2 easy ways to teach reading at mealtime

2 easy ways to teach reading at mealtime

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Believe it.

You can teach your kids how to read while you’re sitting down to breakfast.

You can teach your kids to read while you’re making lunches.

You can teach your kids to read while your family sits down for dinner.

It’s about making reading fun and making it part of your entire day. 

Using the environmental print in your kitchen or dining room, and playing with the boxes, bags, and familiar items from foods and snacks, your kids will soon be reading. And they’ll be thrilled.

You don’t even need to tell them you’re teaching them to read; rather, just start playing.

Play with rhyme. Play with word hunting. Play with letters.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 2 Easy Ways to Teach Reading at Mealtime:  Though it might not be rocket science, these two ways you can teach reading at mealtime will have big pay-offs.

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Capitalizing on this time when kids are sitting down, taking in what’s around them is a huge must for parents. Let’s get reading!

What are some other ways we can sneak in reading at mealtime? Would love to hear your thoughts!

virtual travel: kids can explore without leaving home

virtual travel: explore without leaving home | teachmama.com

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virtual travel | explore without leaving home | teachmama.comSpringtime often means sunshine and warm breezes, park play dates and bike rides.

But it also means rain boots and umbrellas.  Long and lazy afternoons inside, waiting for April showers to end so May flowers can bloom.

For those times when Mother Nature keeps us in check, why not consider ‘virtual travel’ instead?  A little exploration without leaving home?

Go away. But don’t really go away.

So many of the toys around our home can inspire further exploration, a little research into the who, what, why, where, when, and how. Many of our puzzles, books, and games have sparked in our kids’ minds questions and the need for further exploration.

I’m betting it’s the same for you.

This time, when questions arise, consider taking your kids on a virtual vacation.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Virtual Travel–Explore Without Leaving Home: Some of the images on our everyday toys are just what my kids need to get their imagination going.

Did these dinosaurs really live and hunt together like in this picture? 

virtual travel: explore without leaving home | teachmama.com


Is there a place in the world where under the sea animals look like this? 

No way these kinds of bugs are in the rainforest–I don’t believe it!

Is this what a savannah really looks like? 

So rather than just throw Maddy, Owen, and Cora in front of the computer with ‘Google’ in front of them, I thought I’d take them on a little ‘virtual vacation’ of sorts.

When I was in the classroom, one of my favorite ways of activating schema–or even building schema–for my students was by taking them on a ‘virtual tour’ of a setting, event, or idea related to a text we would soon read. It was a great way of getting students familiar with concepts that they would encounter in a text without the hassle of setting up a field trip.

Why not do the same thing with my own children? I thought that surely the internet has a wide range of virtual trips for folks to explore these days? And I was correct.

virtual travel: explore without leaving home | teachmama.com

virtual travel: explore without leaving home | teachmama.comSo when kids are playing with the toys you have at home, enjoying the peace and challenge of a puzzle on one rainy afternoon, take them a bit further.

Take them on a virtual trip, and I’m  sure they’ll never look at things the same way.

    • In the African Safari: The Safari Floor Puzzle is a favorite in our house. Watching any of these live AfriCams gives you the idea of what it could be like. Live streaming in some of the most dangerous parts of Africa. Yikes.

virtual travel: explore without leaving home | teachmama.com


    • Run Free with Horses: The River Run Puzzle, horses running free is a hard virtual tour to find, but the closest thing to mirror that event is the Chincoteaque Pony Swim every summer in Virginia.  Ponies running free and swimming. Bam.

This spring, when weather keeps us indoors–or even if we just feel the need for a little getaway–go virtually. You’ll be so glad you did!

Where are your favorite spots to travel virtually? I’d love to hear ’em! 


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fyi: This post was written as part of the Melissa & Doug Blog Ambassador program. All opinions are my own, influenced only by my experience as an educator and parent and longtime toy lover. 

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teach your kids how to do laundry: become wash warriors

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My kids are learning how to do laundry.teach kids how to do laundry  wash warriors  teachmama.com.

And they love it.  Love it.

No joke.

And I want to dance!

At 10, 8, and 6 years old, I think it’s about time to teach kids how to do laundry. Don’t you?

Actually, it’s more important than we realize that we all teach our kids how to do laundry–and the earlier, the better. There’s no reason our kids should head off into the wilds of ‘real life’ without having mastered this essential skill.

And honestly? There’s no reason that laundry needs to be Mom’s job or Dad’s job. It takes a lot of time, and we all wear the clothes–so it should be the family’s job.

The laundry, like many chores, can be fun. It’s all in the delivery.

And having pretty decent appliances helps, too. We have Whirlpool to thank for that, as we have fallen hard for our Whirlpool Duet.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Teach Your Kids How to do Laundry–Become Wash Warriors:

Maddy, Owen, and Cora have put their clean clothes into their drawers and closet for a while now, and though Cora does need help, they do pretty well with it.

teach kids how to do laundry 2  wash warriors collage 3 teachmama.com.

Aside from the occasional ‘drawer check’ when we make sure clothes are still folded and in  some semblance of order, we kind of let them go with it.

But after our new washer and dryer were delivered last month, my husband and I decided that it was time for our kids to take on a more meaningful role in our family’s laundry. They were going to become–with our help–Wash Warriors.

We started cold turkey. Out of the blue. One totally random Sunday.

teach kids how to do laundry 2  wash warriors collage 3 teachmama.com.

Okay. Everyone downstairs for a lesson in how to rock the laundry and use our fancy new washer and dryer. Dad and I are finished doing all of the laundry. Today? You are all becoming Wash Warriors. 

It wasn’t really enticing enough for them to drop what they were doing and head to the laundry room. So with a few more ‘tugs’ and a little bit of unplugging, I rallied the troops and gave them their first laundry lesson.

You guys have it good. You have great lives, doing lots of awesome activities, and your social life is pretty much awesome. And because all three of you are smart, strong, and healthy, it’s time you became Wash Warriors. 

teach kids how to do laundry 2  wash warriors collage 3 teachmama.com.

Mom. C’mon, Mom. What do you mean? was the collective groan from my small army.

You’re going to be doing the laundry. It’s a job for bigger kids, and you’re bigger kids. It’s a job that requires some patience, and understanding of technology–because you’ll be controlling these two fancy appliances (I patted our Duets). And not every kid gets to do that.   You get me?

They did.

I showed them step-by-step how to rock the laundry. I literally walked them through everything that first day, and they got it. They liked it. They liked pressing the buttons, moving the clothes, and turning the knobs.

So with the help of my handy-dandy We are Wash Warriors poster, they seemed to manage fine.

teach kids how to do laundry 2 wash warriors teachmama.com

Want to print it out? Here you go: teach kids how to do laundry 

Owen even asked me to leave the laundry room so he could ‘do his work in peace’.   I did not, but eventually I will.  Once they prove to me that they can work the machines.

We’ve just started using the Wash Squad app to keep things fun and exciting, and so far? It rocks.  Will definitely share more later.

teach kids how to do laundry | family job | teachmama.com

Why has this worked?  Why are my kids digging the fact that they’re ‘Wash Warriors’?

  • We’re empowering our kids to take on a ‘big’ job around the house;
  • We’re showing them that we trust them;
  • We’re making them active stakeholders in an important household chore– their clothes!
  • We’re tying their Wash Warrior duties to their allowance and Gem Jars;
  • We’re making laundry FUN–silly names help!–and who doesn’t want to be a ‘warrior’?
  • We have broken down a big job (laundry) into three more manageable jobs: washing, drying, and putting away
  • We’re setting very specific, clear expectations with jobs and have a reminder sign close;
  • We’re allowing them to use electronics, which they love.

So that’s it. Looking forward to sharing more in the next few weeks.

How does your family manage the laundry? Do the kids help? Run the show? Do tell!


also part of this Wash Warrior series:

(click on the image to visit the post!)

teach kids to be stain fighters: laundry from start to finish

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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 wash warriors.

how to make homemade slime: snow day sparkle slime

sparkle slime SNOW DAY teachmama.com

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sparkle slime SNOW DAY  teachmama.com

It’s been snowing a whole lot over here for the last few weeks, and in fact, this week, about 15 inches of the white stuff were dumped on us.

So this mama has had to pull out the stops when it comes to finding things to do.

Homemade slime–snow day sparkle slime–has helped save our sanity.

Not really. But kind of.

We’ve spent a boatload of time outside. We’ve watched movies. Read books. Completed puzzles. Cleaned, finished homework, Valentines, and cooked.

There’s been a lot of downtime. A lot of ‘plugged in’ time. A lot of great, blissful getting along times, and a lot of bickering.

And we tried, for the first time, to make sparkle slime.

The kids loved it.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Make Homemade Slime–Snow Day Sparkle Slime:  It’s super easy.

And there are about a million different ways to do this–be forewarned.

My way is just one.

Here’s a super-quick video about how you can make sparkle slime (our snow day sanity saver!): 


And now you definitely need the Sparkle Slime recipe, right? Yes, yes you do.

Check it out:sparkle slime recipe.

You’ll need:

Once you have everything, you can get started!

how to make sparkle slime | owen

 homemade sparkle slime


homemade sparkle slime

SO fun.

Do you have any cool ideas for passing days when you’re stuck inside? Activities to keep kids interested, engaged, and unplugged? Let us know by leaving a comment!

Check out our cool and creative indoor fun board:

Follow amy mascott @teachmama’s board cool & creative indoor fun on Pinterest.

Or check out these popular posts:


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I by NO MEANS invented this cool activity; in fact, I’d love to offer huge and happy thanks to the following posts for inspiration. Please check them out! thank you, ladies!

reading informational text and crafting: easy, beautiful jewelry-making

reading informational text and crafting | teachmama.com

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reading informational text and crafting | teachmama.com

One of the things that my kids love to do is crafts, so when Melissa & Doug came out with the Art Activity books, I was sold.

Combining reading and crafting? Bam.

A match made in heaven.

Sure, good ole free play and open-ended art is awesome, but some days, an Art Activity book is a super way of sneaking in some reading for kids. And the ‘art’ of reading informational text to follow directions and to use drawings and diagrams to support the reading are foundational skills in nearly every grade level of the Common Core State Standards.

Reading informational texts is something covered in some way almost every year in the English Language Arts Standards. As parents, let’s do what we can to support our kids’ learning from home.

It’s a win-win-WIN.

Maddy rocked out the informational text reading this week with the help of Melissa & Doug’s Craft and Create Mixed Metal Jewelry set. And she’s loving her new jewels.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Reading Informational Text and Crafting– Easy, Beautiful Jewelry-Making:

I knew that Maddy would love this Mixed Metal Jewelry Set, because right now she’s totally into accessories and jewelry.  And she’s also into doing things independently.

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

And she really did love it.

She took off from the start, opening the set and reading and following the directions.  She began by setting out all of the pieces. And then she started with the Layered Earrings.

We chatted along the way, checking out a few different design options and deciding on the silver-bronze-silver graduated layered discs. Love it!

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com


She made these adorable earrings!  Aren’t they to die for?

Next she moved onto the braided bracelet.

As she read, she used the photographs and diagrams to help her more clearly understand the steps.


reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

Especially when it came to the four-strand braid, she used both the diagram and text. I held one side of the bracelet as she braided, and I totally learned something new!

I have never in my life braided with four strands, but Maddy figured it out and explained it to me as she went. Super real-life application of an important reading skill–and Common Core State Standard.

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

Her bracelet turned out so awesome.

And not only did we learn how to do the four-strand braid, but we also learned some cool, new ways of tying off bracelets, combining strands, and connecting the mixed-metal washers and rings.

So fun.

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

I really think this is only the beginning.

Maddy so loved jewelry-making that we’re heading to the craft store for some mixed metal pieces this weekend.  Though the set comes with plenty of pieces, Maddy was busy and included a handful of pieces in each one she made.

It will be so awesome to see her apply her new skills to the other pieces we purchase at the store.  She felt great about what she made and looks forward to making more. Love. It.

In my opinion, there’s nothing better than this! It’s real-life and purposeful informative text reading at its finest!

melissa doug blog ambassador buttonfyi: I wrote this post as part of the Melissa & Doug Blog Ambassador program.   Melissa & Doug has long created rockstar products that nurture creativity and thought in our children, which is why I am so proud to be a part of this program.

As always, my opinions and ideas are my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator.

phonemic awareness and classification with zoo magazine pictures

phonemic awareness and classification with zoo magazine pictures | guest post by @aubreyhargis on @teachmama #weteach

phonemic awareness and classification with zoo magazine pictures | guest post by @aubreyhargis on @teachmama #weteach

The following guest post is written by the amazing Aubrey of Montessori Mischief. If ever you wanted to know about Montessori education, do check her blog.It’s awesome.  And beautiful.


  • Phonemic Awareness and Classification with Zoo Magazine Pictures, by Aubrey Hargis

Making educational fun out of something free to us is not just part of our budget-friendly Montessori home school approach – it’s a challenge that the kids and I all embrace together.

Every day my three year old makes a jammie-clad dash for the mail out the front door. Our mail carrier is often caught in the act, and we wave madly until he gives us a thumbs up. Often it’s all bills (not fun), and sometimes advertisements (more fun), and if we’re very lucky, it’s letters written to us or glossy magazines from the zoo.

And a glossy magazine from the zoo it was that day. Out from the magazine came the staples and out from the cabinet came the scissors.

phonemic awareness and classification with zoo magazine pictures | guest post by @aubreyhargis on @teachmama #weteach

My six year old and three year old both chose favorite animals to cut out, and a stack quickly piled up on the kitchen table. What to do now?

We put our heads together. We thought hard. We stared at the animal cut-outs around on the table, and silently, like playing a Ouija board, our fingers began shifting them this way and that. Birds of a feather. Hooves together. Scales and claws. Furry paws. And by the time we finished clumping them all into groups, we were grinning.

“What are these?” I asked my three year old.

“Birds!” he shouted.

“And these?” I asked my six year old.

“Mammals!” he yelled, hands high in the air with excitement.

phonemic awareness and classification with zoo magazine pictures | guest post by @aubreyhargis on @teachmama #weteach


phonemic awareness and classification with zoo magazine pictures | guest post by @aubreyhargis on @teachmama #weteach

I grabbed a piece of paper and began writing down the names of our groups (classification): mammals, reptiles, birds, fish…

We discussed the characteristics we saw as we compared and contrasted our groups.

I believe it was my three year old who began naming the animals one by one and emphasizing the beginning sound (phonemic awareness): “O-O-Ostrich. B-B-Bear.” Quickly, I cut up some squares and added letters as we said the names together. You should have seen my three year old very solemnly placing each letter on each animal.

If the pieces hadn’t gotten scattered during their pretend play, it would have been nice to glue them to a big piece of posterboard, or even to back on cardstock, laminate, and adhere velcro for a felt board experience.

Suddenly, the world of junk mail has opened up a world of educational possibilities for us. No longer will I be simply tossing it all in the recycling bin. Who knows what will arrive next? We’ll be racing to the door to find out tomorrow!


Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your fun, on-the-fly learning with your kids, Aubrey! How inspiring!!

Aubrey HargisAubrey homeschools her two kiddos and writes at Montessori Mischief, where she shares parenting tips and Montessori teaching tricks. You can find her hanging out with Montessori newbies in her Montessori 101 group. Follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, or Google +.



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.

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other posts in the series:

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!

advanced learners: 8 ways to support them at home

Ways to Support Advanced Learners at Home_thumb[4]

Ways to Support Advanced Learners at Home

The following guest post is written by Natalie, of Afterschool for Smarty Pants.   Natalie shares ways she enriches her daughter’s learning at home, after school.  Check it out.


As you can guess from my blog title, Smarty is a gifted learner who loves books and enjoys math and science, so these subjects are the main themes of my blog. She is now in the second grade and attends our local public school.

I will not go into details in this post as to why we are not considering “skipping” her at this point. You are welcome to visit my blog where this year I will write more about advocating for and supporting gifted learners in school setting.

In this post I want to share some ideas about what you can do at home to support your academically advanced children.

  • 8 Ways to Support Advanced Learners at Home: n this post I want to share some ideas about what you can do at home to support your academically advanced children.

I am honored to be here at Teach Mama today.

As you can guess from my blog title, Smarty is a gifted learner who loves books and enjoys math and science, so these subjects are the main themes of my blog. She is now in the second grade and attends our local public school.

I will not go into details in this post as to why we are not considering “skipping” her at this point. You are welcome to visit my blog where this year I will write more about advocating for and supporting gifted learners in school setting.


Time to Build, Read, and Create

1. Give Them Time

Our gifted learners already spend too many hours a day trapped in the classrooms doing what others want them to do. They need time to unwind, to think, to read, and to tinker. It is good for them to be bored and to be able to find creative outlets for their brain power. If you want them to do something extra, consider sports or arts classes. Our daughter goes to gymnastics once a week and attends one after school class (it was stop motion animation last term) that is given during the time that she would normally spend in her Y after school.

Leave Things Behind to Be Found

2. Strew Things

What is strewing? Basically, it’s leaving interesting things for your children to discover. It can be books, maps, building materials, toys brought back into circulation, or art supplies. I caution, however, from doing it every day, or you will turn back into the source of their entertainment. Our gifted learners, just like everyone else, need to learn to find happiness on their own.

Snap Circuit - Hands On Introduction to Electronics

3. Limit Screen Time

With abundant options in educational software and video products, it’s so tempting to let electronic devices teach our children something that they didn’t get in school. I believe that school age children should have access to technology, but this access should be limited and supervised for younger children. Our daughter has 30 minutes a day of screen time that she can accumulate up to 3 hours to use all at once on the weekend if she wishes to do so (she mostly prefers to use a little every day). If you want to know what sites Smarty frequents, jump here.

4. Play Games

Board Games for Brainy Kids

 Put away that worksheet already! There are so many wonderful ways to spend time together and teach your children bysimply playing games. You can check out our favorite games for brainy kids, and I also want to recommend this terrific list of Math Games for different ages. Playing against parents or older siblings might also give our children a very valuable lesson in losing gracefully or accepting the fact that they might not be the best at everything.

5. Challenge Them

Challenging advanced learners at homeIt’s true that our advanced children are usually not challenged in the classrooms in the areas of their strength, and this is why it’s important to challenge them at home – not necessary with complex math problems even though we do that as well, but also with challenges that require using more than one skill and, ideally, cooperation with a buddy or a sibling. You can check our mystery substance challenge and an engineering challenge, and we plan to have these challenges regularly this year.

6. Teach Them Life Skills

Teaching Kids LifeskillsIt might not be easy to get advanced learners to focus on practical skills. My daughter is would much prefer read in her room than load a dishwasher. I believe it’s really important to teach our advanced learners cooking, taking care of their clothes and cleaning their rooms. They will appreciate it when they are young adults and need to spend more time on their studies than they do now.

7. Spend Time in Nature

Get OutsideOur advanced learner is a “thinker”. Sometimes it’s hard to get her out of the house, but time spent in nature or even simply playing outside is very important to children like her. She gets to engage her other senses and her whole body while interacting with the world outside her safe routine of home and school. It’s even better when friends or siblings can join this time of exploring and discovering nature around us.



Find Teachable Moments by Being Available

8. Find “Teachable Moments”

You don’t need to be available to your children at all hours to support them. I work full time in technology sector, and my time with my family is limited. Nevertheless, even 30 minutes a day can go a long way if you really tune in to your child. Time in a car, time before bed or dinner time all could be great opportunities to connect to your children, learn what they are interested in and lead them to new discoveries.


Natalie Photo

Natalie blogs at Afterschool for Smarty Pants. She is working full time in high tech industry and raising one daughter.Follow her on Facebook, on Pinterest and on Google+.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, Natalie, my longtime bloggy pal,  for sharing!

Looking for more activities for keeping the wheels turnin’ for your littles?

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.

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word building, letter writing, stamping to spell

stamp to spell

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stamp to spell | use stamps for early literacy learning and spelling | teachmama.com

 Originally published on 2.23.11 but republished because it’s that important.

During Maddy’s homework time yesterday, Owen had one task on  his mind: he wanted to write a get-well letter to his buddy who recently had surgery.  He knew exactly what he wanted to write–he told me at least two times during the day what his letter would say, and we knew exactly what we wanted to put in his pal’s little ‘get well quick’ package.

But my O-man wanted to make his letter special. He wanted to make it fancy he said, because he wanted to really cheer his buddy up.

So I brought down the alphabet letter stamps–our favorites from Melissa & Doug–and I asked if he wanted to stamp his letter.  Score! He did, so he got stamping. . .

. . . and while Cora initially began her own letter to Owen’s friend, she quickly switched gears and decided that she instead wanted to ‘stamp names’. So stamping names my little Cora did.

All the while, Maddy and I rocked out her homework, and I’ll tell you, overall, homework time went pretty smoothly for us.

  • Word Building, Letter Writing, Stamping to Spell: Before Owen began, he dictated his letter to me.  I wrote it down and placed it next to his blank card and the alphabet stamps.

I asked,  Do you want me to make lines for you, Owen?

No, I know what to do, he said.  And apparently he did. He got rolling and only stopped when Maddy mentioned something to him about spaces between words.

You should really try putting two fingers on the paper and use that as the space between words so it’s not all one big word on the page. That’s what my teacher taught me last year.

stamp to spell | teachmama.com

Owen tries out Maddy’s ‘two fingers for a space’ trick.

I confirmed her suggestion, and Owen started using his two tiny fingers as spaces. He got hung up when there wasn’t enough room on the page for the ‘u’ in ‘you’ so I tried to squeeze it in for him. It didn’t work:  Now it looks like a ‘q’ Mommy. Come on. Really, what am I good for anymore?

So I did what I could to fix it and he didn’t ask me for help again.

stamp to spell | early literacy | spelling | teachmama.com

stamp to spell | teachmama.comMy sweet, sweet Owen was so proud of his letter.   And he should be.

And I really didn’t need to, because he did know what he was doing. Sure, he moved back and forth between uppercase and lowercase letters, but at this point, that’s no big deal. He used his eyes to follow the words on the letter I wrote, found the correct letter stamp in the set, and then marked that letter on the page. That’s not easy.

Sure, he got tired and decided to omit a whole line of his message, but that doesn’t matter. It wasn’t an easy task, and he worked hard.

He stamped some flowers, dogs, hearts on the front of the card, and he added his own few hearts for his buddy.  If that doesn’t cheer a guy up, I’m not sure what will.

stamp to spell | early literacy | spelling | teachmama.com

stamp to spell | early literacy | spelling | teachmama.com

  • Stamping Family Names: While Owen stamped his letter, Cora stamped our family’s names.

Lately, she’s brought down our Family Name Chart at least once a week; she’s traced names, doodled on the page, anything.  Sometimes she just has the chart next to her as she colors.  Maybe because she likes the ‘older’ pictures of our family? (Cora was maybe a year old when I made it. . . )

The Family Name Charts are here to download if you’d like. They include three charts: one with MOMMY, DADDY and 3 blank spaces; one with Mommy, Daddy, and 3 blank spaces; and one with 5 blank spaces.

new family name chart (in Word, so you can change it yourself), or new family chart–BLANK ( as a pdf, so you can write in the names yourself).  Enjoy!

Cora began with Maddy’s name; she said, I need an ‘M’, I need an ‘M‘.  And when she found it, she stamped it.  Then she’d continue: I need an ‘A’, I need an ‘A’, I need the ‘A’. . . as she searched for it in the box.

stamp to spell | early literacy and letter recognition | teachmama.com


stamp to spell | early literacy | letter recognition | teachmama.com

Once Maddy was stamped, she went on to Owen, but before she started, I drew four little lines for her.  You can put the letters right on these lines so each letter is in the right place, I said.  I did the same for her name and Brady’s.

It was hard enough for her to follow the letters from the sheet, to the stamp set, to the paper, and keep them all in the correct spot, so I thought the little lines would give her a little help.


stamp to spell | early literacy and letter recognition | teachmama.comCora stamped family names.

And that’s it.  Cora stamped out family names, Owen stamped his buddy’s note, and when Maddy was finished with her work, she stamped a few fancy pictures for her pals.  Quick, easy, and worthwhile time spent for everyone, building words, writing letters, and stamping to spell, all the while practicing fine motor skills and spelling.

Our kiddos don’t always have to write in order to learn letters and words; in fact, sometimes when we mix things up a bit, they’re even more interested in ‘playing’ and (secretly) learning.

Want some other cool ideas for creating words and sending messages? Check out:

Have fun and feel free to link up any other ideas you have–I’m always up for more sneaky fun ways of spending time with my kiddos!


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


neighborhood toy store day: kick off holiday shopping locally! *sponsored*

neighborhood toy story day

sponsored post



Did you know?neighborhood toy story day

The 4th annual Neighborhood Toy Store Day will be held on Saturday, November 9, 2013 to help kick off the holiday shopping season!

I have sung the sweet song of my love of my local toy store before, and I’ll sing it again: I love my local toy store!

And honestly? I had no idea that there was a special day to support my neighborhood toy store and all of the other rockstar neighborhood toy stores around the country, but it sure makes me happy. Who knew?

This weekend, many stores around the country will be kicking off the holiday season with cool events for their customers—face painting, crafts, special performances, and great discounts.   Will your toy store be involved?

Read on to find out.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Neighborhood Toy Store Day– Kick Off Holiday Shopping Locally: Though I’m super-sad my personal fave neighborhood toy store isn’t participating  in Neighborhood Toy Store Day, many others in my area are.

It seems to me like it’s a good reason to do some exploring locally to peruse some other local toy stores. I’m betting my kids will love it, too.

To find out whether your local toy store is participating in the event this weekend, visit: yourneighborhoodtoystore.org.

neighborhood toy story day


Need a refresher about why neighborhood toy stores totally rock the house?

  • They provide a diverse product selection.  Think: unique toys and specialty brands that you can’t find at national chain store.
  • They provide economic stability!  Think: local jobs and tax dollars
  • They help witih community development. Think: support for a friendly, thriving neighborhood
  • They contribute to reduced environmental impact. Think: less travel, traffic and carbon usage for consumers
  • They provide better customer service. Think: more time to build relationships.

neighborhood toy story day

neighborhood toy story day

Too far from any neighborhood toy store and still want to play at home?  You can!

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

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

Visit www.yourneighborhoodtoystore.org to enter to win the following sweepstakes:

What can you win?

  • A Grand Prize Vacation Package: the family vacation of a lifetime at select all inclusive Hard Rock Hotels in Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
  • One gift basket of Kidoozie products from International Playthings valued at $250
  • One gift basket of Calico Critter products from International Playthings valued at $250
  • One gift basket of earlyears products from International Playthings valued at $250
  • Gift certificates for Playmobil products.  Two winners will receive a $250 Playmobil gift certificate each to be redeemed at an ASTRA-affiliated retailer
  • One gift basket of assorted Best Toys for Kids winning product from ASTRA valued at $250

Learn more at Facebook.com/TheWoohooFactor or on Twitter at @TheWoohooFactor

To check out the full list of this year’s winners and find a local toy store near you, visit YourNeighborhoodToyStore.org


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

giving thanks every day: easy, at-home graffiti board

giving thanks daily graffiti door

giving thanks daily graffiti door

Our house is already knee-deep in holiday catalogs, mailers, and promos, and it’s totally insane.

So in order to ‘reign in’ the madness early in the game and to help my 9-year-old, 8-year-old, and 6-year-old keep focused on the meaning of this season, I created a quick and easy way for us to give thanks every day.

I made an easy, at-home graffiti board.

It’s our Thankful Graffiti Board, and it’s on the door to our laundry room and garage–the door that everyone uses to exit the house and the door that we keep closed most often to keep in the cool or warmth.

Reminiscent of our Thankful Tree a few years back, our Thankful Graffiti Board is a way of sharing and celebrating all for which we give thanks.  Simple. Poster board, markers, and tape is all it took for us to set it up, and now?

The kids are totally game.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Giving Thanks Every Day — Easy, At-Home Graffiti Board: Really, it doesn’t get more simple than this.

 thankful graffiti door -

I wanted to do something that was really ‘in our faces’–something we’d see every day and something that each member of our family could contribute to.

This summer, with our Summer Fun Cards on our door, we had constant reminders of what we needed to do and where we needed to go. So I though that perhaps the continuous reminders of all of our blessings would yield the same effect.



thankful graffiti door

thankful graffiti door

I explained the gist of the Thankful Graffiti Board after dinner one night: We have so much to be thankful for, it’s not even funny. We are so blessed in so many ways. What are some of the things we have, in our lives, to be thankful for?

They instantly came up with about a million things: food, shelter, clothes, love, books, you name it.

thankful graffiti door -

You are so right. We have all of these things to be thankful for and much, much more. Every day I bet we could name ten things we have to be thankful for, and that’s what we’re going to do this month–November is a time for giving thanks. So that’s what we’re going to do.

I explained what a Graffiti Board is and that it’s just a large space where everyone can jot down their ideas.  I used Graffiti Boards a lot in teaching; kids always seem to love having a place where they can be heard.  And it’s cool for them to be able to always see the contributions of others.

Really? My kids are no different. And when they see my additions or my husband’s? They are totally excited.  And when they read each other’s? They love it.

We’ll see how this goes. . .

So that’s it–just a quickie way that our family is trying to really stay focused on the meaning of this important, reflective, joyous season.

Do you have other cool ideas for reminding your family to be thankful? I’d love to hear them!

Otherwise, do check out our Thanksgiving Pinterest board, where I’ll be adding to the resources for food, fun, and learning this season!