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

Wizarding World of Harry Potter | universal orlando resort |

sponsored post



Wizarding World of Harry Potter | universal orlando resort |


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 |

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 |


Wizarding World of Harry Potter | universal orlando resort |

Wizarding World of Harry Potter | universal orlando resort |

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 |

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

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


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

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.


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 |

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 |

harry potter wizarding world |

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.


3. Plan your visit wiselyharry potter wizarding world plan  |

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 |

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.


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

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. . .


5. Try all three butter beers

harry potter wizarding world butterbeer | . . 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 |

harry potter wizarding world |

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.


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. 


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.


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 |

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


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.


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

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 |

harry potter wizarding world |

  • 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.


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

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 |

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.



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 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 tabletop surprises

summer fun for older kids tabletop surprises

summer fun for older kids 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 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 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 |

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


  1. Print out the calendar: tabletop surprises calendar 2015
  2. Subscribe to 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 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 |

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 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


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


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 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 |

Disney SUPRISE |

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 |


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

Disney SUPRISE |

Disney SUPRISE |


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 |


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 |


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 |


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 |

Parent Checklist: parent checklist _ disney surprise

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: 


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

sponsored post



teach kids to thank everyday heroes


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 |

teaching kids to say 'thank you' to everyday heroes |

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 |

teaching kids to say 'thank you' to everyday heroes |

teaching kids to say 'thank you' to everyday heroes |

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 |

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

(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 |

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 |

teaching kids to say 'thank you' to everyday heroes |

teaching kids to say 'thank you' to everyday heroes |

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


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!


parent teacher connect: parents and teachers working TOGETHER is the key to children’s success in school

parent teacher connect

parent teacher connect


We’ve got something cool brewing, my friends, and we want you to come along for the ride!

Join us over at parent teacher connect— a platform where parents and teachers can ask questions, get answers, support each other, and learn how to best reach all of our children.  

Parents and teachers working TOGETHER is the key to children’s success in school. Parent Teacher Connect is a spot for parents and teachers to CONNECT. 

Everyone is welcome here–parents, teachers, administrators, classroom volunteers, you name it.

Here we can have a working, continual dialogue between parents AND teachers. I am SO excited to bring to life a platform where parents and teachers can ask questions, get answers, support each other, and learn how to best reach all of our children.


  • What do you wish parents knew about their children’s success in school?
  • What resources do you have that really help to reach students?
  • How best do you communicate with parents?
  • What works in your classroom?
    teachmama parent teacher connect header 3



  • What do you wish teachers knew about how your child can meet with success in school?
  • What resources do you have that really help support your child?
  • How best do you communicate with teachers?
  • How do you manage homework?

We’re here for ANY and ALL questions you have, but our goal is to cover the following topics each day:

Math Monday: math will be our focus here

Techy Tuesday: tips, tricks, ideas for integrating technology at home and in the classroom

Wildcard Wednesday: anything goes!

Read to Me Thursday: books, books, books!

Foundation Friday: help for building foundations for learning at home and in the classroom

STEM Saturday: science, technology, engineering, and math

Social Sunday: share links, resources, posts, anything that you want others to read or see

Join us: parent teacher connect.

Tell me, friends–what topics do you want to see covered? How can we make this group work for you?

We really want to know!

coral reefs of Palau: The Nature Conservancy free virtual field trip and learning resources

coral reefs of Palauvirtual field trip

sponsored post



coral reefs of Palauvirtual field trip

Right about now a lot of us are thinking about sun, sand, and surf.

I know I am. School’s almost out, and over here, we’re all ready for summer to begin.

But before school lets out for the year, there’s still a bunch of learning to be done.

And for those of us who are heading to the shore this summer, those of us who are planning on dipping our toes in the ocean, it might be cool to learn a bit about life underwater–the interconnected city of life in the sea.

Guess what? You can take a trip to the coral reefs of Palau with the click of a button.

Not kidding.

This month, with thanks to The Nature Conservancy’s Nature Works Everywhere, students can take a virtual field trip to learn about the miracle and magic of the coral reefs.

May 19th. 12pm ET.

You’re invited! You’re all invited.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Coral Reefs of Palau: The Nature Conservancy Free Virtual Field Trip and Learning Resources

For real.

Mark your calendars, share this post with your child’s teacher.

Forward this link to your school’s administration so that they can share the link with staff.

The Coral Reefs of Palau: Nature’s Amazing Underwater Cities is the latest in a series aimed to build students’ knowledge of and emotional connection to environmental issues that are at the heart of The Nature Conservancy’s mission.

Got it? Good!

Here are the details:

Who:  teachers, students, parents, anyone

What:virtual field trip! The Coral Reefs of Palau: Nature’s Amazing Underwater Cities free virtual field trip and learning resources  hosted byMarine Biologist Stephanie Wear.

Here, sharks snatch up smaller prey; decorator crabs apply bits of shell, algae, and sponge to their own backs for camouflage; and massive 2,000-pound sea cows graze. Our journey to the Coral Reefs will open students’ eyes to an amazing, interconnected ecosystem built on symbiosis and mutualism, where diverse organisms are designed to protect, clean, nourish, and even camouflage one another. In this underwater city, the coral supports its many “workers” and they, in turn, keep the coral healthy.

Called “the medicine chests of the sea,” Coral Reefs provide ingredients that are leading to new lifesaving medications. They are also an astonishingly rich source of food for many species, including humans, and provide a perfect buffer to protect shorelines from erosion. Join our expert scientist, , as we take a deep dive to learn about one of the “seven underwater wonders of the world.” May 19, 2015 at 12:00 pm (ET). Length: 40 minutes.

Why: to show students that in the Coral Reefs, everything is interconnected—and this includes people. The Coral Reefs function like an undersea city, with every organism having an important role.

Where: whatever works for you–

When: May 19th 2015 at 12 pm ET

How: sign up to take part in the virtual field trip here


Check out Stephanie Wear as she talks about coral reefs feeding and protecting us. (Hint: Use it as a background knowledge builder for the upcoming field trip!)


And more: Check out these supplementary resources to really hit the ball out of the park!

The Nature Conservancy provides tons of resources that bring learning to life.

And we can experience so many cool things thanks to Nature Works Everywhere.


The Nature Conservancy virtual field trip and learning resources: Wild Biomes-- From America's Rainforest to America's Desert


I have been in awe of the work that The Nature Conservancy’s Nature Works Everywhere has been doing to bring learning to life.

In fact, the kids and I have been a bit obsessed ever since I wrote about the Wild Biome Virtual field trip last month. To get a sense of what these virtual field trips are like, you can check out our last post or you can find two of the past Virtual Field Trips here.






Again, huge thanks goes to great organizations like The Nature Conservancy and Nature Works Everywhere, for their work to make learning and resources hands-on, accessible, and meaningful.

Check it out!coral reefs virtual field trip


Want to check out a past Virtual Field trip from The Nature Conservancy?

The Nature Conservancy virtual field trip and learning resources: Wild Biomes-- From America's Rainforest to America's Desert


fyi: This post was written as part of a partnership with The Nature Conservancy and We Are Teachers; as always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator. 

bleached out disney t-shirts for the not-so-crafty crafter

bleached out disney tshirts

post contains affiliate links



bleached out disney tshirts black shirt

We’re all busy.

And most of us really like to get a bit crafty but don’t have the time.

This little crafty craft is for you. And it’s for me.

Because it is so easy.

It’s so quick.

And the results are really, truly awesome.

We wanted to do something to let our kids know that we’re heading to Disney World in the next few days, but I didn’t want to do a full-fledged scavenger hunt like we did before.

We didn’t want to do a Disney countdown.

We wanted to pull the ‘YAY WE’RE GOING TO DISNEY WORLD TODAY!!!!’ surprise.

Kind of. We had to keep in mind that our kids do much, much better with a little bit of prep time. Even a teensy bit of prep time helps.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Bleached Out Disney T-Shirts for the Not-So Crafty Crafter

Making these was super easy.

Because my husband and I are surprising Maddy, Owen, and Cora with the trip, I needed to be able to make these t-shirts quickly and in the time that they were in school. So start to finish had to be within six hours. These took a fraction of that time.

bleached out disney t-shirts |

What you need:

What you need to do:

1. Print out the template you want to use.

bleached out disney t-shirts |


We used super-simple Mickey ears ones: you can download them here–mouse templates |

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


2. Trace the template onto freezer paper.

bleached out disney t-shirts |

bleached out disney t-shirts |

You can do this easily by placing the freezer paper on top of the printout and tracing it with a pencil.


3. Cut out the image from freezer paper.

I think if you have a detailed design, you could use a razor, but my design was easy, so I did it with scissors.


4. Iron the freezer paper stencil to the t-shirt.

bleached out disney t-shirts |

bleached out disney t-shirts |

Not kidding. I didn’t know this would work, either, but one side of the freezer paper gets just a wee bit sticky when heated. Find the shiny side of the freezer paper and make sure that side touches the t-shirt.  Find the place you want the image, and place it there.

Remember that the freezer paper blocks the bleach, so wherever that stencil is will be untouched.

6. Mix your bleach solution.

bleached out disney t-shirts |

Because my t-shirts were dark colored, I knew that we wouldn’t need a lot of bleach to pull out color, so we went with a 60: 40 mix of bleach and water. I filled about 60% of the spray bottle with bleach and then added water to the remaining 40%.

If you’re doing a light grey shirt or light yellow or pink shirt, maybe you want to use all bleach, but since ours were black, bright blue, and dark grey, I was pretty confident that even if our bleach was diluted a bit, it would yield the results I wanted.

7. Place cardboard inside the shirt. 

Make sure that the cardboard covers all edges unless you want the bleach to carry over to the side a bit. We want to make sure that only the front of the shirt is bleached and that it doesn’t seep through to the back of the shirt.


8. Spray, baby, spray.

bleached out disney t-shirts |

bleached out disney t-shirts |

Make sure that the spray nozzle is on the mist setting — test it in the sink if you need to. Then give the spray bottle a shake, and spray the shirt.

Keep the bottle about 6-12  inches from the shirt, depending on the look you want to achieve.

bleached out disney t-shirts |

bleached out disney t-shirts |

You can either make sure the area around the stencil is saturated, or just spray lightly.  You can use a hairdryer to speed up the drying and bleaching process, or you can let the bleach air dry.  Again, it depends on what you want your shirt to look like.

9.  Carefully remove the stencil.  

bleached out disney t-shirts |

After the bleach settles a bit and before the freezer paper stencil gets super soggy, take the stencil off of the t-shirt

All three of mine removed super easy, with just a gentle pull of a corner.  If you need a start to lift up the stencil, use the edge of a dull knife or scissors. The last thing you want to have happen is to make a hole because you tried lifting the stencil too quickly with a sharp knife.

10.  Let your shirt dry just a bit and then rinse and wash the shirt. 

bleached out disney t-shirts |


First rinse the shirt in cold water to remove all of the bleach (See those little white dots in the top photo? That’s the bleach–it must be rinsed away. . . ).

And the finished shirt? Check it out:

bleached out disney tshirts

Then wring it out and wash it (or them, if you did several) in a gentle cycle wash. I dried my shirts on low, and they were fine. I needed them finished by the end of the school day, remember!

bleached out disney t-shirts |

bleached out disney t-shirts |

bleached out disney t-shirts |

Some tips: 

  • Make sure you are in a well-ventilated area.  I mean it. Bleach can really smell strong.
  • Put your shirt on a hanger to let your shirt dry for a bit before you rinse out the bleach.
  • Experiment a little–use a Q-tip to try some bleachy dots on the shirt, use a paint brush, or use the freezer paper in fun, new ways.

bleached out disney t-shirts |

bleached out disney t-shirts |

bleached out disney t-shirts |

bleached out disney t-shirts |

bleached out disney t-shirts |

Have. Fun.

Really, this trip is going to be fun, so make sure that your crafty craftiness before the trip is fun, too.

Check out a quickie video with the how-to: 

Do you subscribe to on YouTube? You should!! 
And really–let me know–have you tried this? What works and what doesn’t?

Looking for more Disney craft ideas?

bleached out disney t-shirts |

You will not believe what some of my crafty friends are doing. They totally rock.

And they, too, will be at Disney Social Media Moms Celebration next week. So do follow along with the fun at #DisneySMMC or on Instagram.

disney crafts round up numbered

Definitely check out what they’ve done:

  1. Little Mermaid Ears, by Vanessa of See Vanessa Craft
  2. DIY Disney Jewelry with Free Printable, by Jen of 100 Directions
  3. DIY BB-8 Shirt, by Karen of Desert Chica
  4. DIY Disney Autograph and Activity Book, by Sara of Clever Pink Pirate
  5. Disney Trip Countdown – DIY Washi Tape Chalkboard, by Sara of Mom Endeavors
  6. Disney Drawstring Backpack, by Laura of Pink Cake Plate
  7. bleached out disney t-shirts for the not-so-crafty crafter, by Amy of teach mama
  8. Disney Sticker Story Starters, by Marie of Make and Takes
  9. Disney Princess Duct Tape Hand Mirror, by Heather of Dollar Store Crafts
  10. Custom Toy Story Shorts and Shirts, by Kelly of Eclectic Momsense



Here are a few other ways to countdown or celebrate your own Disney vacation: 

haircare stress and kids: eliminate the stress with these three tips

stress free haircare for kids |

sponsored post



stress free haircare for kids |

I have always been a fan of short hair on little girls.


I just think it’s super cute and easy and fun. I kept Maddy and Cora’s hair short with little bangs for years and years, which is why now, they insist on having long, long, forever long hair.

They always want long hair. Always want to wear it down. Always takes 20 extra minutes in the morning to get the perfect pony or perfect braid, and it causes a boatload of stress.

Thankfully we’ve got a few ways that can help eliminate–or control–haircare stress.

Three tips that I really, truly think will help your familia.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Haircare Stress and Kids– Eliminate Stress with These 3 Tips:

Now, be aware that eliminating is a strong word and that it may take a little bit of time, effort, and energy on everyone’s part before the stress of haircare is totally eliminated. But know that with a few little ‘tweaks’, haircare stress can at least be controlled.

1.  The Fancy Brush.  

haircare stress and kids:

haircare stress and kids |

You can read all about the Fancy Brush here.

Though we’ve graduated from the Fancy Brush to the Wet Brush, both girls have one of their own, and they both do take good care of them.


2.  The Products.

haircare stress and kids | socozy

We have only been introduced to this line of products recently, but we have fallen hard for them: SoCozy haircare for kids.

The SoCozy line is a line of haircare products for kids created by Cozy Friedman, the owner of Cozy’s Cuts for Kids, which is a premier children’s hair salon in New York.  Fancy, right? The thing is, they’re actually solid products that really work.

According to Cora, the combination of Cinch and Behave makes the perfect pony. She’s been using the combo herself for the last few days.

haircare stress and kids | socozy

haircare stress and kids | socozy

Haircare products not your thing? It’s cool. I get it.

Then at least check out SoCozy Boo! Boo! is lice prevention shampoo, and the description is a riot: scares away lice. . . naturally. I’ll take it. Sign me up.

Can there be a rule that every kid in school must use SoCozy Boo!?  Please?

Take a quick look at a professional stylist telling me how she made Cora’s perfect ballerina bun:

We had the chance to hang out with the Cozy Friedman at a local event last week at Make Meaning in Bethesda.

It was a ton of fun.

stress free haircare for kids | teach mama

stress free haircare for kids | teach mama

stress free haircare for kids | teach mama

stress free haircare for kids | teach mama

stress free haircare for kids | teach mama

Check out all of the photos from our event:

Cozy Friedman first opened Cozy’s Cuts For Kids, a premiere children’s hair salon aimed at redefining the entire children’s haircut experience, in 1992.

Now, 20 years and multiple salons later, Friedman introduces SoCozy salon formulas for kids – the first ever premium line of hair care products made with the finest ingredients gentle enough for kids. Offering non-toxic products with no parabens, sulfates, phthalates, synthetic color, propylene glycol and free of gluten, wheat and nuts that perform at a salon level with packaging that appeals to kids and parents alike.

SoCozy celebrates all hair types and solves a range of common hair care problems faced by children. For more info visit


3. The Nighttime Ponytail.

haircare stress and kids | pony


Really, this is the most simple tip ever: have your kids sleep in ponytails at night.

It’s amazing how much it helps eliminate hair chaos in the mornings. Fewer tangles.  Hair manageable.  Happier kids.  Happier parents.

And? If the girls want to get a little crazy, make it a braid at night with damp hair. The waves will make just about any Disney Channel star green with envy.


How do you manage haircare stress for your kids? What works, and what doesn’t? I’d love to know!

Do you want to see if SoCozy and the crew are making your way to an event in your town?

Check out the SoCozy blog | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram  | Pinterest


fyi: This is a sponsored post, written as a partnership with SoCozy and Target. As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and a mom whose had her fair share of haircare stress–with kids who are only 11, 9, 8 years old. 

common core 101: everything parents need to know to prep their kids and to stay sane

common core 101

sponsored post



common core 101

Having kids in elementary school is overwhelming.

I mean really overwhelming.

Even with the best organizational strategies in place–for homework, papers, and family time–it’s hard to remember it all.

Add one or two extra kids in the mix, and that means that you can multiply the amount of fliers, homework, projects, permission slips, forms, and extra-curricular activities exponentially.

So when the Common Core State Standards arrived hand in hand with PARCC assessments and a whole lot of other changes, I can only assume that the large majority of the parents out there did what I chose to do: skim papers, follow along a little, and hold on for the ride.

That was fine for the moment, but now that we all have had a bit more time to breathe, it’s time to get out of the fog.

We, as parents, need to know what the Common Core State Standards mean, why they matter, and how we can help our kids meet with success on these assessments.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Common Core 101–Everything Parents Need to Know to Prepare Their Kids and to Stay Sane:

common core 101 link
If you’d rather skip my quick and dirty info and find out everything–and I mean everything!–you need to head over to stat.

But here’s the super short version:

What are the Common Core State Standards?

Common Core State Standards set clear, consistent guidelines for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level in math and English language arts.

Often you’ll see it written as CCSS–Common Core State Standards.

common core 101 link

What is PARCC and Smarter Balanced?

Get ready for this. Lots of letters.

Two groups – the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) – worked closely with educators to develop new, computer-based assessments aligned to the Common Core.

Many states have chosen to administer either PARCC or Smarter Balanced assessments in the 2014-15 school year, and others are using assessments specific to their state.


When will my child take these tests? 

The new assessments will replace existing end-of-year state assessments in math and English language arts.

And? They will provide a more accurate picture of what your child really knows instead of those old tests where kids were asked to pick the right answer from a multiple-choice question.

Why do I, as a parent, need to know this? 

You guys. C’mon.

Parental support is critical to a child’s school success.  You need to know this so that you can walk alongside your child for this journey. You got this! Really.

common core 101 link

Who or what is Be A Learning Hero and why is Amy all over it today?

Ha. I love you guys. Really, I do.

Be A Learning Hero is a website for parents. It’s designed to provide straight answers and helpful resources on the Common Core State Standards.  And it provides information on Common Core-aligned assessments like PARCC and Smarter Balanced. Everything on Be A Learning Hero help parents understand the new standards and assessments and support their children’s education at home.

And you know that I’m all about parents supporting their children’s education at home. Right? Right.

Who is behind Be A Learning Hero and how is it funded? 

I wanted to know the same thing. For real.

Be A Learning Hero is a group of parents, educators, community leaders and members of the media who are dedicated to providing parents with the information and resources they need to support their children’s learning. The partner organizations supporting Be A Learning Hero include: Common Sense Media; Council of Great City Schools; Great Schools; National PTA; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics; and National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC).

Be A Learning Hero is a project of the New Venture Fund and is funded by a group of philanthropies who are investing in education, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Schusterman Foundation. The project also receives in-kind donations and support from other organizations working on a range of education issues, including: The Collaborative for Student Success; The College Board; The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO); Nickelodeon; Scholastic; The Teaching Channel; and The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

common core 101 for parents

Now, take a minute–or two–and visit where things are explained much more clearly: website | facebook  | pinterest  |  follow the hashtag #LearningHero


Friends. . . tell me:

  • What questions do you have?
  • What experiences have you had?
  • What resources (videos, articles, etc.) have you seen that helped you better understand your state’s new test?

I’d love to know!


fyi: This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Be a Learning Hero. As always, the opinions and ideas are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator. Comments submitted may be displayed on other websites owned by the sponsoring brand.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Be a Learning Hero. The opinions and text are all mine.

fun, authentic writing for kids: power notes to nana

fun, authentic writing for kids: power notes to nana

fun, authentic writing for kids: power notes to nana


Oh, boy the last few weeks have been funny for us.

And by ‘funny’ I mean not really laughing funny but funny in a tricky kind of way.

Pretty much everyone’s been on and off sick.

My husband and Maddy have been suffering from allergies like whut.

Maddy had it for a good week, then I was out for an entire weekend, and now Cora has it.  I’m crossing my fingers that the rest of us steer clear of it.  Because friends, it’s not pretty.

However, in the midst of it all, we were able to do a bunch of fun things and spend time together.

We’ve been doing something for the last few months that has been a whole lot of fun for us all: we’ve been writing power notes to Nana.

Power notes are nothing that crazy–it’s simply fun, authentic writing for kids.  Tons of notes written in one sitting. Power writing power notes. Get it?

Fun. And Authentic.

And really, fun and authentic are the keys when it comes to getting kids to write.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Fun, Authentic Writing for Kids–Power Notes to Nana: 

authentic writing for kids:

authentic writing for kids:

These ‘power notes’ are simply written all in one bunch–all in one sitting.

Maddy, Owen, Cora, and I find a time when we can sit down for an hour or two, and then we each write 4-6 notes to Nana.

Nana is 92, and she’s had a long, rough winter. Getting old is tough, and it’s made even more difficult when you add ice and snow to the mix–because then visitors are less frequent, and outings are more difficult.

And because we live three and a half hours away from her, there’s very little we can do to entertain our amazing 92-year old Nana.

So we write notes.

authentic writing for kids:

And we write more notes.

And we write even more notes.

And we:

  • decorate,
  • embellish,
  • add photos,
  • tell stories,
  • include games,
  • draw pictures,
  • add stickers,
  • make puzzles,
  • print crosswords,
  • add newspaper articles,
  • ask questions,
  • decorate envelopes,
  • and do just about anything and everything we can to make the letters fun for Nana.

We usually begin by going through recent photos. 


authentic writing for kids:


I flag about 8-10 of them, and I print them out. And then Maddy, Owen, or Cora will use the photo as a starting point for a letter.

He or she will simply write a few sentence about the photo: what’s going on? who’s in it? what did we do that day? why is it important/silly/funny/ etc.?

authentic writing for kids:

It’s very easy to have letters to elderly family members all be the same ole, same ole:

Hi, Nana!

I hope you are doing well. School is fine, and soccer is fun! I am ready for summer. Hope to see you very soon.

Love, Owen

But using photos as starters helps break up that mold. It helps liven things up a bit. And Nana loves seeing her great-grandchildren!

Other times, we’ll use puzzles as a starting point. 

authentic writing for kids:

authentic writing for kids:

Puzzles are a super activity for Nana. We print out mazes or sudoku, or word searches.  We even make puzzles for her.

Puzzles can be a short, quick inspiration for a letter, and they give her something fun to do for a few hours the day she receives her letter.

But really, the important thing is that these power notes are a chance for my kids and me to just write

We write about anything that comes to mind because Nana wants to hear it all.

authentic writing for kids:

authentic writing for kids:

If Owen wants to write about soccer, he writes all he wants about soccer.

If Cora wants to write about her cheer competition or the book she’s reading, then she writes about her cheer competition or the book she’s reading.

If Maddy wants to write about her 5th grade graduation or her latest school project, she writes about graduation or her school project.

The key is that everyone’s writing about things that interest them.

authentic writing for kids:

authentic writing for kids:

And they’re writing for a real, live audience.

And their notes are meaningful, and they’re going somewhere.

authentic writing for kids:


And when we’re done, we get them ready for the mail.


authentic writing for kids:

authentic writing for kids:

We address them all, seal them and stamp them, and we put sticky notes on them indicating the day we want them to go out in the mail. So in the end, we have a pile of notes in a basket on the counter, ready to grab and put in the mailbox every 2-3 days.

It works.

And because we cannot stop by for a visit like we wish we could–because nothing replaces that in-person hangout time!–these letters help. Even if just a teeny, tiny bit.

This kind of writing really counts, friends. 

The cool thing is that research shows that the most successful writing activities are for real audiences and authentic purposes:

The teachers in one study reported ‘that students came alive when they realized they were writing to real people for real reasons or reading real-life texts for their own purposes. . . . more authentic literacy activities are related to greater growth in the ability to read and write new genres.

Duke, N.K., Purcell-Gates, V., Hall, L.A., & Tower, C. (2006). The Reading Teacher, 60, (4), 344-355.

It makes sense, right? When people are doing something for a purpose–a real, true purpose–for someone else, they’re likely to want to do it and want to do it well. So they push themselves a bit, maybe learn a little something, and they grow as writers. Bam. Super exciting!


Need a few more ideas to get your kids writing for fun and meaningful purposes?

Check out: