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

why I totally heart neighborhood toy store

sponsored post


why I totally heart neighborhood toy store


I am a longtime fan of the neighborhood toy store.

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

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

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

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

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

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

astra best toys for kids: zingo

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

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

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


astra best toys for kids: zingo

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

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

They vote on:

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

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

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


astra best toys for kids: laser maze

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

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

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

i heart my toy store sweeps

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

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


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

halloween sensory bin and learning letter H

halloween sensory bin and learning letter H
post contains affiliate links

The following guest post is written by Jaime of Frogs & Snails & Puppy Dog Tails. Jaime is a busy, creative mom of three young boys, and her blog rocks. Check it out.


We love holidays at our house. Especially fall holidays.  Halloween has become a not so scary holiday we love.  We have found our own ways, as well as some traditional ways, to have fun.

For instance, we had fun in a Halloween sensory bin last year. So this year I wanted to make the kids a new one for the up coming holiday.  Today I will be sharing how we made our sensory bin and the letter learning we added to it.

So what better letter to go over in the month of October than the letter H for Halloween? We did a fun craft and activity to go along with us talking about the letter H.
  • We did a letter H craft.

What we used:

What we did:

halloween sensory bin and learning letter H

I traced a letter H on the paper and let my 4 yr and 2 yr add Halloween stickers all over it.  This is an easy and fun craft for the kids.  They also get to work on fine motor skills while peeling and placing the stickers.

Now we had a fun decorations for our wall.
The kids loved how their H came out. We also talked about the orange color of the paper too.
halloween sensory bin and learning letter H
What I did:
I made my son a small sensory bin and placed it down inside an extra large plastic bin we have.  This was to help contain the rice mess as this would make for easy clean up.  Once the bin was set out, my son came to play.
halloween sensory bin and learning letter H
  • Halloween Sensory Bin with pumpkin spice rice.  My oldest loves to play in rice.  Since little brother usually just throws it everywhere I set this bin up just for my 4yr.
What I used:
halloween sensory bin and learning letter H
Of course he brought a truck!
He got right to running his hands through the rice.  I think he loves just exploring the texture of the rice.
He got to explore all his sense except taste.
We talked about the letters inside the bin and we went over the letter H sounds and talked about other words that started with the letter H.

halloween sensory bin and learning letter H

Holidays are a great time to have fun and adding a simple learning element to play is always a plus.
We hope you and your kids may have some letter H fun too.

All kids are different and only you can decide how you let your kids play. And with what materials you let them play with. My children are supervised when playing. Please keep this in mind with any post you read of mine!


I am an everyday stay at home mom. I have 3 boys ages 4 years to 10 months old.  I love to find fun activities, crafts, recipes…. for us to do together. When I am not washing clothes and chasing the boys around I enjoy sharing our activities and crafts on my  blog Frogs & Snails & Puppy Dog Tail.  You can also follow us through our PinterestFacebookTwitter,Google+,and our G+ community, All Things Kids.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, Jaime,  for sharing!

Looking for more activities for ringing in Halloween (and sneaking in a little learning) with your littles?

Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards:

fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

lily pad number game: get kids up, moving, and counting!

lily pad number game | get kids up, moving, and counting!

lily pad number gameThe following guest post is written by Emma Craig. Emma writes P is for Preschooler blog which is totally worth checking out if you have a little one at home!


It recently came to my attention recently that Kay does not know what numbers mean. Sure, she can count, but she doesn’t get that “8” means eight things. I believe the fancy name is 1:1 correspondence. Whatever the case, it’s something we need to work on.
So when I saw this Lily Pad Hop from Toddler Approved, I wanted to give it a try.

  • Lily Pad Number Game:

Kay isn’t usually one to just sit and work on numbers or letters – in fact, if it has the slightest whiff of being educational, she tunes out.

But this involved jumping! I cut out some rudimentary lily pads from heavy paper, numbered them 1-9 and bought new stickers for the occasion.

At first she started putting one sticker on each lily pad, but then I reminded her that “This lily pad needs 5 stickers. Can we do it?” Of course! She carefully counted and recounted until all the stickers were on.
Now, the fun part.

lily pad number game | get kids up, moving, and counting!


We placed them on the floor in the sun room. I’d ask her, “Can you get me the 6 and 7?” and she’d run to the table to bring them to me.

I heard her counting the stickers when she didn’t know what the number was, and I had to smile.


lily pad number game | get kids up, moving, and counting!


Finally they were all set out and – hopping time!

lily pad number game | get kids up, moving, and counting!


This was undoubtedly her favorite part, and I joined in too.

I do wonder what people walking by our house at the time thought when they kept hearing, “Ribbit, ribbit!” over and over again!

I think our neighbors are starting to expect strange things from us anyway!How do you and your children play with numbers?

****Looking for more super-fun, sneaky math activities?

Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards, filled with indoor fun ideas:

Or check out the following math-happy posts:


p is for preschool Emma Craig is a stay-at-home mom to 4-year-old Kay. They keep busy through the day, all while sneaking in a little learning along the way. You can read more at: http://pisforpreschooler.weebly.com/p-is-for-preschooler-blog.html

lego baseball: creative math game for kids, by kids

lego baseball | sneaky, creative math fun

post contains affiliate links


lego baseball | super sneaky totally creative math fun


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The away team makes their batting lineup.

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

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

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

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

Play until one team gets 3 outs.  Then switch.

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

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

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

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


lego baseball | sneaky math fun

Set out LEGO bases and a pitching mound.

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

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

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

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


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

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

They use the scoreboard from their box of Baseball Guys.

lego baseball | sneaky math fun

And don’t forget the cameraman!

lego baseball | sneaky math fun


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

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

Want a printable version of rules and score sheet?

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

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

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


Looking for more super-fun, sneaky math activities?

Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards:

Or check out the following math-happy posts:

fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

put an end to hunger in america: get the whole family involved

put an end to hunger in america get the whole family involved

put an end to hunger in america get the whole family involved

I’ve thought long and hard about how to get my family involved in helping to end hunger in America, knowing that all around us–in DC Metro suburban community–people are hungry.

Our kids go to school with children who are hungry.

My husband is an administrator in a school where children are hungry.

All around our community, families are struggling to make ends meet. They–and their children–are hungry.

So what can you do to help?  How can you get your family involved in putting an end to hunger in America?   I don’t have all the answers. (Big shocker.)  But I have some.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Put an End to Hunger in America–Get the Whole Family Involved:  A few weeks back, Maddy’s girlfriends met like we meet each month, and our focus was to give back.

We worked all evening making sandwiches for McKenna’s Wagon, a mobile soup kitchen in our area.

end hunger in america making sandwiches

making sandwiches for homeless -

The really special touch? My sweet and smart friend Erin suggested we have our girls and their siblings write tiny notes that we put in each sandwich bag.   She wanted each person who got one of our sandwiches to know that we were thinking about them. I love it.

Before we even opened our first bag of bread, we cut construction paper into strips.  And then we handed each child a few pieces along with a pen, and we wrote, wrote, wrote.

We stressed that even a ‘love, Maddy’ was fine! The kids worked so hard on notes like:

  • Have a good day!
  • We care about you!
  • Made with love!
  • Enjoy!

Their hand-written notes were so special, and I think it was a super-smart touch.


making sandwiches for homeless -

end hunger in america making sandwiches 2

Then we made our sandwiches.

Each family brought what they could–a few bags of bread, some meat and some cheese.

And we assembled sandwiches with a force that I swear could move mountains.  The kids worked so hard.  They laid out bread, added meat and cheese and another piece of bread to close it. Put it in a bag. Added a note.

making sandwiches for homeless -

making sandwiches for homeless -

We used the bread bags to hold sandwiches, and in the end made over 300 sandwiches!

The kids felt so good about their hard work.  We have plans to do more work like this in the upcoming months.

Want more about where your family–or small group of friends and neighbors–can donate sandwiches, just like we did?

As a starting point, check out:

hunger in america target feed

the brown cord bracelet, the pillows, and the scarf are part of the Target FEED line

Other ideas:

  • Target FEED: Target has recently partnered with Lauren Bush Lauren and FEED Foundation to create a special product line that supports feeding the hungry in America.  You’ve probably noticed the line at Target this summer, and it will run through October.

Each item has a number on it.  And that number represents the number of meals that will be given as a result of your purchase.  I love the simplicity of this partnership, and I think it’s a thoughtful and wise way of giving back, even with the smallest effort on the consumer’s part.

nyc #FEEDusa event target -

Lauren Bush Lauren and me. . .

nyc #FEEDusa event target -

at the Target FEED USA launch.

nyc #FEEDusa event target -

me and my sweet and smart friend Patrice, of Afrobella

Visit Target FEED to learn about the program, to find out how you can get involved, or to browse the lookbook.

Or visit the FEED site. Buy a bag.  Give a meal.

Take a look at all of my photos from the Target FEED USA launch last June:

SUCH an incredible time!

Encourage your kids–or your neighborhood–to host a bake sale.

Or just totally check out the site. So worth your time, and you can come up with a way to help–together.

dine out go orange campaign


A ton of great programs exist out there. The important thing? Just do something. And show your kids that you take childhood hunger seriously.


As the oldest of four girls, I recall vividly a time when when I was very young and my hard-working, union laborer father was laid off of work. And our cupboards were close to bare.

I don’t have memories of being hungry; I was too young to even remember the faces of stress on my parents.  But the stress was there. Food and money for it were not.

And I remember one Sunday afternoon after church, a stranger coming to our door with bags and bags and bags of groceries. He had strict instructions, from a woman who insisted on remaining nameless, to deliver the food to our home. She gave him $20, and he did it.

I can still see that young man’s look of confusion and excitement.  Look what he brought us! But why? How bad off were we?


making sandwiches for homeless - 21


Our family looks back at this time when our ‘angel’ brought groceries to our home as a sort of miracle, a mystery to us and a reminder that people were good and that things would be okay.  That someone was watching out for us.

But our story is unusual, and unfortunately, it is the exception.

More often than not, families don’t have angels like we had deliver food to their doors.  They rely on churches, schools, government programs, and anti-hunger campaigns to get them through the difficult times.

Let’s do something about it.  Together

And show our kids that it’s important to us.

Not sure what to do? Share this post as a start.

Then think about it, come back, and think some more. Ask your kids what they want to do. And run with it.

Any other ideas? Suggestions? Links to great ideas for ways families can help put an end to childhood hunger? Let me know!


fyi: Though I am proud to be a part of the Target Inner Circle program, this is an unsponsored post, written solely because I want to share our own experiences and a few programs that may help other families take action against hunger in our world.

Thank you to Target for sending me to New York City in June to attend the launch of Target FEED USA line.

math, writing, STEM apps for kids: tabletop surprises

tabletop surprises week seven

post contains affiliate links



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

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

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


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

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

Here’s the skinny. . .

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

math, writing, STEM apps for kids: tabletop surprises

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

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

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

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

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


tabletop surprises day math games

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

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

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


make your own math game tabletop surprises - 4

make your own math game tabletop surprises - 4


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

My little forumla:

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

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

How do you play these simple games?

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

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


tabletop surprises day fun with foamies cover

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

That’s it.

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

fun with foamies


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

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


fun with foamies

fun with foamies


tabletop surprises day stem celebration cover

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

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

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


new ipad apps tabletop surprise


new ipad apps tabletop surprise


new ipad apps tabletop surprise


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

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



tabletop surprises day baby photos

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Tabletop Surprises Planning Sheet by teach mama


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

So they got to work.

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

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


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


fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

independent learning, poetry and play: tabletop surprises

tabletop surprises week 5

post contains affiliate links



learn and play independently tabletop surprises
The greatest thing about tabletop surprises is that they afford my kids the opportunity for some seriously fun independent learning in cool and creative ways.

Because learning–especially in the summer–should be fun, right?


This week, we traveled a bit to hang with our familia in the Keystone State, so we only rocked our tabletop surprises four days this week.  And Friday? Our boy celebrated his big numero ocho cumpleanos. So we made our tabletop surprise especially for Owen.

We added a little bit of math, a little bit of reading, a little bit of critical thinking, and a whole lot of on-their-own-time kinda fun.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Independent Learning, Poetry, and Play– Tabletop Surprises:

tabletop surprises mealtime math madness

  • Mealtime Math Madness with Melissa & Doug Math Fact Placemats: This tabletop surprise moved from the work room table to our kitchen table–and it stayed there pretty much all week long.

I’ve always been a fan of mealtime learning, placemat parties, and using the many hours spent at the breakfast table for newspaper reading, sneaky learning, personal discovery, and more.

learning fun placemats tabletop surprise

learning fun placemats tabletop surprise

So when I found this sweet line of fun, wipe-off placemats from Melissa & Doug, I wanted to dance.   Really. Like running man al kinda dance.

We have tried the Alphabet & Numbers set, the Advanced Skills set, the Basic Skills set, and the Math Skills set. We haven’t tried the Fun Skills set (my poor, poor kids).

What I love about these sets is that though the problems are not mixed randomly, my hope is that kids will see patterns in the answers that will help them down the road. I don’t know. I can hope though.

learning fun placemats tabletop surprise

Love the wipe off crayons that are super easy to write with and bright enough to see. Love that there’s one mat each for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division and the answers are on the back of each. So if the kids aren’t up for writing, then at least they can eat and stare at the answers. Maybe the answers will sear into their brains if they look at them long enough. . .


tabletop surprises day poems

  • Poems–Memorizing & Reciting:  I love poems for so many reasons, but for kids, poems can be a super way of working on reading skills.

Check out how we rocked some serious poetry this week: Reading, Reciting, and Memorizing Poems

Fluency, memorization, and recitation are three big open doors when it comes to poetry, not to mention the creativity, writing skills, language play, critical thinking, and comprehension strategies you can practice.



tabletop surprises day shopping

  • Back-t0-School Shopping & Lists: Our family totally digs Back-to-School shopping, and it’s a tradition to kinda ‘do it up’ every year.

We’ve had the kids use their own school supply shopping lists from day one, and each year I do a little something to support Maddy, Owen, and Cora in their reading and management of their personal lists.

This year, I put them to work even before we arrived at the store.

back to school price shopping tabletop surprise

back to school price shopping tabletop surprise


I printed out supply lists from the school website, and I let them go.

Owen in particular had a great time trying to figure out the best places to buy Skylanders most inexpensively, and once he figured that out, he spent a few minutes plowing through his list.

The challenge was having them incorporate the coupons I had on the table–that involved some serious math practice.

Though this tabletop surprise required more support than I had anticipated, it was worth it. Now we have our back-to-school shopping plan outline for the weekend.


tabletop surprises day free electronics

  • Free Electronics:  Really, for Owen’s birthday, all he wanted was a free day for electronics.

So that’s what we gave him.

Free reign of the Wii, the Nintendo DS, the LeapFrog LeapPad, the LeapFrog GS, the iPad, and the iPad mini, and my boy was in hog heaven. The best gift I could have given him, he said.

No Game Time Tickets. No timers. Nothin’.

I had to do a lot of deep breathing to ease my anxiety over my kids’ brain cells being zapped by the second, but surprisingly, they didn’t spend all day on electronics. tabletop surprises buttonJust a whole lot of it.   Gulp.



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

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


fyi: affiliate links included in this post

soap dough, soap molds, crazy cool fun with soap

soap dough soap molds and crazy cool fun with soap

post contains affiliate links


soap dough soap molds and crazy cool fun with soap


What happens when you put a bar of Ivory soap in the microwave?

Really. Ivory soap. Plain ole sweet-smelling, plain-jane white bar o’ Ivory soap?

In the microwave.

Try it.

Your kids will think you’re a rockstar, and everyone involved will be in awe.

Do it during a playdate, and your kids’ friends will forever tell tales of your awesomeness.

Children will think you’ve lost your mind and then will be starstruck by your science fabulousity.

Your disinterested, challenging kids will begin to respond to your every word, move, and idea.

The whole family will wait with wonder to see what you have up your sleeve next.

Actually, I can’t guarantee all that. But what I can say is that my kids, my husband, and I had a blast playing with soap ‘dough’–what you get when you blast Ivory soap in the microwave.

All you need is this soap, and you’re good to go. Inexpensive soap. That’s it.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Soap Dough, Soap Molds, Crazy Cool Fun With Soap: I’ll be honest. Owen wasn’t digging the soap experiment.

soap dough soap molds and crazy cool fun with soap

He was over-tired and got frustrated with Cora in the beginning of the whole thing and so he went out front and shot some hoops instead of soapin’ it up with Cora, Maddy, and me. But he did keep coming around, sneaking glances, and trying to play but not really.

So it’s simple, and it’s not perfect, but playing with Ivory soap was something I’ve wanted to do with the kids for a while now, after catching a few fab pins on Pinterest.

It’s been sitting there on our neat-o, FUN, new things for us to try board, and finally, finally? We did it.

After a busy morning and after rest and after a whole lot of free-bird summertime fun, I said, Hey! Remember we had ‘Fun Science Experiment’ on the calendar for today? Who’s up for checking out what I meant?

soap dough step 2

Maddy, Owen, and Cora found me in the kitchen, and we got rockin’ and rollin’.

I said, So we’re going to do something a little crazy today with this. And I handed them the bar of Ivory soap.

I also got out the only other things we’d need:

I got a lot of Huh? and What? and Why? and Mom?

Maddy opened the bar of soap, and we all held it and smelled it and passed it around. And talked about how it smelled so pretty like Nana’s bathroom. (Because that’s the soap she uses and has used for as long as I can remember.)

Then I placed it on a piece of wax paper, put it on a microwavable plate, and stepped back.

soap dough microwave

What do you think will happen if we put this puppy in the microwave? I asked.

It might melt?

It will explode?

It will ruin our microwave!

I’m not sure you should do that, Mom.

I told them that I’d only heard about this experiment but never did it myself, so I was a little nervous. I pressed 1:30 on the microwave, and we all stepped back.

What happened was totally crazy and completely strange.

soap dough soap molds

soap dough soap molds

soap dough soap molds

We did it twice, with two bars of soap, and the ‘explosion’ looked completely different each time. It. Was. Nuts.

And though the edges were cool, the insides were HOT. Like hot, hot hot.

soap dough soap molds

soap dough soap molds

But the whole thing was light–like a cloud–when lifted. So the kids took turns holding it after it cooled. It was so totally fun.

After a bit of holding and observing, we took the fun outside.

I had read that you could break the soap apart, mix it, and form a sort of dough. Though I was not willing to throw it in our food processor or blender, I read that you could. We were going to put our kids to work and mix and mold on our own.

soap dough soap molds

We put the big lumps of soap on two trays, each covered with a piece of wax paper.

And then? We just broke it apart. We added a few drops of food coloring to each lump, blue to Maddy’s and green to Cora’s. (By this time, Owen was shooting hoops.)

We found that the warmer parts were more easily molded and moved, but with a bit of warm water, it became this awesome, smooth, soft, fragrant dough.

soap dough soap molds

soap dough soap molds

soap dough soap molds

It did take some work and a bit of muscle to get it into a working ‘dough’ and we had to go really, really light on the warm water. But after we found the right combo, we were able to use the cookie cutters to make fun, brightly colored soap shapes.

soap dough soap play with blue

soap dough soap molds

The O-Man even came back to get his hands in the dough after a while.

Maddy and Cora loved it. Though Cora set her sights on creating a soap mold princess crown and was disappointed that she couldn’t make it perfectly, Maddy went simple with cookie cutter molds and was better off.

Next time, I’d only bring out basic shape cookie cutters–our soap dough was a little choppy and chunky for detailed molds.

soap dough soap molds

soap dough soap molds

soap dough soap molds

So fun. So much soapy, doughy, moldable fun that we were beside ourselves.

The big question is why does Ivory soap behave this way in the microwave? I had not a clue. But my savvy-science friends do:

And that’s it. Some sneaky science and fine–motor sensory fun on a cool (thankfully!) summer afternoon.

Do you have any other cool and easy science-experiments for kids? Let me have ’em!


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learn and play independently: tabletop surprises week 2

tabletop surprises week two

post contains affiliate links


tabletop surprises week two


One rockin thing about tabletop surprises is that kids can learn and play independently. On their own time, when they’re up for it.

And that flexibility has been huge for us since our summer swim and dive schedule has been totally crazy for the last few weeks.

Another cool thing about creating these open invitations for exploration is that tabletop surprises allow: one day something free and crafty, another day something that is a little more thought-provoking and complex, an activity that requires a bit more time.

Survey says that these are a big win for us so far.

If the kids are game, I’m game.

This week, we used some math and reading skills, played with water and worked those fine motor skills.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Learn and Play Independently–Tabletop Surprises Week 2:

tabletop surprises button

Quick refresher: Tabletop Surprises are fun learning or creative thinking opportunities for the kids on our craft room table. Just sitting there.  Waiting for someone to come along and try ‘em out.  Open invitations to play.

Here’s what we did this week. . .

tabletop surprises mad minute math

math facts fun pens tabletop surprises -

  • Mad Minute Math Facts with Crazy Pens:  I am a huge fan of crazy pens. Added to anything, any sort of work, crazy pens up the fun factor by like a million percent. At least in my book.

So Mad Minute Math facts, paired with crazy pens– our bumblebee pens, some fun flip flop ones, and other crazy pens, were a pretty decent hit for the kids this week.

math facts fun pens tabletop surprises -

math facts fun pens tabletop surprises - 2

I use Mad Practice Sheet –a free website where you can put in any parameters you want, and the mad minute practice sheet is ready for you to print immediately. Love. It.

I printed several double-digit addition sheets, some single digit addition and subtraction, some multiplication, and some money problems. All free.

tabletop surprises day water fun

tabletop surprises day water

  • Indoor Water Fun:  My kids love playing with water, so all I did today was set up a few trays with–you got it–water.

I raided our small recycle bin and added some recyclables–small yogurt cups, play-doh ones, spice containers, and tiny glasses–that were clean and were waiting for a fun opportunity like this to arise.

I brought out some syringes that we’ve used before, and we were good to go. Ready to roll.

Added them to the tray, poured a little h2o in the big container, and that was it.  The novelty of playing with water in the house–in the craft room–where we normally have a no snacks, no drink rule made this activity especially fun for the kids.

tabletop surprises day magazine hunt cover

  • Magazine Reading & Magazine Hunt: Magazines are a great way to sneak in some meaningful reading time when you don’t have a whole lot of time to spare.

So I put out a bunch of magazines we had around the house–ones that my kids subscribe to or that we picked up along the way.

Along with the magazines, I had the Magazine Hunt cards out so that Maddy, Owen, and Cora could grab a card, hunt for what it asked for, and be on their merry way.  I think Maddy just grabbed a magazine and hit the couch.  Owen and Cora might have tried a card or two. Either way? Fun.

abletop surprises day puzzles

puzzle morning tabletop surprises

  • Puzzles, puzzles, puzzles: Simple. We were running crazy on Thursday, so three puzzles did the trick.

Only three: a 100 piece dinosaur puzzle, Melissa & Doug Construction Puzzle Set, and the Alphabet Giraffe puzzle.

puzzle morning tabletop surprises

puzzle morning tabletop surprises

puzzle morning tabletop surprises

These are puzzles that were small enough to fit on the table and were ones that we’ve had for a while. Old favorites.

Though the 100-piece didn’t get finished, the other ones were done and re-done throughout the day.

I think we found the Alphabet Giraffe puzzle at a yard sale years ago; the best $1.00 I ever spent because Maddy, Owen, and Cora have played with this for years and years and years.

 tabletop surprises day stencils

  • Stencils: We haven’t used stencils in forEVER.

So when I put these out on the table, I thought that either the kids would love them or totally ignore them.  They really did both.  Owen and Cora loved them and Maddy ignored them.

But I’m leaving them out over the weekend in case they feel stencil-inclined on Saturday or Sunday.

tabletop surprises day stencils
tabletop surprises day stencils

What I think drove the kids to the table, maybe even more than the stencils, was the cool paper I sent the stencils out with: frame paper from Melissa & Doug. Very fun–big sheets with a different frame on each page so that a masterpiece looks like a framed work of art even if it’s a simple stencil drawing.

That’s it–just a fun bit o’ learning for the week. . . got lots of cool stuff in store for the upcoming week because swim and dive are over!

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tabletop surprises: simple, summer learning fun

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

post contains affiliate links


tabletop surprises week one


Summer is kicking us hard over here.

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

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

Tabletop Surprises? Easy.

On their own time.  On my own time.

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

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

For now? It’s rocking.

Here’s the skinny. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

magnetic words

magnetic poetry tabletop surprise


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

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

focus of this activity: creative thinking, reading, speaking


tabletop surprises shape blocks pattern cards

shape pattern cards

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

focus: geometry, critical thinking, fine motor skills


tabletop surprises perler beads cover

tabletop surprises perler beads

tabletop surprises perler beads

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

focus: fine motor, patterning, creative thinking


tabletop surprises mazes

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

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

Tough, and they all rocked.

tabletop surprises mazes

tabletop surprises mazes

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

focus: critical thinking, fine motor, problem-solving


tabletop surprises magnets

tabletop surprises magnets

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

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

tabletop surprises magnets cover

tabletop surprises magnets cover

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

Kids? Loved it.

focus: science, fine motor, critical thinking


Really? That’s it. So fun, so easy.

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

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


fyi: affiliate links are included

foam dough: serious rainy day indoor fun

homemade foam dough

foam dough: fun for a rainy day

I’m all about trying new and exciting things with my kids, and today’s activity is no different.

Totally strange, completely weird. Absolutely new for us.

I went on a whim and tried something that I pinned a long while back: Foam Dough.  Now? It’s all over the party Pinterest place, but the very first spot I saw it was on MomTrusted.

The greatest thing about this little ball o’ fun is that you only need two ingredients to make it work, three ingredients to make it awesome.

Foam Dough was a hit—a really fun way to pass a rainy afternoon—and Maddy, Owen, and Cora are already asking to make it again.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Foam Dough—Fun For a Rainy Day: Head to the grocery store and pick up a cheapo container of shaving cream and a cheapo box of corn starch.

That’s all you need:

  • Shaving cream
  • Corn starch
  • If you want to amp up the fun, add some liquid or gel food coloring.  Total fun.

homemade foam dough In order to make it, you need to follow a few easy, peasy directions:

homemade foam dough

homemade foam dough

1.  Mix equal parts of corn starch and shaving cream

homemade foam dough

2.  Add food coloring to reach the color you want, and you’re done.

homemade foam dough

homemade foam dough

homemade foam dough

Use hands to mix it and don’t be afraid to get messy. It’s. . . pretty messy.

The Foam Dough is a strange mix of light and fluffy play dough and soft, sandy mush.

homemade foam dough

homemade foam dough

Again, be forewarned: it made a mess.

One big, wild, white, powdery mess.

But we had three super-happy, blissful, powdery kids.

homemade foam dough

homemade foam dough

Maybe we made it wrong, maybe that’s what happens when you use cheapo ingredients—I can’t be sure.

But essentially, Maddy, Owen, and Cora mixed, made walls, made balls, made pancakes, and made cookies.  They smashed, squished, mushed, and squashed.

For a long, long time.

homemade foam dough

homemade foam dough

homemade foam dough

homemade foam dough

And that’s it. Just a fun way of passing a rainy afternoon.

A sensory gift for hands and an unusually fragrant, foamy dough.


Fyi: Many thanks to the folks at MomTrusted for introducing us to Foam Dough and creating a rockstar pin to go along with it.  And thanks to all the other parents out there who have tried it and shared it; I love the range of cool, easy-to-make kid-friendly doughs on Pinterest. AWEsome.