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:

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 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 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


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!

five activities for crossing the midline (and why it’s important)

Five Activities for Crossing the Midline (and Why It’s Important)

The following guest post is written by the amazing Devany LeDrew. Devany is a former Kindergarten who now shares adventures with her children–most often playing, learning, and remembering–on her blog Still Playing School. Check it out.


6 activiies for crossing the midline

Our 10 month old son has been crawling for a few months so he’s already accomplished a pivotal achievement in learning to read and write.

Wait, what? A milestone in infancy is vital for literacy development?  Yes, because crawling is one of the first ways that babies practice crossing their midline!

  • Five Activities for Crossing the Midline (and Why It’s Important)

Let’s imagine an invisible line running down the human body separating the left side from the right called the midline.  When my baby crawls, he uses opposite sides of his body simultaneously. When my preschooler physically uses her body to cross that divide (by using her right hand to reach something on the left side of her body, for example) she is crossing her midline.

In both of these scenarios my children are using movements which cause their brains to communicate across their corpus callosum.  This thick cable of nerves allows their two brain hemispheres to communicate.  The practice is vital for higher level skills like reading and writing.  By moving in new ways, we build and strengthen new pathways in the brain.

Most children will naturally learn to cross their midline as they grow, but some need occupational therapy to work on this task.  There are creative, fun, and intentional ways to play while practicing crossing the midline!

Here are five to get you started!

1.  Crawl, crawl, crawl

I encourage my preschooler to crawl with her baby brother by getting down on the floor to crawl myself!  We build obstacle courses with pillows and soft toys to navigate while crawling.

Five Activities for Crossing the Midline (and Why It’s Important)

2.  Baby Cross Crawls

While you sing songs to your baby or child, intentionally touch his left foot to his right hand and vice versa.  You can tap to the rhythm of the music or teach body part names in this way.

You can challenge your older child to touch her left knee with her right elbow and vice versa.  This is trickier than it looks!

Five Activities for Crossing the Midline (and Why It’s Important)

3.  Wash Large Objects

My preschooler loves to help wash windows or our cars with special wipes or a sponge.  I ask her to hold the tool with both hands wiping back and forth in large motions as she cleans so that she is crossing her midline frequently.

4.  Dance, Sway, and Play with Ribbon Wands

You can create your own ribbon wands with a paint stirrer (or just hold a scarf in one hand for the same effect).  Model how to cross the midline while dancing for your child by making figure eights and rainbow arcs with the ribbon. A great song to practice moving and grooving with is Shake Your Reader Ribbons by Pam Schiller

Five Activities for Crossing the Midline (and Why It’s Important)

5.  Play Passing Games

Challenge children to pass a ball from a friend on the left to a friend on the right by moving their arms but not turning their whole bodies.  Friends may sit in a line or in a circle for this activity.  For two children, have them sit back to back and pass the ball from the left side across their bellies and back over to the right.


still playing school

For more from Devany LeDrew, please visit Still Playing School where she uses her background in early childhood to create a home based playful learning environment for her children. She is a former Kindergarten teacher who followed her passions to specialize in Educational Psychology & Literacy Education.  She is the mother of three, grieving the loss of one. Follow Still Playing School on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Devany, for sharing!  I learned SO much from this piece!


Looking for more activities to promote fine and gross motor in your little loves?

Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards, filled with indoor fun ideas to engage children in fun activities to promote the development of these foundational skills:


new ideas for halloween treats: alternatives to candy

new ideas for halnew ideas for halloween treatsloween treats
 post contains affiliate links
new ideas for halnew ideas for halloween treatsloween treats
Halloween is traditionally a time for sweets, sweets, and more sweets, but who says kids must eat candy from dawn till dusk just because that’s how it’s always been done?
This year, though my kids will certainly have their fair share of sweets (we are a sweet-tooth family after all), I’m really trying hard to think outside the box a bit as far as Halloween treats are concerned.
Thanks to my friends from Melissa & Doug, I’m stretching the limits of treat-giving and treat receiving, and I’m going for small, hands-on toys that encourage creative play and fun.

As a Room Parent for one of my kids’ classes, I’m not planning on handing each child yet another bag of sweets to shove in their backpacks on the very day they’ll walk the streets of their neighborhood, grabbing more candy than they can hold. Not this year.

Instead, I’m mixing it up. Thinking outside the Halloween treat box.  Thinking about some alternatives to candy.

I’m handing the kids a few new Halloween treats: bubbles, stickers, tattoos, crafts, and small toys. These are sure to be items that the kids–and parents–will be happy to see, as they won’t mean more sugar for our kids’ little bodies.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • New Ideas for Halloween Treats  — Alternatives to Candy:

Some of newish ideas for Halloween treats for home or at school. . .

new ideas for halloween treats scratch art


  • Scratch Art: I think any of the Scratch Art Classroom Kits would be a great crafty activity for Halloween at home or Halloween class parties.

In particular, the Gold and Silver Scratch Art Trading Cards are super-cool for making Jack O’ Lanterns that look like they really glow!


new ideas for halloween coll 1

Or kids could get funky, creating Scratch Art to complement their costumes!



new ideas for halloween treats

  •  Tattoos! Kids love, love, love tattoos, and the great thing about these My First Temporary Tattoos sets are that each comes with over 100 tattoos!

We easily tore apart the tattoos on each sheet–jewels, flowers, and more in the Jewelry Set and sports, trucks, animals, and more in the Blue Tattoo Set.

new ideas for halloween treats

new ideas for halloween treats

These are super for goodie bags, for handing out to the Trick-Or-Treaters, or as a ‘Tattoo Station’ at a class party.



new ideas for halloween treats

new ideas for halloween treats

new ideas for halloween treats

  • Snakes, Bugs, & Lizards:  Yes, snakes, bugs, and lizards are super fun additions to Halloween if you ask me.  As a family that prefers silly over scary, these little guys are perfect for hiding around the house and seeking for extra Halloween fun or for adding to goodie bags or baskets.

They come in packs of six (Sack of Snakes), ten (Bag of Bugs), and seven (Litter of Lizards), so they totally work as affordable Halloween goodies.



snake turtle butterfly bubbles

  • Bubbles! Kids love bubbles, and they’ll especially love these bubbles with silly animals on top. For the extra-special Trick-Or-Treaters in your life, the Mombo Snake Bubbles would be a great replacement for that larger-sized candy bar or treat!



new ideas for halloween treats

new ideas for halloween treats

  • Scratch Art Light Catchers: These totally rock.

They really do.

I think they’d be awesome as a Halloween class party activity.  No matter the shape, kids will love doing this non-messy activity (and teachers and Room Parents will, too!), and kids have a sweet end product to take home and display.

Melissa & Doug has anything from Flower Light Catchers to Dolphins, or Butterflies to Sailboats, and honestly, kids won’t care what they have. I’m willing they’ll just be excited to grab a stick, grab a sheet, and start scratching!



 That’s just what we’ve got up our sleeve this Halloween season. I’m totally thrilled.

What new ideas for Halloween treats do you have? What are your super-fab alternatives to Halloween candy? Please share!



melissa & doug BA badge 2013



fyi: 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.

Affiliate links are used in this post.

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:

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 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