favorite things book: an easy, little book of all things happy

cora favorite things book - 09

It has been  tough go for us over here for the last few weeks.

Maddy, Owen, Cora, Brady–everyone–has unfortunately felt the ‘funk’ that I conveyed throughout the last weeks, especially when Susan became very ill. It was hard. So hard.  And it still is.

But before I took off for NYC, on one quiet afternoon when Cora and I had the house to ourselves and Maddy and Owen were at school, we did a little something that made us both happy.  Really, really happy. 

We set aside a full hour to look for pretty things, to arrange pretty things, to photograph pretty things, and to put all the pretty things we found into one pretty little book: Cora’s Favorite Things.

Simple, easy, and happy.  Just what the doctor ordered.

Here’s the skinny:

  • Favorite Things Book–Easy, Little Book of All Things Happy: It all started with Cora asking if she could use my camera to take some pictures.

Forget that she has a LeapPad and a Leapster (which has a camera attached), and forget that she has her own ‘kid’ camera. She always wants to use mine. And believe me, it’s not all that great of a camera.

Cora is arranging her favorite, most beautiful things.

But I was tired. And I felt like doing just about nothing, so I walked upstairs with her, and I brought my camera. I said, Sure, Sweetheart, you can use my camera. But I’ll just stay right here while you use it. What do you want to take pictures of?

She had already arranged things on her floor–she had her make-up set, her chap stick, her glitter, and several other items–all her favorites.  She said that she wanted to take pictures of all of her things.

Very cool photo by Cora of Cora’s special box from Aunt Mary and Uncle Ronnie’s wedding

I looked around and said, Oh my gosh, Cora. You have a great idea! You have all of your absolute favorite things here–all of the things that make you so happy. Why don’t you take photos of each of these things, and then I’ll help you make a book–a teeny tiny, happy book–that you can look at whenever you want? Of all of your favorite little things but in one place?

She was totally game.

I handed her my camera, and she got right to work.

I taught her how to use the automatic focus, how to gently press the button until the image became clear in the window.  It was hard for her, but she could definitely see the difference in her focused and unfocused photos.


So she took photos. . .

. . . and she arranged. . .

. . . and she took more photos. . .

. . . and arranged some more.


And when she was completely finished, we hit the computer, and she chose which photographs were ‘publishing worthy’.

I printed them out, we cut them, and then she very carefully, very meticulously arranged the photos in the order she thought would work best.


 Cora’s favorite things. . . all ready for binding.


And once the photos were in order, they were re-arranged and arranged again because a Favorite Things Book has to be just that perfect if it’s full of your favorite things.

I punched a hole in the left hand corner of each page, made a front and back cover, and tied it all together with a ribbon that Cora chose and declared absolutely perfect for her book.

She put her finished book on top of her jewelry box, on a shelf in her room, and it’s been there ever since.   And seriously, for the small amount of time that it took to make this teeny book o’ favorites, the payoff for creating a little book of all things happy was really great.

Just last night before bed, Cora and I sat on her floor after reading a few books, and we looked through her Favorite Things photos. And we were both. . . well, surprisingly happy.

And why wouldn’t we be?



Cora’s Favorite Things Book, right on top of her sweet little jewelry box

I like the idea of this book, something that focuses on little things that make Cora happy, but I did hesitate at the fact that it was full of material things.  However, we’ve been struggling with helping her identify emotions, control her temper, focus on happy, and work through all of the challenges the come with being four, so I also thought that identifying things that make her happy might be a good starting point for working through tough times.

Like those afternoons when she’s so tired that she doesn’t know what to do with herself (and has stopped napping ages ago)? Maybe I’ll say Why don’t you head up to your bedroom and look at your Favorite Things Book? Maybe that will lift your spirits?

Or the times when she’s huffy and angry and needs to remember how lucky she really is? Again, maybe I’ll remind her of her Favorite Things book and all of the happy parts of her little life.   I can only hope, right? It’s all about having some tricks in your back pocket. And I’ll take as many as I can.

And here’s to many more easy, little books of all things happy to come! Our plan?  Our Favorite Outdoor Things Book; Our Favorite Foods Book; Our Favorite Activities Book; and more.  Happy thoughts for happier days.  Cheers.


learning with pet poetry (& fun giveaway!)

pet poetry 3

We love our pooch, we really do.

Sure, sometimes I say things to him that I wish I didn’t.   No, Maddy, I  promise we’ll never give Brady away, I promise. I’m just frustrated.  . . Owen, Sweetheart, we are not taking Brady back to Miss Marty’s farm and to his mom and dad. He will always be ours. He is part of our family and we will not give him back.

Sometimes he pushes me to my limits.  Fine, Cora. I’ll admit–I really don’t want him to run away when I open the door. I do love him.

Sometimes–okay, all the time–I realize that we failed miserably on the ‘drop it!’ lesson and I know we really shouldn’t call TREEEEEEAT! when he grabs a sock, a Polly Pocket, a Lego guy, or a magnetic letter off of the fridge to distract him and have him drop the stolen object.

I don’t always mean to silently curse his muddy paws, or the midnight barks to go outside, or the fact that he insists on riding shotgun on the way to the vet or pet store or dog park.  I really do think he’s a funny dog, a sweet boy–the perfect pooch for our family.

We love Brady.  We really do.

We love Brady so much that some days he gets to wear dress-ups, he gets songs sung to him, he gets read to.  We love him so much that we write stories about him and we write poems about him.


 Cora loves Brady so much that she often reads to him or lets him wear her fairy wings.

And I know we’re not alone in our love for our pet which is why I’m excited to share some fun news.

The PAL–Pets Add Life 4th annual poetry contest is this month, and we have an opportunity for one teach mama reader to win a family five pack of PAL shirts and a $50 American Express gift card that can be used to purchase pet food, supplies, or toys–or even buy a brand new pet for your family!  How awesome is that?  Pet love for everyone!

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Learning with Pet Poetry:  Our pet-poetry learning was simple, on-the-fly, and fun.

Using our magnetic letters and our pooch’s name, I introduced Maddy, Owen, and Cora to the always fun, totally cool acrostic poem.

Acrostic poems are poems that use the first letters of a word or name to begin each line of poetry.   Each line can be a word, a phrase, or a sentence.  In its most basic form, it’s a short poem of only a few words that relate to or describe a single word or name.  Our poem was super-simple.

I’ve always said that I’m a big fan of celebrating names, so because Cora has just mastered the spelling of Bradyboy’s name (woot!), I threw his name on the fridge.

And I created the very first poem instead of making lunches like I should have been doing so we’d get to school on time.  The poem was simple:


And it really captured the essence of Brady if I do say so myself.

So when Owen came downstairs, he said, Mommy, why is this big mess of letters on the refrigerator?  Why did you write ‘bad’ and ‘dog’?

Ooooh, you’ve got a good eye, Owen, I said. But that big mess of letters says a whole lot more than ‘bad’ and ‘dog’.  Use your strong eyes to see if you can see other words in that mess.

He worked through ‘racer’ and said, Oh, and ‘acro’ (mispronounced as ‘a crow’).

I said, That word is ‘acro’ and I was just starting to write ‘acrobat’.  Do you know what an ‘acrobat’ can do?

He didn’t, so I explained: An acrobat is someone who can do gymnastics, jump high, do twists in the air, that kind of thing.

Well why did you write all of these words on here?

It’s a cool type of poem, actually.  It’s an ‘acrostic’ poem.  An acrostic poem is a secret, sneaky kind of poem where the whole poem is built on one word or name. And each line of the poem describes that word or person.  Let’s read it together.

We read it together, and by that time Maddy and Cora had (finally!) made their way downstairs for the breakfast that wasn’t even ready.

Okay, so can you find the secret name in this acrostic poem, now that we read the whole poem together?

I could literally see the light bulb go on as he eyed the letters ‘BRADY’.  BRADY! He said. It’s a poem about Brady!

By that time, it was much later than it should be, and I had like five seconds to make lunches, for the kids to eat breakfast, and for us to get coats and shoes on, backpacks packed, and for us to run all the way up to the school.

So it was a mad scramble as Maddy and Owen changed the words of the poem from ‘bad’ to ‘big’ and ‘racer’ to ‘rad’ and ‘dog’ to I’m not even sure I want to know what.  But before I knew it, Brady McBraderson made his way into the kitchen, grabbed one of the magnetic letters right off of the fridge, and ran into the living room. . .

Treeeeeeeeat! . . .


With a little support, almost any child can write a simple, clever acrostic poem about their pet, and most kiddos are more than eager to write about the pets they love.  So I am totally psyched to share a way that students in grades 3-8 can share a little pet poetry love–

The American Pet Products Association (APPA) is pleased to announce that the organization’s 4th Annual Pets Add Life National Children’s Poetry Contest!  The deadline for submissions is Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 5:00pm EST.

  • Students in grades three through eight are invited to write a unique poem about their pets, what they love about them, the joys they bring, and then post it online at www.petsaddlife.org or mail their final poem and submission form to: Pets Add Life, 661 Sierra Rose Dr. Reno, NV 89511.
  • One student from each grade level (6 total) nationwide will win a $250 gift certificate for pet products, and a “by-line” in everydog magazine, a nationally circulated publication. In addition, the six winning students’ classrooms will each receive a $1,000 scholarship to spend on pet-related education.  FUN!
  • To learn more about this exciting contest opportunity for kids, visit petsaddlife.org

I know that this is a great way–and reas0n–for children to express their pet-love and to get writing, and I am so hoping that someone I know enters–and wins!  So please let me know if you do, my friends!

And because I know many readers are parents or teachers of kiddos who may be a bit too young to enter, we have an opportunity for everyone to be a winner:


GIVEAWAY: a family 5-pack of PAL shirts and a $50 American Express gift card

Do you want to win a family 5-pack of PAL shirts and a $50 American Express gift card!

  • All you have to do is leave a comment here sharing what you love about your family pet(s)–or if you don’t have one, share what you love about a favorite friend or neighbor’s pet.

For extra entries:

  • Tweet this: Win family tee’s & $50 gift card from @PetsAddLife on @teachmama — learn w/ pet poetry http://wp.me/p1NAxy-1Cn  #weteach
  • Share this post on your Facebook page–very easy!
  • Share this post with a friend (just tell me who you shared it with!)
  • Pin this post on Pinterest! (Use ‘pin it!’ button below post!)


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

This contest ends Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at midnight ET. Winner will be chosen by ‘And the Winner is. . .’ and will be notified on or around 2/29/12.  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.

fyi: This post is part of a sponsored campaign with PAL. Opinions are all my own, influenced only by my three little pet-loving poets and our brave, fierce pooch.

best of teach mama countdown: #2 — spelling words

spelling work

fun ways to learn spelling wordsYay! We’re getting down to the wire with this teach mama top 10 all-time best countdown!

This post is one that I have shared probably more than times than any other post I’ve written.  It seems that most of the emails that I receive are from parents who are tired, desperate, and . . . totally hate spelling words.

Or they’re pleading with me to give them some ideas on how their kids can learn those first word families.  Or how their kids can practice learning their names. Or just about anything.

So this post has been a go-to for all of those questions since it’s totally adaptable, and there are a few printables included where all of the information can be printed on handy-dandy, happy sheets of paper that you can stick on your fridge so they’re close at hand.

It’s filled with tons of ways that parents can ‘up’ the fun factor of learning those words so kids won’t even feel like they’re doing work when they’re playing with those words.

Here’s the skinny . . .

I wrote the post after we lost Maddy’s first homework packet of her first-grade year and after she bombed her first spelling test of the year.


fun ways to learn spelling words fun ways to help kids learn spelling words

We were starting off a bit–okay, very–rocky, and it wasn’t looking good.

At that point, Maddy despised spelling and everyone despised homework time.  It took some time and a little adjusting, but eventually spelling review became an eagerly anticipated part of the homework repertoire and homework time itself became–I’m not joking–a not-so-bad part of the afternoon.

It became a whine-free, pout-free, complaint-free time.  It became okay. Some days, it was really, actually. . . I daresay ‘fun’.

So visit the original post–Fun Ways to Help Kids Learn Spelling Words–for a sampling of what we found!


Tomorrow: teach mama’s top 10 all-time best countdown, #1.  (woot!)

best of teach mama countdown: #5 — letters b and d

b and d screenshot

letters b and dI love it when I find a resource that really, truly helps my kids.

And PBS has provided me with so many ways to support my children’s learning, in their smart and thoughtful programming and online resources, that it’s not surprising that this particular post seems to have helped numerous other families as well.

Coming in at #5 is a post I wrote a long, long time ago when Maddy was in Kindergarten and when she was repeatedly confusing letters b and d. This post, though it hasn’t been tweeted or shared on Facebook like other posts, has received the most hits from specific Google searches, people searching for ‘help with letters b and d’ or ‘confusing b and d’.

Month after month, this post comes up as one read and re-read, one where the document I created for Maddy is downloaded and downloaded again.

A huge thanks to our friends at PBS, and specifically Word World, for creating a fun and catchy way of helping my little one–and many others–remember how to distinguish those tricky letters b and d.

Here we go, numero cinco. . .

letters b and d confusionTonight while I was helping a tired Maddy complete her “Read to Me, Talk with Me” assignment, she paused and looked at me after she wrote a letter ‘p’.

I don’t know if that’s a ‘p’ or a 9, and I don’t really care, she said. I’m going to hope it’s a ‘p’, though, because I’m adding ‘picture’ to my list. (She was making a list of all of the things she could see in Baby Bear’s messy room from the book, Goldilocks and The Three Bears, by James Marshall, 1988.)

I said, Maddy, it’s okay to ask for help, though, if you want some. Yesterday when we started this, you wrote the number ’49′ on the page. Remember, you counted 49 books in Baby Bear’s room? Maybe that will help you. We all need help sometimes. 

She looked up and saw 49, and she said, Oh, I remember.

But when she got to the ‘d’ in ‘teddy bears’, she looked at me again. She said, I know ‘d’s because they’re in my name, but sometimes I mix them up in other words. I think I need help with d’s.

That was all I needed to bust out with, Liiiiine and circle is the lettaaa ‘bbbbeeeee’, circle and liiiiiine is the lettaaaa ‘ddddeeee’. . .

Because I know it will come up again sometime soon, . . . (read the rest of the b and d post to find out what we did!).


Tomorrow: teach mama’s top 10 all-time best countdown, #4.

best of teach mama countdown: #6 — learning with recyclables

recyclables with kids 13

learning with recyclablesOne of these days I’m going to share where and how we store the recyclables that we manage to save from the big blue bin over here.

But until then, I’ll share the #6 most popular teach mama post of all-time: how to use recyclables with kids–get fun, crafty, creative.

I think people have responded positively to this one because it’s all about sneaking in some learning and fun with ‘stuff’ that costs next to nothing. Stuff you’re going to get out of the house anyway. Stuff that you don’t feel bad about using, losing, or tossing after a few tries.

I think people appreciate having a use for these kinds of containers because really, it kind of makes sense to get as much use out of something as possible, right?

This little ole post of ours was even made into a fancy-schmancy, totally fun video on Mom’s Homeroom this year, so it’s something I hold near and dear to my heart.

It’s an earth-friendly numero seis.

Here we go. . .


learning with recyclables how to use recyclables with kids–get fun, crafty, creative


Many of my friends have said, Seriously, Amy, why didn’t I think of saving those yogurt cups? or Smart idea to use those play-doh containers for sand toys–who cares if you lose one, right? And I’m totally not sharing this to toot my own horn; I’m sharing it because these are things we all can do–things we all can save and bring back to life in new and exciting ways for our kids.

I grew up with an extremely creative and resourceful mom–she kept things most people didn’t keep and taught us to use them in cool, new ways. We played with buttons, ribbons, material, and boxes like they were million dollar toys. Don’t get me wrong; we had Cabbage Patch Kids and Barbies and Legos, but sometimes, the ‘untoys’ were just as cool.

So read the original post to find the things you should consider keeping instead of immediately throwing into the recycling bin, starting now.


Tomorrow: teach mama’s top 10 all-time best countdown, #5.

best of teach mama countdown: #9 — building words, names


building wordsThis post, which rolls in at #9, continues to surprise me with the amount of hits it gets.

Maybe it’s the title: word building, name building (and crossing the line).

Maybe people find it unintentionally when they’re trying to figure out what to do when their kids ‘cross the line’–I’m not sure.

I’m really not sure.

I’d like to think I’ve got a bit better, but this countdown isn’t about me–it’s about popular posts.

But teach mama’s top 10 all-time best countdown, numero nueve, is a post that focuses on Owen and Cora’s fun during homework time one day last year–before Owen was in Kindergarten.

On this particular day, they innocently played with magnetic letters and cookie sheets, building words and playing with family names. But then my boy ate a ‘little guy funny pill’ and totally crossed the line.

Here we go. . .

building words, family namesword building, name building (and crossing the line)

During homework time, if Owen and Cora express an interest in doing something fine-motor related, I’ll certainly let them go there–stringing beads, using chopsticks, hole-punching, cutting, anything. But for a good 10-20 minutes, we all just kind of chill out and have ‘work time’.

Last week, once again we were all about names during homework time–while Maddy and I worked, these two played with words and names.

Things were fine at first, but after about 20 minutes, they (okay, Owen) crossed the line.

Read more to find out what he did. . .


Tomorrow: teach mama’s top 10 all-time best countdown, #8.

teachmama’s best of 2011: mine and yours!

firsty day 7

A few of my favorite bloggy buddies and I have decided to do a little reflecting before moving forward with 2012.teachmama's best of 2011

We thought that beginning the year by sharing our personal favorite post from 2011 would be a cool to celebrate our collective awesomeness in a very big way.

And I mean our, as in every single reader and blogger’s, awesomeness.

So please feel free to share your personal favorite post from this year, and after you do, try to visit a handful of these great people’s ideas.

Grab a cuppa –or a glass of vino, depending on where you are and what time it is!–and sit back, relax, and walk into 2012 with a ton of cool ideas to use for your home, classroom, and family.

Here’s the skinny:

  • My Favorite Post from 2011: I loved, loved, loved the six-week Smart Summer Challenge that MaryLea, Candace, and I ran last summer, and my favorite post is part of that campaign.

The Smart Summer Challenge brings back memories of fun learning, flip-flops, pool days, and sunshine.  And right now, on this chilly, gray day in January, that sounds too good to be true.

four leaf clover post, teachmama's best of 2011Getting Ready for Kindergarten: Summertime Prep


But my favorite post also is the culmination of years, weeks, months, and days of conscious time with my little ones; it’s a post that focuses on preparing my Owen for school–Getting Ready for Kindergarten: Summertime Prep.

It’s a post that covers everything and anything that parents can do to prepare their kiddos for the big leap from being home to going to school.  And it’s not complicated or involved; most things are small and take only a bit of time and energy–but payoffs are big.

Many thanks for reading, and please do link up your favorite post from 2011 and stop by as many others’ posts as possible.


Huge happy 2012 hugs to my bloggy buddies who are participating in this ‘Best of 2011 Blog Hop’:

AngeliqueFelix.comThe Golden Gleamhands on : as we grow,Toddler ApprovedRed Ted ArtThe Iowa Farmer’s WifeThe Outlaw Mom BlogLet Kids Create,  Come Together KidsCreative With Kids,  Science sparksMama Smiles,  Rainy Day Mumteach mamaKitchen Counter ChroniclesThe Imagination TreeJDaniel Fours MomTeach PreschoolDe tout et de rien: Activités pour le PréscolaireTinkerlabMama Pea PodCrayon FrecklesSun Hats & Wellie BootsFrom Tantrums To Treasure HuntsMy Creative FamilyClassified: MomPuddles and GumbootsArt For Little HandsCreative Connections for KidsAt home with AliNurturestore, The Chocolate Muffin Tree, Critters and CrayonsThe Mommies Made Me Do It


family playing cards: take ’em, make ’em, then play!

family playing cards

family playing cards

A few years ago, I burned the midnight oil way too close to the finish line, in an attempt to create Family Playing Cards for Maddy, Owen, and Cora.

And though I made the work harder than it needed to be, it was well worth it.

The kids have used the cards steadily for the last two years, playing games, using them as ‘cheaters’ when they made cards, wrote notes, and developed stories with their family as the main characters.

This year, I utilized my sweet, sweet laptop a little more–and I called in the resources of a good pal–so my work was a little easier. So with a little help from my friends, I created family playing cards for my kiddos, adding new cousins and Brady.

But I also made a set for our niece and nephews, and I’m hoping that they have as much fun learning our names as we have had learning theirs.

So before your friends and family hit the high road for home, and the holidays are officially over, my suggestion for you, my friends, is this: grab your camera, make everyone stand against a light-colored wall, and take their photos.

Then use the template here to create your own set of Family Playing Cards for your nieces, nephews, cousins, and little loved ones sometime this year.  And don’t forget to make a set for your own crew.

I’m betting everyone will be glad you did.

Here’s the skinny:

I took photos of my family members at Thanksgiving this year, making them totally uncomfortable by standing against a white wall in my in-law’s basement.

family playing cards sheets

family playing cards sheetsFamily Playing Cards, ready to be cut and sorted by family


Then I saved them on my computer under ‘family cards’ so that they’d all be in one happy place.

And the family members’ photos that I forgot to take at Thanksgiving, I either grabbed them the next time I saw them and took a shot or two, or I begged them to send me photos via email. And if they didn’t–or couldn’t–I either searched my own photo archives or did some Facebook-photo searching until I found one that worked.  It was much easier than I thought it’d be.

I then added the photos to the Family Playing Cards template, which you can download here as a Word Doc or a pdf.  Download and save it to your desktop as a Word Doc, then add names and add photos yourself.

Or, download Family Playing Cards as a pdf, print it out, and cut and paste photos old-school style. Both ways work.

I then saved a set of Family Playing Cards for each family I was making–adjusting names as necessary (Mommy to Aunt Amy; Daddy to Uncle Brent, etc).  Then I printed the Family Playing cards on cardstock and cut them out.


family playing cards sheetsFamily Playing Cards, arranged by family

family playing cards sheets

family playing cards

fun boxes for the Family Playing Cards

Last time I made these, I used clear contact paper as a protector for the cards, and though it was more labor-intensive, it worked fine.

This year, one of my girlfriends offered to laminate the cards for me. I took her up on the offer and plan to buy her dinner next time we’re out. It was an incredible time-saver, and she saved me hours and hours and hours. And lots of contact paper.

Once the cards were laminated, I cut the cards out, and arranged them into families to make sure I had everyone.

Then I added ‘Family Cards’ stickers to a tiny plastic box from Ikea with a few little ‘xoxo’s’ on the side.

family playing cards sheets

family playing cards

I included the rules to Memory, Go Fish!, and Old Maid, along with a few blank cards in each box, and we were good to go! The gift was ready.

Though we use the cards in a ton of ways, I know I haven’t written them about each and every time we’ve used them.

But here are just a few totally fun ways that kiddos can use Family Playing Cards for some sneaky, at-home learning. . .

For the little guys:

  • pick out the girls and the boys
  • sort the cards by adults and children
  • find their brothers and sisters, pets, and parents
  • pick out their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins
  • organize the cards by family
  • play Memory with only a few cards–one family at a time–or with only males or females
  • play Go Fish! with only a few cards–one family at a time–or with only males or females
  • practice writing their own names by copying the card
  • play ‘find the match’ by hiding one card and having the child search for the person’s partner (Mommy & Daddy; Grandma & Grandpa; Nanny & Pap, etc)

For the slightly bigger kiddos:

  • find family members whose names begin with the same letter (or sound)
  • find family members whose names end with the same letter (or sound)
  • sort the names by shortest name to longest name
  • use magnetic letters to build names
  • talk about which names rhyme or sound alike
  • write around the room by placing the cards in different spots around the room
  • play Memory, Go Fish!, or Old Maid with the whole deck

For the bigger kiddos:

  • talk about syllables, sorting by one-syllable names and on up
  • sort the cards alphabetically
  • talk about last names (though they are not on our cards)
  • talk about larger relationships (that daddy’s brother is actually Uncle Jeff, which makes Aunt Jenn Mommy’s sister-in-law)
  • use the cards for name writing practice
  • play Family Bingo with the cards, using the Blank Bingo board and having kids write in family names
  • use the cards for paint bag writing or Jell-o writing
  • use the cards for Wiggly writing or window writing

There are tons of ways to use them– have fun, and hope they enjoy!

last minute treats: fancy, festive chocolate pretzels

fancy, festive pretzels

fancy-festive chocolate pretzelsLast week, the kids and I celebrated our annual Cookie Baking Day–something we all look forward to in the month of December.

On the morning of our Cookie Baking Day, we carry on as usual.  I drag everyone out of bed, cheerlead them through bed-making, dressing, teeth-brushing, and the relocation from bedroom to breakfast table.

But everything changes once they hit the Advent Calendar where they read the day’s adventure: Bake, Bake, Bake!


It’s a learn-at-home, apron-wearing day filled with measuring, mixing, sifting, rolling, chilling, cutting, unwrapping, decorating, tasting, testing, and baking, baking, baking!

We usually cover a handful of the same cookies each year, but we also try to add a new one or two to the mix to keep things fresh.  This year, we added Fancy, Festive Chocolate Pretzels to our plan.

Here’s the skinny:

An easy, quick, kid-friendly copy of the Fancy, Festive Chocolate Pretzels is here to download as a pdf. Happy holidays!


festive chocolate pretzels, cookies, unwrapping candyMy three little bakers love, love, love to unwrap kisses.


Sometimes they’re called Belly Buttons (like Cora’s preschool teacher calls them), sometimes they’re called Pretzel Turtles (when a Rollo is melted on the pretzel and a pecan is placed on top), and sometimes they’re called Candy Pretzels.

No matter the name, there’s one thing for sure: these fancy-ish, festive, chocolate pretzels are totally awesome.

And I think they’re perfect to add to holiday cookie trays or to use as little teacher or hostess gifts because they’re so fun, so fancy, and so festive.

Though simple, Fancy, Festive Chocolate Pretzels  do take a bit of trial and error with figuring out baking (melting) time  and determining how many you can do in one batch.  Once you figure out the baking time and batch size that works for you, you’re ready to go.

festive chocolate pretzelsThe pretzels are ready for kisses. . .

Once aprons were on, Maddy, Owen, and Cora each took a bag of kisses and started unwrapping–a super fine motor practice for little fingers. And as soon as they were finished unwrapping, they placed a ton of snap pretzels on a cookie sheet.

I started out by asking them to count out 20 or 30 to the tray, but soon hands were flying and there were zillions of pretzels–way more than 20.  But it’s a great opportunity for kids to do some counting–by putting the same number of pretzels in each row, or by counting as they unwrap the kisses.

This tray is a bit over-ambitious, I must admit. Only if you have eight hands willing and able to add toppers to the melted kisses should you attempt this many at a time. Otherwise, add 20 or so to a tray until you figure out how long to keep them in the oven.

festive chocolate pretzels. . . and more kisses. . .


festive chocolate pretzels . . . and the kisses are ready for melting.

Once the pretzels are on the tray, it’s time to add the kisses.

We assigned each person to a type of kiss, and that person placed a kiss on a pretzel.festive chocolate pretzels

I try to keep regular Hershey’s Kisses on one tray and ‘special’ ones on another because the Hugs, peppermint, and filled kisses melt much more quickly. If they’re both on one tray, melting time will be tricky.

You want the kisses melted just enough that you can place a topper–an M & M, a peanut, cashew, or piece of candy cane–on top so it sticks.  If the kisses aren’t melted enough, they’ll be too tall; if they’re melted too much, the chocolate will turn to liquid and squeeze through the pretzel which makes a huge mess.

(The ones on the right are a super example of too-melty. They tasted great, but they ended up on our ‘ugly’ basket.)

And one thing we’ve found is that it’s best to test the ‘melt’ while the tray is still in the oven, and it has to be done carefully. If you remove the tray from the oven and then put it back in, the chocolate gets all cracked and funny.

Once the kisses are melted properly, the fun really begins!

It’s important to have each kiddo prepare a pile of ‘toppers’ so that everything is ready and to stand at a safe distance from the warm tray.  Once the tray is on the counter, toppers can carefully be added to kisses.


festive chocolate pretzelsour happy, pretty fancy, festive chocolate pretzels


Toppers can be anything.  We’ve used:festive chocolate pretzels

  • another pretzel to make a sandwich
  • plain M & M’s–(with letters facing down)
  • special M & M’s: peanut, peanut butter, mint, pretzel
  • nuts: peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts,
  • candy cane pieces
  • junior mints
  • marshmallows

To sneak in a bit o’ learning is very easy. Kids can:

  • add a certain number of each topper (5 peanuts, 5 M & M’s, 5 candy canes, etc)
  • make patterns with their toppers
  • add certain colors of M & M’s
  • stretch their imagination and add unique toppers
  • count their finished pretzels by 2’s, 5’s, or 10’s, depending on the number in each rowcookie baking day

I know it’s sometimes all we can do to get kids in the kitchen and not have an anxiety attack as we watch a huge mess unfold in front of our eyes, but the kitchen is a super place for sneaky learning, and most kids love being there.  With parents.  Playing with candy.

And on Cookie-Baking Day especially, when I hit Maddy, Owen, and Cora with the challenge of counting how many kisses they’ve unwrapped or to count the number of pretzels we’ve made by 2’s or 5’s, they’re usually game.   Perhaps it’s because they’re on a sugar high. Or perhaps it’s because they just don’t even know it’s ‘work’.  Or perhaps it’s because they’ll do just about anything over a pile of chocolate pretzels.

So take a deep breath, help yourself to a kiss or two (or 10!), and have fun where you are, despite the mess.

And that’s it! My goal was to have our Cookie-Baking Day Recipe Book ready for this season, but between the colds we’ve been hit hard with this month, it couldn’t happen. But it will. . . hold on tight!  Until then, enjoy Festive, Fancy Chocolate Pretzels with your little ones!

Just a little Cookie-Baking Day thanks to my mom. My amazing mom held a Cookie Baking Day each holiday season for us when we were growing up, and we loved it. My three sisters and I looked forward to this day even when we were in high school.  I knew it would be a tradition I’d carry on with my kiddos, and I’m just so very thankful for my crazy-creative mom who made things fun, exciting, and awesome for us.

magazine activities: creative, crafty, sneaky-learning fun

magazines for fun and learning | teachmama.com

We are huge magazine fans over here. magazines for fun and learning | teachmama.com

We love finding them in the mailbox, reading them, playing detective with them, crafting with them, and learning with them.

When they arrive in the day’s mail, it’s like a getting a little gift, just for you.  And when we sit down to read a magazine, it never feels like a chore; my kids–all of them–really love the freedom to flip through the pages, finding what interests them and moving past the ‘boring’ stuff.

And when I give my kids the ‘go’ to use our magazines to cut, rip, tape, and use for anything they want, they always seem game.

There are tons of creative, crafty, and fun ways to throw in some sneaky learning using magazines, but I’ve grabbed  a few of my favorites to highlight because this time of year we always seem to end up with an over-abundance of magazines, mailers, and catalogs coming in each day. 

So if you do, too, then set some aside to use for some fun learning when the snow comes in January, February, and March. . .

Here’s the skinny:

  • Magazine Story Starters: I love having ‘idea cards’ on hand for anything, especially writing, drawing, or storytelling prompts.

So if Maddy, Owen, and Cora are rammy, bored, or cranky, sometimes I’ll ask them to work on our Story Starters.

Story Starters are–very simply–interesting, thought-provoking, funny, beautiful, or unusual pictures on index cards.  And they’re kept together in one happy place, together, for times when we need to kick-start our ideas.


creative crafty magazine activities for kids, magazine story startersMaddy cuts some interesting animal photos. . .

creative crafty magazine activities for kids

. . . and Cora found a vacuum?

creative crafty magazine activities for kids

Our Story Starter cards–thought-provoking, fun, unusual–and great to have on hand.

We usually just flip through the magazines, chatting and cutting pictures as we go.  And we glue them onto cards. That’s it. Simple, fun, and gets the creative juices going.

abc books, creative crafty magazine activities for kids

  • Alphabet Books: I loved creating Alphabet Books with my students as a way to really make the letters of the alphabet come alive.

Maddy, Owen, and Cora started them a while back and only recently rediscovered them–only to find that the books were not completely finished.

Alphabet Books are books that children create and personalize.

That’s it. The good, old-fashioned ABC book with ‘Aa’ on the left page and pictures of a-words on the right side. Magazines are perfect for Alphabet Books because kids have so many photos at their fingertips.


creative crafty magazine activities for kidsAlphabet Books are a fun and personal way to bring the letters of the alphabet to life.

creative crafty magazine activities for kids Mini Me Collages rock the house.

We used magazines to cut out pictures of anything and everything that reminded them of themselves–objects they loved, colors they adored, foods they’d eat any day of the week, and places they dreamed of visiting.  But they had to be tiny because the Mini Me collages had to fit on their tiny Everyday Name Books.

And in my house, tiny = fun.  Mini = magical. So I try to stick with the stuff that works.


  • Magazine Hunt: Magazine Hunts are fun, sneaky ways of getting kids to ‘play’ with magazines, paying close attention to the text features that make magazines unique and different than other genres.


creative crafty magazine activities for kidsCora works on her magazine hunt. . .

creative crafty magazine activities for kids. . . following the prompt on the Magazine Hunt cards.

The idea of a Magazine Hunt is simply to use a magazine–old or new, it doesn’t matter–along with the set of Magazine Hunt cards to ‘hunt’ for specific parts of the magazine.  Not only do Magazine Hunts get kids to look at magazines in slightly different ways, but they also make reading a magazine a much more active process.

My kids really love ’em.  Which means I do, too.

I have always loved magazines–as a child and even now as an adult–there’s something special about flipping through a magazine, reading the articles, and enjoying the photos, grabbing bits of this and that in a short sitting that I think some people (like my kids and I) really dig.  I’m always looking for new ways to use mag’s since we have so many around here; if you are, too, please check out the Magazine Creative Challenge.

A handful of my buddies are participating, and we’d love for you to join us! Please check out the participants’ Challenge posts and then link up your own!

Creative Ccreative crafty magazine activities for kidshallenge: Magazine Participants:

Child Central Station , kids in the studioTeach MamaThe Imagination Tree,Childhood101Teach Preschoolhands on as we growArtful ParentPaint Cut PasteA Mom With A Lesson PlanToddler ApprovedKiwi CrateArt 4 Little Hands,  Red Ted ArtThe Chocolate Muffin Tree,  Imagination Soup,Michelles Charm WorldMessy PreschoolersTinker LabMommy LabsPutti Prapancha, sunhats and wellie boots

Many thanks to Rachelle Doorley of TinkerLab for organizing and hosting this Challenge (and many others!).

build your own bingo games: uppercase and lowercase letter match

abc bingo our boards

Cora and I have been rockin’ the bingo games lately, with a new spin on bingo games that she really seems to love.abc bingo games: uppercase and lowercase letter match

And I’m sure the Smartie bingo markers don’t hurt. . .

But after noticing that my tiny one seems to have the uppercase letters of the alphabet down pat, I have been keeping a closer eye on her knowledge of lowercase letters. Nothing formal, stressful, or official–just all casual and sneaky behind the scenes kinda stuff.

Cora can recognize and name many lowercase letters but not all of them. So I decided to begin some more focused work on the sometimes tricky lowercase letters.

Of course, because we’re huge fans of names over here, I thought that there’d be no better place to begin than with Cora’s name.

And our Blank Bingo Boards make building our very own, personalized bingo easy–and fun!

Here’s the skinny:

  • Build-Your-Own-Bingo: Uppercase and Lowercase Letter Match— Like I said, our Blank Bingo Boards make this game new every. Single. Time. We. Play.

Which, to me, is sototallyawesome.

Cora cuts her board. . .

. . . and then we chose the letters for our game.

We used the 3 x 3 boards for this game, since I wanted to make it simple and I wanted to concentrate on letters that were special to Cora–the letters of her name.

So I grabbed our Alphabet Letter Cards, and I asked Cora to grab two packs of Smarties and meet me in our craft room.  (Lucky for me, she did.)  We separated the cards into uppercase and lowercase letter piles.

I said, Okay, my friend, we’re going to play a very special bingo game today–a game that is all about you.  And we’re going to make our own totally special boards in just a minute. But first we have to find some important cards in this pile.  We need to find the uppercase C, O, R, and A and the lowercase letters to match.  Let’s go.

We found the letters, matched them and then I said, Now let’s find the letters of your last name.  We found the letters of our last name and matched them to the lowercase letters.

We have nine boxes here on our board, so we need nine letters.  Let’s count how many we have so far.  We counted and we had seven letters.  We need two more letters so think of two of your friends and we’ll find their letter in our alphabet cards.

Cora immediately named two of her best buddies from preschool, and we talked about their names and the sounds–and letters–that begin their names. We added the letters to our pile and then I said, Okay, so I’m going to put all of the lowercase letters in one pile, and I’m going to put the uppercase letters in two rows.  And we’ll both grab a pencil and write one of these uppercase letters in any of the boxes in our bingo board that we want. You might choose to put the ‘C’ in this box (I pointed to the upper righthand box), and I might choose to put the ‘C’ in the middle box on my board. It doesn’t matter.  Okay?

The game begins!


abc bingo games: uppercase and lowercase letter matchCora shows me where she needs to go for a w-i-n!

She had already begun writing, and soon we both had full boards.abc bingo games: uppercase and lowercase letter match

Now, let’s unwrap our Smarties and put them on the table. These are going to be our sweet, sweet bingo markers.  We can take turns flipping the lowercase letter cards, and then we cover the uppercase letter that matches with a Smartie. And the winner is the person who has bingo–three in a row–first. How fun is that? It’s a Cora and friends bingo!

We ate the Smarties after each win–so we played about four games until the treats were gone.

We took turns flipping lowercase cards, and after the first few cards, I really tried to let Cora identify the letters.  And she was fine. It was fun–easy, simple, and focused. And they were her letters–so she liked writing them and she liked reading them.

Next time, we’ll switch it up–we’ll play with family names, or maybe we’ll write lowercase letters that we used for this game and we’ll flip the uppercase letters. Oh, the options!

Goodness knows how I love to play with names over here when the learning has to be sneaky, meaningful, and fun! Happy bingo playing!