movie-inspired costume contest: win $500 and movie tickets for a year!

movie-inspired costume contest: win $500 and movie tickets for a year!

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affiliate links used in this post



movie-inspired costume contest | teachmama.comI love it when I can share things with my readers that are really, truly cool and easy.

We’re busy. We need easy.

And I know with quite a bit of certainty that many of us are gearing up for Halloween this week.

And I also know with quite a bit of certainty that many of us are dressing our kids as Minions, Elsa, Anna, Olaf, or the good ole storm troopers or Dorothy from Wizard of Oz standby.

Because we’re all connected, and we’re all snapping photos of our cutie-pies all decked out in their Halloween gear, why not share a photo with our friends from Fandango for a chance to win $500 and a full year of movie tickets for your family? 

Seriously. I’m not even kidding.

Easy peasy, and I’d love, love, love to see one of my readers win!

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Movie-Inspired Costume Contest–Win $500 and Movie Tickets for A Year:

Really, this is not the kind of contest where you need to film a short testimonial (who has time for that?!) or create a killer diorama out of Peeps.

It’s easy.

So do it!

movie-inspired costume contest:

Here’s how you can rock the movie costume contest:

  • Post your picture on Instagram.  (Need a little Instagram refresher? Got you covered.)
  • Use a category hashtag:  (Just include the hashtag # and whatever category your costume fits)
    • #FandangoFamilyContestOriginal
    • #FandangoFamilyContestSpooky
    • #FandangoFamilyContestSuperHero
    • #FandangoFamilyContestAnimated
  • Follow AND tag @Fandango on Instagram.
  • Have questions? Ask me! I want you to win!

That’s it!movie-inspired costume contest:

Any guesses as to which awesome late ’80’s movie we were rocking at a recent 80’s fundraiser?

Want to learn more about the contest and see some current entries? Check out the Fandango Family My Movie Costume page.

What do you think? If you enter, please let me know!


fyi: I am proud to be a part of the Fandango Family Digital Network and will share a movie-related post quarterly. 

Affiliate links are used in this post.

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills

video game for improving decision-making skills @QuandaryGame |

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quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills |

I’m always on the hunt for worthwhile ways to sneak in some fun and learning into my kids’ days.

And though I’m super careful about screen time, I’m rather impressed with a game that I’ve recently been introduced to: Quandary.

Not surprisingly, my little game-testers were eager to try this digital game that is structured to develop ethical thinking skills.

It’s interesting. It’s different.

And it really gets kids thinking.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Quandary–Video Game for Improving Decision-Making Skills:

 I, too, was a little skeptical when it came to looking at this game.

I wondered, how on earth could a video game really deal with decision-making and critical thinking and ethical issues? 

But this one really, truly does.

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills |

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills |

Fast facts:

  • Quandary is a game that provides learning experiences that let kids practice distinguishing the difference between facts and opinions.
  • It is a game that allows kids to explore decision-making.

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills |

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills |

  • It’s a game that gives kids a chance to learn about a problem, hear situations from various community members’ perspective, reflect on those opinions, and then decide on the best possible solution.
  • It’s a game that aims to support not learning of new content but learning of new skills.
  • And it’s a game that provides a ton of discussion between adults and kids.

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills |

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills |


Designed for players ages 8 and older, there is a lot of reading with Quandary, truth be told.

Players read the scenario first to understand the problem.  The layout is similar to a comic book or graphic novel, and many kids today are quite comfortable with this genre.

The cool thing, from a Reading Specialist’s perspective, is that when players click the text, the text is read aloud.  The combination of visual and audio reading is a huge support–even for older readers.


quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills |


Owen, my forever gamer, was big into trying this game, so one evening he, Cora, and I sat down together to look at it.

It was a lot for Cora, who is 7 years old.  It was a lot for Owen, at 9 years old, but he was in the mood for a challenge and was really willing to read through each scenario and description and make the right decision.

The first time he played, we worked together to figure out the steps and try to earn points for organizing statements of fact, opinion, and solution. We talked about the best ways to organize characters into groups of people who would agree with our decision and those who would disagree.


quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills |


My friends, Quandary is not a game to start at 8:30 pm on a school night. It’s a game to play when your brain is sharp and your kids are in the mood for a little brain challenge.

Overall, Owen liked that:

  • the levels were fun;
  • there were different episodes to choose from;
  • the game helped him with problem-solving skills.

Owen wishes that:

  • there were more episodes (currently there are 3);
  • that it might be a little easier–it could be hard for younger kids.

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills

I liked that:

  • the game is free (yay! free is good!);
  • the game is totally different–a new and unique concept for kids;
  • the game is created to be used alongside kids–super starting point for discussion;
  • the game moved areas in the brain that are often dormant for kids.

The website covers a ton of FAQs for parents, and a very comprehensive FAQ section which I definitely had before exploring the platform. It’s also got a boatload of resources for teachers that would be super helpful for getting this game into the classroom. The possibilities are there, and I’d love to see this kind of discussion-based game be used more in that way.

Totally worth checking out. I’d love to hear what you think.

Think you’ll check it out? Let me know!

Have questions? Ask away! Or chat with the Quandary folks at @quandarygame on Twitter and or Quandary Facebook page.


fyi: This post reflects a collaboration with the Women Online and Quandary. All thoughts and opinions are, of course, my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and by my three gamers.

halloween printable games for kids

halloween printable games for kids

post contains affiliate links




Need two quickie Halloween games for your kids?halloween printable games

Maybe for a Halloween class party or for some after school fun?

Want to up the fun factor of a playdate or just get a little more into the Halloween spirit?

Here are two Halloween printable games for kids that my kids liked and that we’ll be using for class parties this year.

Simple but fun. Tic-tac-toe and Halloween Follow-the-Path.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Halloween Printable Games for Kids:

Half the battle of sneaking in some fun learning for our kids is knowing where to look for things.

And that goes for class parties and church parties and playgroup parties as well.

halloween printable games |

halloween printable games |

So when I became a room parent for the 6580987420 millionth time this year, I decided I was just going to share anything and everything I make. Because really? No need to reinvent the wheel.

And no need to make things difficult for good people who really just want to make things fun for their kids.

halloween printable games |

halloween printable games |

Two games. Super simple.

  • Bat Follow-the-Path Game: Players begin at the upper lefthand block and take turns rolling the dice to see how far they go on each turn. Winner gets bat to his family first!

Download our Bat Follow-the-Path Game here: follow the path game halloween

(Please, if you decide to share, share this post and not the attachment page!)

halloween printable games |

  • Tic-Tac-Toe:  Just like the game we all know and love, but this one uses Halloween stamps!

We’ve long played Tic-Tac-Toe in our own way with our own flare–this time, we’re rocking it out with a little Halloween fun.

halloween printable games |

halloween printable games |

Download our Tic-Tac-Toe boards here: tictactoe board |

(Please, if you decide to share, share this post and not the attachment page!)

 And that’s it!

Super-simple, totally fun games that you can print on regular paper or cardstock, use, and enjoy.

Need some more? Got a couple Halloween class parties planned for you here:  

 (No joke. . . you can thank me later! Just click the picture!)


halloween party ideas for kids and classrooms |



halloween class party ideas

Want a few more fun halloween party ideas?



fyi: Affiliate links are used in this post, which means that every time you purchase something using one of our links, we get at teeny, tiny percentage of the sale. so. . . thank you for using them, friends!

brain teasers for kids

brain teasers for kids |

brain teasers for kids | teachmama.comWe’re longtime fans of brain teasers for kids over here, in any form, at any time.

We dig brain teasers at lunchtime, brain teasers in the kitchen, brain teasers for long road trips.

Maddy went through a riddle stage last year, when every other day she shared one of a handful of riddles, and ever since then, we’ve been hooked.

So I did a bit of poking around the ‘net this past summer in an attempt to nail down any and all freebie brain teasers for kids I could find.

I hit the jackpot in a big way.

They keep asking for more. Woot.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Brain Teasers for Kids: Really, there are about 8 million books and sites about brain teasers, but I wanted something that I could print and take places with me.

I wanted something that I could use as reading material at mealtime and entertainment on the soccer sidelines.




brain teasers for kids |

brain teasers for kids |

I stumbled across Squiggly’s Playhouse which has been around FORever and which is packed with tons of fun for kids.  

And I put the brain teasers on a happy little document and printed them out on fun and fancy, colorful cardstock.  Then I printed them out, cut them up, and threw them in a sandwich bag.

I take them just about anywhere and use them any time I want the kids to be unplugged. Any time I want them to use their brains.


brain teasers for kids |

I created two sets of Brain Teaser Cards:

If you use them, let me know! I’d love to hear it.

If you share them, please link to this blog post, and let me know! I’ll give you a shout out of thanks!

Both are created with thanks to Squiggly’s Playhouse.


I originally shared both sets via our Tabletop Surprises this summer, but (gulp!) we didn’t figure them all out.
Some are pretty tough!
Most recently, we’ve been using the brain teasers at breakfast. Though there was a time in our lives when I read the newspaper with the kids in the morning, now I’m doing the am scramble.

Before the kids wake up, I work for an hour or two in the morning or try to sneak in some exercise–so when I get them out of bed, I follow them back down stairs and make lunches. It’s fine. It’s working.

We chat, plan out the day, or, as mentioned here, work through some brain teasers.


brain teasers for kids |

brain teasers for kids |


I just talk through the news after school now, while we debrief about school and have a snack or two.

And these are a good way to get Maddy, Owen, and Cora to do some critical thinking and stretch their minds a bit. To think outside the box.

That’s it–try it for yourself and see how it goes!

Just a little, sneaky and fun, at-home learning in the every day, when we’re able. Not as easy as it once was when my loves were little, but we’re trying!

Do you have a favorite site or book for brain teasers? I’d love to hear it~

earn money for your school (& get parents to events!): what you need to know

earn money for your school (& get parents to events!): what you need to know

This post is brought to you by VolunteerSpot & Bing for Schools.


earn money for your school and get parents to events 2We are all so busy during the school year, it’s nuts crazy.

And it seems like the older our kids get, the more we have to juggle.

Many of us know how important it is for us to support our kids’ schools through fundraising, attending events, and volunteering–but it’s tough.

I know that especially when the kids were little, it was all I could do to get the kids to school, let alone worry about volunteering or fundraising.

I brought blinged-out waterbottles to a Teacher Appreciation luncheon because at the time, it was all I could do.

I’m thankful, now, that there are tons of ways that parents can help support their kids’ schools no matter what their situation is. But when it comes to organizing fundraisers and school events, there are some things that you have to keep in mind if you want the program to work.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Earn Money for Your School (& Get Parents to Events!)–What You Need to Know:

These may seem like two separate entities–fundraising and attendance–but they’re really pretty closely related when you think about it.

Above all, everything schools do when it comes to these things must be easy, inviting, and relevant

  • Keep it easy. Fundraisers must have simple directions. One or two steps.  Parents want to look at it, take some action, and be done with it. Events have to be easy–we don’t want to have to bring a million things to an event. We want to put it on our calendar and come as we are.
  • Inviting. Fundraisers have to be interesting and welcoming–things we want to look at and support–which is why the delivery is super important. That first impression makes a difference. So even simple flyers sent home from school with the kids should be appealing to the eyes and be free of spelling or grammatical errors.  Dates, times, and prices should be correct.
  • Relevant. We are more likely to buy products that will help us or our children in some way, shape or form.  Events have to be the same.  We want healthy kids and families, so let’s not sell a bunch of junk food or candy, right?

And for parents, the important thing to remember is that no matter where you are in the world–whether you’re working full-time or part-time, whether you’re married or single, whether you’ve got all kids in school or only one–there is a job for you.  There is some way you can help in your child’s school.

It’s critical that those parents doing the organizing and volunteering make it crystal clear that there is a need and a place for every parent at every school.

earn money for your school (& get parents to events!): what you need to know

Parents can:

  • help in the school media center;
  • make copies for teachers;
  • create bulletin boards;
  • collect Box Tops;
  • manage field trips;
  • organize assemblies;
  • serve on the board or as a committee chair;
  • attend events;
  • start your own after school club;
  • be a room parent;
  • share a board position with a friend;
  • manage the school website;
  • help with social media accounts;
  • work on the school garden or courtyard;
  • coordinate school and community partnerships;
  • manage dinners out restaurant nights;
  • organize Teacher Appreciation Week events;
  • and more.

The possibilities are endless, and of course, they depend on your school and your administration’s permission and interest.

It’s just a matter of sharing your strengths with your parent-teacher organization and using your own creativity to design a way you can help.



Want to check out a few more ways you can earn money for your school and get parents to events? 

Check it out: How to Raise More Money for Your School–Boosting Fundraiser Turnout & Profits for your School-Parent Group



The webinar focus: Participants will learn how to pick the right combination of fundraisers for your school-parent group, boost turnout with Social Media, and ultimately RAISE MORE MONEY for school! With a special presentation by Bing, participants will also learn about easy ways parents can earn rewards for their school throughout the year to receive cutting edge education technology.

Facilitator: VolunteerSpot founder and CEO, Karen Bantuveris – seasoned speaker – school fundraising and parent-participation expert.




Go ahead–forward this post to your PTA or PTO board, to your room parent or fundraising chair, and start making some serious change in your school community!

And let me know–what’s your favorite way to help in your kids’ school–right now?



fyi: I am a longtime friend and supporter of VolunteerSpot who sponsored this post. As always, opinions and ideas are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator. 

recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches

recipe reading for kids fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches MONSTER

post contains affiliate links

recipe reading for kids fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches MONSTER

Ever since my kids were tiny, I’ve let them play around in the kitchen.

It hasn’t always been pretty, but it’s been fun. And now, though they’re still learning, at 10, 9, and 7 years old, my kids are pretty skilled at cracking eggs, measuring ingredients, and navigating the wilds of cookie baking and meal-making.

Recently, Cora has been into some serious snack preparation.

Not only has this benefitted our bellies; what I’ve also been reminded of is how important recipe reading is for kids. 

Kids are decoding important functional, everyday words. They’re reading informational text. They’re analyzing words and phrases in a text and interpreting what it all means.

And the coolest part of the whole recipe reading for kids? They’re having fun and learning in the kitchen.

Cora rocked out some serious recipe reading and Monster-Sandwich making in our kitchen, and it was a blast for all of us.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Recipe Reading for Kids–Fun Learning in the Kitchen with Monster Sandwiches:

Cora used one of the recipe books I pulled out for our Tabletop Surprises: Favorite All-Time Recipes Silly Snacks (2004).

She flipped through the book, and she immediately declared that she was going to make each snack.  I knew she couldn’t because most of the recipes required something we didn’t have in our pantry.

recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches


recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches

So I encouraged her to use a sticky note to bookmark the snacks she wanted to make. And she could make one snack each day.

We need to make sure we have all of the ingredients, I told her. And this is the only way. You choose what you’d like to make, and then we’ll make a grocery list. 

So she did.

recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches

It was a weekend, so Monster Sandwiches would be our lunch.

We worked together making a grocery list, and then we hit the store.  It went surprisingly well, I think because she was focused and knew her recipe would be our lunch. She was totally psyched.

When it came to actually preparing to read the recipe, we did what every chef should do first: we read the ingredients and put them out on the counter.

recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches

Then Cora took the lead and read through each step, starting with opening rolls and spreading them with butter.

Step two required a layering of cold cuts, tomato and cucumber slices, and then finally making the monster tongue.

Though Monster Sandwiches are basically just a cold cut sandwich, it didn’t matter.  The simple 3-step recipe had a few crazy and exciting parts, and Cora loved it.

recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches

recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches


The photo in the book helped her as well, and that’s half the fun of being a chef–comparing the photo to your masterpiece and making changes where you see fit.

Hands down, the sweet gherkin ‘horns’ and black olive eyes were a super-cool part of this recipe, and little hands needed a bit of help in securing them.


recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches

recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches


Recipe reading for kids is a great way of sneaking in some reading and learning in the kitchen, for so many reasons.  Here are a few of our ‘learning in the kitchen’ posts:

Just a few years ago, we realized that Maddy was not reading closely at all–she was skimming during reading–so recipe reading really helped get her back on track. You can’t glaze over steps in a recipe; you can’t glaze over ingredients, or you’ll end up with something quite unlike what you set out to make.

Maddy and I had to have a serious ‘skimming vs reading’ conversation, and baking helped us through it.


recipe reading for kids: fun learning in the kitchen with monster sandwiches


How do you incorporate learning in the kitchen? I’d love to hear it in the comments below!


fyi: affiliate links used in this post–check out the books I recommend below


teach kids game playing etiquette

teach kids game playing etiquette |

Originally published 12/7/09 but republished today because, well, it’s worth it–


teach kids game playing etiquette |

When I first started teaching, in order to make ends meet, I ran several after-school activity clubs at an elementary school near the high school where I taught.

I headed anything from Craft Club to Calligraphy Club to Board Game Club to Chess, Checkers, and Mancala.

I ended up doing about a million sessions of Chess, Checkers, and Mancala because the same group of kids signed up for every single session for three straight years.

What I learned–among many things–is these little “gamers” were skilled at the games but were not skilled at game playing etiquette.

They knew the rules, but not that they couldn’t be sore losers or no one would want to play with them next time. They could talk a good game but cried when the first guy jumped his king. All I needed was one big, unstoppable, messy, dramatic (and I mean dramatic) tear-fest with a few first, second, and third graders before I knew something needed to change.

So I organized detailed tournaments to guide their games, but I also set up two specific rules that every little player needed to follow. And that’s today’s Quick Trick.

  • Game Playing Etiquette: Since Owen and Maddy have officially moved into ‘game playing’ mode, they, too, have officially demonstrated some really frustrating sore-loser behavior. And rule stretching. And crying if one person draws a better card. And quitting if the next person completes a longer snake in Hissss, a higher card for WAR, a smarter move in checkers.

So recently, I’ve had to enlist my old ‘Chess, Checkers, and Mancala’ rules on my own little ones, and it takes a lot of practice. It’s a work in progress.

Here’s the skinny in two steps:

1. Before games begin, everyone shakes hands, looks directly into their opponent’s eyes, and says, Good luck.

2. At the end of the game, same thing: players look directly into their opponent’s eyes, and–win or lose–they say, Good game.

For my Chess, Checkers, and Mancala guys, if they forgot a step, the game was declared null and void, and an immediate re-start was in order, no matter how far they were in the game. I had to witness each handshake to make the games official. (Gosh, I was tough.)

With Maddy, Owen, and Cora, I haven’t been that hardcore, but usually someone remembers before we start.

And yes, these messages might seem cold, impersonal, and forced, but my intention was to get the players to look at each other and touch each other so that they remembered they were playing with a peer and not their parent (who might usually let them get away with this kind of behavior).

I also knew that some guys did want to cry at the end if they lost, so ‘good game’ might be the only thing they could manage to say.

It’s certainly not an instant remedy for sore losers or bratty players, but I think–hope–pray?— it may be a step in the right direction. Only time will tell. . . .

Until then, good luck!



fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

26 triangles: tricky, fun math game

26 triangles: tricky, fun math game

26 triangles: tricky, fun math game

We’re winding down summer over here, but not before my kids finish up their math and reading assignments from school.

Yes, we just started them this week. But whatever. We’re getting there and doing what we can.

One of the activities I thought was particularly cool was one of the days in Owen’s math calendar.

Simple.  Challenging. Tricky and fun.

It was a 26 triangle math puzzle, and it had us stumped for a long, long time.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 26 Triangles–Tricky, Fun Math Game:

26 triangles: tricky, fun math game

26 triangles: tricky, fun math game

We adapted this to make it easier to work through, basically moving the triangles from a 1 inch by 1 inch square to a looseleaf piece of paper with number cards.

The premise is simple: use the numbers 1-12 and place them in each circle of the triangle so that each side totals 26.

Seems easy, right? But it’s not.

26 triangles: tricky, fun math game


It took us a long, long time. Longer than I’d care to admit.

It reminded us of other math games we’ve played in the past, but this one was all big and bad for third graders.

Want to try it yourself? Print it here: 26 math game teachmama

26 triangles: tricky, fun math game

26 math game teachmama

I like the kind of game that you can print out, use, and not worry about–like this one.

Or you could print it out, laminate it, and save it for your home or classroom. I’ve folded ours up, threw it in an envelope, and will keep it in my purse for long waits in dance studios or sidelines.

What do you think? Can you solve 26: the tricky math puzzle?

Looking for more super-fun, sneaky math activities?

Or check out the following math-happy posts:

Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards:

fun activities for kids: last week of tabletop surprises

fun activities for kids: last week of tabletop surprises

This is the last week we’re rolling with our tabletop surprises. activities for kids: last week of tabletop surprises

Even though our calendar was ten weeks and we’ve rocked #tabletopsurprises out for nine fun-filled weeks, next week will be spent (gasp!) doing the kids’ summer school work.

Sure, I should have more evenly spaced the work, but whatever.  I didn’t.

And school’s almost here. As in a week away. Open House next Friday.

Stop the madness, right?

Next week we’re going to do a whole lot of organizing around the house. A whole lot of cleaning. And a whole lot of cramming those math packets and reading post cards.

I need to make next week as un-fun as possible so that Maddy, Owen, and Cora are really ready to go to school and excited for summer to end.

Just kidding.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Fun Activities for Kids–Everyday Tabletop Surprises:

This week, we did a little sign language, some playing with money, and put in some library time.

We had a little math fun.

We celebrated Owen’s birthday (how on earth is he nine years old??!) with a few of his buddies, and despite the torrential rains we had, it was a good week.



sign language = another cool way to get kids learning #tabletopsuprises #summer #asl



mad libs! my favorite way to play with parts of speech! #tabletopsuprises #summer #reading #writing #grammarrocks



library day! last of the summer book sweeps! #tabletopsuprises #summer #readingrocks #bookworms



they wish it was real–and so do I–but today we’re playing with money money money MON-EY! * free printables on the blog * #tabletopsuprises #summer #math #play



math games online and offline — our faves with links on the blog! #tabletopsuprises #lastone #summer #familyfun #math #stem


Check out all the fun we had this summer!  I am already excited about what lies in store for us next summer! 

Follow along on Instagram and leave YOUR user name in the comments so we can follow YOUR #tabletopsurprises adventures!


Want the skinny on #tabletopsurprises? Wonder what in the world I’m talking about?

Check it out:

tabletop surprise email promo 400


backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best

reading under the stars

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reading under the stars | teachmama.comSummer is in full swing, and what better way to really rock it out in the summertime than by camping?

Not for real camping, my friends–I’m talking backyard camping.

In my book, backyard camping counts. Especially if you’re not all that much of an outdoorsy family.

We have been talking about backyard camping for awhile now, so I decided to surprise the kids with a tent.  Not a huge tent, but a 6-person, easy-to-assemble, totally affordable tent.

Because we really rocked it out with our spring break trip to Disneyland, we are laying low this summer, and no biggie beach trip means that we’ve got to be creative with our summertime fun.

So creative we were.

We set up the tent, made some s’mores, and did some reading under the stars until we . . . decided to come back in the house and sleep in our beds.

It’s hard really roughing it with backyard camping.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Backyard Camping and Reading Under the Stars–Summer Reading at its Best:

We invited some friends over during the afternoon for a playdate and a tent set-up. They loved it. Playing in the tent was a huge hit for the whole neighborhood crew.


backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best

backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best


The afternoon was spent playing in the tent, so really the kids spent the greater part of the day excited about our ‘camp out’.

They played campout. They had snacks in the tent. They played games in the tent. After dinner, at about 6:30pm, Maddy, Owen, and Cora brought sleeping bags and pillows into the tent along with their EVEREADY® flashlights, lovies and books.


backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best


They knew that part of the reason we were doing our serious backyard campout was because we wanted to have a chance to read under the stars, just like the Scholastic Read Under the Stars summer reading challenge they were doing.

Really, the reading’s been happening all summer. It was the camping that was totally new.


backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best


We had s’mores. We danced a little. We were ready for a campout.

We were all cozy in the tent, teeth brushed, dirty feet tucked into sleeping bags, listening to the crickets and the owls and the distant barking dogs when all heck broke loose.


backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best

The chaos began.

The storm had arrived.

The tides were a’ changing.

backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best

backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best


Cora started crying because the Maddy was too close to her and because the window panel was hanging down by her arm and it wouldn’t stay tucked into the wall.

And then Maddy started getting angry because Cora was not being nice.  And so when Cora yelled, I WANT TO GO SLEEP IN MY BEEEEEDDDDD! Maddy said she wanted to sleep in her own bed, too.

And then Owen said, I want to go inside to sleep too. I don’t want to sleep out here anymore.


backyard camping and reading under the stars: summer reading at its best


And so yep.

At 9pm, right after my husband had put his feet up and settled comfortably into a show and a snack, thinking his family was out back sleeping peacefully and that he had a quiet house to himself, the troops came marching in.

Sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, flashlights, and books in tow, and a lonely tent out back.

Poor confused Brady was happy to have his family in the house again.  Cora was happy, Maddy was happy, Owen was happy, and I was happy. Back in the cool air conditioning, dirty feet in their own beds, flashlights on and open books in hands.

And? The kids spent the entire next day in the tent.

And what I realized is that we’re not failures or big losers for trying the backyard camping thing and not actually following through; we are winners for trying it. Right? I mean, we came close, didn’t we? We kind of had the experience and maybe we’ll try it again?

I don’t know. The cool thing? The kids were reading. Books and summer reading was a natural part of our attempted backyard campout, so that’s what counts.

reading under the stars



Huge and happy thanks to Scholastic for always coming up with cool themes and ideas for their Summer Reading Challenge and for partnering with us for this post series. This year’s Summer Reading theme is Reading Under the Stars, and is powered by EVEREADY®, the maker of batteries and flashlights, to encourage families to discover new and fun ways to explore reading outside this summer.



fyi: I am happy to share my experience with our backyard campout as part of a sponsored campaign.  As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and by my three little kinda-campers and summertime readers.

Affiliate links are used within.

the fox and the crane: shadow puppets with printables

the fox and the crane: shadow puppets with printables | guest post by @liskarediska on

This week, Liska from Adventure in a Box shares a super-cool, totally idea.  So cool, it’s nuts.

Liska is a toymaker, a creator, a mom, an artist and a lover of books.  She is a Russian who has settled in Canada with her son and husband (and her husband just so happens to have one of the coolest jobs around!).

Today, Liska created printables for us and delivers a unique way of sharing The Fox and the Crane fable–with shadow puppets that you can print and use today. Awe-some.

Huge and happy thanks, Liska!

the fox and the crane: shadow puppets with printables | guest post by  @liskarediska on

  • The Fox and the Crane: Shadow Puppets with Printables, by Liska

Greetings to the readers of Teach Mama! My name is Liska, and when I do not run around, trying to keep up with my little son, I make toys and write at Adventure in a Box. Thank you, Amy, for inviting me to write here today. Teach Mama is a regular inspiration, so I am proud to be making an addition to such a fun resource.

When I was a little girl, personal computers had not made their way into most houses, and we only had two TV-channels. If I was lucky, I could catch one cartoon a day. However, we had a slide projector with a couple of cartoon-based slide shows. In my mind it is one of the dearest memories of my childhood: in the evenings someone would put a white bed sheet on the wall, and then tinker with the projector until the focus was just good enough, though never great. We would sit down, and watch the slides.

Where did that slide projector go? I do not know. However, I want for my son to have something as magical and mysterious to remember, and that’s how we came to stage shadow puppet shows, based on our favourite stories. In the evenings we dim all the lights, except for the one we place behind the parchment screen, and the shadows start moving.

Making a shadow puppet theatre can be very easy. Take a box and cut two holes in it, then stretch vellum or parchment paper across one hole. In the dark, place a direct light source behind the screen. Now try putting something between the light and the screen: it can be your hand or a toy.

The audience on the other side of the screen will see a silhouette. Usually, the closer you put the object to the screen, the crisper its silhouette will be.

the fox and the crane: shadow puppets with printables | guest post by  @liskarediska on

If, however, you feel like crafting and making a long-lasting project, you can also follow my tutorial on how to make a wooden puppet theatre.

For actors we sometimes use the previously-mentioned toys and hands, but our favourite ones are silhouettes, cut out of stiff black paper (80 lb or more). Held next to the screen, they give beautiful crisp shadows.

You can make elaborate performances with these card stock actors! Of course, it might be difficult to stage Alice in Wonderland right away, but most traditional fairy tales have a straightforward plot and few enough characters – they are the likeliest choices for being turned into shadow puppet shows.

the fox and the crane: shadow puppets with printables | guest post by  @liskarediska on

We have already made Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs, and today I would like to make one of Aesop’s fables – The Fox and the Crane. It is also known as The Fox and the Stork, and it has only two actors.

Once, the fox and the crane decided to become friends. The fox invited the crane to come over for a visit. When he came, the fox served soup in a shallow dish.

The fox could lap it up easily, but the crane could not. Nevertheless, he thanked the fox and invited her to come over the next day.

When the fox came to visit, the crane served soup in a flagon with a long narrow neck. The crane could access it, but the fox left hungry.

The moral of the story is usually presented as “if you trick someone, you might get the same treatment back”, but told with a slight change of accents, can also tell children that different households might have different traditions.

Making the designs of silhouettes is my favourite part, and I am happy to share them with you now. Please, download the silhouettes of the fox and the crane here. Transfer them onto the black paper and cut them out, using scissors for outlines and a hobby knife for small details. Alternatively, you can print the designs on a thick white paper and colour its back black, then cut the silhouettes out.

Print the silhouettes here: The-Fox-and-the-Crane-printables

the fox and the crane: shadow puppets with printables | guest post by  @liskarediska on


Next, you will need some bamboo skewers and scotch tape. Tape the skewers to the back of the puppets and they are ready!

Now the lights will dim, and the play will begin. “Once, the fox and the crane decided to become friends…”

the fox and the crane: shadow puppets with printables | guest post by  @liskarediska on

If you like having a shadow theatre, you can always take this game further.

Make a program and tickets together with children, then give them to relatives and friends, inviting them over. The shadow theatres are great because they are suitable for many different ages: even a three-month-old baby will be naturally attracted to the high-contrast figures! Older children will like choosing stories to stage and giving a new dimension to their favourite books, helping to make puppets and tell their own stories with them.

I will be happy if you share pictures of your shadow shows!

Other articles by Adventure in a Box you might enjoy:

the fox and the crane: shadow puppets with printables | guest post by  @liskarediska on teachmama.comLiska lives in Southern Ontario, Canada, where she enjoys simple adventures among the vineyards and peach orchards with her family. It consists of her husband, an armourer, and a one-and-a-half-year-old son, who is as inquisitive and mischievous as any one-and-a-half-year-old could be. When not chasing him around, Liska likes to read books and make toys. Then she writes about it in her blog Adventure in a Box: there you can find book reviews and book-related activities that can interest children of different ages, as well as tutorials on how to make toys with and for children.
You can also find Liska onFacebook | Pinterest | Instagram


 Thank you, thank you, thank you, Liska!

I have absolutely been blown away by the Rockstar Sunday posts over here.

Each week, we’ve been highlighting one ‘rockstar’ in the parenting and education field.  These posts? Seriously awesome.

Anything from innovative reading activities to clever math crafts, from ways to teach kids shapes to ways to use gallon ziploc bags for fun and learning.  It’s awesome.  Crazy awesome.

If you’ve got an idea brewing and want to share, do let me know. You need not be a blogger or professional writer to share your piece.

Simply submit your idea to us! Easy peasy!

 rockstar sunday promo teachmama

You don’t have to have a blog of your own–just cool ideas to share! We look forward to hearing from you!

other posts in the series: