valentine’s day class party ideas, 2.0

valentine's day class party ideas, 2.0 | fun ideas to get groups of kids moving and having fun | minute to win it games | free printables | teachmama.com

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

 

For many years now I’ve been roped into being Room Parent for my kids’ classes, and though I do love the opportunity to meet other families from the school and to get to know the kids in the class, it’s a lot of work.

More than once I’ve wished that there was a secret site that gave me all of the Valentine’s Day class party ideas I needed–the letters to send, the snacks to serve, crafts to make and the games to play.

But knowing that such a thing doesn’t exist and that each class party is different and unique, I am just sharing the love.

Whatever I’m doing as Room Parent, I’m sharing my own, gathered ’round the world Valentine’s Day class party ideas. There you have it.

I shared How to have a Rockstar Valentine’s Day class party, and now we’re back at it again.  2.0, man. 2.0.

Grab what works for you, and leave what doesn’t.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Valentine’s Day Class Party Ideas, 2.0:

The real secret to success with these parties to to keep the atmosphere light and to make sure you have a handful of awesome helpers on board.

  • Parent Letter: About three weeks before the class party, chat with the teacher and ask:
    • What is the timeframe for the party?
    • Is there anything special you’d like for us to do? 
    • Do you want the kids to address each Valentine or keep them nameless?  (Nameless is often better for younger kids and allows for easier, quicker distribution.)
    • What are the food restrictions for the students? 
    • Do you know of anything that has really worked well in the past that you would recommend repeating? 

Then draft a Parent Letter (you can definitely model yours after the one I’ve used here: valentines day class party letter BLANK).  Head into school and make copies, and put one in each child’s cubby or take-home folder.

valentines day class party  | teachmama.com

If the teacher suggests that Valentines be addressed to recipients, then be sure to include a copy of the class list.

  • Prepare! Pow-wow with your Co-Room Parents or do a little research to figure out what will work for your party.

Make a shopping list and split the job up.   I usually like collecting money from other parents and then having the Room Parents purchase the items we need. Other people like to have the job split up: one parent brings cupcakes, another juice boxes, another small prizes, etc.

valentine's day class party plan  teachmama.com

  • Create the Plan: I love having the party plan out so that all of the helper parents and the teacher knows what’s going on for the event. That way, everyone’s on board.

Here’s a sample of our party plan. Feel free to use and modify for your own rockin class party: valentine party plan 2014.  Want it in word? valentine party plan 2014 — word doc

  • Rock. The. Party.

Here’s what’s on our schedule this year:

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

This heart-happy game can be adapted for nearly any reading level, and I love how it gets kids engaged, reading, and responding.

 

valentines day class party ideas  craft  teachmama.com

    • Stained Glass Hearts:  The kids will make these easy, super-cute, no-glue crafts which are really pretty.

Simple, sweet crafts that look so pretty in wintertime windows, no matter where you are.

valentines day class party ideas  guess the word  teachmama.com

    • Valentine Guess the Word: While they’re crafting, they can play Guess the Word.  We’ve played it for our other parties, and the kids really seem to enjoy it.

 

    • Valentine Card Delivery and Snack!  The kids’ favorite part! Break the class in half.  Let one half deliver their Valentines, while the other eats, and then have them switch.

Then give the kids some time to read their Valentines!

hint: Have the plates of food ready and set them in front of each student. It makes things move a lot more smoothly!

valentines day class party ideas  groups teachmama.com

    • Small-Group Minute-to-Win-it Games:  We’ll break the kids into three groups by having them pick a heart foam sticker out of a bag. Three groups: white hearts, red hearts, and pink hearts.  That way, we’ll have about 6-8 kids in each group.  A bit easier to manage.

We are not keeping score here with our games. It’d be too hectic, and the focus is fun, not big wins.

We’ll encourage each child to do his or her best. At the end, if everyone works hard, everyone grabs a prize!

Each ‘game station’ will host two Minute-to-Win-It games.  At the first rotation, every student will receive a small Valentine goodie bag to keep candy and supplies.

valentines day class party ideas marshmallow race teachmama.com

    • Marshmallow Race:  Simple. You can play this several ways.

1. Break the group in half and draw a line in the middle of the table. Each side uses inexpensive plastic straws to try to blow the marshmallows to the other side of the line. The team with the most after one minute wins.

2.  Each person plays individually and has one minute to blow a single marshmallow from one side of the table to the other. The person with the most at the end wins.

Straws and marshmallows, and a clean table–that’s all you need.

valentines day class party ideas marshmallow toss teachmama.com

    •  Marshmallow Toss:  Students partner up and stand across from each other, about 2-4 feet apart.  One person has a handful of marshmallows and the other has a small paper cup. Students have one minute to toss as many marshmallows into the cup as possible.

After one minute, the throwers catch and the catchers throw.

The winning team is the one with the most marshmallows in the cup!

valentines day class party ideas heart towers teachmama.com

    • Heart Towers: Students have one minute to stack as many conversation hearts as they can. It’s harder than you may think!

The winner is the person who has the highest stack after one minute.

valentines day class party ideas bracelets teachmama.com

    • One-Handed Bracelets: One minute to thread as many fruit loops onto a pipe cleaner as possible.

And then–here’s the clincher–the player has to make that pipe cleaner into a braclet. Using one hand.  So funny!

valentines day class party ideas cookie face teachmama.com

    • Cookie Face: Players have a cookie on their foreheads and have one minute to move that cookie from their forehead and into their mouth.

So hard. And so, so funny to watch!

The winner is the player who moves the most cookies from forehead to mouth in one minute’s time!

valentines day class party ideas heart chopstick race teachmama.com

    • Heart Chopstick Race:  An oldie for Valentine’s Day class parties but definitely a goodie.

Players work individually to move as many conversation hearts from a central bowl into their own plastic cups, using only a pair of chopsticks.  It’s not easy, and very quickly you’ll see which students use chopsticks on a regular basis.

 

valentines day class party ideas heart mitten race teachmama.com

    • Mitten Race: Kids totally love this game.

Wearing a pair of adult ski mittens, players try to unwrap a piece of candy. Small candies with tight wrappers, like Starburst or Tootsie Rolls are especially hard.

You can play this game with the kids in two lines, and as each child unwraps the candy he or she pops it in his or her mouth and passes on the mittens, going down the line, or you can play individually.  Each child wears a pair of mittens and the winner is the player who unwraps the most candy in one minute.

valentines day class party ideas heart puzzle race teachmama.com

 

    • Puzzle Race: I love the simplicity of this and kids love to do ‘speedy puzzles’ together.

These are really just six or seven Valentine-themed photos that I printed out on cardstock and cut into pieces.  I printed them on three different shades of paper to make it a little bit easier, but the goal is to put as many together under one minute as possible.

The Valentine’s Day puzzles are here to download if you’d like: valentines day class party PUZZLES.  

valentines day class party | puzzle race | teachmama.com

valentines day class party  | puzzle race | teachmama.com

You may want to add an extra for your school’s mascot just for kicks.

My suggestion is to flip the pieces face down on the table, start the timer, and let the kids at ‘em. If they are struggling, then show them the key. Otherwise, let them have fun with it!

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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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! 

how every family should celebrate martin luther king, jr day

building compassion with children through community service

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fun ways to celebrate martin luther king jr day

I love the idea of doing some sort of service project for the community to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy.  Imagine how great the world would be if every family did something small for others to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

It would be amazing.

And the awesome thing is that there are dozens and dozens of fun ways that families can work together to give back and all year, but especially in January, when we mark , Dr. King’s birthday.

In 1957, Dr. King said, ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’

This year, my family will very easily be able to answer that question.

Will yours?

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How Every Family Should Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Choose something. Anything. Just make sure it’s some way of serving others.

Some things that your family can do to give back:

 

building compassion with children through community service

building compassion with children through community service: Pink and Green Mama

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Parenting Children with Grateful Hearts and Generous Spirits; Gratitude Garage Sale

parenting with grateful hearts– gratitude garage sale: Educators’ Spin on It

surprise happy day notes

Some cool crafts you can do together that will spark discussion:

 

Read about MLK & learn about service:

 

What will you and your family do? How will you mark this day and carry on MLK’s legacy of service?

 

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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

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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:

 

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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:

books as gifts: holiday ideas for kids

books as gifts

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books as gifts

 

For any occasion, books are my go-to gift.

From baby showers to birthdays, graduations from preschool or highschool, for well-wishing or comfort-giving, books are a rockstar way to show people you care.

This holiday, my pal Allie and I have been sharing a ton of our book-giving recommendations over at the Scholastic Raise a Reader blog.

I’m sharing only a few of our picks here.

Please hop on over to Scholastic’s Raise a Reader to learn more about the books, picks, and ideas.

Here’s the skinny:

  • Books as Gifts–Holiday Ideas for Kids:

boxed sets for toddlers

great boxed sets for toddlers

book sets like:

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gifts for all kinds of princessesprincess books: gifts for every kind of princess

books like:

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best reading gifts for digital kidsbest reading gifts for digital kids

gifts like:

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10 ebooks for older readers10 eBooks: must-haves for older readers

I love the Storia eBook versions of these books for older readers (or check out the hardcopies below):

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book sets for kids who love adventure and mystery

book sets for kids who love adventure and mystery

book sets like:

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find best bookshow to find the perfect book gift for kids: using Scholastic’s Book Wizard

Not sure what to get but know for sure your child has some favorite authors, themes, or genres?

Check out Scholstic’s Book Wizard for more recommendations, catered specifically to your loved ones’ needs and levels!

Just a start here, friends. Just a start!

 —————————————————-

fyi: affililate links are used in this post

the polar express night: a holiday family tradition

the polar express night: a holiday family tradition

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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.

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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

holiday card stencils and balloon stamps

holiday stencils and balloon painting

holiday stencils and balloon painting cover

Thank you Dollar Tree and the Dollar Tree Value Seekers Club for making this post possible!  

This year, we’re spicing our holiday cards up a bit.

For the past few years, our cards have become super-quick assembly line of envelope-stuffing, sealing, and stamping. Even our address labels are stickers.

This time, we’re spicing our cards up a bit. Actually, some help from Dollar Tree, we’re spicing up our holiday card envelopes.  That’s right—the very first thing our friends and family will see from us, and it’s going to be totally rockstar.

We’re taking the Dollar Tree Value Seekers Club craft, Balloon Painting, to a whole new level.

We’ve made super-simple stencils from Dollar Tree posterboard and a stamper out of Dollar Tree balloons. A few swirls of poster paint and a bit of time to dry, and we have very simply added a pretty, festive, fancy touch to our holiday cards.

 

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Holiday Card Stencils and Balloon Stamps:

holiday stencils balloon painting

holiday stencils balloon painting

Really, all we did was slightly modify the super-easy steps on the Dollar Tree Value Seekers Club Balloon Painting tutorial and change our colors.

This is a holiday craft that my kiddos loved because though they stuff our holiday cards every year, this year, the fun factor was a bit higher. We all had more fun looking at our blinged out envelopes compared to the plain-Jane white envelopes of holidays past.

No matter what you put inside your holiday cards this year, it’s what you put on the outside of your card that will get people talking.

holiday stencils balloon painting

You’ll need:

  • Blank envelopes
  • Poster paint
  • Balloons
  • Disposable plate and knife
  • one piece of poster board

holiday stencils balloon painting

1.  First, we created holiday-inspired stencils. We wanted small and simple, and we wanted three basic designs.  We made a tree, a star, and a package.

Want some Holiday Stencils so you can do some balloon painting? You can download the stencil template here: wintertime holiday stencils

2.  Then we cut out the shapes on the posterboard.

3.  Then we dropped paint. We put coordinating paint blobs on a disposable plate: yellow, green and blue for the tree; red, purple, and white for the package; and yellow and orange for the star.

The kids slightly, ever so gently swirled the paint on the plate with a knife to blend the colors.

holiday stencils balloon painting

4.  Next came the balloons! We partially blew up a few balloons, and this is what Maddy, Owen, and Cora loved. We talked about how the balloon needed to be just the right size so that we could hold it without slipping and so it wouldn’t pop as we stamped it.

5.  Finally, we stamped, stamped, and stamped some more!  We used the balloons as stamps, filling in the holiday stencils on the front of each envelope.

holiday stencils balloon painting

holiday stencils balloon painting

 

holiday stencils balloon painting

holiday stencils balloon painting

We let the envelopes dry completely.

And that’s it—so quick and so simple, but a really extra-special touch to holiday cards.

Don’t have time to balloon paint your holiday card envelopes? No problem!

holiday stencils balloon painting

Consider using Holiday Card Stencils and Balloon Stamps to:

  • make your holiday cards
  • make holiday gift tags
  • decorate holiday gift bags
  • make simple holiday ornaments

The possibilities are endless, though the craft is so simple!

holiday stencils balloon painting finished

 __________________________

Contest is closed as of 12/26/13. . . winner chosen by random.org is Tara Z.

GIVEAWAY: $100 Dollar Tree gift card

Do you want to win $100 Dollar Tree gift card??!  Yes, yes you do.

  • Then leave a comment below sharing which project from the club you want to try first.

 __________________________

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

This giveaway ends Thursday, December 26, 2013 at midnight ET. Winner will be chosen by  and will be notified on or around 12/26/13.  Winner must respond within one (1) day of notification or forfeit the prize, in which case an alternate winner will be selected.  All Official Sweepstakes Rules apply.

fyi: This post was made possible by a partnership between Dollar Tree Value Seekers Club and The Blueprint Social.  As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and my three little holiday-crafters.

 

Want a few more holiday-inspired gift ideas or activities? Check out:

must have gifts for kids and families | teachmama.com

gifts for sunday school teachers or CCD teachers | teachmama.com

 

kids and family gift guide from teachmama.com

 

teachmama gift guide 2012

 

 

holiday gift guide | teachmama.com

 

our cookie baking day: favorite family annual holiday tradition

holiday baking day cookies

Every year, one of our advent calendar activities reads: Cookie Baking Day!  annual cookie baking day

And what that means is that no matter the day–it’s always a surprise!–the kids and I ditch everything (and I mean, everything. . . ahem. . . ), don our aprons, and bake.

All. Day. Long.

My mom did this for us when we were growing up, and it’s one of my most fond childhood memories. It was special. It was crazy. It was busy and fun.

I knew that when I had children I’d do the same. It’s not hard. And when the kids are really young, baking one or two kinds of cookies is all we did.

As they get older, their roles in the day become bigger, and they become responsible for a bit more.

It’s a favorite family annual tradition.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Our Cookie Baking Day–Favorite Family Annual Holiday Tradition: Our Cookie Baking Day is a day we all look forward to.

It’s a lot of work, but in the end, we have dozens and dozens of cookies that we take to holiday parties and give to our neighbors as gifts.

Kiss Cookie Recipe 2013 Teachmama

Kiss Cookie Recipe 2013 Teachmama

The teacher in me looks at the day as an opportunity for some real-life reading, math, and science learning. The parent in me knows that the day is an opportunity for the kids to spend one special, unexpected day together, making memories and working hard at something that is important to each one of us.

Do the days always go picture-perfect? Um, no.

Do the cookies always look beautiful, taste scrumptious, and look bakery-fab? No, no, and no.

holiday baking day cookies -

holiday baking day cookies

holiday baking day cookies

Do the kids get along harmoniously, taking perfect turns and following instructions top to bottom? No and no.

Does the kitchen get totally rocked by the end of the day, like a small bomb exploded in our house? Absolutely.

holiday baking day cookies

holiday baking day cookies

There was the time that Maddy slid across the counter and sent the salt shaker splattering into our dough.

The many times, while the kids were learning to crack eggs, that eggs exploded like fireworks in tiny hands.

We’ve had milk spilled, cookies fall, and ingredients forgotten.

We’ve spilled bags of chocolate chips.

We’ve seen Brady steal aprons and oven mitts; we’ve experienced burns and power outages.

holiday baking day cookies

Some years are easier than others.

How we schedule our day:

  • Light planning: Before our Cookie Baking Day, Maddy, Owen, Cora, and I talk about what kinds of cookies we’ll bake that year.  Some years we try new kinds, and other years, we stick to old faves.
  • Big shopping: I take their suggestions into account and do the shopping for ingredients. Because the day is a surprise for them, I make the general cookie-baking plan. I hide the ingredients so no one notices.

 

holiday baking day cookies

holiday baking day cookies

holiday baking day cookies

 

  • Big surprising.  The kids wake and get ready for the day as normal. Then whomever’s day it is opens the Advent Calendar and reads that day’s Advent Activity: It’s Cookie Baking Day! Let’s bake, bake, BAKE!!
  • Serious baking. We start before breakfast, making one dough and refrigerating it. We make another dough and send the first tray into the oven. We continue all day long, through dinner.

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

  • Some eating. We break for meals while cookies bake.   Of course we test the cookies along the way. Come ON.
  • Light resting.  Really, the kids only rest for one show after lunch, and even then, somebody takes a turn to stay with me in the kitchen. When I say we work all day, we really do work all day.

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

  • Big sharing. We put many of our cookies away in tins, but one thing we really look forward to is assembling small packages of cookies for our neighbors. Not everyone–that would be crazy–but for a handful of close neighbors, we put an arrangement of our cookie-creations together in a pretty tin or container, and we deliver our sweets one day that week.  So fun.

Do you want to give the Annual Cookie Baking Day a try at your house? Sure you do! It’s totally not too late!

You can follow the recipe below for some kid-friendly recipe reading:

 

Hershey Kiss Cookie Recipe: kid-friendly recipe from teachmama by teach mama

 

And if you like this, check out our whole Holiday Baking with Kids eBook!  15 recipes your family will love.

holiday baking with kids eBook

Or check out some other fun recipes from our friends at Target–some new twists on classic faves.

How do you handle holiday baking? I’d love to hear:

  • what are your fave holiday treats to bake?
  • do your kids help in the kitchen?
  • who do you share your sweets with?

 

fyi: This post was created as part of my collaboration with Target, the #MyKindofHoliday campaign, and Target Inner Circle. As always, the thoughts and ideas are my own.  Target sent us a Ninja Gingerbread Cookie Set among other baking, decorating, and sharing supplies because they totally, 110% support our #mykindofholiday @target traditions!