outdoor adventures for the whole family: Shenandoah Valley

outdoor adventures for family teachmama.com

outdoor adventures for family  teachmama.com


My crew is always up for a little adventure, especially when it’s outdoors.

So when Trekaroo invited us to visit and explore the Shenandoah Valley this spring, you better believe I was ready to pack my bags.

But I will be totally honest when I say that my family’s initial reaction was not the same as mine. When I told my husband and kids that we were going to the Shenandoah Valley for a quick weekend trip, they were a bit skeptical:

I mean, how fun can it really be?

We’re not all that into camping, Mom. I don’t wanna camp out there with all those bugs and animals.

How much adventure could there really be in Virginia?

I don’t even know how to say where we’re going, and no one I now has ever gone there. Great.

I am not up for a long drive. We’ve been too busy, and the last thing I want to do is sit in a car for a million hours. 


However, once we got there and saw how beautiful this area was and experienced first-hand the excitement of running through a five acre playground, the exhilaration of zip-lining across a forest, and joy of braving the rapids of the Shenandoah River, they were totally changed.

And I’ve heard them talk about it with their friends more times than I can count.

We’re ready for a return trip, and I’m hoping that our sharing this trip will encourage more of our friends to take time off to explore the Shenandoah Valley and plan something awesome thanks to Trekaroo and the Go Blue Ridge site, the Kids Trail in particular.

The Kids Trail isn’t actually a trail, so keep your hiking boots on, my friends. The Kids Trail is simply one part of the Go Blue Ridge Travel site that’s filled to the brim with cool activity ideas for kids.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Outdoor Adventures for the Whole Family–Shenandoah Valley:

We loved our weekend away for many reasons, but I’ll share with you our top 7 reasons to go.

1. It brings you back to the good, old-fashioned family time.

Sure, we spend a lot of time with our kids. We are together as a family a lot.

outdoor family adventures: teachmama.com


outdoor family adventures: teachmama.com

outdoor family adventures: teachmama.com

But our weekend in the Shenandoah Valley gave us a chance to spend time together in ways that reminded me of the yesteryears.

We picked fruit. At MacIntosh Fruit Farm, the girls and I picked cherries, strawberries, and asparagus. (Well, okay. We found one asparagus stalk and we picked it. Does that count?)

outdoor family adventures: teachmama.com

outdoor family adventures: teachmama.com

outdoor family adventures: teachmama.com

outdoor family adventures: teachmama.com

We stuffed our faces with strawberry shortcake and cherry muffins and cherry cheesecake at the Farm, and we loved every second of it.

2. It gets your family moving. 

We got up early and didn’t stop moving until our heads hit the pillow. But we chose such a diverse bunch of activities that we were engaged and energized the whole way.  Thanks to the GoBlueRidgeTravel Kids Trail, we were very easily able to find a ton of activities for our active, adventure-seeking family.

Because we knew we wanted some outdoor activities, we simply plugged that option in on the Kids Trail site like this:

outdoor adventures for the whole family: Shenandoah Valley

And tons of ideas came up! Awesome, right?

Our weekend game plan was this:

outdoor family adventures: teachmama.com

outdoor family adventures: teachmama.com


  • Grab the kids immediately after school, and hit the road!
  • Check into the hotel. (We stayed at the amazing George Washington Hotel which was so comfortable and luxurious at the same time!)
  • Relax, order dinner in from George’s (The ribs? To die for!) and swim in the hotel’s indoor pool. (Complete with a jacuzzi–yay!)


  • Breakfast at George’s. (We dined in this time, and oh my goodness, the Chesapeake Eggs Benedict was our fave!)
  • Picked cherries and strawberries at MacIntosh Fruit Farm (Their strawberries and cherries were perfect!) then ate there.
  • Went on a quick hike at Bear’s Den. (So much history and so much fun!)

outdoor adventures for family  teachmama.com moving

  • Played at Great Country Farm. (My kids are still talking about the huge bouncing pillow!)
  • Ate dinner in Olde Town Winchester. (Super dining options–something for everyone!).
  • Watched our first drive-in movie at Family Drive-In Theater. (Family-friendly and just like I remembered the drive-ins of my childhood!)


  • Slept in a bit after our late night!
  • Packed up and checked out of the hotel.
  • Headed straight to Harper’s Ferry Adventure Center where we zip lined and rafted! (My kids are already begging for a return trip!)

We were busy!  But it was all fun–and we’d do it again in a heartbeat!

3. It challenges you and takes you to new heights.

We never thought we would be a zip-lining family. Ever.

outdoor family adventures: teachmama.com

Our guides, Will and Olivia, were the most supportive and patient teachers ever. They taught us everything we needed to know about staying safe while zip-lining, and they kept the experience light and fun. They were the perfect mix of serious and silly, and we were grateful to have them as part of our day.

Take a quick look at our photos from Harper’s Ferry Adventure Center to see how much fun we had:

outdoor family adventures: teachmama.com

And? We never imagined that we would be rafting over level three rapids. Ever.

But we did, and we had an incredible time.

We went out on the river with two other groups, after a short but thorough safety intro and how-to. We spent about two hours on the Shenandoah River.  It was honestly one of the most exhilarating and memorable experiences ever.

outdoor family adventures: teachmama.com

outdoor family adventures: teachmama.com

Our guide was SpaceBob (think: SpongeBob and know that apparently river guides have river names), but he was far from spacey. SpaceBob was a true leader and fearless guide.

He instantly grabbed Maddy when she fell off of the raft (not even kidding!), calmed my nutso worried mama nerves, and taught us a bit about the river and its history through the trip.  He was funny and great with our kids.

Even with Maddy falling off of the raft, even with two hours of rowing, and even with having spent the morning zip-lining, we left the river smiling and planning our return trip.

4. It’s a great combination of high-end comfort and real adventure.

One thing we loved about our weekend was that we were able to relax in an affordable–but luxurious–hotel after a long day of excitement and adventure.

Our hotel room was huge–it very comfortably slept all five of us, with a king bed, a sofa bed, and a rollaway bed. We had a sitting room with fireplace, teeny kitchen (microwave and mini fridge), and the most fantastic bathroom ever–the spa shower had a rainfall from the ceiling, side sprays, and a regular shower.

Take a quick look at our tour of our room:

5. It’s got options for everyone. 

From restaurants to activities to places to stay, there’s something for everyone in the Shenandoah Valley of the Virginias. Even our outdoor adventure day could be catered a bit differently to each family’s needs while still keeping everyone outside and moving!

outdoor family adventures: teachmama.com

outdoor family adventures: teachmama.com

  • If your family totally loves hiking, you could spend the day hiking at Bear’s Den.
  • If your kids love parks and playgrounds, you could easily spend the day at Great County Farms.
  • If your kids are into adventure, Harper’s Ferry Adventure Center has it all–spend the day there!

6. It involves tons of sneaky learning. 

My kids don’t even realize it, but the weekend was a complete learning experience.

The great gal at MacIntosh Fruit Farm taught us what to look for in the cherries we picked and shared with us a bit about her favorite spots in the area–one of which was Bear’s Den, our very next stop!

outdoor family adventure: teachmama.com

outdoor family adventure: teachmama.com

We learned about the history of Bear’s Den on the signs at this unique hikers’ center.

Bear’s Den is a historic stone mansion that sits on 66 acres and is 150 yards from the Appalachian Trail. Bear’s Den boasts a beautiful, westward-facing overlook of the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains, and it’s a cool spot for families, hikers, and backpackers because it’s a lodge, hiker  hostel, campground, and cottage in the woods.

outdoor family adventure: teachmama.com

outdoor family adventure: teachmama.com


Many hikers use Bear’s Den as a starting point for a hike going north or south on the Appalachian Trail, as a sunset viewed from the overlook at Bear’s Den is said to be the best in the area!

outdoor family adventure: teachmama.com

Though the building itself was closed (or seemed to be) when we were there, we kind poked around a bit, read the signs, and enjoyed a short hike near the building.

Cora, from Great Country Farm, talked us through the butterfly life cycle with the help of one of their signs, and we learned about the strawberry life cycle (who knew?!), cows, honey, and more.outdoor family adventure: teachmama.com

outdoor family adventure: teachmama.com

The kids played for a long time at the Great Country Farm gem mining area, and even working their way through the play areas, the rope maze especially, got their brains moving!

At the Family Drive-In Theater, the owner, Jim, took us up to the video room and taught us how the drive-in works!  He is so easy to talk to, and his excitement about running the drive-in theater is contagious. It’s been his dream to run a drive-in, and now he’s doing it.

outdoor family adventure: teachmama.com

outdoor family adventure: teachmama.com

outdoor family adventure: teachmama.com

Jim hosts all kinds of cool events at the theater, and he really makes it a welcoming community event.  They hosted a free-popcorn day for fathers on Father’s Day, a Yard Crawl (huge yard sale) in August, Labor Day Dusk to Dawn movies (movies all night long!), the annual Halloween Costume Contest and Trunk or Treat event, and more.

Even though my crew dozed off (okay, well I dozed off–) before the end of Tomorrowland, the experience was unforgettable!

7. It’s closer than you think.

The Shenandoah Valley of the Virginias is closer to those of us in the DC Metro Area than you may think.

I once thought that our only day trip options were Annapolis, Baltimore, DC, and Northern Virginia. I had no idea that we could get to this area of the Blue Ridges in under two hours.

When we left Harper’s Ferry on Sunday, it took us less than an hour to get home. What a treat!


Remember, no matter where in the world you are, little hidden gems like the Shenandoah Valley are probably nearby.

Do some exploring of your own this summer. Ask around. Find out what areas are close to you that you never thought to explore.

Visit GoBlueRidgeTravel or Trekaroo and type in your zip code. See what’s nearby, and let me know what you find!

We. Had. Such. A. Blast. I’d love for you, too, to have an awesome experience!

Check out our video re-cap:

Or take a look at all of our photos from the weekend: 


And now? A chance for you to win your own family getaway!


GIVEAWAY: Massanutten Getaway: One (1) lucky winner will receive five nights lodging in a two-bedroom condo with four complimentary Indoor/Outdoor WaterPark passes plus a $50 Resort gift card!

Do you want to win a Massanutten Getaway with five nights lodging in a two-bedroom condo with four complimentary Indoor/Outdoor WaterPark passes plus a $50 Resort gift card!??!  Yes, yes you do.


massannutten 851x315


Please visit this link for more information: Massanutten Getaway Sweepstakes

Restrictions: The prizes are non-transferable * Reservations are based on availability * No cash value * Prize certificate will expire one year from issuance date

Rules and Guidelines: * No purchase necessary * One raffle winner will be selected * Winner will be selected randomly and your chances of winning are based on the number of entry points you acquired against the total number of entries for this giveaway. * 18 years of age and older * US and Canada residents only, excluding residents of the Provence of Quebec. * Winner will be notified via the email provided and must respond to the notification to confirm their prize within the time specified in the email.  (Usually 3 days). * After the winner has been confirmed, the winner will be announced on this blog post.

Prize Value: $1682.00

Entry Period: July 6, 2015 at 12:01 AM PST to July 19, 2015 at 11:59 PM PST.

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



fyi: I was invited to take my family to the Shenandoah Valley as part of a Trekaroo campaign with GoBlueRidge. I was compensated for my time, and our experiences were covered by the above partners. As always, my opinions and ideas are all my own, influenced only by my experience as an educator and parent and my three little adventure-seekers. 

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: 







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: 

Find something fun to do this summer by following our summertime fun board: 

Follow amy mascott @teachmama’s board summer fun & cool for kids on Pinterest.


Share it!

fun summertime learning for kids: tabletop surprises

get kids to play outside: 4 tips for summertime playground fun

get kids to play outside teachmama.com

get kids to play outside  teachmama.com


Sometimes, getting kids to play outside is no easy feat, especially in the summer.

Because here in the DC Metro area, it’s hot.

It’s hot. Hot.

It’s muggy.

It’s oppressive.

When the sun’s beating down, the heat’s suffocating, and the last thing my kids want to do is go and play outside.

But last week, two friends and I got our big kids and little kids outside, playing, and having fun. Old-school style.

Free-bird, playing outdoors in the summertime.

We had some serious playground fun thanks to our friends at Clif Kids, and you can too. Get your kids to play outside, enjoying some summertime playground fun with these four tips.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Get Kids to Play Outside–Summertime Playground Fun: 

These days, it can be hard to get kids engaged in screen-free activities where their bodies are moving and where they’re using their imaginations and getting their creative ideas flowing.

However, it doesn’t take much to get kids to play outside.  These four things may help:

get kids to play outside | teachmama.com

get kids to play outside | teachmama.com

1.  Friends

Invite a few friends to join you!  Send an email, a text, or make a quick call.  If you have more than one child, reach out to 2-3 friends each.

Just a quickie invite will do:

Hey friend! Our family is planning on packing some drinks and snacks and will be heading to [insert park and location] on [date and time]. 

We’d love for you to join us for some old-fashioned outdoor fun! If your child needs a ride, I’m happy to pick her up! 

Let me know if you think this will work. We’d love to see you!

get kids to play outside | teachmama.com

get kids to play outside | teachmama.com

2.  Food

Food always makes an event, right? At least in our family it does.

Park playdate snacks don’t have to be elaborate or fancy. Really.

get kids to play outside | teachmama.com

get kids to play outside | teachmama.com

get kids to play outside | teachmama.com

This is all you need: 

get kids to play outside | teachmama.com


get kids to play outside | teachmama.com

get kids to play outside | teachmama.com

3.  A Few Simple Toys

Kids don’t need much, but if you’re having a hard time getting them out the door to play, then maybe some toys will help to kick-start the fun.

Go to the dollar store. Go to the thrift shop. Visit yard sales.

Don’t spend a fortune.

But consider grabbing things like:

Set the toys out and let the kids at ’em!

get kids to play outside | teachmama.com

get kids to play outside | teachmama.com

get kids to play outside | teachmama.com

4. Fun, New Surroundings

You guys, there are so many parks, playgrounds and nature centers around that we don’t even know about. All it takes is a little bit of research, and I’m betting you’ll find a fun, new park to explore.

Send a note to a local moms club, a church, girl scouts or boy scouts, library, or preschool if you aren’t sure about it, and I’m betting they’ll have a list for you.

And if there’s nothing around, even a pal’s backyard can be a fun place to play and explore.

Really. Give it a go!

get kids to play outside  teachmama.com 2

Check out some cool ideas for getting kids outdoors, thanks to our friends at CLIF Kid!

Many of us have heard of CLIF Bars, but did you know that CLIF makes a line of healthy snacks for kids? I didn’t, either.

But they do.  CLIF Kid makes nutritious snacks for kids’ growing bodies with no high fructose corn syrup, synthetic preservatives or artificial flavors.  The snacks are really, really good.

And CLIF is all about getting kids outside and playing–moving their bodies, having fun, and exploring.

get kids to play outside | teachmama.com

get kids to play outside | teachmama.com

And to do that, they’ve created some awesome resources for parents:

Our Summertime Spraypark Playdate got us all outdoors and unplugged here in the DC Metro area. 

Last week, my pals Jessica McFadden of A Parent in Silver Spring and A Parent in America, Stacey Ferguson of Life is the Party and the Blogalicious Conference, and I gathered a bunch of our friends together for some good, old-fashioned outdoor fun.

get kids out to play | jessica mcfadden, amy mascott, stacey ferguson


get kids out to play | jessica mcfadden, amy mascott, stacey ferguson

We simply sent out an evite to our neighborhood pals, pool pals, school pals, and work pals and invited everyone to join us for an afternoon at the Spraypark in Silver Spring. It was an absolute blast.

It was just a quick get-together where our kids were able to play freely, splash in the water, and enjoy some healthy snacks thanks to our friends at CLIF Kids.

Check out our photos:


Huge thanks to our friends at CLIF Kids for providing the snacks. Not a single thing was left–the kids and parents loved them, and for two straight hours, all our kids did was play. 

It was awesome.


How will you get your kids outdoors, moving, and refueling in a healthy way this summer? I’d love to hear it!

Share your ideas below, or continue the conversation with others by following the hashtag: #outtoplay

Check out CLIF Kids on whichever social media platform suits your fancy:  facebook |  twitter  |  YouTube  |  instagram


fyi: This post was written as a partnership between CLIF Kid and One2One Network. As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and by my three little splash park splashers. 

kids make their own commercials: creative, techy fun

kids make commercials | teachmama.com

kids make commercials | teachmama.com


As part of our tabletop surprises last week, my kids became movie-makers.

Though it really didn’t start out that way at all.

The little tabletop surprise note challenged them to create commercials for a product. That was it.

But what they did with it was a whole other ballgame.

It was a good reminder for me that kids really, truly need free time to explore and play on their own, no matter the platform.

I didn’t step-by-step teach them how to use these movie-making platforms; rather, I gave them the tools and let them figure it out.


And really, the tools they used are pretty intuitive, but still. I was impressed.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Kids Make Their Own Commercials–Creative, Techy Fun:

So the note on the table read:

lights, camera, ACTION!

Make a commercial for any product you want!

Use: iPad (Videolicious or iMovie) or Chromebook (WeVideo)

Showing at 4pm TODAY

I set out a number of products around the table as inspiration: the Wet Brush, TinkerCrates, DoodleCrates, RushHour, AllQueens Chess, SoCozy products, Altoids, you name it.

I just wanted them to have ideas. Starting points.

Then when they were ready, I showed them the tools they could use.

I showed them iMovie, Videolicious, and WeVideo. I knew that Maddy had used WeVideo before at school and liked it, so I figured she’d go that route. She didn’t. She wanted to try iMovie.

Before I knew it, the kids were moving. They were choosing products, working together, disappearing for a few minutes and then reappearing in different costumes and clothes. It was a riot.

And yes, they had questions as they went, but we figured things out together.

I used iMovie to make my videos, but it’s a different animal on the iPad. 

So there was a whole lot of on-the-spot learning from my end, too. I didn’t realize how easy it was to create movies on the iPad. It doesn’t really have to be a huge event–I should be able to whip up videos in no time flat, thanks to Apple’s templates and creations. Awesome.

So what began as a challenge to create commercials morphed into movie and video card making.

Owen went right upstairs and got to work on the iPad mini.

Cora grabbed the iPad and went nose to screen.

Maddy was finishing something else and then got stuck with the super-old tablet, got frustrated, and decided to come back to it. I’m not sure why she didn’t use the Chromebook and WeVideo because I know she used it in school. Hmmmmm.

With permission, I’m sharing their finished creations:

Cora’s commercial:


Then, Cora said she wanted to make another movie, so I suggested she make a teachmama.com trailer. She did, and it’s awesome!

I mean. . .I’d subscribe! (wink!)


Owen went for the scary edge.

Be forewarned: if your little ones are looking over your shoulder, watch this one another time. He puts on his scary Halloween costume and gets a little creepy:


Cora went wild. She then made a Father’s Day movie for her dad, and she started on another family movie. She really liked the ease of the iMovie templates, but she said she was ready to make her own movies without templates. We’ll see how they go. I’m thrilled!

Owen was good with his one scary movie.

Maddy started creating a spy movie, complete with costumes, memorized lines, and scenery changes, but she didn’t finish. I’m hoping she does so soon!

Really, the coolest thing about this activity was that the kids learned on their own.

They tried, they re-tried, and they tried some more. It was awesome. And they were really proud of their final products.

And so was I.


Join us!

summer fun for kids | teachmama.com



Follow us on Instagram: @teachmama1  / #tabletopsurprises

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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


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: 


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.


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.


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.


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. . .


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.


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 | teachmama.com

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 | 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.


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.



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? 


  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

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. 

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: teachmama.com

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

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: teachmama.com

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: teachmama.com


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: teachmama.com

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: teachmama.com

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

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: teachmama.com

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

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: teachmama.com

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

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

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

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com


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


authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

authentic writing for kids: teachmama.com

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:

kings dominion: family-friendly amusement park in the dc metro area

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

sponsored post



family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

We did it.

We took the leap.

We visited Kings Dominion with our kids this weekend.

And? It was awesome.

My husband and I hadn’t been there in years, so we weren’t sure what to expect.  But we were pleasantly surprised.

Not only was Kings Dominion clean and totally beautiful, it was seriously more family-friendly than we expected. There was something for everyone, and my kids (11, 9, and 8 years old) are raring for a return visit–already.

Need a few reasons to take the trip to Doswell, Virgina–20 miles north of Richmond and 75 miles south of DC–to experience it for yourself?

Here’s the skinny. . .

Kings Dominion– Family-Friendly Amusement Park in the DC Metro Area

Here are my top 5 reasons families should take a trip to Kings Dominion this season:


1. It’s beautiful and clean.  

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

Really. Gorgeous flowers. Green grass everywhere. Fountains, shops, restaurants– and restrooms!– all super clean.

It was something that my husband and I noted multiple times–we’d look at each other and comment about how beautiful the park was.

And I don’t even think it was that we were so grateful to be outdoors on a perfect spring day; the park really, truly is beautiful.

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com


2. The color band bracelets make ride decisions easier.

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

The minute we arrived, we walked into a Height Guide station almost immediately, and this sweet gal was handing out bracelets to kids based on their height.

I loved it–it made deciding which rides Maddy, Owen, and Cora were permitted to ride much, much easier.

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

Turns out that our kids were able to ride just about everything they wanted, which made the whole day totally stress-free.

The height guide is available on the website, so you can even measure your kids at home and plan accordingly.


3. Super-fun concert and event series. 

We were thrilled that the day we went to the park, Debby Ryan (think: Jessie, from Disney channel) and her band, The Never Ending, was playing.

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

Our friends at Kings Dominion arranged for us to even meet her, which was an absolute treat for Maddy, Owen, and Cora.

They met Debby Ryan! And Debby Ryan was delightful. So sweet. So kind. So great with the kids.

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com


family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com


We had a blast watching the show, and it was a huge highlight of our family’s spring break.

And honestly, the concert was free with park admission. So it was cool–everyone kind of moseyed on over around 5:30 for the 6pm concert. Great outdoor venue. So fun.

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com


But this concert is just the beginning of the fun during the Spring Bloom Festival at the park; there’s a ton of other things planned this season:

  • Choo Choo Soul – For the younger ones, Choo Choo Soul is a children’s entertainment act featuring a hip-hop train conductor and her partner, a dancer and beatboxer dressed as a railroad engineer. The concert is free with park admission. Seating is limited and available on a first come, first served basis. Choo Choo Soul will perform at the Peanut’s Showplace Theater on Sunday, April 19 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Spring Bloom: An International Culinary Celebration – Take a culinary trip around the world with Kings Dominion’s Executive Chef! New food stations and restaurants will feature international food items from Switzerland, Italy, Jamaica, and many more! These delicious delicacies will be created using fresh spring ingredients from local Virginia farms.
  • Live Entertainment – Strap on your dancing shoes and enjoy toe-tapping entertainment from local Country and Bluegrass bands every weekend!
  • Happy Birthday KD! – Kings Dominion opened over the course of two years, with the official grand opening on May 3, 1975. Time to cut the cake and blow out the candles as the park officially turns 40 on May 3, 2015. The day will be filled with surprises, entertainment and more!

I love that there are things other than just rides to explore here.

4. Activities for all ages. 

It’s no secret that Cora is not a fan of big roller coasters. She, like her mama, prefers the lazy river type of rides. So when we discovered Planet Snoopy, we were both in heaven.family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com


family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com


family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com


Planet Snoopy is a PEANUTS™ happy area filled with 18 rides designed for entire families to enjoy together. These aren’t all ‘baby rides’ mind you; a few were rated ‘moderate thrill’ level 3, and I thought they were a little crazy.  The whole area was well-organized, and I liked that after a while we started seeing the same faces of kids and parents. It gave this big park a ‘small park’ feel.

Maddy, Owen, and their dad enjoyed some crazy fast and furious rides while Cora and I were rolling more slowly, and they loved every second of it.

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

They rode just about every big coaster they could, and after a while all the names started to sound the same to me. All I know is that they proudly survived the Intimidator 305, the ‘tallest, fastest, and most thrilling roller coaster on the East Coast’.  All I can say is thank goodness I wasn’t standing there watching them.

5. Great food choices. 

Food is huge for our family. We love food.

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

family friendly kings dominion | teachmama.com

And especially when we’re out and about, we like to have great food choices to keep us going.

Huge surprise to us was that Chick-fil-A® was there. Panda Express® and Rita’s® was there. Starbucks® and Subway® was there. There were a ton of really great options, and this is just the start–there were some super spots for sweet treats and sit-down meals as well.

Check out all of our photos from the day:

Do you want to get in on the fun, even if you’re far away?

Overall, we were impressed. It was an awesome, awesome day at Kings Dominion.

Have you been there? Have you tried it? Anything in particular that you loved or didn’t love? I’d love to hear it!


fyi: Huge and happy thanks to the team at Kings Dominion for extending an invitation to the park and the Debby Ryan Meet & Greet to our family and then asking me to write about the experience. As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator.

baseball game scavenger hunt: fun for kids during the game

baseball game scavenger hunt | teachmama.com

baseball game scavenger hunt | teachmama.com

I have a hard time sitting still during sporting events.

I won’t lie.

I love the tailgating and the food and the crowds, but sometimes. . . the games seem really long to me.

So we’ve been creative in the past with our kid-friendly learning during baseball games, and this year, we kicked it up a notch.

Now that I have three readers on my hands, we can do a little bit more.

Yesterday, we celebrated Spring Break at a National’s Baseball Game, and we rocked out a new-for-us Baseball Game Scavenger Hunt.

It. Was. So. So. SO FUN.

Maddy, Owen, and Cora all admitted that the Scavenger Hunt was a great part of the day (wooo-hooo!). So if I don’t say so myself, I think I hit it out of the ballpark with this one.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Baseball Game Scavenger Hunt–Fun for Kids During the Game: 

Our game was rainy, grey, and cold, so the Baseball Game Scavenger Hunt came in handy big time.

baseball game scavenger hunt | teachmama.com


We got to the game around lunchtime and ate at our favorite ballpark cafe, one that allows you to sit at a table right on the far side of the field and watch the game.

I mentioned to the kids that I had a pretty cool scavenger hunt for them once we got comfy and ordered our food–I was thinking they’d want to start once we got back to our real seats, but as always, my boy was ready to roll.

baseball game scavenger hunt | teachmama.com

baseball game scavenger hunt | teachmama.com

He said, Hey Mom, this is cool. And he started checking off boxes left and right.

I said, Owen, the thing is, you have to actually see each thing before you check it off. You may not even see each one today–but we’re looking for it. And at the end, we’ll count each person’s checkmarks, and we’ll see who saw the most. 

Will we get anything if we win? Maddy wanted to know.

baseball game scavenger hunt | teachmama.com

baseball game scavenger hunt | teachmama.com

Maybe. I said. Maybe this is how you earn your ice-cream treat if it even gets warm enough to have one. 


The Baseball Game Scavenger Hunt gets kids to read. For real. 

I wanted the scavenger hunt to be long and skinny so that it could easily fit on kids’ laps. And I wanted it to be easily folded and put into coat or jean pockets.

So that’s what I did.

baseball game scavenger hunt | teachmama.com


I made it two columns with 45 items in each.

I wanted some things baseball-related and some things fan-related.

So kids are searching for 45 things including:

  • bat boy
  • announcer box
  • foul ball
  • crazy funny fan
  • crying baby
  • bunt
  • pop fly
  • Cracker Jacks
  • run down
  • and more!

baseball game scavenger hunt | teachmama.com


It’s not for everyone. If you have a kiddo who loves the game and who is totally, 100% into watching each and every play, then let him or her watch. For goodness’ sake let that child watch and enjoy the game.

But if you have a child who needs a little bit of focus, who maybe isn’t so into the game, then the Baseball Game Scavenger Hunt is for you.

baseball game scavenger hunt | teachmama.com

baseball game scavenger hunt | teachmama.com

We had a lot of fun with it–Maddy couldn’t find a ‘homemade sign or poster’ so she made one on the back of her hunt sheet. (It’s hard to read, but it says ‘Nats WIN!’)

So funny. So, so funny.

And one of our kids had a bit of a breakdown when we first got to the field, so someone suggested that we call that the ‘crying baby’ and check it off the list.

Love it.

baseball game scavenger hunt | teachmama.com

baseball game scavenger hunt _ teachmama.com


Here’s the Baseball Game Scavenger Hunt if you’d like to download it and use it for your crew: baseball game scavenger hunt _ teachmama.com

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

baseball game scavenger hunt | teachmama.com


Think you’ll use it?

Let us know how it goes!

Want a few more fun ideas for learning and having fun on the go?

Check out:

Or follow our pinterest board full of fun ideas:

Follow amy mascott @teachmama’s board neat-o, fun, NEW things for us to try on Pinterest.

egg dying 101: making egg dying as mess-free, easy, and FUN as possible for families

egg dying 101 teachmama.com cover

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egg dying 101  teachmama.com cover

Many parents rank egg dying up there with pumpkin carving: a highly-anticipated activity that often results in a huge mess, complete with crying kids and frustrated parents.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. At all.

In fact, I have a few tricks for you that will make egg dying as mess-free, easy, and fun as possible for families.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Egg-Dying 101–Making Egg-Dying as Mess-Free, Easy, and FUN as Possible for Families:

It’s not rocket science, friends. In fact, these few steps will make

1. Have your tools and workspace ready.

egg dying 101 | teachmama.com

egg dying 101 | teachmama.com

You’ll need the following:

  • eggs! (We usually shoot for 6-10 eggs per child.)
  • egg dye tablets
  • plastic tablecloth
  • water
  • color cups
  • vinegar
  • whisk
  • PAAS egg dipper
  • paper towels
  • wire drying rack and/or egg dying box (did you know it doubles as a drying rack?)

Set up your work space.

egg dying 101  teachmama.com1. To determine which dye tablet belongs in which color cup, gently rub the tablet on a damp paper towel. SUPER cool tip, right?

2. Then place the proper tablet in its matching egg cup: blue tablet in blue cup, yellow in yellow cup, etc.

3. Dissolve the dye tablets by adding 1 Tablespoon of vinegar to each egg cup–EXCEPT THE PINK CUP!  The pink dye is more vibrant without vinegar–who knew?  And? Your welcome for that second really cool tip.egg dying 101  teachmama.com

4. Once the dye tablet is dissolved, fill each color cup with water up to the line midway (about 1/2 cup).  Now the egg dyes are ready to go!

5. Dye eggs by dipping them one at a time into the egg dye and moving the egg around a bit with the egg dipper. The longer the egg sits in the dye, the more vibrant the color.

6. When eggs are the desired color, remove the egg from the dye and blot the excess with a paper towel.

7. Place on the drying rack and allow egg to dry completely!


2.  Make it easy for kids. 

A few tips for making egg-dying easy for kids:

Model for kids how to properly dye eggs so that we’re setting them up for egg-dying success!

egg dying 101  teachmama.com

Show kids how to use the egg dipper–the smaller, skinnier end of the egg goes into the hole!  It does require balance, but it’s a great way to work on this skill!

egg dying 101  teachmama.com

Let kids use a whisk to dip eggs into the dye if the egg dipper is too challenging.

Surprisingly enough, the egg can go in and out of the whisk very easily!


egg dying 101  teachmama.com

Make sure kids have a sturdy spot to hold the eggs while decorating.

Whether it’s the egg stands that come in the decorating kit or whether you make your own–see below–the idea is that the eggs are still while kids are creating. This removes a ton of stress for our little ones!

Remember, too, that if the whole-egg dying is too much, that parents can dye eggs first and allow children to decorate them–kind of like letting kids put the icing a cake!

egg dying 101  teachmama.com

Try using PAAS Monogram stickers to personalize eggs and to celebrate kids’ initials.  Consider even giving each person in the family another person for whom they should decorate an egg.

For example, I might decorate an egg for Owen; Owen would do one for Maddy; Maddy would do one for Cora; Cora would do one for her dad, and her dad would do one for me. Or something like that.

The only rule is that the person’s egg must be clearly theirs. So you could put the person’s name on it, initials on it, in some way personalizing the egg for the other person.

egg dying 101 | teachmama.com

egg dying 101 | teachmama.com

Or use the PAAS Color Sticks for super-easy and vibrant decorating with the snap of a stick!

Seriously, you just snap these little sticks up where you see the line, and then you let the dye run to the opposite end.

And then? The decorating fun begins–vibrant, rich colors via a tool that makes writing, drawing, doodling, and creating– easy!

egg dying 101  teachmama.com

egg dying 101  teachmama.com

egg dying 101  teachmama.com

egg dying 101  teachmama.com

egg dying 101  teachmama.com

3.  Make it fun. 

Above all, egg-dying should be fun!

So remember:

egg dying 101  teachmama.com

egg dying 101 | teachmama.com

Use the often-forgotten ‘magic’ crayon!

That little wax crayon is used to draw on eggs before they get dunked in the dye. When they come out of the dye, the wax has created a resist, so whatever was drawn will not be dyed.

The ‘magic crayon’ is a great tool to use to practice writing letters, shapes, numbers, and names!

egg dying 101  teachmama.com cover

Play with color blending! Encourage kids to mix colors, experiment with color shading, and try new things!

Use stickers!  Most egg dying sets come with stickers. Use them to decorate already painted eggs, or use them to block off color before you dye the eggs for a different type of color resist.

egg dying 101 | teachmama.com

Remember that your eggs will not be–and do not have to be–perfect!

Especially when you add a few kids to the mix, egg dying is perfectly imperfect, friends. The good news is that with the help of some great quality egg dying products, your eggs will look great no matter what!

egg dying 101 | teachmama.com

egg dying 101 | teachmama.com

Other fun PAAS egg-dying facts:

  • PAAS turns 135 in 2015!
  • PAAS was established in 1880 by William Townley in his New Jersey drug store. He sold packets of egg dye to neighbors and the company grew from
  • Townley named the company PAAS after the Dutch word for Easter, Pasan.   So PAAS literally means Easter!

Check out a quick PAAS video on egg dying:


Hope this helps, friends, and hope it makes egg dying as mess-free, easy, and fun as possible!

What are your tips for egg dying? I’d love to hear them!

Do you have questions about egg dying or the PAAS products? They’ve been around for 135 years. They know egg dying!

Connect with them and learn more: PAAS website | PAAS YouTube channel | PAAS Facebook page



fyi: I was asked by the good people at PAAS to share a bit about egg decorating with my readers, and I was happy to do so. I cannot remember an Easter that I didn’t use PAAS egg dyes on my Easter eggs, so of course it was a natural fit. PAAS egg dying kits are as much a part of Easter for my family as are daffodils and jellybeans. Though I was given PAAS products to try, as always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and lifetime user of PAAS products!