early literacy game for kids: read a word, build a snowman

early literacy game for kids: read a word, build a snowman

read a word, build a snowman | teachmama.com

originally published December 20, 2009 

We have had a ton of snow dropped on us in the last two days; clearly, my kiddos have snow on the brain.

So I knew that if I wanted to sneak in a little bit of early literacy learning over here while we were stuck in the house, I had to capitalize on their current love interest: snow!

Sure, we’ve been reading, coloring, and playing with Legos (and don’t get me wrong–along with our fair share of teasing, arguing, and crying), but those sight words are just so darn easy to stick into games that I found inspiration in one of my old faves and turned it into a snowy day read a word, build a snowman face.

An early literacy game for kids.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Build a Snowman Game: This is so easy.

First, I used cardstock and printed out two copies of the read a word, build a snowman face, which includes a snowman’s face and five parts–two coal eyes, a carrot nose, a coal mouth, and a hat.

You can download it here: read a word, build a snowman face.

Then I printed two copies of thebecause Maddy seemed ready, and I knew I was going to be on Owen’s ‘team’ while we played today.

read a word, build a snowman | early literacy game | sight words | teachmama.com

Owen’s five word cards

Finally, I grabbed Maddy and Owen and asked if they wanted to build an inside snowman before their rest times today. Of course, they looked at me like I was crazy, but then they finally said, “YES!!”

I said, We’re going to play a new game today to celebrate the snow, and it’s called ‘Build a Snowman Game‘. We’ll use some of Maddy’s word cards, and all you need to know is that the game is kind of like ‘Go Fish’. Remember that game?

I need you to put all of these tiny word cards face down in a pile. Then Maddy, you’ll take your snowman face, and Owen you take our snowman face, and we’ll get started.

read a word, build a snowman | early literacy game | sight words | teachmama.com

 

read a word, build a snowman | early literacy game | sight words | teachmama.comOwen had two word pairs, so he earned two snowman parts:
a nose and mouth.

Essentially, the object is to be the first player to complete her snowman face. But in order to put an eye, or a nose, a mouth, or a hat on your snowman, you need to find matching word pairs.

Each player begins with five word cards and should have at least five cards at all times.

We put our word cards on green paper plates because, for some reason, we had two green plates were in our living room. We also kept our word cards face up because we wanted to help each other out a bit.

 

read a word, build a snowman | early literacy game | sight words | teachmama.com

Players put down any pairs they pick, and they can add a piece to the snowman when they find a pair. Then, like Go Fish, player one asks player two if she has a word from his hand, and if she does, she gives it to him; if not, player one grabs a card from the pile.

When one person completes a snowman face, then she’s the winner–as long as she can read each of her five word pairs!

We made sure to read the words as we went along, and I also used brown M & M’s as the snowman’s eyes. (Seriously, why not? They look like eyes, and after the cookies and candy my kids have been putting away, what’s two more M & M’s except more holiday game fun?)

read a word, build a snowman | early literacy game | sight words | teachmama.com

read a word, build a snowman | early literacy game | sight words | teachmama.comYa-hoo! Owen and I completed our face!

They liked it. They really seemed to enjoy the game, and they were excited-giddy even before they ate their chocolate. Kids like to create faces, and this was simple enough that they could manage the word reading and face building and not be overwhelmed.

I think that tomorrow we’ll do it with the Early Emergent Words or the Letter Cards. Or maybe both. And I’m seeing more ‘Face Building-Scene Creating’ Games in our long, cold, snowy-winter future. . .

read a word, build a snowman | early literacy game | sight words | teachmama.com

read a word, build a snowman | early literacy game | sight words | teachmama.com

The cool thing about this game is that I can use it for any level–letters if one of my kiddos needs work on letter recognition or any level of sight words that I need. Feel free to do the same.

And I’m jumping for joy! I just re-saved all of the files as pdf’s and will be saving that way from here on out; maybe that will be easier for my friends to open and use the files at home. Let me know what you think. Happy Snowman Building!

quick and easy addition game: finding addends

quick and easy addition game: finding addends | teachmama.com | math printable #weteach

quick and easy addition game |  teachmama.comCora has really been into playing math games lately.

That’s right. Math games. I love it.

Like while Maddy and Owen are doing their homework, all my littlest one wants to do is math.

So I’m doing what I can to run with it.

She came home with a Finding Addends game a few weeks back, so lately, that’s been in our rotation.

Finding Addends is a quick and easy addition game that gets kids thinking, practicing their facts, and flexing their mental calculators.

Though it looks like it came from a program or texbook, I mirrored the game and have it here as a freebie printable. Because some days Cora and I like to write in our own numbers instead of the game ones.

We crazy like that.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Quick and Easy Addition Game– Finding Addends:  Super-simple premise here.

The idea is that players take turns flipping cards from a pile which have numbers 1-10 on them.

Once you get your number, you try to find the addends–or the numbers that, when added together, equal the number on the card.

quick and easy addition game | finding addends | teachmama.com

quick and easy addition game | finding addends | teachmama.com

Each player has his or her own tokens to cover the addends, and the winner is the person who has the most color blocks on the board at the end of the game.

No ‘tokens’? Use stickers (two different ones), coins (dimes and pennies), legos, cheerios, candy hearts, you name it.  Or just color in the blocks using crayons. No biggie.

Or something like that. I’m sure there are a million ways to play this, but that’s how we’ve been rolling lately.

quick and easy addition game | finding addends | teachmama.com

We’ve also played with mixed up manipulatives and did our best to cover each square of the board.

That works, too.

quick and easy addition game | teachmama.com

Want the Quick and Easy Addition Game to play today after school?

Download it here: addends game _ teachmama.com

It is a pretty basic download–one page is the board and the other is the set of cards. Print the cards out on cardstock so you can’t see through the back.

Or if you want to personalize your game, use the last two pages–they’re the board and cards but blank. Write in the numbers you need to work on, and you’re done.

So fun.

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:

using iPad apps to create

using the ipad to create teachmama.com

The following guest post is written by the amazing and incredible Susan Stephenson, of The Book Chook. Susan is my Australian friend who has tons of fab ideas on children’s literacy, learning, and more.

——————————

using the ipad to create | teachmama.com

  • Using iPad Apps to Create, by Susan Stephenson

I love what the iPad offers young learners.

I’m especially excited about opportunities it gives to create their own content, whether that be in the form of text, images, video and other media, or combinations of these.

Creative thinking is incredibly important to children’s future learning, and finding opportunities for kids to create rather than consume via technology is fantastic.

Even pre-schoolers can create on the iPad, and an iPad Mini is kinder to little hands. The camera is a built-in tool that little ones love exploring with. Not only that, but parents enjoy viewing a child’s perspective on life!

Beginning writers can learn to send a picture to Grandma from the camera roll with some words that explain it. Grandma will love the contact and I just bet she’ll enjoy those invented spellings.

One app I discovered recently, ABC Spy HD by Stealth Education,  invites kids to use the iPad camera within the app. They find objects starting with each letter of the alphabet to photograph, then type the object’s name. To share with others, they make a little video within the app.

Other interesting apps where young children can use the camera are Eye Paint Monsters and Eye Paint Animals by Curious Hat.

Note: I am a firm advocate for limiting screen time for children. But I believe SOME screen time plus lots of time for stories, cuddles, chats, imaginative play and outdoor fun, makes for a balanced parenting approach.

When it’s time for screen play, think about the following apps for your preschooler or young learners:

  • Draw Along with Stella and Sam:  Based on the picture books by Marie-Louise Gay, in this app children choose shapes, decorate them and watch them come to life in very cute animation.
  • Little Fox Music Box: As well as delightful animated songs that kids can interact with and listen to, Little Fox Music Box encourages kids to record themselves singing and making music.
  • Night Zookeeper Drawing TorchThe Night Zookeeper Drawing Torch’s emphasis is on story. It encourages kids to imagine and draw creatures like spying giraffes, time-travelling elephants and singing fish.

 

UsingiPadAppstoCreate

There are hundreds, probably thousands, of apps that older kids can use. As with pre-schoolers, having them use the camera helps them to “look” at their environment from a new perspective, and become more aware of art elements like colour, pattern, texture and line.

Here are some other apps I like that I believe encourage children to create.

  • Strip Designer: Children often need to present information visually, especially if they need to show they understand something, or to explain it. Strip Designer is also a neat app for kids to use when they want to tell a digital story.
  • Moku Hanga: Image editors offer kids exciting opportunities to tweak photos they take. Moku Hanga has a “wood-block” look and it’s simple enough for older primary students to experiment with. It would make a great accompaniment for when kids try writing their own haiku.
  • Pic CollageMore than just a photography app, Pic Collage is a way for children to create a digital story. They could record a family outing, tell the tale of a lost tooth, or capture and caption their friends’ scariest Halloween costumes.
  • The Daily Monster Monster Maker: Here kids will find loads of opportunities to create by “blowing” paint, then customizing a monster and taking its pic, in-app. Incorporate literacy into the fun by encouraging kids to add speech bubbles and have their monsters “talk”. The pictures produced can be added to an app like Pic Collage, or Strip Designer (mentioned above) to tell a story.

Combining apps is a wonderful way for children to get even more from the iPad. The emphasis here is on kids thinking creatively, using apps and iPad as tools to express themselves.

By starting in one app, then continuing in another, children learn how to develop a work flow that suits their needs. The iPad is such a powerful tool for creation, offering kids many opportunities to create, communicate – and above all, have fun with it!

 

Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing these super iPad app ideas, Susan!! We love them!

SusanStephensonsmlCheck out The Book Chook blog  for educational tips and resources for parents, teachers and librarians. Find lots of free PDFs via www.susanstephenson.com, and follow Susan on Twitter,  Facebook,  Scholastic Parents,Google+ and ScoopIt.

 

 

 

Looking for more information about children’s learning?

Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards: 

 

rockstar sunday promo teachmama

The response to our Rockstar Sunday feature has been overwhelming. I am in awe of the ideas, submissions, and shares!

Having been in the blogging space for 5+ years, we know for sure that our readers are always up for fresh and fun ideas on literacy, math, technology, parenting, and learning in the every day. They love crafts, hands-on teaching ideas, printables, cooking with kids, and anything that makes their job as parents easier, better, and more fun.

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:

musical hearts: reading, moving, & crazy-fun kid game

musical hearts reading, moving, & crazy-fun kid game teachmama.com

post contains affiliate links

 

 

 

musical hearts reading, moving, & crazy-fun kid game  teachmama.comThe snow and freezing cold temps has cause my three kids to be on energy overload lately.

They need to burn steam.

They need to run, jump, skip, hop, spin, and then do it all again.

They need to loosen up, wiggle out those wiggles, laugh hard, and be super silly.

So when I was looking for some cool indoor games for us to play in the down time between school and homework, I stumbled upon my dear friend Allie’s Musical Hearts game.  And like everything she does, it’s awesome.

When the girls and I were at the craft store this week, you better believe I added big foam hearts to our cart so that I could make Musical Hearts work for us and hold up for more than one game.

And it sure did.

I turned Musical Hearts into a reading game, a moving game, and a crazy-fun after school, burn-some-serious-steam game.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Musical Hearts– Reading, Moving, and Crazy-Fun Kid Game:

musical hearts reading, moving, & crazy-fun kid game teachmama.com

musical hearts | reading, moving, crazy fun game for kids - 03
I wrote my actions on the fly, thinking about what I both wanted my kids to read and what I wanted them to do. I wanted simple but fun. And I wanted Cora, Owen, and Maddy to be able to play.

My list of Musical Hearts Actions is here for you to check out, print, and use as inspiration: valentine musical hearts game.

It includes 30+ ideas, like:

  • Hula dance.
  • Do 5 jumping jacks.
  • Spin on one foot five times then spin on the other.
  • Do 5 pushups.
  • Hop on one foot 10 times.
  • Hug the person on your right.
  • Plank for 10 seconds.
  • Jump as high as you can—8 times.

musical hearts reading, moving, & crazy-fun kid game teachmama.com

 

It took virtually no persuading for the kids to try out this game.

I said, Hey, you guys, after your snack I’d like for you to try out something that I found online that I think will be a lot of fun. I know you haven’t had recess outside lately, so this will get us up and moving.  Who’s game?

musical hearts reading, moving, & crazy-fun kid game teachmama.comMaddy’s nose was buried in a book, so she sat this one out–for a bit.Literally Cora and Owen dropped their snacks, jumped down from their stools at the snack bar, and found me in the kitchen.

Okay, so here’s the deal: We flip these hearts upside down and put them in a huge circle.

And then I blast some Frozen soundtrack and we play just like Musical Chairs–except this is called Musical Hearts. And there are no chairs. Instead, there are hearts with little messages underneath. When the music stops, you flip your heart and do what’s on the other side. Get it?

They did.

musical hearts reading, moving, & crazy-fun kid game teachmama.com

 

musical hearts reading, moving, & crazy-fun kid game teachmama.com

We played and played and played.

And laughed and laughed and laughed.

Music on, kids walking on the hearts. Music off. Hearts flipped. Kids jumping, planking, spinning, and singing. Music on. Kids up. . . 

Maddy even ditched the book and joined us, and before I knew it, they were all overheated and burning some much-needed energy.

It got hilarious. And surprisingly, they didn’t want to stop.

musical hearts reading, moving, & crazy-fun kid game  teachmama.com

But after the millionth time, when I looked at the clock and realized that OHMYGOSH! we needed to do homework–ack! homework!–before we took Maddy to gymnastics, we had to wrap up the game.

But I’m betting they’ll ask to play tomorrow. . .

 

And really, that was that.

Just a really fun, super-cool way to get kids up, reading, and moving–and laughing!–on a freezing cold, grey winter afternoon.

Love this idea and cannot thank Allie enough for sharing.  The possibilities for adapting Musical Hearts are endless:

 

Want a few more fun Valentine’s Day ideas? Check out: 

how to throw a rockstar valentine's day party teachmama.com 2

 

valentine's day class party ideas, 2.0 | teachmama.com

 

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

25 ways to play with puzzles

25 ways to play with puzzles | teachmama.com

Get those puzzles out, my friends!25 ways to play with puzzles | teachmama.com

It doesn’t matter if your kids are 2 or 12–puzzles are a super way of flexing those brain muscles, practicing fine motor skills, and either some spending quiet time alone or time to catch up together.

So this month, bring out the puzzles.

Especially because January is National Puzzle Month and January 29 is National Puzzle Day (oh yes it is), you really want to celebrate puzzles this month.

And because puzzles come in all shapes and sizes, you’re guaranteed to find one that fits your needs, wants, and strengths. It’s up to us to share puzzles with our kiddos so that they can find what they love to do!

Here’s the skinny. . .

Highlights for Children has created a rockin’ freebie puzzle book that anyone can print and use: Mini Puzzle Guide. LOVE it.

Check out the Puzzle Guide by Melissa & Doug

How will you be celebrating National Puzzle Day? We’d love to hear it! 

20 questions game: homemade, personal, and fun party game for kids of all ages

20 questions homemade party game

20 questions homemade party game

 

While the kids are busy shakin’ their party shakers or rockin’ out to some Bingo Bonanza, the adults can have their New Year’s Eve fun, too.

Actually, everyone can have fun with this homemade game of 20 Questions.

No matter the crowd, when there’s a game to play, the mood’s lighter, there’s a little more laughter, and there’s a little more festivity in the air.  20 Questions is a super game for getting folks to chat, having kids listen and think , and practicing questioning skills.

This party game is seriously one of our faves.  And our version is personal–so famous faces mix with familiar faces–and it’s a total riot.

20 Questions is a great, homemade party game or activity to pass a quiet afternoon at home.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 20 Questions With Kids–Homemade Party Game: I created this game last year to bring to a New Year’s Eve party with some friends, but we’ve pulled it out several times through the year. It’s fun.

It’s funny.

20 questions homemade party game

20 questions homemade party game

20 Questions is easy to play.

Each player takes a turn grabbing a card from the pile. The player holds the card up on his or her forehead so that all the other players can see who or what is on the card but the player cannot.

Here’s where 20 Questions come in: the player holding the card tries to figure out the identity of the person on the card by asking close-ended questions to the other players, much like the questions in Guess Who?.

Close-ended questions are questions that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  That’s it.  So the player holding the card must be strategic:

  • Is my person a male?
  • Does my person appear on television? 
  • Is my person a child?
  • Does my person have long hair? 
  • Is my person fictional or real?

And remembering the answer to each question will help determine the questions that are asked next.

20 questions homemade party game

 

20 questions homemade party game

Our cards are full of fun, famous faces: Oprah, Elmo, Donald Trump, and Punky Brewster along with tons of other sports figures and familiar faces from kids’ programming. 

But even more fun is adding friends and family to the cards.  We’ve added our kids’ faces, friends’ faces, teachers and coaches faces, and it’s all in good fun. Pulling a card out with a face that is actually at the party makes the laughter a bit more hearty and questions a little more hysterical.

Our set has a page of blank cards so that we can add photos of whomever we’d like to the 20 Questions party card mix.

20 questions homemade party game

 

Feel free to download and print the 20 questions party game

Please share it, add your own, and have a blast wherever you celebrate the New Year or need an ice-breaker game.  I’d be thrilled if you pinned this post, tweeted it, facebooked it, or emailed it to a pal.

Again, here’s the 20 questions party game

20 questions homemade party game

20 Questions helps kids of all ages to practice their questioning and thinking skills.

It’s a blast. It makes parties more fun, and the set is small enough to fit in a sandwich bag and throw in your purse or diaper bag for just about any day of the year.

Have a super party–wherever and however you celebrate!

Need some more fun New Year’s ideas?

Check out:

new year’s eve bingo bonanza

new years bingo bonanza

post contains affiliate links

 

 

new years bingo bonanza

Every  New Year’s Eve that we join forces with a few other families, we make Bingo our go-to game for the kids.

And the kids—and parents–love it.

But it’s not just any Bingo game.  We’re not just busting out the ole Bingo roller and Bingo cards and calling it a day.

Noooooo way.

It’s a Bingo Bonanza—marathon Bingo played! And the kids not only have no idea about how much the game helps them to recognize and name numbers and letters (hey, even B-I-N-G-O counts in my book!), but they’re also learning patience, taking turns, and practicing respectable game-playing skills.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • New Year’s Eve Bingo Bonanza:

We seriously come prepared for New Year’s Bingo Bonanza. Sure, we make our obligatory stop at the state store for the parents and make appetizers and sweets, but Bingo Bonanza is where the real fun begins.

new years bingo bonanza

new years bingo bonanza

Each family brings tiny wrapped gifts as Bingo prizes. We don’t make a special trip to the store for prizes. This isn’t anything super fancy.

We wrap what we have around the house. And the kids love it.  Because everything is awesome when it’s wrapped up all pretty with a fancy ribbon and bow.

bingo bonanza new years party

We wrap:

You name it, we wrap it.  Some are fun gifts—prizey prizes—and others are more joke gifts.   But that’s what makes it really fun—wining on Bingo and taking a risk, grabbing any of the prizes on the table.

new years bingo bonanza

new years bingo bonanza

And we also mix up the Bingo games.

We play:

    • Four Corners: one square on each corner covered
    • Straight Bingo: a line of five in any direction
    • Letters: ‘L’, ‘T’, ‘X’ or ‘O’
    • Blackout: full board covered
    • Small Square or Double Small Square: a 2×2 square covered

If the kids are young, then an adult or two will hang out and facilitate the game, but if there are older kids who are responsible enough to manage things, then we let those kids take the lead.

bingo bonanza new years party

bingo bonanza new years party

It’s awesome to see how no matter the age, kids love a good, ole-fashioned game of Bingo every so often. And then they see the big box of prizes unveiled, they’re even more excited.

Just a quickie idea and fun way for kids to play with numbers and letters—and they won’t even realize they’re learning along the way!

Here’s to a happy, healthy New Year, filled with tons of games with family and friends!

Need some more fun New Year’s ideas?

Check out:

 

fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

easy, homemade new year’s eve shakers

easy homemade new years shakers

homemade party shakers

Any time we can use recyclables for learning or play, it’s a win in my book.

So each year as New Year’s Eve approaches, we clean out our recycle bin and put some of those small containers to use for easy, homemade shakers!

All you need are a few containers, beads, and ribbon, and you and your kiddos will be rockin’ and rollin’, shakin; and celebrating on New Year’s Eve—or any time of the year.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Easy, Homemade New Year’s Eve Shakers:  Really, we’ve been making these for years and take them to every New Year’s Eve shindig we’re invited to.

easy homemade new years shakers

We often leave them at the party or make enough for every child to have one. Maddy, Owen, and Cora love making them because they’re simple and easy to personalize.

All you’ll need are a few things.

easy homemade new years shakers

You’ll need:

  • Clean, dry recyclables (from applesauce or fruit cups, yogurt or jell-o)
  • Beads or anything that will make sounds when shaken
  • Baubles or anything fun (small silk flowers, jewels, etc)
  • Ribbon
  • Hot glue (this is a job for adults!)

What we do first is dump out all of the containers and play match-up.  Have the kids find pairs of every container. It’s not necessary that the pieces match exactly, but it makes gluing them easier.

easy homemade new years shakers

easy homemade new years shakers

Then fill!  Add beads and baubles to one container, and have fun with it!  The container need not be totally filled. Fill only about ¼ of the way full so there’s room to shake and make some noise.

Once the kids have filled the bottom of their shaker,  it’s time to  glue!  I hot glued around the perimeter of the container and then secured the other container, rim to rim.  The hot glue should seal the edges so that when it is shaken, the beads will stay in.

easy homemade new years shakers

easy homemade new years shakers

Then add ribbon.

The kids can choose a ribbon from our ribbon box, and I add it to the middle of the shaker, where both containers meet. I secured it with hot glue.

And that’s it.

easy homemade new years shakers

easy homemade new years shakers

Make them fancy, make them plain.

Make them out of two containers or make them out of one—it doesn’t matter. Though if I do make a shaker out of another recyclable with a lid, I’m sure to hot glue the top shut so that a little guy won’t grab it, open it, and try to eat those beads.

I love giving the kids a challenge when it comes to making these. Sometimes I’ll see if they can make:

-single colored shakers

-bi-colored shakers

-black & white shakers

-flower garden shaker

-rainbow themed shakers

easy homemade new years shakers

easy homemade new years shakers

It’s fun. And if we can add a little learning to the mix, why not?

Here’s to a happy, healthy 2014 full of fun and learning!

Need some more fun New Year’s ideas?

Check out:

the polar express night: a holiday family tradition

the polar express night: a holiday family tradition

post contains affiliate links

 

 

polar express night The following guest post is written by Karen Blake. Karen is a teacher, mom of three, and aunt of many.  She’s a lover of traditions and is quite honestly one of the most creative and crafty friends I have.

——————————

Traditions are my favorite.

And Christmas traditions are the absolute BEST!

My husband, Doug, and I have  a number of fun traditions with our three little ones, Keegan (4 years old), Brigid (2) and Declan (10 months), but one of my all-time favorite traditions was started way before my little family of five was created.

That tradition is Polar Express Night, or as my nieces and nephews like to call it, P.E.N.  And this holiday tradition was put into place way before the movie came to the big screen!

  • Polar Express Night–A Holiday Family Tradition:

Here’s a little bit of history on how this night came about.  I’ll try my best to make it brief, but I want you to see how this fun family event has evolved.

I went to college to become a teacher.  It was in my children’s literature class, that I discovered Chris Van Allsburg’s  book, The Polar Express.

polar express night - teachmama.com

I fell in love with this story and it was on that day that I knew I would do something special with my students once I graduated and had my very own classroom.

Well, that dream came true.  Every single year, I would read The Polar Express to my students.

The students would bring blankets and sit on the floor, and I would hand out hot chocolate and cookies and then read the story.  At the end, I would give each child a bell. I called each student separately and as I put the bell around their neck, I would say to them:

polar express quote: teachmama.com

I always teared up when I did this, too, and I was sure my fifth graders thought I was a nut!

This classroom tradition was special to me, but it wasn’t until former students would come back to school to visit during the holidays, wearing their bells and telling me how they will never forget our Polar Express Day, that made me realize what that message really meant to them.

So, because of this, I started a Polar Express Night with my nieces and nephews (who were, and still are, the world to me!).

How Polar Express Night (P.E.N.) began:

When I started P.E.N, there were seven nieces and nephews.  This was 12 years ago.  Since then, we have gained two more nephews, one more niece and my three babies.  I was single and living on my own in my small townhouse when I invited my 7 nieces and nephews (ranging from age 2-9) over for a special story.

polar express night - teachmama.com

They were so cute and little and so very excited.  I did exactly what I had been doing in my classroom.

We read the story, drank hot cocoa (with lots and lots of marshmallows and whipped cream, of course) and cookies and they each received their bell.  Those were the simple days.

Oh my, how P.E.N has grown! 

My 2nd year, I decided to have them all spend the night.  It was just the best!  We all got in our jammies, ate pizza and went on with the tradition we started the year before.  I couldn’t give them bells again, so they all received a special holiday mug from me.

polar express night - teachmama.com

polar express night - teachmama.com

The whole night and the gifts just got bigger and bigger as the years went on!  This is why still today, I hold P.E.N– and even the niece and nephew that are in college can’t wait for this night.

Each P.E.N is unique and special. 

I wanted each P.E.N. to be unique and special, so in addition to the book, we would have an activity.

But of course, each year had to be different.

polar express night - teachmama.com

Here are some of our yearly P.E.N activities:

The year that new traditions started.

The year that The Polar Express movie came out on DVD and that really helped with “activity time”!  That’s when new traditions started.

We now start with the book and then we put the movie on and pop the popcorn (everyone has a job: marshmallow person, chocolate shaver, pour the packet of hot cocoa helper, whipped cream squirter, stirrer, server, etc).

polar express night - teachmama.com

We don’t drink our hot chocolate or eat our cookies until that scene of the movie comes on!  Honestly, we start the movie, hit pause when that specific train scene comes on and then we all grab our cup of yumminess and handful of cookies and we sing along to the Hot Chocolate song.

And yes, the kids have aged and they are no longer ages 2-7, they are now 12 years older and still singing and having fun.

So, for the past several years, the Polar Express Night plan has been:

  1. eat pizza,
  2. read the book,
  3. watch the movie (with all of the treats),
  4. do an activity.

Some of the activities have been:

P.E.N has a new home and continues to grow.

In 2007, I was newly married and in my new house.  I’m not sure my husband knew what he was getting into!  I was now out of my small townhouse and in my new home, which meant more room!

polar express night - teachmama.com

Thank goodness, because everyone was bigger and this gave P.E.N a new level of excitement.  Aunt Karen had more space to run around and we didn’t have to sleep on top of each other.

Each year that we gained a new niece or nephew, it too brought a new level of excitement.  The older kids were excited to share this special night with their new cousin.  Most of the kids didn’t start the sleepover part until they were 4 or older, but we never let them think they were missing out on anything.  They stayed until the movie ended and we just pretended it was bedtime after that!

And when Karen’s babies arrived?

I couldn’t wait to have my own children and have them be a part P.E.N too, but when my first child was due two months before Christmas I just didn’t know what I was going to do.  Do I have Polar Express Night with a two-month-old?

Silly question, Karen, of course you do!  What would Christmas be without it?

So, when you are the aunt of 9 nieces of nephews and have your newborn little son, you have Polar Express Night and you have a blast.  And when you have 10 nieces and nephews, a 2 year old and a 4 month old SUPER colicky baby girl, you still have Polar Express Night, because again, what would Christmas be without it?

And then when you have a 3 year old, 17 month old, and you’re 8 months pregnant, you STILL have P.E.N, because what would Christmas be without it?!

No regrets.  None.  I would be sad if I didn’t have those memories.  Who needs sleep anyway??!!

Polar Express Night is everyone’s favorite.

So, now we have a total of 13 beautiful people that look forward to this tradition.  My youngest, Declan, will experience his first this year, and it will be memorable for all.  Every niece and nephew finds the excitement in introducing this tradition to their little cousin.

My toughest part of the night? What creative activity and gift do I come up with?  I put that pressure on myself, because I want to make it perfect for them, but I know that isn’t the important part.

polar express night - teachmama.com

polar express night - teachmama.com

Some of the gifts I’ve given are:

  • the holiday t-shirt,
  • the mug,
  • a snowman making kit,
  • a grab bag,
  • Polar Express pillow cases,
  • gift cards to their favorite places,
  • and many more.

My favorite?  The “I survived Aunt Karen’s Polar Express Night” t-shirt!

polar express quote

The best part of that was when we all happened to go to church at the same time the day after P.E.N and all of the kids were in their t-shirt!  This sure did make me smile, and I laughed out loud when someone tapped my mother on the shoulder and said, “Who is Aunt Karen and what is Polar Express Night?”

Memories to last a lifetime.

The most important thing is that a group of boys and girls that love being together are making memories that will last a long time. Maybe they will even continue this tradition years and years down the road when I’m just “too tired”!!!  That won’t be anytime soon, though–I can guarantee that!

I love to hear the whole gang discuss the memorable moments.

polar express quote

They like to remember the laughs that they have had, the arguments on who would be the “whipped cream squirter” for the night, what team won family trivia, who had the best gingerbread house, and we always find ourselves trying to list the gifts that they received each year.  I will admit, some have been quite memorable!

What P.E.N means to me.

I’m looking forward to my 2013 P.E.N.  I’m sure that some of the teenage nieces and nephews may think they are getting a bit old for it, but I believe that deep down, they  just don’t want to miss out and truly do love it as much as I do.  Hopefully when they all wake up the next day, and I feed them their stacks of pancakes and piles of bacon (I truly feel like a diner cook), they will think, “I’m so glad I didn’t miss out on this.”

polar express night - teachmama.com

I recently emailed my college niece and asked her what this night means to her.  Here is her response:

“Polar express night means a lot to me. It’s not just time to spend with cousins, because we do that plenty during the year, but it really makes us appreciate each other.  We all have roles to play and we know everyone’s favorite part of both the movie and the night in general. For some, it’s the cookies, for others it trivia, and for some it’s hot chocolate.

One thing that has been pretty special is welcoming new cousins to it. When we started, Ryan didn’t sleep over, or James and last year James did for the first time. Not to mention your new babies, that adds a great addition, not just because they are cute, but because we become more responsible with them around.

We have more tolerance for each other -which is a little bit bad to say- but through those arguments/tiffs that occur every once and while we are given an opportunity to apologize and grow. polar express quote 2

Christmas day is wonderful, as is Christmas Eve, however Polar Express Night offers something extra that those other days don’t. It is a night to spend with the people that will be your friends for life, the people you can tell anything to, laugh with and cry with. They have felt the same sadness as you, and the same pride, that comes with being a member of the Collins family. I love Polar Express night and couldn’t imagine Christmas without it.”

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!  And remember, believe in the magic of Christmas!

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, Karen,  for sharing this fun and meaningful holiday tradition with us!

——————————–

karen blake guest post teachmama.comKaren spent 13 years in the classroom, teaching 5th grade and doing what she could to make her students’ learning meaningful and magical. Now, she’s at home raising her 4, 2, and 1 year old, tutoring students, and working for Rendi, where she captures families’ magical memories for sharing and display.  Right now, she’s most likely busy planning this year’s Polar Express party for her many little bell-ringers.

Find out more about Rendi and check out Karen’s pins on family and learning!

Looking for more wintertime activities to add to your family’s traditions? Check out:

Or check out any of teachmama’s posts on Christmas or traditions!
fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

best gifts for kids and families 2013: teachmama’s picks

kids and family gift guide from teachmama.com

post contains affiliate links

 

 

I’m always surprised when the holiday catalogs roll around at how many new toys hit the shelves each year. kids and family gift guide

It’s a wonder that any of us are able to make decisions when there is so much to choose from.

I am truly thankful, though, that I have the opportunity to try out some of these great toys throughout the year and actually get a insider’s look at some of the cool things on the market. It really helps me make decisions for my own kiddos, and from your feedback, it has helped you make decisions for yours.  Yay!

So here’s the official teachmama Gift Guide for Kids & Family 2013. My Maddy is 9, Owen is 8, and Cora is 6 years old.

It’s full of items we love and have used in the past few years as well as items that are on our list for this season.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • teachmama’s Gift Guide for Kids & Family 2013: these are just some of our faves and some ideas for more creative and thoughtful gifts this holiday season.

I’ve used affiliate links throughout which means that you’re linking directly to the products I’m talking about and if you choose to buy them using my link, a teeny, tiny little cut will go back to teachmama.com. (Thanks for using them!)

 teachmama gift guide game players

 

Gift picks for gamey game player: This year we’re still playing many of our faves from last year’s Gift Guide, but we’re loving. . .

  • Laser Maze: (for ages 8+, by ThinkFun)  Think Rush Hour times 100. Laser Maze is a logic game with mirrors, lasers, and mazes. It’s about plowing your way through a series of challenge cards, trying to set the stage for the laser to get from point a to point b. Not easy. But totally fun.
  • Spot-It: (for ages 7+, by Blue Orange Games)  Cora and her buddies who were 5 and up played this game at the pool all. Summer. Long. Actually, all of the kids played this game while waiting for swim meets, on cloudy days, or pretty much any time they needed a break from swimming. This matching game requires sharp eyes and quick reflexes, and up to 8 people can play at a time, so it’s great for groups.  Go old school Spot-It, or try Spot-It Junior Animals, Spot-It ABC, Spot-It Major League Baseball, Spot-It Educational Sets, & more.
  •  Yahtzee: (for ages 8+, by Hasbro) We love it. Absolutely love this dice game of luck, computation, and strategy. A real hit of the pool this summer, Owen got this for his birthday in August, and it’s still a fave.  Huge thanks to my friend Heather, who got us all hooked.
  • Connect Four: (for ages 6+, by Hasbro) An oldie but goodie. We have been on a major Connect Four kick over here. We even busted it out for a double family game night a few weeks back, and I’m not lying when I say that Owen almost beat everyone in the house. Go, O!
  • Chess: (for ages 5+) Chess. Our chess board is old, broken, and missing a pawn, so we’ve been using a mouse from Feed the Kitty.  Along with How to Beat Your Dad at Chess, by Murray Chandler and  this combo is going to go over big this holiday!
  • Solitare Chess: (for ages 8+, by ThinkFun) Totally cannot believe I never knew this existed until only recently. Definitely on the list for my up and coming chess players, and hopefully by the end of 2014, we’ll all have some serious chess skeeeelz.

 teachmama gift guide crafty crafters

Gift picks for crafty crafters: sticking, twisting, looming, creating

  • Fashion Fun Stencils (for ages 3+, from Melissa & Doug) Cora has had her eye on this for months now. I think it’s the perfect crafty, unplugged toy for my fashion-forward first grader.
  • Pulsar Bounce Balls (for ages 6+, from The Orb Factory)  These are so cool for kids who love to make things their own.  This set allows kids to make their own bouncy balls–some even with lights inside!
  • Original Spirograph (for ages 8+, from Kahootz) I loved these! I totally remember having these as a kid, and I am 110% positive that Maddy will love them. It’s the same basic toy that we had–drawing loops and designs like never before–but updated and more awesome.
  • DoodleArt (for ages 5+, from PlaSmartToys) Perfect for long lazy weekends, snow days, or chilling out after school, DoodleArt posters are a family fave. We have the Butterfly DoodleArt, but Cora just may find Fairies or Flowers under her Christmas tree this year.

 teachmama gift picks explorers

Gift picks for movers, thinkers, explorers: working those fine motor, gross motor, and thinking skeelz

  • Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine (for ages 6-9 years, from Goldie Blox) Definitely top of my list for Cora, these fabulous sets combine reading and engineering and encourage girls to think, predict, and love STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).  I am all for it.
  • RingStix (for 6+ years, by RingStix-System Enterprises) A totally new spin on the ole game of catch, this outside game uses sticks and rings and is a lot of fun to play. Owen loves it.
  • LEGO Friends (for ages 6-12 years, by LEGO) Maddy and Cora love these. So I’m hoping that Santa adds a set to his sleigh for each of them, maybe the pool set or Olivia’s house.
  • Remote Controlled Helicopter (for ages 8+, from Syma) Out of the blue, Maddy has asked for this. What kid doesn’t love remote-controlled toys? This one is indoor and it’s mini. Very cool.
  • Nano V2 Helix 180 (for ages 3+, from Innovation First) The O-Man loves his Hex Bugs, and this set takes those little climbing critters to a whole new level.
  • Rollerblades (for ages 5+, from Roller Derby) Maddy started the roller trend over here last year, when she asked for rollerblades for Christmas. Cora asked for roller skates for her birthday. Owen? He has been begging Maddy and Cora to use theirs all year long.  He needs his own, and bam–we’re a roller family.
  • Air Stream Machine (for ages 8+, from Thames & Kosmos) Maddy and Owen spent an afternoon constructing a hovercraft that actually worked with batteries and sailed around our bathtub. They loved it so much they put another similar set on the top of their wish lists this year. And because of the serious payoff that’s involved in reading, following directions, and learning about physics along the way.

Thinking about the Tub Experiments or Optical Illusion Set for Cora (for ages 5-7 years) and the Fingerprinting Kit, Remote Control Set, or Gyrobot (ages 8+) for Maddy and Owen.

 

teachmama gift guide singers dancers dreamers

 Gift picks for singers, dancers, dreamers: pretend play rocks the house, any day of the year

  • Karaoke Machine: If you’re going to do it, invest in a decent one. This karaoke machine by Singing Machine works with CDs, iPods, or the radio which is included on the device. Two microphones and a 7″ screen make this one a keeper.
  • Outdoor Basketball Hoop & Basketball: Basic, I know, but last year, we shopped around on local listserves and garage sales and forums and finally found a used hoop, in great shape.  My kids have played all year long.

 

gift picks for digital kids

Gift picks for tech-savvy digital kids: plug ‘em in and let ‘em play

  • Club Penguin Membership (ages 6+, from Club Penguin)  You can purchase gift memberships in almost any duration, from one month to twelve months, and the way my kids have jumped into their first online gaming experience is a testament to the fact that time online
  • Skylanders Swap Force (ages 7+, from Activision) This is Owen’s big ask this year; he’s been a Skylanders fan for quite some time now, and he has already memorized all of the Swap Force guys. He’s ready.  Here’s to hoping that they add some new Skylanders books to the mix now, too!
  • Intel All-in-One PC with Touch Screen (from HP) As part of the Intel AIO Blogger group, I have been so grateful to have the opportunity to use this device.  My kids love it. It’s user-friendly, small and sleek with a screen that can fold and hide away in seconds. It’s crazy cool, and if you are looking for a desktop, this is the real deal.
  • eBooks, eBooks, eBooks!  There are several on the market, and it’s best to find one that really works for you and your family’s needs.  I’m loving BookBoard which is a monthly subscription service that includes 400+ ‘unlockable’ books for kids and can be given as a gift.  Or go with the free Scholastic eBook app, Storia, where you download the app and then buy books separately from the website.  Both have great interfaces, fab selection, and serious perks–it’s a matter of preference for what works for your family.

 

teachmama stocking stuffer

Best gift picks for stocking stuffers:  anything small and crafty, anything mini and sweet

  • Squinkie Zinkies (ages 4+, from Squinkies) These are so tiny you need a tweezers to play with them. Maddy and Cora? Adore them. And I like them because I can barely see them and they don’t hurt if I step on them.
  • On the GO! Sets (for ages 3+, from Melissa & Doug) Love these sets because they’re small enough to fit in a purse or diaper bag and they’re full of enough activities to keep kids busy during long, unexpected waits–just about anywhere.
  • Glitzi Globes (for ages 5+, from Glitzi Globes) Teeny little snow globes that kids first make and then can wear as jewelry. Bam. My girls? Love them.
  • The Trash Pack (for ages 5+, from Moose Toys) Think: Garbage Pail Kids meets Squinkies. I know. I know. But Owen is so into them. He organizes them, keeps track of them, analyzes them, and laughs at their potty names. Whatever. One or two won’t hurt. Right?
  • Smarty Pants Sets (for ages 4- 10+, from Melissa & Doug) We love the Smarty Pants Sets. Tons of questions and challenges for every level, from preschool through fifth grade.
  • Math Dice: or Math Dice, Jr (for ages 8+ or 6+ by ThinkFun) small game, great for on-the-go and super-sneaky math fun.

 

Even MORE Gift Guide Inspiration:

 

fyi: Affiliate links are included in this post. 

We did receive some of these products from companies to try, but the large majority were purchased (or will be purchased!) by our family on our own dime.  I do work with some of the companies above, but I also work with a ton more that I didn’t mention.  As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experiences as a parent and educator. I’m sharing the best of the best here–our faves.

 

why i heart my neighborhood toy store (and you should too!) *sponsored*

why I totally heart neighborhood toy store

sponsored post

 

why I totally heart neighborhood toy store

 

I am a longtime fan of the neighborhood toy store.

In fact, I can honestly say that I honest-to-goodness totally heart my neighborhood toy store. And I think you should too.

  • Why I Totally Heart My Neighborhood Toy Store (& You Should Too!):

Not only do neighborhood toy stores boost local economy and develop and enrich communities, these independent retailers keep town centers hoppin’ and keep families smilin’ due to the diverse–often unique–product selection and top-notch customer service.

My own local toy store, Olney Toys, is seated right next to a coffee shop and drug store and was a regular stop on the kids’ and my weekly errands, especially when they were younger.  With a train set and dollhouse out for kids to oogle over and try, there was always a new toy to check out or a pal to chat with.

When I saw the owners of our toy store at Toy Fair this year, I nearly had a heart attack, jumping up and down, dancing, hooting, and hollering. They are great people, and they hugged me like I needed them to, hung out with me for a while, and then went on their merry way.

I like them. I would love, love, love to own my own toy store, so I do really want them to do well.  It’s all awesome.

astra best toys for kids: zingo

We totally and completely heart ThinkFun’s Zingo Sight Words. . .

  • Best Toys For Kids List, 2013: I also want my great readers to be on top of the latest when it comes to best toy recommendations for their kids and loved ones.

Did you know that there’s a non-profit organization called ASTRA (The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association) that provides leadership and resources to grow the specialty toy industry? I didn’t, either, up until a few years ago when I started attending Toy Fair.

 

astra best toys for kids: zingo

. . . which is a smart game for early readers that made ASTRA’s 2013 list!

Each year, ASTRA gathers 650 experts and asks them to create a list of the Best Toys for Kids that year.

They vote on:

  1. a toy’s ability to promote open-ended or creative play;
  2. a toy’s innovative design features;
  3. a toy’s exceptional safety standards.

The 21 winning toys are on a list for kids of all ages, and it’s essentially designed to help toy shopping easier for parents and guardians. I love it.

Check out the ASTRA Best Toys for Kids 2013 list and start doing your holiday shopping (at your neighborhood toy store, of course!).

 

astra best toys for kids: laser maze

Another of our fave toys from the list this year: ThinkFun’s Laser Maze

The good folks at ASTRA are celebrating the fun of shopping for toys at your local toy store with an ‘I Heart My Neighborhood Toy Store’ Sweepstakes.

Through November 8, 2013, log in and win some seriously huge prizes. A family vacation. Crazy toy prizes from fab brands that we all love. Big prizes and lots of ‘em.  All well over $200 each.  Check it out.

i heart my toy store sweeps

Go enter for your chance to win and please let me know if you do!

Do you frequent your local toy store? Do you love yours like I love mine?

 

fyi: This is a sponsored post, written as part of the ASTRA Blog Ambassador program.  As always, my opinions and ideas reflect my experience as a parent, teacher, and lover of all things done in the name of learning and fun!