GoldieBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn

GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn | for @goldibloxinc

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Yesterday, my girls were late for school.GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |

And they were late for cheer practice last evening.

And they were late for school again today.

It wasn’t because they were sleeping in or taking too long to pick out their clothes.

It wasn’t because they were poking around or moving slowly.

They were building. They were reading; they were creating.

My smart girls were busy tinkering with their GoldieBlox sets, and this mama was fine with it.

Sure, we need to teach our kids to be punctual and to make it to school on time. But we have the rest of the week to work on that, don’t we?

We are totally impressed with GoldieBlox.

And I’m thrilled to have a GoldieBlox gift set to give away to one lucky reader.  Just in time for the holidays. Woo-hoooo.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • GoldieBlox for Smart Girls–Read, Create, and Learn:

GoldieBlox is one of those products that you’re happy to buy because it packs a crazy powerful punch. Your money goes far because our girls are reading, thinking, and creating.

GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |

GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |

And along the way, they’re learning spacial skills, engineering skills, and confidence in problem-solving.

They’re learning about wheels and axles, hinges and levers, pulleys, gears, animation and more.

GoldieBlox gets girls building through the context of a narrative.  That is, each set comes with a book that girls read, and the pieces that they build somehow hinge on what happens in the text.

GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |

GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |

Their research has shown that girls in particular connect with a story.

I wanted to know why GoldieBlox was only for girls.  What made GoldieBlox special? 

Straight from the FAQ page:

Our founder, Debbie, spent a year researching gender differences to develop a construction toy that went deeper than just “making it pink” to appeal to girls. She read countless articles on the female brain, cognitive development and children’s play patterns. She interviewed parents, educators, neuroscientists and STEM experts. Most importantly, she played with hundreds of kids. Her big “aha”? Girls have strong verbal skills. They love stories and characters. They aren’t as interested in building for the sake of building; they want to know why. GoldieBlox stories replace the 1-2-3 instruction manual and provide narrative-based building, centered around a role model character who solves problems by building machines. Goldie’s stories relate to girls’ lives, have a sense of humor and make engineering fun.  

Pretty cool.

GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |

GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |

And though the sets are geared more for girls, I’m here to attest to the fact that boys dig ’em, too.

I got one. And he was wow’ed by Maddy and Cora’s creations. Big time.

GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |

We tried two of the newer GoldieBlox sets:

GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |


GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |


GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine: Teaches kids how to make movies. Not even kidding.  When I first saw it, I was totally skeptical. But I read the book alongside Cora, and together we read about the bad news: The film festival was going to be cancelled because the projector was broken.

Goldie, the mechanical engineer of the group, calls her friends for some help. Valentina (the electrical engineer), Li (the token guy and environmental scientist), Ruby (the coding expert), Nacho (the dog), and Benjamin Cranklin (the cat), all work together to build a zoetrope.

Right. You don’t know what a zoetrope is, do you?

GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |

It’s all good. I didn’t, either.

A ‘zoetrope’ (pronounced just how it looks: zoey-trope), is the world’s first moving picture machine, friends.  You’ll learn all of this when you get the set, but in 1834 the zoetrope was born. It’s basically a cylinder on a spinning platform.  The cylinder has slits cut into it, and it has long strips of paper on its inside.  When the cylinder moves, it looks like the objects on the papers are moving due to the Persistence of Vision principle.

Sounds crazy but you’ll get it.

And when the zoetrope is built and after your child tries each of the movies (she can even make one of her own!), she can check out the GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine app (free from the iTunes store).

Cora and I haven’t even had a chance to scratch the surface of the app, but essentially, you can create short, animaged GIFs over there using their digital creation tools. You can save them and upload them to Bloxtown for others to see (coming soon!), or you can print them and put them into your brand, new zoetrope. So fun. So totally cool.

Check it out:


GoldieBlox and the Builder’s Survival Kit: Maddy dove right into this set, which is bigger and geared more toward a slightly older age group.  Maddy loved this because of the freedom it afforded her.

She could basically flip through Goldie’s Diary of Inventions and build anything she wanted. The Diary seems just like a diary–scribbles, doodles, pictures, you name it. And information on her friends and family–just like a personal journal.

Who doesn’t like to have permission to read someone’s diary?

GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |

GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |

GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |

Instructions for building a Derby Racer, a drum set, a dog house, an ice-cream truck, and a tea cup ride (for real!) are followed by a few drawings of other inventions to create.

Maddy was quick to give me her official feedback which was:

She liked:

  • the many choices to build;
  • the diary to read;
  • that it was a really good pastime.

She wished:

  • that there was a little more detail in the pieces;
  • there was a little more detail in instructions.


GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |


GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |

However, it is worth noting that when Maddy stepped back, laid out all of the necessary pieces for the item she wanted to build, and took the time necessary to read and understand the given instructions, she was successful.

She had a tough time building the ice-cream truck at first, but when she started fresh with the tea cup ride, following all instructions and making sure to identify all of the necessary pieces before she began building, she met with success.

GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |


GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn

As a parent, overall, I really liked:

  • the combination of reading and creating–I totally see why girls especially would love this;
  • the quality of materials--the parts are sturdy, the book is solid, and you can just tell that these are high-quality pieces;
  • that there are little action figures with the sets–not like big, fighting guys–but little sweet animals that can fit in the creations;
  • the design and layout–I love the concept, I love the design, and I love the look of everything;
  • the music videos, the cartoons, and the graphics on the app;
  • the extensions: the Bloxtown site, the Movie Machine app, the games, and fun for kids;
  • the message--that girls are ‘more than just another princess’ and that it’s cool to use their brains;
  • that Goldie has a melting pot of pals--really, her pals look a lot like my girls’ groups of friends, and I love it.


GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |

GoldiBlox for smart girls: read, create, and learn |

I do wish that:

  • some of the teeny, cardboard, interlocking tabs were a little easier for my girls to manage;
  • ‘GoldieBlox’ was spelled correctly–because I have a hard time with ‘x’ instead of ‘cks’ or ‘ks’.


And that’s it. Really, truly my new favorite go-to for birthday gifts and something I do look forward to exploring as the line evolves and grows over the next few years.  Six sets now, but growing, growing!


And just for kicks–check out the coolest video ever. Show your kids. They’ll be totally hooked:


GIVEAWAY: One GoldieBlox gift pack–valued at $100.

Do you want to win your own GoldieBlox gift pack just in time for the holidays??!  Yes, yes you do.  


Please use the Rafflecopter widget below to throw your name in the hat:

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

This giveaway ends Friday, November 7, 2014 at midnight ET and is open to folks here in the US only. Winner will be chosen by ‘Rafflecopter’ and will be notified on or around 11/07/14.  Winner must respond within three (3) days of notification or forfeit the prize, in which case an alternate winner will be selected.  All Official Sweepstakes Rules apply.



fyi: This post is written as part of a paid partnership with GoldieBlox; however, as always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my personal experience as a parent and educator–and, of course, my three little classroom engineers.  Affiliate links are used above. 


pumpkin match game

pumpkin match game |

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pumpkin match game | | easy halloween class party fun gets kids thinking and moving

This game was surprisingly more difficult than I expected it would be for my 10, 9, and 7 year olds.

I don’t know if they were just not in the pumpkin-matching mindset or if they need more matching practice or if the pumpkin faces were just a wee bit too similar–but it took them a while to match the 24 pumpkins.

Hoping that it’s not too tough for a Halloween class party later this month because I think it would be and ideal way to get kids up and moving and thinking and interacting.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Pumpkin Match Game:

Pumpkin Match is super-simple, and it took all of several minutes to create.

I used one pack of pumpkin cut-outs, a pack of letter and number stickers, and that’s it.

pumpkin match game |

pumpkin match game |


Though my initial plan was to create faces on the pumpkins using permanent markers, it didn’t work. The pumpkins were too glossy and the shapes got really grainy.

So instead I grabbed the letter and number stickers and went to work.


pumpkin match game |

pumpkin match game |


I used numbers for eyes and letters for mouths and cut here and there to try to make the silliest faces I possibly could. And they turned out super cute.

Then I cut the pumpkins straight down the middle. And I mixed them all up.

pumpkin match game |

pumpkin match game |

Maddy, Owen, and Cora all had an absolute blast trying to find pairs in this simple Pumpkin Match Game.

I will definitely use this for future Halloween class parties, though I may mix things up a bit.

pumpkin match game |

pumpkin match game |


Depending on class size, I may take the number of students, divide it in half and use that many pumpkins. Then I’ll give each student a pumpkin half and have them find their match.

pumpkin match game |

pumpkin match game |

Whoops! This pumpkin above is not a match! 

pumpkin match game |

Or I may:

  • give each student one piece of a pumpkin and have the other pieces hidden around the classroom to get them up and moving a bit;
  • use half of the pumpkins for round one and then introduce more pumpkins each round;
  • give each student two pieces and have them try to find the two people they ‘fit’ with;
  • take it outside and make it a pumpkin race–after they find their match, they race to put their finished pumpkin on the playground line or in a big circle: the pumpkin ‘patch';
  • challenge the students to figure out which numbers and letters are hiding in their pumpkin’s faces;
  • place half of the pumpkins all around the playground or classroom floor and hand out the other half to the students and have them match up their pieces.

The possibilities are endless! Halloween is so much fun!!

pumpkin match game |

pumpkin match game |

Want a few more fun halloween party ideas?


fyi: I am proud to be a #staplesclassroom partner and received my pumpkin cut-outs from my friends at Staples.  This post was written as part of the #staplesclassroom campaign. Please check out my Staples post about rocking some fall classroom decorations.  

halloween lego game: unplugged, creative fun

halloween lego game: unplugged, creative fun |

post contains affiliate links


halloween lego game: unplugged, creative fun |

I’m always on the hunt for fun ways to keep my kids engaged and interested and thinking creatively.

And when I find something that works, and it’s unplugged, creative fun, it’s a serious win.

Today after school, while Cora was working on homework and Maddy and Owen were recharging, I put them to work.

Why not, right? They’re young.

A few days ago, I ran across something on Pinterest that got me thinking.  Would it be possible for kids to design and build simple holiday-inspired objects out of Legos?  Could I give them just a little guidance and just a little inspiration and have them take it from there?

I was pretty impressed with what they came up with.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Halloween Lego Game–Unplugged, Creative Fun:

First, I grabbed a ton of plain Lego bricks. I wanted just bricks.

halloween lego game: unplugged, creative fun |


halloween lego game: unplugged, creative fun |


No windows, flowers, wheels, or people.

Nothing fancy.

Just good, ole plain-Jane Lego bricks.

And really, this took the most time for me–separating Legos.

But I found some, and then I printed out two ‘inspiration sheets’. I grabbed one from my pal Allie’s site, on a post she wrote called Halloween Lego Challenge. The post is awesome, and I love the whole idea of building something for kids and having them do their best to build the same thing.

halloween lego game: unplugged, creative fun |


halloween lego game: unplugged, creative fun |


It’s a fantastic cognitive and fine-motor skill-builder, especially for little guys.

I also found inspiration from Geek Alerts; their Halloween Lego Set post actually shows the pieces they built from a set you can buy: Halloween Lego Set.

So I printed the sheets out and gave Maddy and Owen the challenge: build some Halloween-inspired things.

halloween lego game: unplugged, creative fun |


halloween lego game: unplugged, creative fun |

We talked about what those things could be–the objects on the sheets that I printed out or other things Halloween, like brooms, bats, hats, ghosts, monsters, ghouls, whatever.

And what they came up with was cute and simple.

I loved that they were using what was on the sheets as inspiration along with what we had to really come up with some cool things: a pumpkin, a ghost, a witch, candy corn, a hat, and a little Frankenstein monster.

halloween lego game: unplugged, creative fun |


halloween lego game: unplugged, creative fun |


Working with Legos in any capacity is a fabulous way for kids to get their brains moving and fine motor muscles working.  And whether they’re following instructions step by step or whether they are creating pieces on their own, it’s all good.

It all rocks.

My longer-term idea was to have this Lego challenge be a part of Cora’s class Halloween party–but that’s a whole other story coming a few days down the road.

But much like the inspiration sheets I printed and gave to Maddy and Owen to get them started, I want to do the same for the kids in Cora’s class.

halloween lego game: unplugged, creative fun |


If you want to print out the Halloween Lego Scramble sheets–little pictures of Halloween items that just about any kid can make with just about any regular set of Lego blocks–you can print it out here: halloween lego game _

Huge and happy thanks for sharing them if you’d like, but please direct folks to this post rather than the attachment page. 

My goal is to use it as an inspiration for small groups during the Halloween class party this month.


Some other ideas for making Halloween Lego-building fun: 

  • add a timer and make it a timed copy and build;
  • share a card and have everyone try to make their own version of the item at the same time;
  • take turns flipping a card and building the item;
  • have kids take pictures of their own Halloween items and add them to the cards!



fyi: Affiliate links are used in this post which means that many of the links will take you to amazon, and if you purchase the item, will get a teeny, tiny percentage. It all helps, and we appreciate it!

Huge and happy thanks to Allie of No Time for Flashcards and to the team at Geek Alerts for sharing their Halloween Lego posts. 

Want a few more fun halloween party ideas?


brain teasers for kids

brain teasers for kids |

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

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

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

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

I hit the jackpot in a big way.

They keep asking for more. Woot.

Here’s the skinny. . .

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

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




brain teasers for kids |

brain teasers for kids |

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

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

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


brain teasers for kids |

I created two sets of Brain Teaser Cards:

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

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

Both are created with thanks to Squiggly’s Playhouse.


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

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

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


brain teasers for kids |

brain teasers for kids |


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

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

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

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

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

26 triangles: tricky, fun math game

26 triangles: tricky, fun math game

26 triangles: tricky, fun math game

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

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

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

Simple.  Challenging. Tricky and fun.

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

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 26 Triangles–Tricky, Fun Math Game:

26 triangles: tricky, fun math game

26 triangles: tricky, fun math game

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

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

Seems easy, right? But it’s not.

26 triangles: tricky, fun math game


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

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

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

26 triangles: tricky, fun math game

26 math game teachmama

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

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

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

Looking for more super-fun, sneaky math activities?

Or check out the following math-happy posts:

Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards:

sleepover at the national archives: 3 reasons your family will love it

national archives sleepover

We did it.national archives sleepover

We slept at the National Archives.

The National Archives Museum in Washington, DC.

Slept. In the museum. All night long.

With sleeping bags and pillows all bundled up in the famous rotunda.  Snoozing near the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

So crazy, right? So fun.

The super-cool thing is that there will be more sleepovers at the National Archives in the next few months, and you can go.

And? I’ve got a discount for you for you to use at the National Archives store if a sleepover’s not your thing.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Sleepover at the National Archives–3 Reasons Your Family Will Love It:

The National Archives Museum Sleepover was the perfect amount of time: 6:30pm -8:30am.

national archives sleepover |

national archives sleepover |

Our schedule Saturday:

7:15 — orientation

7:45-9:15 –activity stations and snacks (activities included a scavenger hunt, crafts, games, dancing, learning about explorers, and more)

9:20-10:10 — interview an explorer

10:15-10:45 — storytime and movies

10:15-10:45 — get ready for bed

11:00 — lights out!


Our schedule Sunday:

7:15-8:30 — breakfast

7:30-9:00 — historic chocolate demonstration

8:00-8:30 — trivia game

9:00 — departure

national archives sleepover |

It was an evenly timed event. Just enough activity mixed with just enough time to move at our own pace and enjoy the event.

Here are three reasons I’m betting your family will love the event, too:

 national archives sleepover |

1. You will learn a few cool things about our country’s history.

The focus of our sleepover was Heroes, History, & Treasures, so we learned a bunch about Matthew Henson, Meriwether Lewis, and Louise Arner Boyd-three heroes of exploration–along with others and their contributions to our country.

Throughout the night, all of our activities in some way reflected the Heroes, History, & Treasures theme.  Adventurers and explorers, and all the cool stuff they find.

national archives sleepover |photo from u.s. national archives

national archives sleepover |photo from u.s. national archives

national archives sleepover | photo from us national archives

national archives sleepover | photo from us national archives

You know I love life when things are organized like this in a pretty little package.

We spent time in the Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures exhibit, and our scavenger hunt took place here. It was a fun and interactive way to experience it.


national archives sleepover |

2. You will find activities that speak to each person in your family.

As an educator, I’m always aware of the fact that each person has different learning needs, and those needs can vary greatly within families.

One person learns best by doing; another learns best by listening. Others may learn best by reading or watching. We’re all different that way.

national archives sleepover | photo from us national archives

national archives sleepover | photo from us national archives

national archives sleepover |photo from u.s. national archives

national archives sleepover | photo from us national archives

national archives sleepover | photo from us national archives

So the music and singing, the dancing, the hands-on games and drama, mixed with the reading and watching that we did was the ideal recipe for learning and fun.

Some individual activities and some group activities. It was a great mix.


national archives sleepover |

3.  You will have a truly unforgettable experience.  

Undoubtedly, a sleepover at the National Archives is something your family will never forget.

From the anticipation leading up to the event to the event itself, your kids will feel connected to one of the most important buildings in our Nation’s Capital.

national archives sleepover | photo from us national archives

The small group–100 participants total–really allows you to feel like you’re an integral part of the event. Any time we had a question, there were at least two or three Archives workers there to assist us.

I loved having so many hands in the kitchen; it made me feel like there were a lot of eyes on our kids–which made me feel so much more at ease.

And having all children be between the ages of 8-12 years old means that for the most part, all of the kids were on the same playing field.


national archives sleepover |photo from u.s. national archives

national archives sleepover | photo from us national archives

We met a bunch of great people from–surprisingly–all around our country.  Most families were from the DC Metro area, but some came as far north as Maine or as far west as California!

It was a really cool experience.

national archives sleepover | photo from u.s. national archives

national archives sleepover | photo from us national archives


The Archivist of the United States, Honorable David S. Ferriero, made pancakes for us in the morning!

He had some help, but to be honest, his chocolate chip pancakes were fabulous! (And you want to know why I really like the AOTUS? He writes a blog!)


archives sleepover AOTUS pancakes



Check out more photos from the National Archives sleepover (August 2014): 


What would I suggest that families do if they’re planning on attending? 

  • Definitely read the information from the National Archives about what to bring for the sleepover. And bring what they suggest!
  • Have some easy way of transporting your sleeping bag, pillow, overnight bag. Whether a loved one drops  you off at the building and then picks you up in the morning or if you simply arrange all of your gear in a simple way, do it. The hardest part for Maddy, Owen, and me was the walk from the parking garage to the Archives and then from the Archives to the parking garage in the morning.


national archives sleepover | photo from u.s. national archives


  • Look for an overnight garage. We also didn’t plan this part well, so we had to do a little city driving and searching before the event. We ended up using LAZ parking at 616 E St. for about $45, but definitely check best parking to find what will be best for you.
  • Consider bringing earplugs. Seriously. I can sleep anywhere, any time. But lighter sleepers may need these.
  • Bring books or something for the kids to read before bed. I totally forgot these, and though I can fall asleep anywhere, any time, Maddy and Owen needed their books. #momfail
  • Prepare your kids. Even if it’s just a little bit. I printed out a bunch from the National Archives website, and we simply had it around to read and talk about in the days leading up to the event. I wanted the kids to have an idea about why this building was important and what we’d see when we were there.

national archives sleepover |


And now? If you’re interested in attending the next sleepover, visit the National Archives Sleepover page.  The next one is scheduled for October 18, 2014.

If the sleepover isn’t your thing, then do some shopping! Check out the National Archives store– –and use the code 14SLEEP14 for a 15% discount on your purchases until 8/15/14. Enjoy!

The feather pen in the picture above? My kids have been rockin’ them for the last few days, doing what they can to make their mark. Grab one at the Archives store!

Pretty cool if you ask me!


Stay connected:

What questions do you have? I’d love to help! 


fyi: I was given three tickets to the National Archives August sleepover in exchange for sharing my honest opinions in a blog post and via social media. As always, opinions are my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and by my two little explorers.  

History, Heroes & Treasures is supported by the Foundation for the National Archives; John Hancock Financial; Ridgewells Catering; Control Video; American Heritage Chocolate; Mars, Incorporated; The Coca-Cola Company; Minute Maid; and DASANI.

Many of the photos (most unwatermarked) in this post are from the National Archives and are in the public domain. 

swim ribbon garland: what to do with summer swim ribbons

swim ribbon garland: what to do with summer swim ribbons

post contains affiliate links




what to do with swim ribbons swim and dive season has been over now for two weeks, but we’ve done more post-season celebrating this year than ever before.

Usually, as soon as we wrap up the banquet, swim ribbons get shoved in a drawer, meet caps get put away, and trophies are given a home on the bedroom shelf.

And then we move quickly into part two of our summer: everything after swim and dive.

Swim and dive season comes and goes–just like that.  Fast and furious and then bam. Over.

But this year, we decided to carry on the celebration a little longer by parading the awesome throughout our house.

Instead of piling up those ribbons and finding them a home on a shelf or in a drawer, we created a gorgeous swim ribbon garland.

It’s beautiful. And it’s simple, and it’s the story of the kids’ swim and dive season.

Here’s the skinny. .  .

  • Swim Ribbon Garland–What to do with Summer Swim Ribbons: I do need to clarify something.


swim ribbon garland: what to do with summer swim ribbons


swim ribbon garland: what to do with summer swim ribbons


The Swim Ribbon Garland was not created to brag.

It was not created to be competitive or bratty or nasty.

It was created to celebrate our kids’ accomplishments throughout the season and to remind them that hard work pays off.

That’s it.


swim ribbon garland: what to do with summer swim ribbons


And though it was super-simple to make, it turned out really, really pretty.

And it’s been the focus of many conversations that are totally worth having:

  • Can you believe how much you improved over the season?
  • Remember how nervous you were for your first IM but how proud you felt after finishing?
  • This was the meet you surprised everyone–including you!–and came in first place!
  • That was the longest afternoon ever, but you worked hard and got through it!
  • Even though you disqualified in this event, you still shook everyone’s hand after the race.
  • [Another swimmer friend] beat you in this race by less than a second; I know you were disappointed to lose, but you never once acted like a sore loser. 


swim ribbon garland: what to do with summer swim ribbons

swim ribbon garland: what to do with summer swim ribbons


To make the swim ribbon garland, we simply grabbed a large needle and some embroidery thread (the kind we use to make friendship bracelets). The needle was large enough to fit the thread through but small enough to fit under the tiny top of the ribbons.

I asked Maddy, Owen, and Cora if they wanted their ribbons arranged in any particular way–by color, date, award, etc. Only Cora had an order preference, so she put hers in order, and I strung them from her direction.


swim ribbon garland: what to do with summer swim ribbons

swim ribbon garland: what to do with summer swim ribbons


Because Cora had significantly fewer ribbons this year compared to Maddy and Owen, we added some of her ribbons from last year. Not a big deal.

She knew where they were, she grabbed them, and we added them. Done and done.

Thinking about the possibilities for ‘sideline’ learning with the swim ribbon garland has me nearly nutty. We can talk about:

  • total number of first, second, third, etc. awards;
  • total number of awards;
  • which person has more of each color;
  • who has the most (and least) amount of (color, score, etc.);
  • total time in each event;
  • amount of time gained/ lost throughout season;
  • so many ideas!


And really? That’s it. Just a quickie, fun, no-sew way to remind your child of how special he is.

What do YOU do with your kids’ ribbons? Let us know! Happy sewing and stringing those ribbons!



fyi: affiliate links are used in this post



summer fun for older kids: tabletop surprises

summer fun for older kids: tabletop surprises

summer fun for older kids: tabletop surprises

I say it’s ‘summer fun for older kids’ only because my kids are no longer toddlers or preschoolers–they’re big-time elementary schoolers.

They know what they want, and they’ve been totally digging our tabletop surprises.

It’s hard for me to believe that my kids are really ‘big kids’, but they really are.  Maddy is a rising 5th grader, Owen’s a rising 3rd grader, and Cora is (gasp!) starting 2nd grade in the fall. 

No more babies, toddlers, or preschoolers. No more Kindergarten anxiety. Now we’re all into chapter books, writing stories, and mastering math facts.

We’re also now moving quickly toward school-mode and even did our back-to-school shopping on Monday, after the kids and I shopped, charted, and searched for the best prices around.  And though our week this week was broken by a trip to Nanny and Pap’s house, we did manage to keep up with our tabletop surprises, even if we rocked some mazes in the car en route.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Summer Fun for Older Kids–Tabletop Surprises:

A quickie re-cap of the week. Be sure to follow us on instagram as we share our daily adventures!


back-to-school shopping! having the kids figure out the BEST place for deals and steals = real-world math at its finest! #tabletopsurprises #summer #timeisflying #backtoschool


art! and playing with some of the coolest museum websites around! #tabletopsurprises #summer #familyfun #art




mazes, mazes, mazes! #tabletopsuprises #summer #familyfun




a free ticket to get dirty in the summer #tabletopsuprises #summer #freeplay #play




slow start to our day but we’re getting there. . .rainy, gray day will hopefully be brighter with our own watercolor rainbows #tabletopsuprises #summer #creativekids #momsofinstagram #familyfun


Check out all the fun we’re having this summer! 

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


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

Check it out:

tabletop surprise email promo 400



10 ways to create a literacy rich environment

10 ways to create a literacy rich environment guest post by kategribble on

10 ways to create a literacy rich environment | guest post by kategribble on

The following Rockstar Sunday guest post is written by Kate of An Everyday Story. Kate is a former teacher who now homeschools her two littles using the Reggio Emilia Approach.

I love her blog, and you will too.

Check it out!


  • 10 Ways to Create a Literacy Rich Environment, by Kate Gribble

Hi everyone. We are an Australian homeschooling family. I have two lovely little ones, Jack (5yrs) and Sarah (3yrs). Right from the beginning we knew we would homeschool. When my son was about a year old I can across the Reggio Emilia Approach.

As a former high school teacher (specialising in literacy and learning support), everything I read about Reggio challenged my fundamental beliefs of how children learn, but most significantly, how children should be taught.

10 Ways to Create a Literacy Rich Environment |

The Reggio Emilia Approach is an innovative and inspiring approach to early childhood education. It values the child as strong, capable and resilient; rich with wonder and knowledge. The Reggio Emilia Approach believes every child brings with them deep curiosity and potential and that this innate curiosity drives their interest to understand their world and their place within it.

The Reggio Emilia Approach originated in the town (and surrounding areas) of Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy out of a movement towards progressive and cooperative early childhood education. Some of the fundamental principles of the Reggio Emilia Approach include:

  • Children are capable of constructing their own meaning –  they are driven by their interests to know and understand more
  • Children are communicators – Children are listened to with respect, believing that their questions and observations are an opportunity to learn and search together. It is a collaborative process; rather than the child asking a question and the adult offering the answers. The search is undertaken together.
  • The environment is the third teacher – The environment is recognised for its potential to inspire children. Whether a playroom or a classroom, each material is carefully selected to encourage children to delve deeper into their interests
  • A child-led project approach – Learning isn’t predetermined months in advance; learning emerges based on the children’s interests and questions
  • The Hundred Languages of Children – The belief that children learn in many different ways; each way as valuable as the next. The idea that children learn through painting and drawing, through building and dance, through drama and music and that each of these ways needs to be nurtured
  • Learning and play are not separated – They are interconnected. The Reggio Emilia Approach emphasises hands-on discovery learning that allows the child to use all their senses and all their languages to learn.

Today I thought I would share with you some of the ways we approach literacy and language learning in our homeschool:

10 Ways to Create a Literacy Rich Environment

1: Including books on the play room shelves

10 Ways to Create a Literacy Rich Environment |

2: Creating meaningful language in context – have an authentic reason for reading and writing

  • read to find answers
  • write lists
  • write questions
  • write postcards
  • write thank you cards
  • write instructions – recipe cards, treasure maps, rules for games

10 Ways to Create a Literacy Rich Environment |

3: Providing writing materials with toys

10 Ways to Create a Literacy Rich Environment |

4: Including literacy materials in the dress-ups

10 Ways to Create a Literacy Rich Environment |


5: Encouraging documentation

10 Ways to Create a Literacy Rich Environment |

6: Using books in art experiences

10 Ways to Create a Literacy Rich Environment |

7. Reading. Read widely and often

8: Using hands-on materials in favour of worksheets

10 Ways to Create a Literacy Rich Environment |

9: Creating exploration shelves based on the kids’ interests which include reference books and writing materials

10 Ways to Create a Literacy Rich Environment |

10 Ways to Create a Literacy Rich Environment |

10: Keeping a writing journal

I hope you have enjoyed a small peek inside our child-led Reggio-inspired homeschool. I look forward to seeing you all again soon over on my blog, An Everyday Story.

kate of an everyday story

Thank you so much, Kate!

Kate is a former high school teacher. Now, inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach and Project-based Homeschooling, she is homeschooling her two children.  Find her at her blog, An Everyday Story, and connect with her on:

facebook | pinterest | instagram | google +  

Looking for more ways to create a literacy-focused environment? Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards:

This post is part of our new Rockstar Sunday posts.  Each week, I will highlight one ‘rockstar’ in the parenting and education field.  These posts? Seriously awesome.

Have something you’d like to share that in some way relates to fun learning, school, technology, education, or parenting? For a short time we’ll be accepting Rockstar Sunday guest posts.

 rockstar sunday promo teachmama

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

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

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

other posts in the series:



raising kids who can rock it in the kitchen: 5 tips for every family

kids who can rock it in the kitchen

sponsored post




It’s a crazy busy time of the year, that I who can rock it in the kitchen | cover

And for the last few weeks, I’ve had kids home sick just about every day, so believe me when I say I’m ready for summer.

Though summer means no homework, no projects, and no busy after school afternoons, it also means kids home. A lot of kids home a lot of the time.

Which is so totally awesome and also sometimes hard.

It means three kids home for three meals a day. It means lots of food prep and a lot of food clean-up.

So this year, along with our summer of Tabletop Surprises, we’re also doing a whole lot more to get our kids active in the kitchen.  Bam. Just like that.

Kids who know the kitchen, own the kitchen, and enjoy the kitchen.

Maddy, Owen, and Cora are still rocking it out in the laundry department (three cheers for Wash Warriors!), so next up? They’ll rock it in the kitchen. Big time.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 5 Tips for Raising Kids Who Can Rock it in the Kitchen:

If we don’t start early with giving our kids some ownership of the everyday household jobs, it’ll just get more difficult to do so as they get older.  Right?  Right.

What do I mean by ‘rock it’ in the kitchen? I mean: Can kids hold their own in the kitchen?

Can they fix themselves a snack? Get breakfast together? Find ingredients to make a cake? Know how to whip up some scrambled eggs or a turkey sandy?

Do they feel like the kitchen is theirs and that they belong there?

They don’t have to be superstars. They just need to be able to rock it if they need to.

Here’s how:

kids who can rock it in the kitchen

1.  Make your kitchen kid-friendly.

Even if you can’t make major changes in your kitchen layout, designate a few child-only drawers low enough for kids to reach and that hold only their dishes, cups, and flatware.  This will make unloading the dishwasher and gathering plates for mealtime easier.

get kids to rock it in the kitchen |

get kids to rock it in the kitchen |

Keeping and storing food in places that kids can reach also makes sense if you want kids to learn to prepare snacks and simple meals–which we definitely do.

We’ve really tried to keep our fridge kid-friendly by keeping fruits and veggies, yogurt and snacks within arms’ reach, and we have worked as a family to decide the best ‘homes’ for our pantry and staples. 

I’ve been surprised at some of the choices the kids have made, but I’ve gone with it.  And I’ve found that when you give kids a chance to make the choices, the kids are more likely to feel as if the kitchen is ‘theirs’.

kids who can rock it in the kitchen  helper each day

2.  Choose one helper each day.

Make one child your ‘special helper’ each day. That child helps you prepare meals, set the table, and act as your assistant chef.  This is a great way to allow kids to experience serious hands-on learning in the kitchen each day.

One of my friends shared with me that she did this with her kids, and ever since, I’ve done the same.

We align our ‘helper’ with whomever’s day it is, so there’s never a question about whose turn it is. We simply check the calendar, and that person is my right-hand guy (or girl) for chopping, stirring, adding, and tasting.

kids who can rock it in the kitchen  teachmama

3.  Let them make menu choices.

At the beginning of the week, sit down as a family and choose the meals for that week, looking at recipe books, your favorite sites, etc. Make a grocery list, set aside coupons, and get ready to assemble ingredients!

raising kids who can rock it in the kitchen helper

This is easier said than done, I know.  But the menu-planning not only gets all stakeholders involved in the process, but it even saves families serious dinero in the long run.

We honestly don’t go crazy with trying to find new recipes each week, especially during busy times; we usually stick with the staples.

But this summer we’ll for sure explore some new dishes and let each person research, plan, and prepare the meal. We’ve talked about this–and everyone’s totally psyched. Talk about a great way of getting kids to try new foods and learn at the same time!

raising kids who can rock it in the kitchen helper trust |

4.  Show your kids that you trust them.

Give kids space in the kitchen.

Let them help you unload the dishwasher, put away groceries, measure ingredients, and crack their own eggs.   It might not always be pretty, but you will slowly grow confident kids in the kitchen.

I’ll never forget the time years and years ago that a teeny, tiny Owen tried to add ‘a few shakes of salt’ to our banana muffins and dropped the whole salt shaker into the mix.  Or the time Maddy lost her balance while adding chocolate chips to cookie batter and fell into the bowl, tipping the whole thing onto the counter.

Or the time Cora tried to crack an egg and instead crushed the whole thing in her hands.

Mistakes happen, and often, kitchen floors are a complete mess after kids are cooking. But kids need a chance to try because they need to learn.

raising kids who can rock it in the kitchen helper FUN |
5.  Make being in the kitchen fun.

Play music.  Dance around. Play games where and when you can, and make being there a relaxing and exciting place. It’s all about the attitude!

Our kids have always loved having their own child-sized aprons. You can find them inexpensive at thrift shops, or you can even make your own.  (Confession: my amazing and talented mother-in-law made some for our kids–lucky us!)   I have also found some super-cute ones on Etsy.

It really doesn’t matter where you get them, but having aprons makes my kids at least feel like cooking is a little bit more fun. Like when they walk into the kitchen on their day, they throw on their apron, and they’re ready for business.


get kids to rock it in the kitchen |

check out this cool, easy pdf that I (no joke!) helped Whirlpool create: Whirlpool_5TipsForKitchenKids

What do you think? Are your kids active in the kitchen this way?

Do you think they could be with a little effort?  I’d love to hear it!

fyi: This is a sponsored post, written as part of the Whirlpool Ambassador program. As always, opinions and ideas are my own, influenced only by my experience as an educator and parent and my three little ones who are learning to really ‘rock it’ in the kitchen.  Affiliate link used for apron.

Want to know more about the appliances we have in our kitchen? We have (and love!) the  Whirlpool® 28 cu. ft. 4-Door Refrigerator, the Whirlpool Gold Series Dishwasher with PowerScour option, the Microwave Hood Combination with AccuPop Cycle, and the Double Oven Gas Range with Convection Cooking. True. Love. Forever with these. Seriously TLF.

summer activities for thinking, curious, and creative kids: tabletop surprises calendar

summer activities for thinking, curious, and creative kids tabletop surprises calendar

summer activities for thinking, curious, and creative kids tabletop surprises calendar promo.

I have been working and working and working and working and working on this calendar for weeks now, and I’m finally ready to share it. Woot.  No really. Woooot!

In fact, I’m so happy I’m literally dancing around the living room.

Why? I just mapped out the bones of our summer.

Ten weeks.

Ten weeks full of summer activities for thinking, curious, and creative kids.  It’s our tabletop surprises calendar, and Maddy, Owen, and Cora will totally dig it.

We’ll still start out the summer by making Summer Fun Cards so that we are sure to remember to fit in everything we love to do during the long summer months, but then we’ll rock out the #tabletopsurprises.

This year, my kids are 10, 8, and 7 years old. They’re getting older, but they still love games. They love to create. They love to play with the old standbys that we’re too busy for during the school year but that they look forward to in summer months.

They still have playdates. They still hold my hand. They still want hugs.  (Most days.)

So I’m milking this for as long as I can. Though learned the hard way last summer that because they’re getting older, we’re not all on the same schedule. Where I once used preschool mornings or rest time hours for games and learning, now we’re not on as strict a schedule.

I have an early riser and I have a night owl. And I have one kiddo whose mood is dictated by the weather, by the day of the week, or by the direction of the wind. So I’ve got to be flexible.

All I know is that what really, truly worked for us last summer was Tabletop Surprises because the activities ‘fit’ into our daily schedule. The kids headed to the table when they felt like it, sometime throughout the day.

And every day was kind of like Christmas because there was a surprise Every. Single. Day.

So we’re rockin’ them again this year.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Summer Activities for Thinking, Curious, and Creative Kids–Tabletop Surprises Calendar:

What are Tabletop Surprises? Tabletop Surprises are invitations to learn, play, create, invent, and think–on their own time. 

Little fun activities just waiting for someone to come along and try ‘em out.

tabletop surprise 2014 a summer of fun and learning from

this year’s tabletop surprises calendar 2014, ready to download

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 calendar 2014

What are the ideas and what makes them so fun?

Simple. They’re hands-on. They’re cool. They’re creative and crafty. They’re unusual. They’re familiar. They’re old and they’re new. They’re digital and battery-free. They’re indoors and outdoors.  

It’s a mix, and that keeps them going. And it’s only ten weeks. That gives us one week for vacation and one week to totally pound out math packets and summer school assignments.

I’m busy. I don’t have time for this. 

Yes. You. Do.  I’ve got every single thing you need right here. Ten weeks.  Links to resources and everything.  Just print out a few things, gather supplies the night before and set it out so it’s all there when the kids wake up.  They’ll do it when they’re able. 

In fact, I’ve so got this covered, that if you subscribe to via email (only a few emails a week–full of awesome for you and your kids!) you’ll have access to every single thing you need for the entire ten weeks. Every link. Every printable. Bam. 

tabletop surprise 2014 a summer of fun and learning from

Cool. So now what?

  1. Print out the calendar: tabletop surprises calendar 2014
  2. Subscribe to via email. 
  3. Download the Tabletop Surprise Resource Guide (you’ll get it when you confirm your subscription, yo!). 
  4. Give your kids the skinny on Tabletop Surprises. 
  5. Start learning, playing, creating, inventing, and thinking alongside your kiddos!
  6. And? Share your #tabletopsurprises via instagram or twitter  just for fun.
  7. Have the summer of your dreams. Well. . .

tabletop surprise email promo

Give me a look at this stuff. 

Sure. Check out last year’s Tabletop Surprises to get an idea about what we’re doing: 

Or check out some fun ideas from a our Smart Summer Challenge a few summers back.

Here’s to an awesome summer filled with fun learning and memory-making!