3 ways to stay connected with long-distance family and friends

3 ways to stay connected to family teachmama.com

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3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com

I’ve shared time and time again how hard it is for me to live hours from my parents and sisters, even if it’s only a three and a half hour drive.

Sure, it’s a short enough distance that we can make it there and back in a day if need be, but it’s too long to make a quick stop for a Sunday dinner. Or to grab a last-minute babysitter. Or to have a desperately-needed girls’ night out with sisters or mom.

Luckily, though, my kids have a great relationship with their Nanny and Pap and  their PA cousins, aunts and uncles, no matter the distance. But we’ve had to be creative over the years in order to stay in touch.

We’ve got three ways to stay connected with long-distance family and friends.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Stay Connected with Long-Distance Family and Friends:

1. Power Note-Writing

3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com

Especially for my Nana who is 92, the power note writing is really helpful because Power Note Writing is just that–writing a bunch of notes at one sitting.

Maddy, Owen, Cora, and I sit down for a few hours one afternoon, and we write tons of notes at once.

3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com

3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com

We essentially catch her up on everything that’s going on in our lives. We add photos, we add stickers, we add flowers and jewels.

We get crafty and creative and have a whole lot of fun with it.

3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com

And then we sign, seal, and stamp each note but add one more important element–a sticky note with a date on it.

3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com

3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com

That date tells us when to put the letter in the mail so that Nana isn’t inundated with mail on one day; instead every few days, we grab a note and put it in the mailbox so that every few days, Nana is surprised with a fun and happy little ‘hello’ from her Maryland great-grandchildren.


2. Panasonic HomeTeam™ app

One thing that sure does make staying in touch easier is today’s technology.

3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com

I’m always willing to take a look at the latest and greatest when it comes to apps and programs that make staying in touch easier–because goodness knows that we’re being pulled in a million different directions all of the time.

I’ve found something that’s really worth checking out: the Panasonic HomeTeam™ app.


3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com

3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com

It’s an online service that connects loved ones across generations and distance. And the cool thing is that family members can read stories and play games together even when they’re far apart. And the platform is super-easy to navigate for those less than tech-savvy family members.

HomeTeam is a platform where cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents–anyone!–can connect in a safe way and spend time together.

3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com

Hundreds of stories are available, like Curious George, Martha Speaks, 5 Little Monkeys, Tuesday, Mr. Wuffles, Jumanji, Animal Sounds, and more–as well as dozens of games like chess, checkers, tic-tac-toe, and more. HomeTeam gives families something to do together that packs a powerful punch–learning and fun.

Definitely check it out.

3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com

3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com

3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com

Though it is a paid platform, you get a free 30-day trial, so it’s totally worth trying and seeing if it works for your family.

fyi: Anyone can sample the entire HomeTeam experience, including unlimited access to content and all features free of charge for 30 days. After that, a premium subscription for continued access to unlimited content is available by month ($7.99/mo) and by year ($79.99/yr).

Find more ideas for memory-making with your family thanks to Scholastic and Panasonic.

3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com


3. Weekly Check-In Calls  

I know several friends who keep a standing ‘date’ on the calendar each week for a phone call with grandparents.

3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com

They pick a day and a time that works, and they know that every week at that time, the grandkids will have a quick catch-up call.

It’s a super time for stories to be exchanged, for questions to be asked, and for connections to be made.

3 ways to stay connected to family  teachmama.com

Some may believe that the ole phone has become obsolete, but I beg to differ. It’s easy, it’s (usually) fool-proof, and it’s quick.

Put a reminder on your phone. Set the date in pen on your calendar. It’s easier than you think!


How do you stay in touch with long-distance family and friends? I’d love to hear it!


fyi: This is a sponsored post, written as part of a partnership with Panasonic. However, as always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator, trying to keep my family connected and in touch.

ipad toy for early math skills: tiggly counts

ipad toy for early math skills: tiggly counts combines physical learning and digital learning | teachmama.com & @tigglykids

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iPad toy? Right.ipad toy for early math skills: tiggly counts

When I heard about it, I thought the same exact thing.

We’re inundated with toys, and my kids are lucky to even have an iPad. Why do we need anything else? And how on earth could there be a toy for the iPad?

I’m honestly in awe.

This iPad toy is actually so cool. And the way it incorporates hands-on learning with digital learning blew my mind.

Tiggly Counts.  It’s an award-winning blend of physical play and digital play.

You want it. Stat.

And I not only have a sweet coupon code for you (30% off!–woot!) but I also have two Tiggly Counts sets to give away–just in time for the holidays! Read on.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • iPad Toy for Early Math Skills–Tiggly Counts: I’m a really tough critic when it comes to apps for my kids.

Especially because we have a close watch on the kids’ screen time and because there are about a gazillion apps on the market, I think we, as parents, should be super-choosy about who and what we’re letting into our lives.

So when I was asked by my friends at Tiggly to check out their new Tiggly Counts, I was curious to say the least.

ipad toy for early math skills: tiggly counts


Essentially, Tiggly Counts is an iPad toy that combines physical learning with digital learning. And it’s all about math. And it’s for our little guys–our preschoolers. 

I love it.

Kids ages three and older would especially like this toy, but always use your own judgement. I know my Owen would have totally dug this at 2 or 2 1/2, and I know that at 7 and 9, Cora and Owen really liked trying it out. Just worth noting.

ipad toy for early math skills: tiggly counts

ipad toy for early math skills: tiggly counts

Tiggly Counts comes with rods–these five rods that are durable and easy to manipulate for little hands–and they were actually inspired by the Cuisenaire rods used in Montessori education.  I know all our Montessori fans are dancing over this one.

The rods are used with the iPad apps. And for a mom who’s always careful about screen time, I love the combination of hands-on and digital learning, especially for basic skills like counting and number recognition.

Three apps were designed for this set each focus on math but cover slightly different areas: 

  • Tiggly Chef: covers numbers and early addition concepts,  math symbols, following instructions and thinking flexibly
  • Tiggly Adventures: introduces kids to number line concepts, number sense, and counting skills
  • Tiggly Cardtoons: basic math skills like one-to-one matching, counting, and equal sets

ipad toy for early math skills: tiggly countsBy far my kids loved Tiggly Chef the most, maybe because of the chef’s voice, maybe because of the silly creations, maybe it was more their speed, or maybe because of all the cooking they do over here. Whatever it was, they laughed out loud while playing this game. Super cute.

I wish, wish, wish I had this app when my kids were younger because it would have really helped build a foundation for strong math skills at an early age. I love the combination of saying the number, seeing the number, and seeing that number of objects. 

Overall, I love:

  • the combination of counting on the screen and then within the rods–because the rods’ windows are large enough to see the objects inside;
  • the wait time that this app allows. It moves slowly–but not too slow;
  • the graphics: simple, sweet, and cool;
  • the concepts: kids get these apps. They really do. They’re intuitive and designed for today’s digital kids;
  • the whole idea of bringing together physical play and digital play. It’s just. . . awesome.


ipad toy for early math skills: tiggly counts

ipad toy for early math skills: tiggly counts


Here’s the deal with this app, if you’re confused–anyone can grab the three apps in the iTunes store for free; however, the rods–the counting toys–come with the set. And these rods are what make Tiggly Counts super cool.

With the rods, kids are really interacting with the apps. They’re holding, physically counting, and moving objects on the screen.

Check out our video close-up:


Tiggly Counts isn’t even out on the shelves yet, but it will be very soon. It will be available in November, but folks are pre-ordering it now.

And I have a 30% coupon for you to use! Yaaaa-hoooooo. Just in time for the holidays.


ipad toy for early math skills: tiggly counts


All you have to do is visit the Tiggly Counts site (http://get.tiggly.com/counts) enter the code ILOVETIGGLY  for 30% off of your order.

This code is good through the end of October 2014.

However, I am giving away two Tiggly Counts sets to one lucky teachmama.com reader.  That way, you get to keep one for your kids and give one as a gift to a nephew, niece, friend, or relative. So fun, right?


GIVEAWAY: Two sets of Tiggly Counts.

Do you want to win TWO sets of the new and amazing Tiggly Counts??!  Yes, yes you do.  

[PLEASE NOTE: prizes will not be delivered until mid-December 2014, so plan accordingly!]


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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

This giveaway ends Friday, October 17, 2014 at midnight ET and is open to folks here in the US only. Winner will be chosen by ‘Rafflecopter’ and will be notified on or around 10/17/14.  Winner must respond within three (3) days of notification or forfeit the prize, in which case an alternate winner will be selected.  All Official Sweepstakes Rules apply.



fyi: This is a sponsored post; however, as always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my personal experience as a parent and educator–and, of course, my three little digital kids.

fire safety connects with learning at sparkyschoolhouse.org

fire safety connects with learning at sparkyschoolhouse.org

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fire safety connects with learning at sparkyschoolhouse  teachmama.com

Fire safety and learning? Right.

Fire safety is one of those topics that seem to only come up either at a school assembly or when something awful and scary happens in the news.

But it’s a topic–like many difficult topics–that I truly believe should be a frequent, familiar conversation for families.

So when I was asked to take a look at a new app from sparkyschoolhouse.org, you better believe I was game.

It’s an app that does, truly combine important information about fire safety along with fun learning.

I’m thrilled to see the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) doing what they can to be present, ‘in the mix’ of today’s many apps on the market.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Very simply, this is an app you want on your iPad, tablet, or phone. Any mobile device you use, throw it on there.

fire safety connects with learning at sparkyschoolhouse.org


fire safety connects with learning at sparkyschoolhouse.org

Because really? It’s got what every parent wants in the complete app package: reading, games, and learning in an easy-to-use platform.

Kids will want to use it because there’s variety, and parents dig it because it all counts. 

I’ve caught Maddy, Owen, and Cora all using the app on separate occasions even after I introduced it to them a few weeks ago. And for me, that’s a serious win.

Sparky and the Case of the Missing Smoke Alarms is an app and story experience–one of those cool ways that learning and games are integrated into a story. The plus? It’s really well done.


fire safety connects with learning at sparkyschoolhouse.org


fire safety connects with learning at sparkyschoolhouse.org


Be forewarned, though: ‘What’s that sound?’ song will be stuck in your head for days on end. But maybe it will remind parents to change the batteries in their smoke alarms?

Overall, the kids and I liked the following elements of Sparky and the Case of the Missing Smoke Alarms:

  • the game. Players help Sparky collect smoke alarms around town and collect batteries as well–because he does have to recharge, after all.
  • the graphics. Simple and clear but not too babyish.
  • the learning. After each section, kids were doing math problems to unlock the next level! Owen totally loved this part.
  • the story. Engaging enough for older readers, with words that are highlighted as they’re read–which is always something parents should look for.
  • the video. Funny. And catchy. And cool.
  • the resources. Tons of resources–printables which include reading, math, word problems. Lesson plans for teachers. Simple, printable games to use as extensions if you have a family discussion about fire safety.

fire safety connects with learning at sparkyschoolhouse.org

Sparky and the Case of the Missing Smoke Alarms is an app created by NFPA, a nonprofit dedicated to spreading the word about fire safety, and it’s been around for years and years. I know I totally remember Sparky the Fire Dog from way back when I was in school, so it’s cool to see him back in action, rocking and rolling in apps that work for today’s kids, too.

Check out the site and Sparky and the Case of the Missing Smoke Alarms app! iTunes  |  Google Play

What do you think? I’d love to hear  your thoughts on this app!


fyi: This post is written as part of a partnership with NFPA. All opinions are my own, as always, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator. 

mcgraw-hill education and NCFL: spread the word campaign

spread the word and increase family literacy

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spread the word and increase family literacy

March is a super-exciting month as far as reading and literacy are concerned.

There’s a lot of happy going on–a lot of happy.

We’ve got Read Across America Day, National Grammar Day, World Read Aloud Day, and World Poetry Day. And that’s just a start.

The whole month is ‘National March into Literacy Month’ which makes the Reading Specialist in me want to dance.

Tons of ways to celebrate reading–but one thing that I think is totally worth celebrating is a campaign that my friends from McGraw-Hill have started, called Spread the Word.

McGraw-Hill Education has joined forces with the amazing folks from NCFL–National Center for Families Learning–to develop a celebration of sorts that I think everyone should know about because the payoffs are big. For everyone.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Pretty simple but really awesome.

McGraw-Hill Education is the publisher we all know and love, and NCFL is an organization that is new to me but one that I was introduced to when I attended the NCFL Summit last month.

Essentially, NCFL is dedicated to increasing family engagement. They empower families to do more to support literacy and learning, and they have helped more than 1 million families make educational and economic progress through family literacy programs.

The Spread the Word Campaign? Simple.

For each new Twitter follower @MHEducation gains throughout the month of March, McGraw-Hill Education will donate $1.00 to the NCFL (@NCFL). Use the hashtag #MHEmarchlit to spread the word!

spread the word campaign info.jpg

Really! That means that money is going toward an organization that supports family literacy and learning and all you had to do was follow someone on Twitter.

I love it.

Tweet it.  Use the hashtag #MHEmarchlit so we can find you and retweet!

Favorite it. Share and re-share.

Here are a few tweets to get you going:



Following @MHEducation will be fun for you, too, because all through March, they’ll be tweeting interesting statistics, relevant articles and even highlighting some of their cool  reading programs like Reading Wonders –programs that ensure our students are strong readers, critical thinkers and ready for the increasingly competitive global economy.

I love it. Have I said that?

what is the NCFL: national center for families learning | parenting | teachmama.com




McGraw-Hill Education is giving away two of its awesome grammar apps throughout the entire month of March.

Grammar Wonderland for elementary schoolers and Grammar Wonderland for primary aged kids are both rockstar apps.


what is the NCFL: national center for families learning | parenting | teachmama.com

what is the NCFL: national center for families learning | parenting | teachmama.com

Maddy, Owen, and Cora have been rocking these apps, which are normally about $2.99 in the iTunes store. 

I would strongly recommend a download during March. Games with nouns, verbs, adjectives? Games that get kids moving (believe it!), and thinking? Totally worth it.

mcgraw hill education free grammar apps

And it’s awesome that McGraw-Hill Education is offering these apps for free during this literacy-focused month. Let the fun begin!

Want to learn a little more about NCFL? Check out my quick chat with NCFL vice president, Emily Kirkpatrick at the NCFL Summit last month:

Are you on twitter? Leave your twitter name below, and we’ll follow you, share ideas, and celebrate literacy this month!


fyi:  This is a sponsored post; I was asked by my friends at McGraw-Hill Education to share information about this exciting Spread the Word campaign. As always, my opinions and ideas are my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator, always looking for ways to celebrate literacy!

using iPad apps to create

using the ipad to create teachmama.com

The following guest post is written by the amazing and incredible Susan Stephenson, of The Book Chook. Susan is my Australian friend who has tons of fab ideas on children’s literacy, learning, and more.


using the ipad to create | teachmama.com

  • Using iPad Apps to Create, by Susan Stephenson

I love what the iPad offers young learners.

I’m especially excited about opportunities it gives to create their own content, whether that be in the form of text, images, video and other media, or combinations of these.

Creative thinking is incredibly important to children’s future learning, and finding opportunities for kids to create rather than consume via technology is fantastic.

Even pre-schoolers can create on the iPad, and an iPad Mini is kinder to little hands. The camera is a built-in tool that little ones love exploring with. Not only that, but parents enjoy viewing a child’s perspective on life!

Beginning writers can learn to send a picture to Grandma from the camera roll with some words that explain it. Grandma will love the contact and I just bet she’ll enjoy those invented spellings.

One app I discovered recently, ABC Spy HD by Stealth Education,  invites kids to use the iPad camera within the app. They find objects starting with each letter of the alphabet to photograph, then type the object’s name. To share with others, they make a little video within the app.

Other interesting apps where young children can use the camera are Eye Paint Monsters and Eye Paint Animals by Curious Hat.

Note: I am a firm advocate for limiting screen time for children. But I believe SOME screen time plus lots of time for stories, cuddles, chats, imaginative play and outdoor fun, makes for a balanced parenting approach.

When it’s time for screen play, think about the following apps for your preschooler or young learners:

  • Draw Along with Stella and Sam:  Based on the picture books by Marie-Louise Gay, in this app children choose shapes, decorate them and watch them come to life in very cute animation.
  • Little Fox Music Box: As well as delightful animated songs that kids can interact with and listen to, Little Fox Music Box encourages kids to record themselves singing and making music.
  • Night Zookeeper Drawing TorchThe Night Zookeeper Drawing Torch’s emphasis is on story. It encourages kids to imagine and draw creatures like spying giraffes, time-travelling elephants and singing fish.



There are hundreds, probably thousands, of apps that older kids can use. As with pre-schoolers, having them use the camera helps them to “look” at their environment from a new perspective, and become more aware of art elements like colour, pattern, texture and line.

Here are some other apps I like that I believe encourage children to create.

  • Strip Designer: Children often need to present information visually, especially if they need to show they understand something, or to explain it. Strip Designer is also a neat app for kids to use when they want to tell a digital story.
  • Moku Hanga: Image editors offer kids exciting opportunities to tweak photos they take. Moku Hanga has a “wood-block” look and it’s simple enough for older primary students to experiment with. It would make a great accompaniment for when kids try writing their own haiku.
  • Pic CollageMore than just a photography app, Pic Collage is a way for children to create a digital story. They could record a family outing, tell the tale of a lost tooth, or capture and caption their friends’ scariest Halloween costumes.
  • The Daily Monster Monster Maker: Here kids will find loads of opportunities to create by “blowing” paint, then customizing a monster and taking its pic, in-app. Incorporate literacy into the fun by encouraging kids to add speech bubbles and have their monsters “talk”. The pictures produced can be added to an app like Pic Collage, or Strip Designer (mentioned above) to tell a story.

Combining apps is a wonderful way for children to get even more from the iPad. The emphasis here is on kids thinking creatively, using apps and iPad as tools to express themselves.

By starting in one app, then continuing in another, children learn how to develop a work flow that suits their needs. The iPad is such a powerful tool for creation, offering kids many opportunities to create, communicate – and above all, have fun with it!


Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing these super iPad app ideas, Susan!! We love them!

SusanStephensonsmlCheck out The Book Chook blog  for educational tips and resources for parents, teachers and librarians. Find lots of free PDFs via www.susanstephenson.com, and follow Susan on Twitter,  Facebook,  Scholastic Parents,Google+ and ScoopIt.




Looking for more information about children’s learning?

Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards: 


rockstar sunday promo teachmama

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

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

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

other posts in the series:

screen time cards for digital kids: easy tool for monitoring screen time

screen time cards for digital kids: easy tool for monitoring screen time

post contains affiliate links


screen time cards


My digital kids have been using Game Time Cards for the last few years, and it’s been a huge, huge, HUGE help in keeping their screen time in check.

Game Time Cards allowed us to put some of the ownership of our children’s time in front of the screen on them.

The concept was simple: the kids would choose to ‘use a ticket’ at designated times to play with the LeapPad, Leapster, or Nintendo DS.  We followed a set of general guidelines based on the AAP Media recommendations. It worked for us–then.

Now? With a 9-year-old, an 8-year-old, and a 6-year-old, our needs are a bit different. It was time for some changes, and it was time for the kids to have more of a say in how it worked.

So we re-vamped our Game Time Cards.

I’m hoping it works.  Actually, we’re all feeling pretty confident.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Screen Time Cards For Digital Kids — Easy Tool for Monitoring Screen Time: So after the millionth weekend in a row where every other second the kids were asking to get on the touch screen, the iPad, the you name it, I nearly lost my sanity.


screen time cards: manage kids' screen time

 old cards. . . ready for an upgrade

screen time cards: manage kids' screen time

It’s an absolutely gorgeous day outside. Go. Out. And. PLAAAAAAY. I pretty much screamed six thousand times.

But Moooooom. It’s my turn on the [insert device].

[insert kid name] has been on the [insert device] forEVER. It’s my turn!

I haven’t been on the [insert device] for even HALF the time that [insert kid name] has. It’s not FAIR!

Over. And over. And over.

So our ‘free Wii on weekends’ had somehow morphed into ‘free electronics on weekends’ which was ultimately causing our family an insane amount of stress and anxiety.  We needed to reign in all in.

screen time cards comparison

screen time cards for digital kids: easy tool for monitoring screen time

We sat down after dinner one night and really fleshed it all out.

We called a Family Meeting to get to the bottom of our screen time issues. And after a lot of back and forth, we came up with the following agreement and a new name. Gone are the ‘Game Time Cards’ and in are the ‘Screen Time Cards’.

Screen Time Guidelines — some new, some already established:

  • Screen time starts after school–no screen time in the morning before school;
  • New week start on Monday, but Mondays are completely unplugged days;
  • Each child chose a card color: Maddy is green; Owen is white; Cora is purple;
  • Each child has 4- 30-minute cards and 4- 15-minute cards, totaling three hours of screen time a week;

screen time cards for digital kids: easy tool for monitoring screen time

  • Every week, the kids have the chance to earn two extra 30-minute cards depending on behavior and attitude that week;
  • Earned cards will be placed in charts Saturday morning;
  • Kids can cash in their cards whenever they want, but when they’re gone, they’re gone;
  • Devices are used in living room, downstairs, but not up in bedrooms;
  • Screen Time Cards can be used for the iPad, Nintendo DS, LeapPad, Wii, mobile devices, or computer.

Each child is responsible for keeping his or her own time, and it was their responsibility to be honest–or future cards would be lost.

The new screen time cards can be downloaded for your own use; just print the first page a different color for each child.


screen time cards: manage kids’ screen time by teach mama


Our weeknights are so busy that we rarely turn on the television, and we often have family Wii parties and movie nights together. That screen time was fine in our books since it is together time and closely monitored.

As soon as we had the parameters down, I got to work.

screen time cards for digital kids: easy tool for monitoring screen time

I needed to create a new set-up for the cards. . .

screen time cards for digital kids: easy tool for monitoring screen time

So I cut a large envelope in half and taped it shut. . .

screen time cards for digital kids: easy tool for monitoring screen time

. . . then I added the kids’ names.

screen time cards for digital kids: easy tool for monitoring screen time

Finally, I used the cork board already in the Craft Room because it was central and easy for everyone to reach.

Cards are IN using the envelopes with the kids’ names, and they are OUT in the ‘out’ folders.

Earned cards will rest in the ‘Earned’ envelope until the weekend hits.

screen time cards for digital kids: easy tool for monitoring screen time

screen time cards for digital kids: easy tool for monitoring screen time

screen time cards for digital kids: easy tool for monitoring screen time

Is it perfect? No way. Again, it is  a work in progress.

And when and if our kids get their own mobile devices, this plan will need a definite re-vamp.

We’re learning as we go, and trying our very best at the most difficult job out there.  And what I know for sure is that something needed to change, and we’re hoping that this system–which Maddy, Owen, and Cora helped us design–will be best for everyone.

Our Screen Time Cards are designed with our kids’ best interest in mind, knowing that we, as parents, need to establish healthy ‘media diets’ early for our family.our digital kids

On October 28, 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a new statement on media consumption–one that replaces the 2001 statement (finally, right?). The recommendations for parents are:

  • Parents can model effective “media diets” to help their children learn to be selective and healthy in what they consume. Take an active role in children’s media education by co-viewing programs with them and discussing values.
  • Make a media use plan, including mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices. Screens should be kept out of kids’ bedrooms.
  • Limit entertainment screen time to less than one or two hours per day; in children under 2, discourage screen media exposure.

Want more? Visit the AAP Media & Children page; the AAP Media Kit, or the 10/28/13 AAP Managing Media statement.


fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

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

budgie and parakeet fun fact lunchbox notes: help kids find reliable sources online

budgie lunchbox love notes : helping kids find reliable sources online

budgie lunchbox love notesWe are now the proud owners of two budgies.

Or parakeets.

Or budgerigars.

Two budgies.  Two boys (we hope!).

Right. Apparently, all budgies are parakeets but not all parakeets are budgies.

So we have budgies AND we have parakeets.

And we’re learning as we go.

But what better way of having my O-man–who was home with a cough that lasted forever and ever and ever–get his brain moving than by doing some non-fiction reading about his new birds?

We practiced finding reliable sources online.  We did some reading of non-fiction texts.  And we summarized the information into happy little lunchbox love notes to take us through the end of the year.

So fun. Talk about high-interest reading for my three little budgie owners.

And talk about some cool lunchbox love note facts for any person who’s curious.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Budgie and Parakeet Fun Fact Lunchbox Love Notes:  We’d been talking about getting birds for some time now, but when we stumbled upon the gorgeous cage at a weekend yard sale, I thought it was a good sign that the time was right.

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes

Cora is cleaning the cage. . .

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes

. . . and we discarded old toys and replaced them with new ones!

Not in the least bit logical, I know.

We cleaned. We scrubbed and scrubbed our fancy $20 cage, and then we did some research over the weekend about what was the best kind of bird for kids.  We found our answer and hit the pet store!

Maddy, Owen, Cora and I are learning each day, taking small steps and doing our best to care for our new pets.

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes

Owen researches budgies. . .

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes 2 -

 . . . and together we make our fun fact notes!

Though I had parakeets when I was younger, there’s a bit of a learning curve from pet-ownership as a kid and pet-ownership as a parent.  It’s a lot of re-learning, a lot of Oh yeah. . . that’s right! moments.  Overall, it’s been fun to have birds in our house.

It’s been especially cool watching the kids’ eyes light up each time they learn something new about their birds.

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes

We have to watch our Bradyboy very closely with his new bird-brothers!

So to play on that interest and to teach the kids something along the way, Owen and I created our parakeet budgie fun fact lunchbox notes to take us through the end of the school year.

parakeet lunchbox love notes

parakeet budgie fun fact lunchbox notes

We decided upon a few websites: BudgieKeet, Ranger Rick, Budgie Care, and Budgie Love, as well as our budgie fact sheet from the store.  And we talked about what makes one site more reliable than another. We talk often about this, when we’re researching a topic, but it’s worth revisiting often.

These sites above are all worth looking at because not because they’re all awesome–they are not–but because they do provide a variety of reliability.  Some are clearly more worth your time than others.

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes

We looked for reliable websites which:

  • are created by a valid source, and valid sources are experts in the field or people who have done their research;
  • provide true, real information;
  • focus on sharing information, so they are not covered with tricky ads;
  • are updated frequently so as to stay on top of the latest information.

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes

Owen read passages from the sites we decided were reliable and worth our time.  And then we talked about the information and summarized it into fun facts for our notes. 

We did it together, and along the way, we even discovered something that makes our budgies so very happy: Happy Budgies on YouTube.  No joke they sing like little maniacs when it’s playing. Then Brady starts barking. And the kids start hooting. And it’s loud and crazy, but it’s all good.

Two happy (or really scared?) budgies, three happy kids, and one scared (or happy?) dog.

And one happy mom.

our digital kids

It was just a fun, quick way of rolling out the last few lunchbox love notes on a topic that I know my kids are eager to read.

And? More than a little sneaky digital learning for my O-man and a lot of budgie and parakeet learning for Maddy, Cora, and Owen during lunchtime.  Love it.

Want a look at all of our lunchbox looooove notes? Here they are:

how to use iPad notes for quick, fun interviews

ipad Notes interviews

use ipad notes for interviewsWe’ve been biting our nails over here, waiting for a new baby to come and slowly moving back into school mode after Spring Break.

As Maddy, Owen, and Cora are becoming more and more comfortable with our iPad, trying new apps and becoming more skilled at our favorites, what I’ve realized is that we’ve neglected a lot of the basic iPad features.

Notes is one of them.

So one night after things had settled down and we were hanging up in Owen’s bedroom, I introduced them to Notes.

Very cool. Very casual. And we incorporated Notes into fun, quick interviews between ourselves, so we added in some extra writing, thinking, speaking, and listening practice.

Don’t have an iPad? Not to worry. You can do the very same thing in any document-creation platform (Word or Works), or you can do it with pen and paper. No sweat.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Use iPad Notes for Quick, Fun Interviews: iPad Notes is super-easy.

Just open up the application which is already included on the device.

It looks just like a legal pad of paper–nothing too fancy.

My purpose was really simple: to get Maddy, Owen, and Cora familiar with this simple application and let them know that the iPad can be used for a lot more than the games they’re used to playing.

ipad notes for interviews


Did you know that our iPads have this cool application installed? I asked.  It’s called ‘Notes’ and it’s really just like an electronic notepad. Cool, right?

Responses: What could we use it for?  Why do we need it if we have real paper?

I’m not sure what we can use it for–I have some ideas, and I’m sure you could think of 100 ways to use it. And why use it if we have real paper?  Maybe just because we can.

I showed them how to use it, and everyone typed their name and a few other random words on the pad.

Hey! Let’s interview each other, I suggested. These legal type notepads always remind me of interview pads–I’m not sure why. What might be a good first question to ask someone you’re interviewing?

We started there and really very quickly made our way to some thoughtful questions. Each kiddo took a turn typing it in, and thedigital kids teachmama.com buttonn when we had a good list of about 10 questions, we passed around the iPad, asking each person the question and typing in the answers.   Not only were the kids thinking about their questions and the best, most clear wording, they were also thinking about letter sounds and spelling.

And when it came time to ask questions, we were all doing some good listening–something that I know we all need work on.


And that’s it. Super fun–short!–but worth taking time to try. I’m glad we did.

There wasn’t a whole lot of time for a cool wrap-up of this little, impromptu event. And there wasn’t a group hug at the end after we shared our answers; rather it was a quick scramble to showers, books, and bed when we realized how late it’d gotten. And though we tested bedtime, it was totally worth it.

Quite frankly I’m looking forward to exploring a few more of the ‘basics’ of our techy devices along with the social media platforms my kiddos see me using quite frequently.

Next up: Photo Editing–Let Kids Play with Pictures

fab kids’ app: interactive books, music, & more (& iPad mini giveaway!)

BelugaBloo interactive books, music, more cover

I’ve looked at dozens and dozens and dozens of kids’ apps in recent months.BelugaBloo interactive books, music, more cover

Many? Kinda cool.

A handful? Pretty rough around the edges.

Some? Pretty darn fabulous and really, really well done.

Most recently, I’ve checked out a really fab app–one worth your time and your kids’ precious screen time.  It’s a free app but within the app is a store where you purchase pieces or pick up some freebies or features.

It’s called BelugaBloo, and though the name is a little crazy (pronounce it just as you’d think, silly!), the interactive books, music, and games are well done, and I’m thrilled to let you on board.

Also pretty darn fabulous and really, really cool is that the great people of BelugaBloo have offered to give away one iPad mini with a handful of BelugaBloo books and games to one lucky teachmama.com reader.   Believe it!

BelugaBloo bookshelf

the BelugaBloo bookshelf

They want you to be able to have these fabulous and really, really well done interactive books, music, and games at your fingertips. Woot.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Fab Kids’ App–Interactive Books, Music, & More (& iPad mini giveaway!)BelugaBloo has over 60 years experience in the children’s book industry, and their focus with their apps is to make children’s reading fun and enlightening.

They work with a large network of publishers, choose the best texts, and then create an instructive and engaging platform for kiddos to read, learn, and enjoy the reading process, and what I love most about their products is the wide range of rich story choices and the absolutely gorgeous visuals.

We had a chance to try out several of their many interactive books, music, and games.  Ranked in our top faves were:
BelugaBloo books a apple

A is for Apple: before the swipe. . .

BelugaBloo app  - 11

. . . and after.

  • A is for Apple: Very cute, brightly-illustrated alphabetical slider book. A is for Apple will teach children to recognize their ABC’s with bright pictures, fun shiny sliding cards and the anticipation of what is hiding behind the panels. Lots of focus on letters, words, and picture recognition. Though Cora’s on the older side for it, I think it’d be great for tinier ones.

 BelugaBloo hare

Loved. This. One.

  • The Groovy Story of the Tortoise and the Hare: An updated version of the children’s classic, this modern take features a hip and happy hare and a cool country tortoise. Kids will love to move and groove with this dynamic duo as they hop and pop towards the finish line in this silly retelling of the classic tale. Rich illustrations and fun rhyming text with strong morals remaining at the heart of the story make this a great read for kids.

BelugaBloo piano

Really very cute–clear and so fun.

  • Lullaby Piano: Lullaby Piano is totally Cora’s fave.  It’s interactive and lets parents–or caregivers–sing along with their kids while kids learn how to play their favorite baby songs on a digital keyboard. Seriously cute animated characters combined with high quality sounds make this a really incredible piece. Simple but not too simple; complex enough to keep kids engaged and challenged.

BelugaBloo app  - 05

Drip Drops before the colors. . .

BelugaBloo drip drop

. . . and after.

  • The Drip Drops Coloring Party: Maddy listened to this over and over and then she declared that she wanted to speak with an English accent like the girl reading the story.  This is considered one of the most  interactive and unique coloring apps that BelugaBloo offers.  The Drip Drops Coloring Party focus is simply the colors of the rainbow, and it’s more than just a story–kiddos put together puzzles, match colors, create tunes on a keyboard, connect dots in number sequence, and much, much more! Cool.




BelugaBloo bible stories

BelugaBloo book-WM

  • The Crossing of the Red Sea & The Creation story: Both are re-tellings of the classic Bible tales, and they’re absolutely gorgeous.  They’re both beautifully illustrated and include interactive features that allow kids to read with a narrator and play interactive games that relate to the story. A great and easy way to introduce your children to one of the world’s most timeless tales.  I’m always a fan of Bible stories for kids–the more places they can get these important lessons, the better.  And awesome when it’s an app.
  • Discovery Channel™ Extreme World: Created in association with Discovery Channel™, this book (and the whole series, I imagine) is packed with facts, fabulous graphics, and really engaging text.  Though some of it can be a little gory (Maddy and Owen love it!) it is a favorite.  I’m hoping that the others will be available for download shortly.

We liked really all that we tried, but these were our favorites.

BelugaBloo app


Definitely worth checking out, as the literacy focus is clear here. A few things I liked, in general, about the BelugaBloo apps:

  • the app is available on both Google Play and iTunes store;
  • the ‘Read by Myself’ / ‘Read to Me’ / ‘Autoplay’ options for nearly all books;
  • the app is available in Spanish and Chinese!;
  • the clear fonts, large and easy-to-read for texts directed at younger readers;
  • the interactive nature of all texts;
  • the reading voices–fluent, clear, and easy to listen to;
  • the colors–bright, vivid, and eye-catching;
  • the specific level-based differences–early readers were more simple; more advanced text were more complex;
  • books are being added each day–so the choices will continue to grow and evolve.

Now, enough from me.

teachmama ipad giveaway

Let’s get to how YOU can bring all of this fun home to your young readers!


GIVEAWAY: your OWN iPad mini & BelugaBloo bundle of 5 books & games!

Do you want to win your OWN iPad mini & BelugaBloo bundle of 5 books & games?! Ummm. . . of COURSE you do!

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


a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

This giveaway ends Friday, March 15, 2013 at midnight ET. Winner will be chosen by ‘Rafflecopter’ and will be notified on or around 3/15/13.  Winner must respond within three (3) days of notification or forfeit the prize, in which case an alternate winner will be selected.  All Official Sweepstakes Rules apply.

ipad apps for teaching and learning


fyi: I was compensated for my time, effort, energy, and expert opinion in regard to the above products.

As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator–and, of course, my three little digital kids and their iPad-happy hands.


PBS LearningMedia: fab, free resources for teaching learning

pbs digital learning media

pbs digital learning mediaThis Wednesday, I’m thrilled to celebrate a site rich with resources for teaching and learning.

I’m thrilled to have a chance to hang out with great parents and educators.

And I’m thrilled to provide readers with more tools and resources the can use to be the best teachers they can be–for their children and students.

We’re on Twitter this Wednesday with our friends from PBS LearningMedia and PBS Teachers and more–

  • PBS LearningMedia–Fab, Free Resources For Teaching Learning:  Join us this week as we tweet about the results of PBS LearningMedia Technology survey for teachers and celebrate Digital Learning Day.

Please rsvp here: http://eepurl.com/uO_uj

Or scan the QR code below so that you’re eligible to win a Kindle Fire or three PBS-goodie prize packs:http://eepurl.com/uO_uj

We’ll be talking about the resources available on PBS LearningMedia and we’ll be with great folks:

Who:     Parents, teachers, caregivers, expert panelists, and YOU!

What:    February 6th is Digital Learning Day & PBS LearningMedia is sharing results of its Teachers and Technology National Survey
Why:     To enlighten, share, and inform about digital learning practices for today’s learners
Prizes:   Kindle Fire & 3 PBS Prize packs!
Where:  Twitter! (http://twitter.com) #PBSDLDay
When:   Wednesday, 02.06.13 from  8-9 pm ET
  1. RSVP here so you can win some great prizes
  2. log onto twitter
  3. follow the hashtag #PBSDLDay
  4. tweet, re-tweet (RT), and tweet some more!
Helpful hints: pbs learningmedia
  • use TweetChat (http://tweetchat.com/room/PBSDLDay)  or TweetGrid (http://bit.ly/tweetgrid2613) to make it easier for you
  • make sure you are following the host (@teachmama) and all of the panelists so you don’t miss a beat!

PBS LearningMedia twitter event

We’ll see you there!