing reading tips, asking questions, and getting more reading success tips!  You will be emailed an invitation upon purchase!

How cool is that? The reading love goes on and on. . .

5 min reading tricks For a cool-cat 10 spot, this gem could be yours, and I thank you. 

But more importantly, your little rockstars will thank you.



 $10. for 5 min reading tricks for raising rockstar readers:

Add to Cart
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5 min tricks book walk cover 
There you have it.

I hope you like it–and let me know what you think about 5 min reading tricks for raising rockstar readers!

  • tweet me with your feedback
  • leave me a message on my Facebook wall with what you liked–or didn’t care for
  • let me know what else you need–and I’ll be sure to include it in the next one!


 $10. for 5 min reading tricks for raising rockstar readers:

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Many thanks, friends, and three cheers to our reading rockstars and you!–their parents– who are rockin’ it out with the reading thing!

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!

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.

Hidden Pictures: lunchbox notes

hidden pictures lunchbox notes

hidden pictures lunchbox notes

Halloween is over, so our joke notes are pushed to the wayside.

Our wordless riddles are taking a break, and the troops are ready for some serious lunchtime fun before the holidays hit.

When I asked Maddy, Owen, and Cora what they were up for as far as their next lunchbox notes are concerned, I got a lot of:

  • games!
  • candy! (huh?)
  • some fun quizzes!
  • put a pencil in the bag!
  • hidden pictures!
  • YES! notes where we find hidden things!
  • oh YEAH! like in Highlights and High Five!

Lucky for us, I had just spent a great deal of time with my friends over at Highlights and High Five this month, so I got the ‘go-ahead’ to create just that–Hidden Pictures® Lunchbox Notes for my three favorite people in the whole wide world.

These lunchbox love notes totally rock the house.

They make me–and the kids–really, really happy.

Here’s the skinny . . .

  • Hidden Pictures– Lunchbox Notes: I think, for us, our Hidden Pictures® Lunchbox Notes takes the lunchtime love to a whole new level.

hidden pictures lunchbox notes

These lunchbox love notes stemmed from my kids’ love of . . . Hidden Pictures®!

These guys are simple but fun. And yes, I’m a sucker for a good ole lunchbox note, so maybe I’m a bit biased.

But I think taking something my kids enjoy and turning it into a little lunchtime hug is . . . well, satisfying.  Maybe it gives them a tiny bit of quiet time they have to themselves as they unpack their food.   Maybe it’s a conversation starter with a pal at the lunch table.

Maybe it’s ignored or thrown to the bottom of the bag.

hidden pictures lunchbox notes

From the magazine. . .

hidden pictures lunchbox notes

. . . to the lunchbox. Love it.

But I feel better just knowing it’s there.  Just in case Maddy, Owen, or Cora is having a tough day and they need a reminder that they’re loved and that their mama’s thinking about them.hidden pictures lunchbox notes

So Hidden Pictures® Lunchbox Notes it was–and is–for my kiddos for the next few weeks.

Love. Them.

And knowing that Cora’s working on mastering some tough Kindergarten sight words, I tried to use the same few phrases on each card:

  • Look for the . . .
  • Can you see the. . .
  • Find the. . .

Though she might not be able to read the words that identify the objects she needs to find, I did put the word in bold so that if she couldn’t read the word, she could at least search the picture for a hidden object and then go back to the word to try to figure it out.

And I also know that Owen’s in her lunch period and he usually sits across the aisle from her, so he can always read it if need be.  And knowing the two of them, he very well may read them to her every other day.

I created three pages of notes with 5-6 messages on each page.  Each note has a wee bit of space on the side so I could write a short little message.

Here’s the document if you care to download them for your own little ones’ lunchboxes: hidden pictures lunchbox notes

hidden pictures: lunchbox notes for kids |

hidden pictures lunchbox notes

And that’s it–just a quick little note for lunchboxes–or any time.  Maybe they’d even work thrown in your purse or diaperbag for those unplanned waits in the car pickup line, doctor’s office, or grocery store checkout.

Either way, Happy hidden picture-hunting!


fyi: Huge and happy thanks to my friends at Highlights for permission to use pieces of their Hidden Pictures® puzzles in our lunchbox love notes.  These puzzles actually came from a Hidden Pictures® Magazine–the entire thing filled with the pictures we love!

If you want the real-deal Hidden Pictures® (which I’m sure you do!) be sure to visit the Highlights website, where you can grab your favorite kiddo a subscription to the Highlights Magazine, High Five Magazine, or any of their other fab, just-for-kids periodicals, including the Hidden Pictures® ones!


Want a look at all of our lunchbox looooove notes? Here they are:

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!

morning and evening reminders for kids: easy reader style

morning and evening reminders for kids: easy reader style

Every day is a little bit different in our house—and everyone’s house.morning evening schedule for early readers

But deep down, we all thrive on consistency, on patterns, on schedules.

I’ve always been a big fan of implementing a daily schedule for kids, even when parents are home and kids arent yet in school, incorporating some sort of routine is good for the soul.

When Maddy, Owen, and Cora were younger—actually up through this past summer, even, we scheduled a necessary ‘rest time’ into our day.  More for Cora, who at 5 years old still needed 30 minutes or an hour to herself, our rest time after swim practice and lunch (but before we headed back out to play) was an eagerly anticipated part of our day.

For kids and mom.

But during the school year, our mornings and evenings need some sort of schedule.  Otherwise, I sound like a broken record and the kids start seriously tuning me out.

And because I have two readers and one emerging reader, I decided to create a little reminders for my kids–easy-reader style so that everyone can decode on their own.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Morning and Evening Reminders for Kids– Easy-Reader Style: They’re easy-reader style only because they have words and a related image alongside, not because they include only easy-reader words.

These are simply ‘Good Morning!’ and ‘Good Evening’ signs that the kids flip back and forth to remind them of what they need to do each morning and night.

morning and evening reminders for kids: easy reader style

Morning reminders. . .

morning and evening reminders for kids: easy reader style

. . . and Evening Reminders help teach my kiddos what they need to do at the beginning and end of the day.

I’m trying my best to give them more freedom–more independence and autonomy over their days–and I think that this gives them what they need to do and allows them the wiggle room to do it on their own.

Do we have a little incentive to get them through this list? Absolutely. If they do all of these things without me having to remind them for a few days in a row, it’s a gem in the Gem Jar.   If they need constant reminding, we’ll take one out.

Simple as that.

Want to download the Morning and Evening Reminders for Kids for your own hizzouse? 

Here it is: teachmama morning evening questions 2.0

(If you choose to share it–and we hope you do!–please link to this post instead of the attachment page! Thank you!)

morning and evening reminders for kids |


morning and evening reminders for kids |

teachmama morning evening questions 2.0

And that’s it–just a quickie little trick to throw in your back pocket–and to (hopefully!) save your voice from yelling and prodding and gently reminding. . .

Any other suggestions? Please let me know what works–or has worked–for you! I’m always willing to learn how to make this crazy parenting gig a little more softer for my old bones!