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

why I totally heart neighborhood toy store

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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!

lego baseball: creative math game for kids, by kids

lego baseball | sneaky, creative math fun

post contains affiliate links


lego baseball | super sneaky totally creative math fun


The following guest post is written by Heather Kauffman. Heather is a teacher and mom of three boys, a longtime we teach member, one of my dearest, closest pals.


I am the mother of three super-duper boys.  Boys who like to wrestle, play with light sabers, and generally participate in any activity that involves yelling and sweat.  My kids work up a sweat playing the Wii in the basement.

They get hot and sweaty playing the LEGO Baseball game they invented because they jump around and get excited when their “player” gets a home run or makes a diving catch.

What’s that, you say?  LEGO Baseball?  I am quite proud of my creative kids who invented a game using their baseball cards, a pair of dice, and their imagination.  The game can also be played with LEGO minifigures (or guys, as we call them) instead of baseball cards.

I will explain the basic rules for the game with baseball cards and how to also play the game with LEGOS.

My kids have their baseball cards organized in these simple notebooks.

I got the card protectors from Amazon.com and the notebooks from our dusty closet.  Once they have their cards sorted (mine sort by team) they go through and pick out the players they want for their game.

lego baseball | sneaky math funPlayers can be from any team but usually only one per position. Here are the nine positions you need for baseball:  catcher, pitcher, 1st base, 2nd base, 3rd base, short stop, right field, center field, left field.  Sometimes the boys will pick out an extra pitcher as a “reliever” or an extra batter for a Designated Hitter.  That’s optional.

Once each kid has their nine players, they prep for the game.  Flip a coin to see who is the home team.  The home team will pitch first.  They have created paper bases and a paper pitching mound.  The cards for the home team are placed on the field in the spots they are filling.  For example, put the first baseman’s card next to first base.

The away team makes their batting lineup.

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

Once the defensive players have been placed in the correct spots and the batters are ready, it’s time to start the game.  Grab the two dice and the sheet that shows the plays you can roll.

Roll the dice and add them together.  In this example, a 4 was rolled.  That means the batter gets a single.  Use the dice as the ball and the batter “hits” the dice and heads to first base.

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

Play until one team gets 3 outs.  Then switch.

It’s amazing how many times the boys have adjusted which play is assigned to each sum of the dice.  They quickly discovered that the rare plays in baseball, like a triple, should have a sum that doesn’t show up that often.

More common plays, like a single or an out, correlate to a sum that will appear more often.  Sounds like a lesson in probability, right?  I am pretty sure they didn’t think they were doing math problems and playing baseball at the same time, but they were!

My kids are baseball players.  When they play this game, they REALLY act it out. In fact, when the youngest (who is 5) wanted to play the older two instructed him he had to act it out really well to be able to play.  If your player makes a diving catch, you pick up that card and make it look real!  Not only do they line up their batters in a strategic order, theyalso have an on-deck circle.

To play with LEGOS, the rules are the same.  Pick out nine of your favorite LEGO dudes along with various weapons that can be used as bats (light sabers, axes, swords).


lego baseball | sneaky math fun

Set out LEGO bases and a pitching mound.

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

My kids have also created “fans” who are watching the game.

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

Check out the pitcher. . . lego baseball | sneaky math fun


. . . and the batter getting ready to use his light saber!

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

They use the scoreboard from their box of Baseball Guys.

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

And don’t forget the cameraman!

lego baseball | sneaky math fun


These are just two ways to play the game.  Your kids might want to adjust the value of the dice after they play a few times.

No matter how you play, LEGOS + Baseball=fun!

Want a printable version of rules and score sheet?

Lego Baseball Rules | sneaky, creative math fun by teach mama

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Heather and Seth and Matthew for sharing!

Heather Kauffman is the mother of three boys and is a former elementary & Gifted/ Talented teacher. She’s active in her kids’ school, teaches Sunday School, loves reading, and she basically chases her three Wii-loving, Star Wars and Lego-playing, baseball and basketball-playing, pool-crazed boys around all year long.


Looking for more super-fun, sneaky math activities?

Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards:

Or check out the following math-happy posts:

fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

math, writing, STEM apps for kids: tabletop surprises

tabletop surprises week seven

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We’re close to the finish line here, and my heart is heavy.tabletop surprises week six c

Though my own work is piling up by the second, the fun I’ve had with the kids this summer makes it well worth drowning in my ole inbox, missing a boatload of deadlines, and feeling like I am going to collapse by 7pm each night. 

We’re on week six of our tabletop surprises, our simple ways of setting Maddy, Owen, and Cora up for fun on their own time–and really I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well most of it has worked. And how not well some of it has worked.


This week, we rocked it out with some serious math and writing fun and a few new-for-us STEM apps for kids. It was a good mix of techy and non-techy, creative and critical thinking, new and old.

Personally, this was my favorite week, but two total days were pretty much bombs for the kids.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Math, Writing, & STEM Apps for Kids– Tabletop Surprises:

math, writing, STEM apps for kids: tabletop surprises

  • Create and Play Freely with Craft Sticks: Really. So free-bird and open, the sky was the limit here.

I dumped out large colored craft sticks, regular-sized craft sticks, and grooved craft sticks on the table, and that was it.

popsicle spopsicle sticks tabletop surprises - 2ticks tabletop surprises - 2

Sometimes someone would walk by the table and make a tower with the grooved craft sticks with a roof out of the other ones, and sometimes they’d use the craft sticks as poker for the dirt and grass out front.

Free and fun. That’s all we were shooting for.


tabletop surprises day math games

  • Make Your Own Math Games: This was based on a real oldie but goodie.

When the kids were tiny, we made a handful of personalized board games for them: Cora’s Color Game, Owen’s Beginning Sound Game, Cora’s Fancy Game, and more.

They always felt extra-special when I created a game just for them–and they’d never in a million years know how easy it was for me.


make your own math game tabletop surprises - 4

make your own math game tabletop surprises - 4


Depending on what they needed some support with (articulation, phonemic awareness, reading, basics, you name it) along with what they were interested in (Cars, princesses, jewels, etc.), you can create a game for nearly every person in the universe.

My little forumla:

blank board + a current challenge + a favorite bling or embellishment + cool die or spinner + fun pawns = BIG WIN for kids

I love the size of the blank boards you can pick up at Johnnie’s Math Page (for free!) or you can grab Cora’s blank heart board if you’d like (also for free!).

How do you play these simple games?

  1. Roll the die (I wrote 1, 2, and 3 on the back of a foam cube and called it a day).  I wanted the kids to roll low numbers so they’d have to do more problems vs roll high and have to do only one or two).
  2. Move your pawn that many spaces.
  3. Do the math problem in your head. If you get it correct, you move forward; if you don’t, you stay put until your next turn.

Easy and fun. Keep it light–and give kids all the time they need for do-overs!


tabletop surprises day fun with foamies cover

  • Fun With Foamies: Much like I’ve done with other art projects, I simply laid out blank paper and several containers of Foamie stickers.

That’s it.

I put out colored construction paper, markers, and Foamies of every shape and size that I could find: sports foamies, flowers and hearts, holiday foamies, Noah’s Ark foamies, the list goes on.

fun with foamies


Cora got right to work on a card for her Grandma and Grandpa, and Maddy just kind of shimmied on by.

This activity did not go over well with Owen or Maddy; however, Cora loved, loved, loved it. And I’m not sure why but I do know that everyone has different tastebuds so we live and learn. And that’s the beauty of tabletop surprises! Tomorrow’s a new day.


fun with foamies

fun with foamies


tabletop surprises day stem celebration cover

  • New-for-Us STEM iPad Apps: Loved this one, and so did the kids.

I stumbled across a rockstar pin from my friends at Cool Mom TechThe best FREE Educational Apps for Kids–the Back to School Tech Guide 2013 which inspired this activity: Apps. New ones. Bam.

I decided to create a folder on our iPads just for today’s Tabletop Surprise Apps and I labeled it as such. That way, I could tell them that they were free to use any of the new apps in the Tabletop Surprise Folder, and they’d know exactly what I was talking about.


new ipad apps tabletop surprise


new ipad apps tabletop surprise


new ipad apps tabletop surprise


Sticking with STEM apps (science, technology, engineering, and math), I chose BrainPOP Featured Movie and BrainPop Jr Movie of the Week (from Cool Mom Tech’s recommendations). I also added the Disney Planes Adventure Album, tangram, ArithFit, and Wings: motion math.

We’re still trying them out, but at this point, they seem to be a hit with Maddy, Owen, and Cora.



tabletop surprises day baby photos

  • Writing About Baby Photos: This was a throwback from last summer’s Everyday Journal.

Choose a picture from one of your baby albums. Describe you in the photo. What are you wearing? What expression is on your face? What are you doing?

Not a whole lot of analyzing or creative thinking but more of a descriptive piece. And because we had been looking at baby albums last week and they loved it, I thought for sure they’d love it this week.

But they didn’t. Not a huge hit AT. ALL.

I poked and prodded, but no bites. Okay, so we move on.


The last week of our tabletop surprises will be Kid Planned.  Woot.

So the last week is upon us, and what I decided to do is give Maddy, Owen, and Cora the reins. So I created this quick and easy planning sheet, and I handed it over to the kids.

Tabletop Surprises Planning Sheet by teach mama


I said, Okay, you guys definitely loved some of our Tabletop Surprises, and others, well. . . they were not a big hit. I could never tell which you’d love and which you wouldn’t so this last week? YOU get to plan. You, together, plan and organize the week’s worth of Tabletop Suprises, and lucky you, you’ll be able to do pretty much whatever you think will work best, within reason of course.

So they got to work.

And I’ll get up early, just like I always do, and I will follow their plan. And I bet I’ll know who will learn the most this week. . .

And that’s it. Simple, fun. Independent learning all the way.


Stay on top of the Tabletop Surprises by checking out the past few weeks if you’ve missed them:


fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

tabletop surprises: simple, summer learning fun

tabletop surprises week one | ideas for free exploration and play each day of the week

post contains affiliate links


tabletop surprises week one


Summer is kicking us hard over here.

Actually, swim and dive are kicking us hard over here, like always.  And at five weeks in, between meets, practices, relays, pep rallies, and team events, our family has run a bigtime marathon.

So our Smart Summer Calendar and daily plan have morphed into something that is really, truly working out well for us: Tabletop Surprises.

Tabletop Surprises? Easy.

On their own time.  On my own time.

Creative learning and crafting opportunities for the kids on the craft room table.

Opportunities for open-ended play and learning–when it works best for them.

For now? It’s rocking.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Tabletop Surprises–Simple, Learning Fun:tabletop surprises button

What are Tabletop Surprises? If you follow me on Instagram, you’d know what I’m talking about because each day I’ve shared a quick photo of each day’s surprise each day of the week.

Tabletop Surprises are fun learning or creative thinking opportunities for the kids on our craft room table. Just sitting there.

Waiting for someone to come along and try ’em out.

How to I get the kids to actually sit down and do the activities?  A few ways:

1. The activities are fun and they want to do them;

2. At any given time, on any given day, I have been known to toss a few gems into the gem jars of people who have been spotted doing the activity. Not every day, but some days.

3.  I’ll join them. Kids–I truly believe–like to hang out with their parents. Especially if their parents are kinda cool or funny or at least act like they’re cool or funny. I like to hang out with my kids, so when they sit, if I can, I’ll join them.

Tabletop Surprises for this week:  Here we go. . . 

magnetic words

magnetic poetry tabletop surprise


That’s it. I started with a funny sentence on each tray, and I let the kids take it from there.

They liked it. Tried to sneak in a little potty talk, but lucky for us the set doesn’t really lend itself to such.

focus of this activity: creative thinking, reading, speaking


tabletop surprises shape blocks pattern cards

shape pattern cards

I put the cards out on the table, threw some shapes into three separate containers to avoid grabbing and arguing, and crossed my fingers. Owen hit the table without asking me to play Wii, and he sat and worked until breakfast. Win!

focus: geometry, critical thinking, fine motor skills


tabletop surprises perler beads cover

tabletop surprises perler beads

tabletop surprises perler beads

Kids can create patterns, letters, words, you name it, by placing the beads on the small pegs. When the creation is complete, you iron it to melt them together. Once it’s cool, it pops off of the pegboard and you have a little masterpiece.

focus: fine motor, patterning, creative thinking


tabletop surprises mazes

  • Mazes: I have fallen head over heels for KrazyDad and his amazing math site. Serious gold mine of printable puzzles, mazes, and so much more, it’s insanity.

All I did for today was dive into the maze area of his site, and I printed out mazes of varying difficulty.  I went for Easy, Intermediate, Challenging, and

Tough, and they all rocked.

tabletop surprises mazes

tabletop surprises mazes

Second day in a row that the O-Man chose unplugged fun vs the siren call of his Wii.

focus: critical thinking, fine motor, problem-solving


tabletop surprises magnets

tabletop surprises magnets

  • Magnets, Pipecleaners, & Paperclips: Easy, easy, easy. Magnets are so fun, and my kids have loved them forever and ever.

I used the disc magnets from way back when we made Bottle cap Ornaments, glass vase and some empty glass jars from the recycle box, colored paper clips, and pipe cleaners.

tabletop surprises magnets cover

tabletop surprises magnets cover

I cut the pipe cleaners into various sizes and threw them in the bottom of the glasses. I added some paper clips and scattered the magnets. Done. Invitation to explore.

Kids? Loved it.

focus: science, fine motor, critical thinking


Really? That’s it. So fun, so easy.

Next week we’ve got some really cool ideas up our sleeve for Tabletop Surprises.  Gotta love summer, and as the kids are yearning for more independence, I think this is the recipe for success.

Need some supplies for your own Tabletop Surprises? Click below:


fyi: affiliate links are included

summer fun cards of 2013

summer fun cards 2013

summer fun cards 2013 Every year for the last few years, we’ve rocked out our Summer Fun Cards in the first few weeks of the summer.

We choose an afternoon, we gather markers and index cards, and we brainstorm and write down everything fun we want to do during the long summer months.  It’s all about summer and fun and we throw our ideas onto little index cards.

Summer. Fun. Cards.

Our refreshments of choice usually involve freeze-pops or ice-cream, and our attire is usually swimsuits or tank tops.

We talk about summers past, we talk about what we loved and what we wished; we talk about what we want to do and what we absolutely don’t want to do.

It’s fun.

This year, in order to ensure that we don’t miss a beat, we changed things up just slightly.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Summer Fun Cards, 2013: In years past, we’ve created the cards, punched a hole in the corner, and hung them on our railing right smack dab in the middle of our house. Like this:

summer fun cards

Or like this:

summer fun cards

This year, we’ve mixed things up a bit thanks to inspiration from my smart friend Heather and her boys.  We added something and moved locations.

We added a small box on each card, reserved for a checkmark once the fun event is completed.

summer fun cards

Maddy’s thinking Great Wolf Lodge. . .

summer fun cards

. . . and Cora’s got Disney World on her mind.  Way to dream big, ladies!

summer fun cards

visit Dutch Wonderland, eat crabs, eat ice-cream, and pick strawberries

And we moved the cards to our door leading into the garage—a door we open and close any time we leave the house.  That way, there’s no missing our cards and no escape from our summertime fun.

This year we also tried to add a box to each card, but some missed the box.

summer fun cards

Owen’s pretty straightforward and illustrates sparingly. . .

summer fun cards

. . . but he does have high hopes for our birds.

Up on the door they went.

Ready to check off as we go!

What did we add this year?

  • pick strawberries
  • pick blueberries
  • go to Cold Stone
  • go to Jimmy Cone (we love sweets)
  • go mini golfing
  • camp out back
  • teach the birds to talk
  • go to Disney World
  • go to Great Wolf Lodge
  • go to Dutch Wonderland
  • go to a baseball game

summer fun cards 2013

 summer fun cards 2013

We also added:

  • swim in at least two different pools
  • eat crabs
  • catch lightening bugs
  • eat s’mores
  • go to the pool
  • go to Nanny & Pap’s
  • go fishing
  • Wii party
  • have a yes day
  • try kayaking or boating
  • have a magic show

And that’s it! Just a little variation from Summer Fun Cards 2012, Summer Fun Cards 2011, and Summer Fun Cards 2010.  

Summer Fun Cards have become a tradition–a simple one!–that we all really enjoy and appreciate. And it’s never too late! All you need are a few ideas, a few cards, and a few weeks of summer. Let the fun begin!

For me, it’s not a contest to fill our summer with nonstop activities. Summer Fun Cards help me to move through the days more intentionally–that’s all. And I know that we only have so many summers with our kids under our roofs as kids, that I really want to make the most of it while I can.

Is it easy? No. Do I want to punk out and do nothing some days? Absolutely. And we do. Believe me.

These are just ideas–and it’s fun to dream, right?

driveway shuffleboard math

driveway shuffleboard math

post contains affiliate links


driveway shuffleboard math | teachmama.com


It’s so funny how sometimes, sneaky learning shows up organically–completely unexpectedly–in our day.

Driveway Shuffleboard Math is no exception.

We were out front, enjoying a brief break in the rain, when Owen pulled out a fun bouncy ball.  I was trying to sweep the sidewalk and had lazily left our broom resting against the house while I got the mail.

Maddy and Cora were using chalk on the walkway.

Owen brought the broom to the ball and shuffled it down the driveway, trying to aim the ball so that it hit me as I walked up with the mail.

Ten points for me if I get you, Mom!

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Driveway Shuffleboard Math: And so it was born from my son trying to hit me with the ball.

Not so much to injure me as much as scoot the ball my way, like a pinball machine. Or shuffleboard.

So we’ve called it Driveway Shuffleboard, and here’s how it goes:

1. Grab a ball, broom, and chalk.

driveway shuffleboard

driveway shuffleboard


We used our fun Sunny Patch ball from Melissa & Doug which I just love because it’s cute and which the kids love because it reminds them of a cooler version of their P.E. balls at school.  No joke they really say that.

We used our hose to keep the ball still until we were ready, but depending on the slope of your driveway, you may not need one.

The great thing about Driveway Shuffleboard is that you can make it work for you.

  • Don’t have a driveway? Play on the sidewalk.
  • Don’t have a big broom? Kick or push the ball.
  • Don’t have a super outdoor ball? Use a ping pong ball.

Easy. Quick. Like learning on the fly should be.

driveway shuffleboard

driveway shuffleboard

2.  Draw your point value at the bottom of driveway.

We used multiples of five so that it was easier for adding scores, but you could use any numbers that work for you.

driveway shuffleboard

3. Play!

We really just took turns shuffling the ball down the driveway, trying to reach the higher points on the edges–20!

There’s no wrong way to do it–really, there isn’t.

driveway shuffleboard

driveway shuffleboard

4.  Keep score.

We do this differently every time we play–sometimes in teams, sometimes individually. Some days we add the scores as we go, and other times we add them at the end.

We usually play until we run out of room for the scoreboard. That’s how hardcore we are.

driveway shuffleboard

That’s it. Totally low-key. Totally fun.

Try it in other ways, too:

  • use 100’s and make your scores really, really high (kids LOVE it!)
  • make one column a *CRAZY* one that requires kids to dance, sing, or cartwheel if they roll onto it
  • make them ALL crazy ones and don’t keep score

Many ways to play. The important thing? You’re together, the kids are having fun, no one’s arguing, and they’re learning a little along the way.

Happy summertime learning!


fyi: Though I am a Melissa & Doug Blog Ambassador, this is an unsponsored post. I just really dig their stuff. Period. 

Affiliate links are included in this post

how to host a summer reading book swap event

summer reading book swap | teachmama.com

summer reading book swap Summer is almost in full swing, and for our family, there’s no better way to begin our summer fun than with a Summer Reading Kick-Off Party!

Each year, we invite a few friends over and turn it into an easy Backyard Book Swap.

It’s a great way to ease into summer and to remind kids that they still have to keep their brains moving over the long, hot months.

We always make it super-casual, and we always keep it fun.  This year, we kept it even more simple by having Maddy, Owen, and Cora walk home with some swim and dive buddies, books in hand, ready to swap.

The cool thing is that anyone can host a Summer Reading Book Swap.  And the par-tay can be done in the backyard, basement, or playroom. It can be in the beginning of the summer, middle, or even the end of summer–morning, afternoon, or evening.

All you need are some eager friends and a few books.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Host a Summer Reading Book Swap: In my opinion, for any get-together, you only need a few necessities: food & fun people. That’s it.

But for the Book Swap, you’ll need a few books, of course!

We rarely send out formal invites–more of a quick email or phone call thing for us–but if you’d like, you can use the super-cute Summer Reading Book Swap invites below:

summer reading book swap invite

You can make your Book Swap a potluck where everyone brings something to share, or you can do what we did–provide snacks.

Our pals packed the main courses of their lunches (a sandwich or bagel) and we had fruit, veggies, chips, and drinks to share. And of course, we had freeze-pops for dessert!

summer reading book swap

Decorations? Easy. Big posters.

I’m a huge fan of graffiti walls, so we did what we could. A few posters where kids could write down their favorite books and characters. That’s it!

summer reading book swap

summer reading book swap

Kids ate lunch when they first got here, because hungry kids post-swim practice are no fun for Book Swaps!  So with full bellies, we were ready to move into the swap.

How do eleven kids actually swap without having the event turn into a big, awful brawl?

They draw straws!

summer reading book swap

 I cut a bunch of straws in varying lengths. Everyone picked one, and I told them to hide it once it was picked. Keep the size a secret.

Then I said, Okay, guys, we have to figure out who has the shortest and who has the longest and everything in between. So take a few minutes, figure out who has what and put yourselves into perfect straw-size order. When you’re finished, tell me by clapping three times together.

They were excited about it and got rolling right away–it’s a fun activity for a big bunch of kids and cool to see who steps up to organize.

summer reading book swap

summer reading book swap

summer reading book swap collage

It was a lot of fun.

Once the kids put themselves in order from smallest straw to tallest, I gave each child a sticker with a number 1-10.

Then I reminded them about how to choose “just right” books, and we talked about what it means to choose a book that “fits” you.

summer reading book swap collage

our ‘best fit’ bookmarks will be great reminders for the kids as they read

Then I called numbers 1, 2, and 3 up to choose their first book.

After the first group, numbers 4, 5, and 6 went up.

Finally, 7, 8, 9, and 10 hit the table to choose books.

We went through the groups a few times so that each child could grab 3-5 books, and if they really wanted another, after everyone went, they could grab another.

It worked out great.

summer reading challenge scholastic

summer reading challenge scholastic

Once everyone was settled with books, we chatted about the Scholastic Summer Challenge. My friends from Scholastic sent along some fun Summer Challenge goodies–books, bookmarks, pins, stickers, and tattoos!–so the kids had seen news of the Challenge and were curious.

Many kiddos had already grabbed a bunch of the Summer Challenge bookmarks and shoved them into each of their ‘new’ books.  I showed them that the bookmarks explained a little bit about the Summer Challenge and included a website where participants could actually track their time reading.

I also told them: scholastic summer challenge

  • The Scholastic Summer Challenge is a fun summer reading initiative that really makes it easy and fun for families to read. 
  • Scholastic is doing what they can to help kids prevent the summer slide–when kids forget what they learn during the school year–and to help kids read at least 11 books this summer–11 is the ‘magic number’ people think kids should read over the summer, but we know it should be more.
  • If you log your minutes read on the Scholastic Reading Timer, you can help beat Scholastic’s World Record from 2012 of over 95 million minutes read. Some schools are even doing it together and the winning school will get a visit from the author of Captain Underpants!
  • The Challenge runs from May 6th- September 6th, so there’s still a LOT of time to get involved!
  • Kids can log their minutes read each day and win prizes!

I showed them the Reading Timer on the iPad, and after our guests left, I registered Maddy, Owen, and Cora for this year’s Challenge. It only takes a few minutes to sign them up, and I know they’ll love logging their minutes. I tied their time to their school–so they’ll also love watching that time change throughout the summer.

Knowing how close we keep our iPads and phones, I know that updating the times will take no time at all. Cool incentive for our tech-savvy kiddos, too, to be able to log on and log time after they read.

And that’s it! Just a fun–hot!–Summer Reading Book Swap made so much more fun with great kids and a fab program.

Our summer plan:

What do you think? How do you kick off summer reading with your kids? Let me know in the comments!

fyi: Many thanks to Scholastic for sharing some sweet summer reading goodies with us.  This is an unsponsored post, written only as an honest parent and educator who is grateful and proud to work with such a great company as a writer for the Scholastic Parents Raise a Reader blog.

smart summer fun ideas: 2013 calendar

smart summer fun ideas: 2013 calendar

teachmama smart summer Hard to believe that in just a few days my kids will no longer be third, first, and Kindergartners and will instead be fourth, second, and first graders!


Maddy wasn’t even in Kindergarten when I started this blog, and now she’s in fourth grade. Oh my gosh time is flying.

We will not let summer zip by us this year.  No way, no how.

Instead we will control the speed with which we move by making sure we fit every single fun thing in that we want, from the first ear of corn we eat to the last lightening bug we catch. We’re doing it.

And so can you.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Smart Summer Fun Ideas — 2013 Calendar: I shared our Smart Summer Calendar last year about this time, and it worked great for us.

I liked the flexibility it gave us because we never had specific, must-do activities each day; rather, it allowed for collaboration and weekly planning which worked better for our family overall.


teach mama’s Smart Summer Cal 2013 by teach mama


And though the big picture idea is one thing, it also helps for us to have a general daily plan–an everyday (or almost everyday) schedule even for summertime. Otherwise, it’ll all get nuts.  Kids thrive on patterns–and really? Adults do, too.

Here’s our general, and I mean general, daily plan for summer.  It will change big come the end of July, when the kids’ swim and dive seasons end:

Teachmama Smart Summer Daily Plan 2013 by teach mama


Really, until I share our (eeeeee!) totally exciting plan for summer reading, that’s it.

We’ll be making our summer work for us–throwing in everything fun we love, thanks to our soon-to-be-made Summer Fun Cards, the we teach summer learning eBook, our Everyday Journal cards, Everyday Math ideas, and more.

Stay tuned!

Until then, if you have a favorite summer learning resource, please do share it! We had an awesome twitter event this week, all focused on summer learning. I cannot wait to share the resources and our findings!

If you can’t wait (and I don’t blame you!) do check our pinterest board for summer cool & fun for kids or the summer learning ideas 2013 board!

5 super-fun ways to learn math facts

fun ways to practice math facts

fun ways to practice math facts It’s actually hard for me to type this title after years and years and years of math drills that made my elementary-school head want to explode.

Can learning math facts be fun? Is it possible that learning these facts can actually be ‘super-fun’?

That may still be debatable.

But what these five ways do is mix up the ole flashing of the flashcards and trick out the rote learning of these guys.  Learning math facts is actually kinda fun.

Scratch that. It’s fun. Pretty darn fun.

Instead we use some movement, some flashlights, and some technology to up the fun factor.

And honestly? That may have been enough to move from totally awful to kinda fun for this gal way back when.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 5 Super-Fun Ways to Learn Math Facts: Like I said, super-fun is up for discussion but there is certainly some fun to be had with these math fact practices.

Let’s try it.

1.  Play with dice Really. Toss the flash cards and practice adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing using the numbers you roll on dice.

2.  Flashlight math.  Use the flashcards and flip two cards at a time. Kids shine a flashlight on the one they know and answer that one. Simple. Don’t have a flashlight? Make a math wand.  Bumblebee wand, perhaps? Use a stick or a light saber. Anything that works for your kid.

3.  Use electronics. We love My Math Flash Cards App on the iPad and Math Practice Flashcards on my android phone.  There are a gazillion flash card apps out there. I’m sure any would do the trick, and if you have five minutes and your kid says, ‘Can I play a game on your phoooooone?’ Say ‘Why yes you may! I’m so very glad you asked. . .

4.  Write the answer.  Or paint the answer.  Water on cement or chalk on sidewalk or window crayon on window.  One person flashes the cards and the other guy writes.

5.  Math bingo Again, toss the flashers and play Math Bingo as a way to learn and practice these numbers.

Five of many more cool ways, my friends, but this is just a start.

math dice game

Okay a few more:

  • Answer races: Stand on one side of the room and make kids run to the other side of the room to write the answer on a long piece of roll paper on the floor or taped to the wall.
  • Go crazy. You flip the card and say it in one voice and the child says the answer in the same kind of voice (whisper, grumble, shout, squeaky, princess, etc.).
  • Skype or Facetime with family members and have them flash the cards and the kids say the answers.
  • Check out the Multiplication Post where we shared all of the things Maddy was doing.
  • Play Strike it Out to practice those facts and critical thinking.
  • Try Magic Triangles to really get the fun flowing.
  • Get nuts and try any one of these 3 hands-on math games.

As in anything  you do with kids, keep it light, keep the pressure off, and make it fun. As soon as your child starts reaching a frustration level, stop.

Need the cards? Desperate for some mini’s?

Here they are:

multiplication facts

Consider starting with one fact family or number set at a time.  And print the cards on brightly colored card stock so they last longer and look nicer.

Most of all? Have a super-fun time.


fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

3 all-time best games to play with sight words

3 all-time best games to play with sight words

how to play games with sight wordsWhat games do you play with sight words?

Sight words are words that we all need to be able to read quickly and automatically in order to be strong readers, and the more we allow emerging readers to interact with these words, the better!

There are tons of hands-on ways to play with sight words, but these three games are total winners in our family’s book.  We’ve played them year in and year out with sight words so that Maddy, Owen, and Cora learn these little–but important!–words.

And the great thing? Play them with spelling words, vocabulary words, any words your kids need to learn and know.  Mix it up and play it with numbers and numerals. Bam.

But wait. How do you know which list of sight words to use?

Where do you get the cards that you need in order to play these three games?

Glad you asked.  It’s all right here.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 3 All-Time Best Games to Play with Sight Words:  Here are three fun and easy games that get your kids playing with–and learning—these important little words.

3 of the All-Time Best Games to Play with Sight Words



So there are just three of my kids’ all-time favorite ways to play with sight words.

But where are the words themselves?

In order to pick up some freebie word cards for playing sight word games, click on the photo of the post to grab some word cards:


go fish--sight words

Go Fish! A fish out of water–games for playing sight words

sight word memory

Sight Word Memory  –All of the word cards are here, including ABC cards

wordo sight words

WORDO! A game for word-learning

Wait. Sight words. High frequency words. Early emergent words, fluency words. Word wall words.

What in the world is the difference?

Essentially, they’re all focusing on words that all readers must know, and commit to memory, in order to be the best readers they can be. That’s it. Many school districts and counties offer their own specific list, or maybe they go with the Dolche or Fry list. The Dolche list is older, the Fry list is more updated.

Word Walls? What? Word Walls are walls in a classroom used as a tool to help teach young readers new words.  Word Walls are just that—words filled with words! Words are placed in alphabetical order and are introduced to children throughout the year, and after introduction, the child needs to lean and know the word.  These words include word family words (-at, fat, cat, mat, etc) and high-frequency words, many of which are sight words.

Need or want more on word wall words?

Need or want more on sight words?

The main thing?  Don’t sweat it. Your kids will learn these words eventually–and the best way to ensure that is to read early–and often!

And okay. . . play some games with sight words as well.  Questions? Let me have ’em!  I’m happy to help!

alphabet and reading on the road

alphabet and reading on the road

alphabet and reading on the roadThe kids and I spent the weekend in Pennsylvania, showering my baby sister and her husband with love for their soon-to-be baby boy.

Though we experienced a little more excitement than we had planned (more on that later!), our trip back to Maryland was totally uneventful–and we spent the 3 1/2 hour ride unplugged, chatting, kids dozing, and playing some old school roadtrip games.

We brought back some oldies but goodies and did a wee bit o’ alphabet playing and reading on the road.

Silly stuff that got Maddy, Owen, and Cora’s brains moving and eyes hunting for letters, words, numbers, and more.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Alphabet and Reading on the Road: This was a simple throwback games with a bit of a new twist.

Our goal was to find the whole alphabet, similar to the days of our Alphabet Hunt on the road, but this time when we found a letter, the person who found it had to call out the word it was a part of.

So our focus wasn’t to find a word that began with each letter of the alphabet.  Rather, it was to locate each letter of the alphabet on the environmental print we encountered on the road–street signs, billboards, trucks, buildings, etc–and to read the word in which that letter was located.

And the really funny part is that between Pennsylvania and Maryland, there are a whole lot of towns, roads, highways, and the like with names that are heavily influenced by its rich Native American history.  We encountered lots of words that were really tough to pronounce, but they forced everyone–each one of us!–to slow down and do some serious stretching of the words.

alphabet and reading on the road

Sure, along the way we heard a lot of:

  • E! I see an ‘E’ and it’s in ‘Allentown!’
  • Got it! Found the ‘O’ in ‘Road’!
  • Ooooh, I found a fancy ‘L’ and it’s in ‘Cab-el-las’ –Cabellas!
  • Oh my gosh! Double ‘X’ in ‘next exit’! Doubles!!

But there was also a lot of

  • Uh, there’s an ‘M’ and it’s in uh. .  .Kroomsvale. No, Krums. Krums-ville. Krumsville. I think that’s it.
  • Hey! I found an ‘R’ and it’s Len- Lenhart-Lenharts-Lenhartsville! Lenhartsville!

It was cool–and it was a really fun ‘next step’ for the alphabet hunts we’ve done while on the road.

What I loved most was the kids’ excitement over finding letters in the environment–we were really, truly playing with environmental print but also using it for some reading work as well.   There were no winners.  There were no losers. We were just working together, on the hunt for the alphabet and reading along the way.

Though we played about three rounds, we took breaks in between for snacks or restroom stops.  And each time, they’d be all in it to win it–to find every last letter. I think we skipped ‘Q’ the second time around, but who’s really keeping track?

Jennifer Prior and Maureen Gerard, in Environmental Print in the Classroom: Meaningful Connections for Learning to Read, (2004, International Reading Association) cite the importance of environmental print in early literacy education. Though their research and resources are more directed toward using environmental print in classrooms, their findings hold true for at-home learning.  The authors state:

Our research suggests that the adult is the key element to effectively using environmental print to teach beginning reading skills. When an adult draws attention to the letters and sounds in environmental print words, children are more likely to transfer this knowledge to decontextualized print—text without color and graphics.

I truly believe that the adult who first brings environmental print into focus for kiddos–at home or on the road–should be the parent.  It’s all about creating word conscious kids, kids who love, appreciate, and celebrate language, appreciate it, right?  

So let’s get on the alphabet hunt–and start reading along with it!


huge thanks to the following for points of reference:

Prior, J., & Gerard, M.R. (2004). Implementing an Environmental Print Curriculum. In Environmental Print in the Classroom (pp. 25-74). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.