summer fun for kids: week 3 #tabletopsurprises

summer fun for kids: week 3 #tabletopsurprises

summer fun for kids: week 3 #tabletopsurprises

We have had one wild week here, friends.

Our Owen headed to his Nanny and Pap’s for baseball camp, and our Maddy and Cora were stuck here with me and were pretty darn sick.

Luckily, our girls are on the mend (finally!), and Owen is back here with us in Maryland, now determined to land himself on a baseball team. (Not sure how that’s going to happen, but you never know. . .)

Needless to say, he had a blast at camp–we knew he would!–and we managed to have some fun here, too, while he was away, though we missed him terribly.

The kids and I just wrapped up week three of tabletop surprises. This week, we made a few changes to our 2015 calendar to accommodate for our sickies and the July 4th holiday.

It’s all good.  It really doesn’t matter what you do each day as long as you’re consistently putting some cool things out for the kids. Really.

No one knows whether you’re following our freebie 10-week tabletop surprise calendar but you. So be sure to make this work for your kids!

Here’s the skinny. . .

Summer Fun– Week 3 Tabletop Surprises: 

Monday:

Tuesday:

Wednesday:

Thursday:

Friday:

 

What did you do that really rocked this week? We’d love to hear it!

______________________

Join us!

summer fun for kids | teachmama.com

Check out our summertime fun posts: 

 

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fun summertime learning for kids: tabletop surprises

10 cool ways to read the Percy Jackson series

10 ways to read percy jackson | teachmama.com

post contains affiliate links

 

 

Friends!

I’m always so thrilled to share with you fun literacy-related events and celebrations, and this summer, we’ve got a big one: it’s the 10th Anniversary of the publication of The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan. WOOT!

And, as part of the team of bloggers who will be celebrating all summer long the awesome that is Percy Jackson and the Olympians, I’ll be writing a bit each month about why this series rocks and why you—and your kids!—should get on board.

10 ways to read percy jackson | teachmama.com

I’m also giving away an entire boxed set of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. For real.

And I’ll be sharing some cool deals and freebies for you.

Talk about a sweet way to ring in the summer, right?

To kick off this event, I’m sharing some ideas for you. Some cool ways for you toget your Percy Jackson read on.

PercyPackBANNERReady?
Here’s the skinny. . .

10 Cool Ways to Read the Percy Jackson Series:

1. In a museum.  Because this is where The Lightning Thief opens, when Percy realizes that something is just not right.

2. Near an arcade.  In the book, people never age in the arcade. But warning: you will.

3. In bed. Not Crusty’s Water Bed Palace where ‘Crusty’ tries to trick Annabeth and Grover, but your bed. You’re much more safe in  your bed.

4.  On a bus. Percy’s bus breaks down after he sees one of the three ladies cut the yarn with golden scissors. Let’s hope your bus makes the trip!

5.  While in a cabin. Percy goes to Camp Half-Blood, a Greek demi-god training facility on Long Island. Read this book in a cabin as if you’re a camper there, too!

6.  While wearing a baseball cap. Annabelle wears her invisibility Yankee’s cap given to her mom, Athena. Your cap will most likely not make you invisible, but you can pretend.

7. Near the ocean (okay, or a pool or some water).  Percy is the demigod son of Poseidon.  Poseidon is the god of water.  Read near the water to feel a little closer to Percy.

8.  By the light of a lightning bolt (or glow stick).  Percy’s quest in The Lightning Thief is to retrieve Zeus’s stolen master bolt.  Read by the light of a glowstick to feel inspired!

9.  While eating something blue.  Percy’s favorite color is blue, and his mom, Sally, is on a constant quest for blue food.  Eat a little something blue to get in the Percy and Sally spirit.

10.  Near a campfire. Hades appears in the campfire when the quest begins. And so? Your Percy Jackson experience can begin here too!

What do you think? Sound good!

PercyBoxSet

————————————————————-

GIVEAWAY: A complete boxed set of Percy Jackson and the Olympians series!

Do you want to win your own complete boxed set of Percy Jackson and the Olympians series??!  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 the Official Sweepstakes Rules.

This giveaway ends Tuesday, June 30, 2015 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 06/30/15.  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 more!

There’s something for everyone here!

PercyPackBADGE

Check out the awesome freebies below: 

  • The Lightning Thief will be discounted to $.99 across all eBook accounts for one full week (6/15-6/22)! It also includes a sneak peek chapter excerpt from Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book One: The Sword of Summer.
  • Catch a sneak peek of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book One: The Sword of Summer — available online at ReadRiordan.com!

 

 

fyi: I’m writing this post as part of a partnership with Disney-Hyperion; however, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my personal experience as a parent and educator–and, of course, my three little Percy fans.

 

fyi: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Forever and always I recommend only products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” For more information, please see teachmama media, llc. disclosure policy.

summer reading goals & reading logs: quick and easy

summer reading goals & reading logs: quick and easy

summer reading goals & reading logs: quick and easy

 

Woooo-hooooooo! Summer is here! Summer has arrived!

Let the party begin!!

Charge the iPads! Rev up the 3DS! Make sure there’s some juice in that phone because my kids are ready to PLUG. IN, man!

Or at least that’s what they thought.

Summer means unlimited electronic time, right?

Um. Nope and nope.

Here’s the skinny. .  .

Summer Reading Goals & Reading Logs–Quick & Easy:

So yeah. This week, this first week of summer, we’ve had to do a little ‘refreshing’ if you will.

Like everyone needed reminders that:

  • Kids use Screen Time Tickets. The End.
  • Kids do chores. The End.
  • Kids use electronics–all electronics!–on the main living area, not upstairs or downstairs. The End.
  • Kids clean up after themselves. The End.
  • Kids use their own money for the pool snack bar. The End.

summer reading goals & reading logs: quick and easy

 

summer reading goals & reading logs: quick and easy

Yep, just a little bit of a learning curve. But it’s been fine, and I am so happy to have my three favorite people home with me all day, every day. I really am. It’s such a blessing to have three cool kids. I am grateful every single day.

So how does this all tie into Summer Reading Goals and Summer Reading Logs? Right, well Maddy, Owen, and Cora needed some reminders and a bit of a push to complete their Summer Reading Goal Sheet.

I don’t remember us ever creating summer reading goals, but this year we did and for several reasons:

1. I want the kids to be aware of how they spend time and how much they read.

2. I wanted to do something other than straight-up reading logs.

3. I wanted to have a mid-summer check-in of sorts in case we were really trudging along.

We’ll see how it goes.

We began the week on Tuesday with a goal-setting tabletop surprise: 

 

A pretty easy way to start the week, right?

I set out several reading logs and a movie-book match-up sheet to get the kid’s brains moving. They really helped. We talked as the kids filled out their sheets, and then we clipped them to the magnetic board.

Here are the reading logs we have. Choose what works best for your crew!

We were ready to start the summer!

Happy reading!

Have you heard about how we’re keeping our kids’ brains moving, thinking, creating, and having fun all summer long?

Click the image below and find out more:

summer fun for kids | teachmama.com

summer swim team: an absolute MUST for families

summertime swim team | teachmama.com

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summertime swim team | teachmama.com

Summer swim has been a staple for our family for the last six years.

Ever since Maddy joined the pre-team the summer before Kindergarten, we’ve spent the first seven weeks of summer camped out at the pool in the mornings and have spent our Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings at swim meets and Sunday afternoons at dive meets.

We are grateful that our neighborhood pool is within walking distance from our home, and we definitely take advantage of it. But even if your family is not within walking distance to a pool, I cannot highly enough recommend that kids join a summer swim team.

It’s an absolute must for families for so many reasons. If you’re on the fence about it, I’m here to do what I can to push you in the ‘yes!’ direction.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Summer Swim Team–An Absolute Must For Families:

Our kids, 11, 9, and 8 years old, know that they’re on the swim team through middle school at the very least. But they really want to be. In fact, they’ve chosen to swim and dive, and the dive piece especially is their choice. They want to do it. They want to be there.

summertime swim team | teachmama.com

They are counting down the days until they can be the pre-team coaches, until they can be the ‘big kids’ and until they get recognized at the banquet for being swim and dive seniors.

I, on the other hand, am just doing what I can to savor each season as it comes, knowing that the summer days may be long but the years are short.

Thinking about summer swim for your kids?

We love it for many reasons, but here are our top ones:

Kids learn to swim.

Really, they do. Yes, kids on our team must be comfortable in the water, but they don’t necessarily need to know the strokes. That’s where the pre-team coaches come in.

Our littlest swimmers learn water safety and basic strokes, and they become more confident in the water.

summertime swim team | teachmama.com

Kids try new things and are challenged.

It’s not easy to walk into a pool on a cold June morning not knowing many people, but kids do it. And over time, those people on the team become good friends and playmates.

We all know how important it is for us to step out of our comfort zones every so often; joining a swim team–no matter the age–is a great way to do that.

summertime swim team | teachmama.com

Kids will learn:

  • the proper swim strokes
  • how far they can push their little bodies
  • how to play safely in the water
  • how to jump and dive into the pool
  • how swim meets work
  • sportsmanship
  • teamwork
  • listening skills
  • confidence
  • and more.

Older children and younger are brought together and support each other.

Swim teams consist of young swimmers, 8 years old and under, and older swimmers, up to age 18.  Swimmers are broken up into different age groups: 8 & under; 9 & 10; 11 & 12; 13 & 14; 15 & older.

summertime swim team | teachmama.com

All children are on the same team, but they rarely swim together. Except for the medleys and the graduated relays, where one swimmer from each age group takes a section of the race.

One thing I have loved is that our kids interact with other children from different age groups, and everyone supports each other through practices, social events, and meets. It’s awesome.

Families come together.

Our swim and dive teams pretty much create our social calendar for the summer.

Families gather to make the meets work, and they put in their time to make the swim season fun.

We eat meals together, play bingo, enjoy raft nights, support each other through losses, and celebrate our wins. We host book sales and evening events, party it up at an end-of-season banquet, and decorate homes for divisional and all-star meets.

summertime swim team | teachmama.com

Communities come together.

We drive all around the area for swim and dive meets, making connections all around our community.

Friends from other neighborhood pools cheer for their school buddies across lanes, and pals who only see each other during basketball season or dance class compete against each other in the water.

summertime swim team | teachmama.com

Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins often join in the fun. Meets become a really great way to see tons of familiar faces and connect with new ones.

It’s. Just. Plain. Fun.

It’s fun. It really, truly is.

Though it gets to feel long by week six or seven–I won’t lie–swim and dive season really is one of the most fun times of the year.

summertime swim team | teachmama.com

Early mornings, long afternoons, and hot and muggy evenings are overshadowed by the laughs and memories created each season. I know for a fact that when my kids look back on the highlights of their childhood, summertime swim and dive will come to mind immediately.

Every child can have a strong foundation in water safety.

Really. Even if you don’t have a pool nearby, I’m sure that somewhere near you is a YMCA with a water safety or water survival program for kids.

Thanks to people like Justina Pratt who is a Safe Start Swimming Instructor at a Florida YMCA, these programs–and the people who teach our littlest swimmers–can change lives.  Actually, they can save lives.

Check it out:

I have totally loved the workforce appreciation series over at 1in100million.org. Share them with your kids. Share them with your friends. 

Subscribe so you don’t miss a thing. They’re really cool clips, and they remind us to appreciate those people all around us every day who make our world a better place.

Check out:

teach kids workforce appreciation  teachmama.com

 

teach kids to thank everyday heroes teachmama.com

 

kronos: workforce appreciationfyi: This post was written as part of a partnership with Find Your Influence, and as always, ideas and opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator. Find out more at 1 in one hundred million. Subscribe so you don’t miss any of their videos and follow #WorkforceStories and #1in100MM!

 

cool instagram accounts for tweens and new users to follow

cool instagram accounts for tweens and new users to follow | teachmama.com

cool instagram accounts for tweens and new users to follow | teachmama.com

Oh, friends.

How I’ve fought the hard Instagram battle with my tween this year, and finally I let in.

Under many, many conditions:

  • We signed an updated Family Media Agreement.
  • We still use Screen Time Cards.
  • Phone use is restricted to our main floor of our house (not used upstairs).
  • We approve only followers we know personally or that I approve.
  • Her account is private–not public.
  • The phone is ours–not hers–but it’s being used by her, so any time we want to check on things, we can and do.
  • I follow her friends.
  • And more, like constant conversation and an open door for questions any time.

But what I realized is that as a tween, teen, or new user, it’s hard to find cool accounts to follow, so it’s difficult to really know how to properly use Instagram.

Sure, you want your kids to be able to follow their friends, but do you know what most of their friends are doing? A whole lot of duck-faced selfies, that’s what. A whole lot of selfies. Lots. Of. Selfies.  Don’t get me wrong–selfies are fine. But all of the time? Gets a little old.

How about changing things up a bit? Showing our new, younger users cool ways to use Instagram?

Really, there are so many creative and thoughtful ways to use this platform; it’s designed to be visually appealing, creative, and memorable. The problem is that kids need models. They need good examples.

Just like when I was teaching kids how to write a strong paragraph, thesis essay, or research paper–they need models. Examples. So they know what good looks like.

So Maddy and I have been searching and searching and searching this year to find cool Instagram accounts to follow.

We’ve found a ton.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Instagram Accounts for Tweens and New Users to Follow: 

Remember, friends, this is not a perfect list. And it’s only a start.

If you and your spouse make the decision to allow your child to use Instagram, you must be aware of the Terms of Service. You must first take into consideration how the platform is used and why you need to be an active part of the use.

Our family decided that we’d allow Maddy to give it a try with a whole lot of support.

And with support comes a whole lot of great people to follow so our new user learned how to use the platform by viewing firsthand how some people were really rocking it.

Here are a few cool users to follow if you–or your child–are just starting out on Instagram:

 

IamKidPresident:

It’s Robby the Kid President. On instagram. He’s inspiring and awesome. Everyone should follow him.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com kid pres

 

 

WhiteHouse:

Yep. THE White House is on Instagram. Did you even know that? My thought is this: if our kids are on Instagram and the White House is on Instagram, then our kids should definitely follow the White House. At the very least they’ll know what their president is up to.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com white house

ThisIsTeen:

Online community of book lovers –a division of Scholastic.  Everything teen. Great spot to find new titles!

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com

 

HumansofNY:

If you’re not following Humans of New York, you better be. It’s simply the most incredible photo journal I’ve ever encountered. Brandon Stanton is the photographer, and he basically photographs New Yorkers. And the coolest part? He shares their stories.

Buy the book. We’re obsessed. And though Maddy has asked me questions sometimes–because some of the stories are a little thought-provoking or sad–it’s a conversation worth having with your tween or teen.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com humans of ny

 

iloveplaymo:

As in ‘playmobil’ and little photo scenes.  Just fun.  How cool is this? And what fun our kids could have with doing something like this themselves!

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com

 

 

Food 52:

I like this account because the focus is to help people be smarter, happier cooks. And the photos of food are beautiful.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com

 

GoPro:

All photos taken with a GoPro–and if you don’t know what a GoPro is, it’s a teeny camera that mounts to just about anything, allowing for people to video very cool things. This account, as you can imagine, shares some really awesome photographs.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com gopro

LiveLokai:

I love the idea behind these bracelets–they contain water from Mt. Everest, the highest point on earth, and mud from the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. By wearing the bracelet, you are reminded to strive for balance in your life. The bracelets are photographed all over the world–it’s so cool to sea where they are and how people photograph them.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com gopro

 

AnimalPlanet:

Animal photos. Surprisingly human animal photos.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com animal planet

 

2sisters_angie:

Not even joking when I say that the awesome of this profile is that Angie is mom to ‘Mayhem’–a 5 year old who literally creates runway dresses and costumes out of paper.  The outfits either come to her or she tries to replicate what the stars are wearing. Your kids–and you–will fall in love with this feed.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com mayhem

 

DiscoveryChannel:

Gorgeous, breathtaking photos. We’re huge fans of the Discovery Channel over here, so this is a favorite.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com gopro

 

littleBits:

Love our littleBits sets, so this platform shares photos and videos of the littleBits at work–moving, blinking, beeping, and making magic happen, one circuit at a time.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com littlebits

 

Yoobi:

Bright and beautiful school supplies. Everyone loves school supplies. Right? We sure do.  Have you ever seen them look so pretty?

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com yobi

 

NatGeoTravel:

The official account for National Geographic Travel means Awesome. Photos. The. End.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com

 

Maya_On_the_Move:

Maya is a bulldog in NYC.  This profile chronicles her adventures.  I love it.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com maya

 

JuliesKitchen:

Pretty food. Pretty, pretty, absolutely gorgeous food.  Like food art in such a fun way.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com

 

 

NatGeo:

Photos from National Geographic photographers. And stories to go with them.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com natgeo

 

IdaFrosk:

You guys. Food art. More of it. But different in that these photos sometimes make you forget that you’re looking at food. It’s just awesome.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com

 

BabiekinsMag:

My girls love this magazine, and the Instagram profile is just as beautiful.  Sure, kids posing as models all glammed up isn’t my thing, but these kids look cool. And they’re low on makeup.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com

YoungAdultBookAddict:

Tracey shares everything Young Adult and New Adult books. She’s cool. And maybe she’ll inspire our kiddos to do some more reading.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com

OneCampaign:

The ONE campaign is just plain fantastic. What they do rocks. And so do all their photos. Hoping that this gets users psyched to do something, to make a change. To get involved.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com one

 

 

AmyPoehlerSmartGirls:

Amy Poehler and her bff Meredith Walker created Smart Girls to celebrate awesome girls–every girl. The photos are fun. And the message is stellar.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com amy

 

MacKidsBooks:

From Macmillan Children’s Publishing–books and more books.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com

 

MommasGoneCity:

My sweet friend Jessica shares her photos of her gorgeous little familia and their furry boy. First it was #TheoandBeau and then it became #TheoandEvvie. The photos are incredible, and the awesome thing is that Jessica and her family are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com jessica

 

TheGoodQuote:

BEFORE you follow this account, check it out for yourself. Most are positive quotes. Many are happy and really what we all need. Every day.

But some? A little edgy and questionable. Just check it out.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com quote

 

 

Dictionary.com:

That’s right. A word a day. And why not celebrate words on Instagram?

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com dictionary

 

 

Friends. Are we following each other? Let’s.

Check it out–

teachmama1:

Follow me for fun, quick learning ideas and activities.  In the summer, every single day I’ll post our #tabletopsurprises. And on Friday I’ll share a round-up here.

instagram accounts for tweens | teachmama.com teach mama

On Instagram, I tend to keep things pretty simple withphotos of some of the cool things we’re up to that don’t always make it to the blog.

But this year, I’m adding a little quickie video as well. Should be fun.

And if nothing else, I do hope it inspires you to get a little crafty and creative with your crew during the long summer months.

 

 

What are your other favorite, must-follow Instagram accounts?

I’ll let you in on a little secret–this is the first of a series of posts. I have a ton of great profiles to follow that wouldn’t fit in this one post, so do let me know who yours are, and I’ll do my best to add them!

And remember–these are not all G-rated; you must use this platform, as in all social media platforms, with your discretion.

Check out our initial Instagram post for more information:

how to talk to your kids about instagram | teachmama.com #digitalliteracy #digitalkids

 

digital kids | teachmama.com

 

 

fyi: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. This small percentage of money helps offset the costs of hosting this blog, which helps me keep this content free for you. Forever and always I recommend only products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”  For more information, please see teachmama media, llc. disclosure policy

help kids stay in touch with friends when school’s out: autograph sheet

help kids stay in touch with friends when school's out: autograph sheet teachmama.com

I can’t even believe it, but school’s almost out for my kids.

Though I’m totally psyched to begin our tabletop surprises this year, I’m also always a little sad when the school year ends.

It means my kids are getting older and that time continues to move . . . quickly.

help kids stay in touch with friends when school's out: autograph sheet teachmama.com

This year, especially I feel like I’m having a difficult time as Maddy moves into the wilds of middle school leaving Owen and Cora behind in elementary school. It has been a true joy for me to have all three kids in one school for the last three years.

And I cannot even begin to wrap my head around the fact that I began this blog even before Maddy started Kindergarten. Insanity.

But also awesome, I know. I have so much to be thankful for–that is a fact.

So I’ll spare you the waterworks–that will surely come on Friday at her Fifth Grade Recognition Ceremony (sob!)–and instead I’ll share something that I created for all three of my little loves so that they can stay in touch with their buddies through the long summer months.

It’s pretty cool. And it’s something they’ll just shove in their binder for the last few days, pull out before and after school and maybe at lunchtime.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Help Kids Stay in Touch With Friends When School’s Out–Autograph Sheet: 

This is a super-easy and fun sheet, and the emphasis here is that kids will write their phone number or address so that they can communicate over the summer.

help kids stay in touch with friends when school's out: autograph sheet teachmama.com

help kids stay in touch with friends when school's out: autograph sheet teachmama.com

If kids are old enough and their parents permit it, then hopefully kids can write down their email address or instagram name.

Any way they want to stay in touch, they share.

help kids stay in touch with friends when school's out: autograph sheet

Download the printable and help kids stay in touch with friends when school’s out: help kids stay in touch with friends when school’s out: autograph sheet

If you choose to share this printable–and we hope you do!–please link to this page instead of the attachment page. Thank you!

It’s simple and easy.

And when I showed the kids today, they were pretty happy. And I’ll be pretty happy mid-summer when they ask for a playdate with a pal and I tell them to reach out and plan it themselves!

 

How do you keep kids connected with their pals over the summer? It’s not easy–so I’m open for ideas and suggestions!

Need a few ideas for summertime fun? Join us!

summer fun for kids | teachmama.com

 

 

Are your kids still in school?

Do you want them to do a little ‘thank you’ writing to their teachers? Definitely check out this post over on Scholastic Parents:

end of year thank you  teachmama  pinterest  scholastic

make The Wizarding World of Harry Potter more awesome than you ever imagined

Wizarding World of Harry Potter | universal orlando resort | teachmama.com

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Wizarding World of Harry Potter | universal orlando resort | teachmama.com

Friends.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Have you seen it? Do you plan to?

We visited Orlando this month, and honestly, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was a highlight. THE highlight.

It’s nestled inside Universal Orlando Resort, and it’s an absolute dream come true.  You must see it.

We literally cried happy tears walking into Diagon Alley. Not. Even. Kidding.

I cannot strongly enough recommend a visit to Universal Orlando Resort, and I will even go as far as to say it will exceed all of your expectations.  But there are just a few things–a few secrets to keep in your back pocket–before your trip.

And these [little tricks] will make The Wizarding World of Harry Potter more awesome than you ever imagined.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Make The Wizarding World of Harry Potter More Awesome Than You Ever Imagined

Just a few little tricks, friends. Just a few.

First of all, though, you need to understand a bit about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter:

from universal orlando: wizarding world of harry potter

(image from Universal Orlando site)

Then, prepare your kids. 

Give them their very own Howwarts acceptance letter like we did:

 

hogwarts acceptace letter | teachmama.com

Before we left, we downloaded, edited, and printed out the Acceptance Letter from Mediafire.  Be careful–there’s a ton of spam over there.

You can download the Word form letter here: Hogwarts Acceptance Letter from Book Template

And here’s our pdf version so you can see how we adjusted: hogwards letter girls

Wizarding World of Harry Potter | universal orlando resort | teachmama.com

 

Wizarding World of Harry Potter | universal orlando resort | teachmama.com

Wizarding World of Harry Potter | universal orlando resort | teachmama.com

We printed the letter out on marbled cardstock.

And then we rolled it into a scroll, tying it with a gold ribbon.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter | universal orlando resort | teachmama.com

make The Wizarding World of Harry Potter more awesome than you ever imagined | teachmama.com

Here’s what you need to know and do to make your experience rock: 

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1. Read the books and watch the movieharry potter wizarding world | teachmama.com

I mean. You. Must. Read. The. Book.

And if you can’t finish the whole series, then at least make sure that you read the first book and follow it up with the first movie.

Part of the reason Maddy, Owen, Cora, and I were so excited to see the parks was because we read the books. And we watched the movies. In that order.

I read the first book out loud with Maddy the summer before she went into third grade, and from there she took off on her own.

I read the first book out loud with Owen the summer before he went into second grade, and from there he took off.  He finished book seven this year.

We listened to the first book via audio books on our drive to Pennsylvania this past Easter because I wanted Cora and my husband to read it before we went to the park. And then we watched the movie.

Reading the book and watching the movie brings the park to life and gives you an appreciation for the beauty and details like you wouldn’t believe.

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2. Buy the interactive wands

harry potter wizarding world wand | teachmama.comMake the investment.

The interactive wands are not cheap, but they are so cool it’s not even funny.

harry potter wizarding world | teachmama.com

They’re about $50–and I know!–that’s a lot for a park souvenir, but it’s worth it.  My mom and dad gave us money before the trip, especially for wands for the kids, so that helped. Maybe consider having the wand be an early birthday gift or something from relatives if they ask for a suggestion and you know you’re making the trip.

Why the interactive wand? Because with them you can actually make magic happen. Not kidding.  Over 30 spots in the two parks.

harry potter wizarding world | teachmama.com

harry potter wizarding world | teachmama.com

The wands come with a map of Hogsmeade on one side and Diagon Alley on the other, and it shows all of the places where you can stand and make magic happen. You simply stand on a gold medallion, say the magic word on the map, and move your wand in the direction indicated.

And then? Storefronts come to life, objects appear, water flows, and you’re a witch or wizard making magic.

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3. Plan your visit wiselyharry potter wizarding world plan  | teachmama.com

For our quick stay at Universal Orlando Resort, we had five Park-to-Park Express Unlimited Passes, and we stayed one night at the Cabanna Bay Beach Resort.

Staying at a Universal Orlando Resort property allowed us to get into the parks one hour early (8 am vs 9 am), which was a huge plus.

Not only was the hotel awesome (more on that later, but essentially it is super family-friendly, has fab pools, and is priced very reasonably), but it provided free transportation to the parks early so that we could plan our short stay wisely.

harry potter wizarding world | teachmama.com

We suggest, if you have one day to really rock it out at Universal Orlando Resort and Harry Potter is your focus, that you: 

  • take the bus to Universal Orlando Resort to get the Early Park Admission to Islands of Adventure;
  • run like lightening through Islands of Adventure straight to Hogsmeade and right to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey so we didn’t have to wait in super long lines (remember, we did have the Unlimited Express Passes, but those passes are not available on all rides–the Forbidden Journey is one of those!);
  • enjoy the totally incredible Forbidden Journey ride, then. . .
  • zip right on over for a quick ride on the Hogwarts Express so that we could go over to Universal Orlando’s other park–Universal Studios–and ride the other biggie Harry Potter ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (this ride is another that does not take the Unlimited Express Pass!);
  • enjoy the absolutely fantabulous Escape from Gringotts ride, and then. . .
  • buy wands at Ollivanders and have lunch at the Leaky Cauldron;
  • do everything you want at Diagon Alley and then head back to Hogsmeade for the rest of your day.

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4. Send a postcard from the Owlery (but bring stamps!)harry potter wizarding world owlery  | teachmama.com

You can actually send letters from the Owlery and have them postmarked from Hogsmeade. How cool is that?

Someone was there almost all day long stamping envelopes and postcards with a real Hogsmeade postmark, and the Owlery is big enough that you can find a quiet seat to write a quick note there, too.

We decided to wait on the actual sending while there, though, because stamps were pretty expensive. Instead, we asked to have the postcards we bought there postmarked from Hogsmeade, but we would send them once we got home.

Saved us a couple of bucks, which gave us more money for. . .

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5. Try all three butter beers

harry potter wizarding world butterbeer | teachmama.com. . . BUTTERBEER!!

Did you even know there were three types of butterbeer? There are.  And you must try them all.

Hot butterbeer? Check.

Cold butterbeer? Check.

harry potter wizarding world | teachmama.com

harry potter wizarding world | teachmama.com

Frozen butterbeer? Check.

All are different and all are awesome.

The Universal Orlando executive chef took three years to create the menus for this park. Three years. And he consulted regularly with J.K. Rowling on the recipes, too. When she tasted the butterbeer recipe–one that took 7 months to design–she knew it was the one. And you will, too.

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6. Get the Universal Express Unlimited Passes

harry potter wizarding world unlimited express | teachmama.comUnless you live in Orlando and visit the park regularly, get the Express passes, friends!
With Universal Express℠ Unlimited, you can SKIP THE REGULAR LINES at participating rides and attractions in both theme parks to get the most out of every day. 

Bam.

They had me at ‘skip the regular lines’ if you want me to be totally honest.

I just think that at theme parks, especially if you are pressed for time, you want to get on the rides as quickly as possible. So in my humble opinion, pay the extra.

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7. Talk to the wizards (and witches!)

harry potter wizarding world witches | teachmama.comThere are ‘wizards’ and ‘witches’ (who are really park employees, so don’t get too excited!) kind of wandering around through the park. And they’re there to help you!

Ask them questions. Talk to them. Encourage your kids to do the same because the majority of the wizards and witches are actually from the United Kingdom, so you will feel even more as if you have landed yourself in another country, just by chatting with them.

harry potter wizarding world | teachmama.com

And the employees have been tested and retested on their knowledge of the books, too, so they know a lot. A lot.

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8. Eat at the Leaky Cauldron.

harry potter wizarding world eat | teachmama.comYou guys. The LEAKY CAULDRON.

Right. So you must eat there.

The Leaky Cauldron is in Diagon Alley, and The Three Broomsticks and Hogs Head are in Hogsmeade.

Choose one. Just sit, eat, and feel like you’re in one of the books, eating alongside the characters you know and love.

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9. Do it all.harry potter wizarding world do it all | teachmama.com

Do everything.  You will absolutely die because around each corner is something more awesome than the last.

A visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is not complete unless you:

harry potter wizarding world | teachmama.com

harry potter wizarding world | teachmama.com

  • ride the Dragon Challenge and the Flight of the Hippogriff;
  • search for the house elves hiding around each park–one in the rafters of the Three Broomsticks and one in the window of 12 Grimmauld Place;
  • creep through Knockturn Alley (this is a secret, kinda shady back alley in Diagon Alley);
  • get dripped on by the for real leaking cauldron in the Leaky Cauldron sign;
  • ‘cheers’ a pal with a frosty butterbeer glass;
  • drink a bit of Pumpkin Juice and then visit Florean Fortescue’s for some amazing and sinful ice-cream;
  • walk by Dumbledore’s office, peek into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and wish you could hang out in the Gryffindor Common Room;
  • overhear a wizard conversation in the hallway of the Hogwart’s Express.

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10.  Take your time. Sit. Breathe. Watch.harry potter wizarding world time | teachmama.com

Really. At one point, my husband took Maddy, Owen, and Cora back to the Escape from Gringotts for a second ride, and I just stayed behind and sat on the steps nearby.

It may have been one of the most peaceful and memorable times I spent at the park.

harry potter wizarding world | teachmama.com

Yes, the rides are phenomenal. They’re amazing and unforgettable. But the time I spent just sitting–just taking it all in and appreciating that my three little wizards were here with me, enjoying the time of their lives and really bringing a beloved book to life–was worth more than I would have ever imagined.

 

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Want to see all of our photos from our trip? Check them out: 

 

Have you visited Universal Orlando Resort’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter?  Do share your tips, tricks, and ideas for making the trip more awesome for other people!

 

fyi: This is a sponsored post, written as part of a partnership exchange with Universal Orlando Resort.  As always, all of my opinions and ideas are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and by my three little wizards.  When I say that this theme park was not to be believed, I am not exaggerating. We’re already planning our return trip so that we can explore the rest of what Universal Orlando Resort has to offer. This first trip, however, was all about bringing to life a book that each one of us loves and appreciates.

cool activities for kids all summer long: NEW tabletop surprises

cool activities for kids all summer long: NEW tabletop surprises

cool activities for kids all summer long: NEW tabletop surprises

 

It’s here! It’s here! It’s heeerrreeeee!

I’m so happy. I’m so excited.

And more than ever, I’m over the moon thrilled and elated that summer is right around the corner!

Though I work from home, and it’s always an adjustment to have all the kids home all day long, and we have a busy swim and dive schedule, and ohmygosh I have to feed three kids three meals every single day for like a million days, I have found the most awesome plan for summer fun for my kids–tabletop surprises.

This will be the third summer we’re rocking tabletop surprises, and the kids–and I–couldn’t be more ready to rock and roll!

Here’s the skinny. . .

Cool Activities for Kids All Summer Long–NEW Tabletop Surprises: 

Tabletop Surprises are what works for us because I have three different kids–11, 9, and 8 years old–each with their own personality and plans.

And Tabletop Surprises work for us all.

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 surprises   teachmama.com 2

This year, everyone helped make the calendars. 

I brought out last year’s Tabletop Surprises calendars, and Maddy, Owen, and Cora wrote, scratched, added, and edited.

summer fun for older kids teachmama.com tabletop surprises

summer fun for older kids teachmama.com tabletop surprises

summer fun for older kids teachmama.com tabletop surprises

I want this summer to be fun for them. And I want them to have some say in what we do each day.

And though they had their own ideas about what they wanted their summer to look like (see below!), I added, adapted, and think they’ll be pretty happy with what we have planned.

Despite what it may look like, Tabletop Surprises allow for so much flexibility in our schedules. They’re short activities that can be done independently (for the most part), so if something fun comes up in our schedule, we drop and go.

That simple.

summer fun for older kids teachmama.com tabletop surprises

How to I get the kids to actually sit down and do the activities? 

A few ways:

1. The activities are fun and the kids 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. Really.

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   teachmama.com 2

What are the ideas and what makes them so fun?

The activities are 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.

And really? I have a whole bunch of back-up this year–4 extra weeks planned out roughly. Just a whole bunch of extra cool, fun things that kids might want to do if and when we find time.

tabletop surprises calendar 2015 | teachmama.com

What do you think? Ready to give Tabletop Surprises a look? 

Awesome.

  1. Print out the calendar: tabletop surprises calendar 2015 teachmama.com
  2. Subscribe to teachmama.com via email.
  3. Download the Tabletop Surprises Resource Guide (you’ll get it when you confirm your subscription, yo!).
  4. Give your kids the skinny on Tabletop Surprises.  Tell them: This summer is totally going to rock. Each day, you’ll have a fun activity waiting right here on the table for you. All summer long. Not even kidding. You’re that lucky.
  5. Start learning, playing, creating, inventing, and thinking alongside your kiddos!
  6. And? Share your #tabletopsurprises via instagram or twitter  just for fun.  We will have a few goodies along the way for families who jump in on the fun. So start sharing and start learning.
  7. Now. Go ahead and create the summer of your dreams. Well. . .

tabletop surprises   teachmama.com 2

Wait. What’s holding you back?

My kids. They’re totally not game for anything anymore now that they’re tweens and teens.

Um. I understand. I get it. My kids have days when they just want to hole up and ignore me. And that’s fine. But there are many days when they want fun things to do.

They want an excuse to play with their old faves, to get their hands dirty, to explore and have fun.

And Tabletop Surprises let them do just that.

tabletop surprises calendar 2015 | teachmama.com

Me. 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 on your table or a small shelf or somewhere 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 teachmama.com 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.

 

Okay, well. . . I may just be convinced.

Give me a look at this stuff. 

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

tabletop surprise 2015 sign up teachmam

Or check out 2013:

Or check out our

preparing kids for Kindergarten: the summer before school starts — Home Study

kindergarten prep summer before teachmama.com

Friends!

Do you have a little one heading off to the wilds of Kindergarten this year? 

Then this Home Study is for YOU.

 

kindergarten prep  summer before  teachmama.com

 

This is just one of the many teach mama Home Studies that are short, information-packed, interactive courses designed to change your life.

Perhaps you think ‘changing your life’ is a little lofty–but it’s true.  It really can change your life–and your child’s. 

In the last 10 years, I have spoken at dozens of local and national events, sharing information about teaching, learning, and community building.  One workshop I’ve done dozens of times is about how parents can prepare their children for Kindergarten. 

Time and time again, the feedback is the same: parents have said to me that what they learned in my workshop changed the way they spent time with their children. 

So exciting, right? I know.

I love it, and because it’s something I totally love doing, I’m opening the Home Study up to a larger group for a early summer workshop.  It’ll be awesome. And I know everyone will learn a ton.

And? We’re offering the whole workshop for $20 off through May. Check it out and share this page with your friends.

They’ll thank you for it!

home study kinder prep SUMMER

Check it out to learn more, but know that spots are filling quickly: teach mama Home Study: Kindergarten Prep SUMMER

 

kindergarten prep home study  teachmama.com 300

teachmama long logo home study

 

preparing for kindergarten summer before

Disney SUPRISE: a checklist for parents who want to pull off a last-minute surprise for kids

Disney SUPRISE | teachmama.com

Disney SUPRISE | teachmama.com

Last week, we went to Disney World.

For real.

One of our most favorite places on earth and the kids’ as well.

We’ve been there before, and each time we’ve used the weeks leading up to our trip as a time to prepare with activities, to rock out some Disney word games, to earn Disney Dollars, and to build up pins for pin trading. We’ve even pulled off a rockstar Disney Surprise Scavenger Hunt.

So this time we wanted to do something different.

We wanted to pull off the last minute, SURPRISE! WE’RE GOING TO DISNEY!!! And tell Maddy, Owen, and Cora at the last possible second.

It has not been easy. I may be a bad secret-keeper.

But we did it, and we had a blast.

Here’s the skinny. .

Surprise! We’re Going to Disney–A Checklist for Parents Who Want to Pull off a Last-Minute Surprise for Kids:

Our main concern was that we didn’t want to wake the kids up in the morning and go directly to the airport; we know our kids and understand that they need a wee bit more time to process news like that.

So we decided we’d tell them the night before our flight so that they could help pack, gather their things, and be excited the whole night long.

I think that worked best.

So we did this:

Disney SUPRISE | teachmama.com

 

And we turned our surprise into a packing frenzy of sorts by sharing this:

Disney SUPRISE | teachmama.com

Disney SUPRISE | teachmama.com

 

We set out their suitcases in each of their rooms with the direction to ‘head upstairs before dinner to put clean laundry away’.

On each suitcase was:

  • the Packing Challenge Letter in an envelope
  • their super-cool bleached-out Disney shirt
  • their Magic Band
  • a Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry letter rolled up in a scroll (more to come on that!)

We followed them upstairs, hanging slightly behind them, and heard this: 

  • Um, what does this mean? 
  • Where are they sending us? 
  • Why are our suitcases out here? 
  • What’s in the envelope? 
  • What’s going on with Mom and Dad?

Before we knew it, the kids had ripped open their envelopes and were jumping up and down. We’re going to Disney! We’re going to DISNEY! We’re going to Disney TOMORROW! Oh my gosh!!!

Disney SUPRISE | teachmama.com

 

And though we were up a little bit later than I’d hoped, the packing frenzy check sheet helped us tremendously. It gave Maddy, Owen, and Cora a focus for their packing, and it gave us a timeframe in which to complete the task at hand.

Here’s the packing frenzy checksheet:

Disney SUPRISE | teachmama.com

 

You can download the sheet here: packing frenzy list- disney BLANK

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

Disney SUPRISE | teachmama.com

 

It was awesome.

And the trip, as we knew it would be, was an absolute blast. There’s more on that coming this week!

I just got way too excited to keep filming and shooting photos. There was way too much jumping up and down, hooting and hollering to be done!

Do you want our parent checklist so that you don’t forget anything, my friends?

Disney SUPRISE | teachmama.com

Parent Checklist: parent checklist _ disney surprise teachmama.com

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

 

Here are a few other post about all things Disney: 

Disney SUPRISE  teachmama.com

fyi: As a participant in the 2015 Disney Social Media Moms Conference, I paid for my conference passes and was given hotel accommodations, park tickets, invitations to special park events, and some gift items.  I was not required to write about my experiences, and my opinions here are all my own, influenced only by my three little park-h0ppers and Disney-loving husband. 

teaching kids to say ‘thank you’ to everyday heroes

teach kids to thank everyday heroes teachmama.com


sponsored post

 

 

teach kids to thank everyday heroes  teachmama.com

 

Too often those important people who do everyday jobs are forgotten.

Even though they work hard to make our days brighter and lives easier, many times days go by when they don’t get ample thanks. And they deserve it.

So our focus this week is to to just that–thank our everyday heroes.

We’re teaching our kids as frequently as we are able to say ‘thank you’ to the people who work hard every day, around them.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Teaching Kids to Say ‘Thank You’ to Everyday Heroes: 

Much like we did with our Surprise Notes for the Neighbors way back when, our Thank You Notes for Everyday Heroes will be the same: quick, easy cards of thanks.

 

teaching kids to say 'thank you' to everyday heroes | teachmama.com

teaching kids to say 'thank you' to everyday heroes | teachmama.com

Just simple tokens of gratitude for the people who do jobs all around us: the postal carrier, the delivery person, the newspaper deliverer, and the folks who work at our bank, dry cleaner, gas station, and grocery store.

Even though our teachers get recognized with Teacher Appreciation Week, our everyday heroes rarely get any regular thanks.

This is just one way that we, as parents, will do what we can to teach our kids workforce appreciation.

teaching kids to say 'thank you' to everyday heroes | teachmama.com

teaching kids to say 'thank you' to everyday heroes | teachmama.com

teaching kids to say 'thank you' to everyday heroes | teachmama.com

It’s simple. But it’s really powerful. Really!

 

The Thank You Notes for Everyday Heroes are here: 

teaching kids to say 'thank you' to everyday heroes | teachmama.com

You can download the pdf here: thank you brighten day notes _ teachmama.com

(Please, if you choose to share this–and we hope you do!–please link to this post instead of the attachment page. Thank you!)

 

teaching kids to say 'thank you' to everyday heroes | teachmama.com

We will simply put these cards in a small plastic bag, sign them with a smiley face and a first name, and hand them out as we need them. Keeping them in the car may be the best way to do it!

 

Here are a few ways to get started thinking about our everyday heroes: 

Check out the “1 in one hundred million” site–it’s a site created by Kronos that’s devoted to sharing the personal stories of people who do the many important and too-often unrecognized jobs upon which we all rely.

In these videos, ordinary people in the workforce share their stories. It’s a great resource to be used as a starting point for your kids.

teaching kids to say 'thank you' to everyday heroes | teachmama.com

teaching kids to say 'thank you' to everyday heroes | teachmama.com

teaching kids to say 'thank you' to everyday heroes | teachmama.com

Or depending on where in the world you live, the videos and resources may really give your kids a more clear sense of what kind of jobs are out there.

Each month “1 in one hundred million” site releases a new video profiling a person’s story. They’ve covered a firefighter, a trauma nurse, a produce manager at grocery store, a union electrician, a hotel front desk agent, a restaurant server, a teacher, and a baseball bat maker, who was a former MLB pitcher.

 

Want a bit more about how to teach kids workforce appreciation?

Check out:

teach kids workforce appreciation  teachmama.com

 

kronos: workforce appreciationfyi: This post was written as part of a partnership with Find Your Influence, and as always, ideas and opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator. Find out more at 1 in one hundred million. Subscribe so you don’t miss any of their videos and follow #WorkforceStories and #1in100MM!