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!

5 reasons families need backyard chickens (no, this is not a joke)

why families need backyard chickens cover

post contains affiliate links

 

 

We love chickens.backyard chickens for families teachmama.com

We really do.

We love backyard chickens.

As in, we love them thanks to two hens who came to us from Rent a Coop here in the DC Metro area and stayed with us for four weeks.

Kiki and Jennifer.

Though they were admittedly not the first chickens we ever knew (my close friends and family are nodding–or shaking their heads– remembering fondly the days of Peepers and Pappy), but they were the first plump, sweet, free-range feathered girls we ever really loved.

And now that they’re gone? We miss them. We talk about them often, and we laugh about the good times we had with them.  The kids do Kiki and Jennifer impressions.

Brady still mopes around our yard, wondering where his feathered sisters have gone.

Have you thought about giving backyard chickens a try? Sure you have.  And now’s your chance. Our friends from Rent a Coop are offering one teachmama.com reader the chance to have backyard chickens for four weeks, just like we did.

Or if the backyard chicken experience isn’t for you, then they’ll let you in on their chick hatching program which we’re trying for ourselves this winter.  Wetotallycannotwait.

 

backyard chickens for families teachmama.com

And we can hardly wait.  Have I said that? We can’t.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 5 Reasons Families Should Have Backyard Chickens (& How YOUR Family Can Do It):  Backyard chickens may seem crazy, silly, ridiculous to you, but I’m totally convinced that they are an awesome addition to any family.

Clarification: many families.

Sure, with any pet, you’ve got to make sure it’s the right time and that you have the time, effort, and energy to care for them. But these girls? So easy.

 

backyard chickens for families teachmama.com

 

1.  Your family will learn so, so, so much.  We all learned so much about chickens, and we’re still learning.  Our friends learned a ton about chickens.

No one in our world really knows about chickens, which is why having them in our backyard was so much fun.

We learned that chickens love treats.

backyard chickens sept

backyard chickens sept

We learned that our chickens wanted to be close to us and would never wander far.

We learned that chickens like to be held, ride on tire swings, and spend time on tricycles.

We learned that chickens like to drink water from dog bowls.

And we learned a whole lot more.

backyard chickens for learning and fun teachmama.com

2.  Gathering eggs? So fun.  It’s like Christmas morning every time you run out to the coop.  It was the perk of whomever’s day it was to be the one to pick up the eggs.  So fun.

It took Kiki and Jennifer a few days to get into a schedule of laying eggs, but soon they’d each lay one egg sometime late morning.

And what we learned about eggs is that no–even if we didn’t eat the eggs and prayed hard enough they still wouldn’t hatch into chicks.

You need a rooster for that.  You’re nodding your head, right? Now you get it.  Everyone who came to see the chickens wondered the same thing–what makes the eggs hatch? It’s the rooster, yo.  Learned that for myself from the BackYard Chickens FAQs.

Also what’s cool about the eggs is that there you go–you have breakfast right there in your own backyard. Owen learned to make his very first scrambled eggs–all by himself this summer. And he got the eggs from Kiki and Jennifer. We’re like basically self-sufficient over here.

 

backyard chickens for learning and fun teachmama.com

Sometimes Maddy just likes wearing Harry Potter robe around the yard. Jennifer liked it.

3.  Chickens are so easy.  Seriously.  We put their organic feed in the feed bowl and only had to refill it every few days. We did the same thing with their water.   Every week-ish we cleaned out the coop and put in new wood shavings. Voila. Done.

They do not bite, and their pecks are so gentle.

They’ll eat anything almost, and they love treats. (Check out the Chicken Eats & Treats sheet we had hanging in the kitchen for the last four weeks!)

Kiki and Jennifer let Maddy, Owen, and Cora hold them, carry them, love them, hold them, and carry them more.

They actually got along with Brady.  And by ‘got along’ I mean, Brady chased them and they let him.

 

backyard chickens for learning and fun teachmama.com

backyard chickens for family fun and learning

backyard chickens for family fun and learning

4.  Chickens are hilarious.

They look really funny when they run.  And they’ll run for just about any treat.

Want a few more funny chicken videos? head to my Instagram account
They are just plain hysterical to see in a suburban backyard, in the same way that it’s funny for kids to see their teachers outside of the school building. It’s just not–the norm.

So when you are eating breakfast and your pet chicken hops up on your porch and struts by your sliding glass door, the kids will go nuts crazy laughing.

When you’re doing dishes and see your kids holding a chicken on their hips, walking around your back yard or swinging with a chicken on their laps, you’ll laugh.

When you hear your kids tell other people about your chickens? When you all watch a chicken shove its face into a watermelon, peck a tomato, or steal grapes from your hand? All funny.

 

backyard chickens for learning and fun teachmama.com

backyard chickens for learning and fun teachmama.com

5.  Your kids will be so proud. They will love becoming experts on chickens.

They will be beaming as they demonstrate to their friends and neighbors how to properly hold a chicken.

They will love to be able to show family members how awesome their chickens are.

They will love to have people come by to visit and meet your chickens.

 

What you need to think about if you’re considering chickens:

  • chicken poop: Though it’s supposedly great for your grass, it is there as it is with any pet.
  • chickens peck and scratch: If your yard is 100% awesome and perfect, mulch spread out of flower beds may bug you. Our yard? We hardly noticed.
  • HOA rules: Your housing development or neighborhood or county may have rules about keeping backyard chickens.

 

Check out all of our backyard chicken photos:

————————————————————-

Huge thanks to Tyler from Rent a Coop for making our backyard chicken experience so easy.  He rolled on up with our coop and the two sweetest hens around, bringing everything we needed for the whole four weeks.  I had not a clue that we’d love Kiki and Jennifer as much as we did. The experience was so much fun for us all, and we really hope to do it again this spring.

Tyler quickly and patiently answered my wide range of insane texts: They’re not laying eggs! What’s wrong?  (It’s okay–it takes them a day or two to get comfortable–), and he worked around our schedule for drop-off and pick-up.

He didn’t flinch when he came to pick them up and there were 50 kids and adults in the house and yard or when Cora followed him to his van, peeking through the coop window yelling, Bye, Kiki and Jennifer!!! We love you and we will miss yooooooou!!

Cool fact: Tyler makes the coops–as in constructs them himself with recycled materials, and it’s easy to move (you’ll move it around your yard every few days), and it’s predator proof.

Check them out on their Rent a Coop site.  Follow them on their facebook page.  Follow them on twitter and instagram–and bug them like I do to share more photos of their hens.

backyard chickens sept

Let’s just pretend Owen’s wearing matching shoes. . .

backyard chickens for learning and fun teachmama.com

————————————————————-

GIVEAWAY: One 4-week backyard chicken/ coop rental from Rent a Coop OR participation in the chick hatching program for your home or school.

Do you want to win your own 4-week backyard chicken/ coop rental from Rent a Coop OR participation in the chick hatching program for your home or school??Yes, yes you do.

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 11, 2013 at midnight ET and is open to folks here in the DC Metro only; our friends from Rent a Coop can only send their chickens so far, you know. Winner will be chosen by ‘Rafflecopter’ and will be notified on or around 10/13/13.  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.

 

fyi: This is an unsponsored post, but our family was given the opportunity to try our hand at raising backyard chickens for four weeks in exchange for sharing a bit about Rent a Coop.  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 chicken-loving littles.

Affiliate links are used in this post.

the national book festival: what it is and why you should go

national book festival what it is and why you should go

national book festival what it is and why you should goThe National Book Festival is this weekend, September 21-23, 2013.

Go.

It’s awesome.

And it’s free.

It’s on the National Mall here in DC, but if you can’t make it, don’t fret.  There are tons of online resources available–so it’s kind of like you’re there even if you’re far from our Nation’s Capital.

Honestly, it’s one of my most favorite weekends of the year, and that’s not an exaggeration.

This year? On Saturday, I’m thrilled about trying to catch a glimpse of KEVIN HENKES (of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, Owen, A Good Day, many others…), Fred Bowen (from our fave Washington Post section, the Kids Post), Veronica Roth (no joke! she wrote Divergent and Insurgent), the Poetry Out Loud winners, & more.

And Sunday? GIADA!!! Did you read about her new books for kids? Yes. She combines cooking and adventure and kids. We read all about it in the Kids Post this very day.  They’re called the Recipe for Adventure series, and the first takes place in Naples and the second in Paris.

Also? Mark Teague (LaRue books, Pigsty, and more), Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner & A Thousand Splendid Suns) & more.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • The National Book Festival–What it is and Why You Should Go:

Follow @LibraryCongress on twitter because the Library of Congress hosts the event along with honorary chairs, President and Mrs. Obama.   If you go, use #NatBookFest to add your tweets to the mix!

  • What it is: The festival is essentially a celebration of books and reading. It features 100+ authors, poets and illustrators in several pavilions where you can actually meet and hear firsthand a ton of different poets and authors, get books signed, have photos taken with storybook characters and participate in a variety of activities.

national book fest extras

So check out the schedule. Figure out what two or three authors you and your kids want to see. Then search your house for your favorite books by that author, shove the books, some sunscreen, some waters, and some snacks in your backpack, and get your tail on down first thing in the morning.

In the past, they’ve had reusable bags and posters available for visitors, and you just wander around, smiling and happy and in disbelief that you’re in the presence of seriously awesome literary rockstars.

  • Where it is: Between 9th and 14th Streets on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Sunday, Sept. 22 from noon to 5:30 p.m.   Rain or shine.
  • Why you should go: I wrote about the awesome of the National Book Festival last year, but it is worth repeating.

Check it out:

national book fest -- bring your family

This year:

  • Scholastic will be there again, sharing how a number of authors and illustrators have shown what Read Every Day means to them.  Check out information on Scholastic’s eBook platform, Storia, and Build A Book yourself!
  • PBS Kids will be there again, sharing news on the new series, Peg + Cat, and tons of favorite PBS Kids characters will be there for pictures, like Abby Cadabby from Sesame Street, Arthur, The Cat in the Hat, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Curious George, Daniel Tiger from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Martha from Martha Speaks, the cast of SUPER WHY!, WordGirl and Peg and Cat from the new PBS series.  Educator resources will also be shared. Love it!
  • The Digital Bookmobile will also be there again, along with a number of other cool tents, sponsors, and resources and activities for kids and families.

national book fest fun

Will we see you there?

If so, and you have a Girl Scout in your family, she can earn a National Book Festival badge just by going!

nat book fest girl scout badge

Need more information?

Have you been there before? What suggestions, advice, or experiences do you have to share?

Talk about some serious learning in the every day when and if you can make it down!

 

fyi: This is an unsponsored post, written only to share news of an awesome event I’d love to see more families in the DC metro area take advantage of.

Affiliate links are used in this post; when you click on a link, we get a teeny, tiny little percentage of the sale. Thank you!

try someting new: fishing with kids

try something new fishing

Maybe every other family in the world has tried fishing, but ours has not.try something new fishing

That is, until this week.

Now? We’re like total fishermen. Fishers of men.

Fisherwomen. Fisherkids. Give us a rod, a worm, and we’re in it. Big time.

This week, the kids and I tried something totally new-for-us, completely exciting, and really . . . simple.

We fished.

I went fishing with kids. Fifteen kids to be exact.  And a bunch of moms. 

I’m not that crazy.

But when you’re baiting and casting and waiting and reeling, fifteen kids seems more like a hundred.  It’s all good. It was a super summertime activity.

Along with a group of fun friends, we took a county class at a local park, and together we learned how to fish.

And the really crazy thing is that I had no idea that this beautiful park and lake even existed (less than ten minutes from my home) or that these cool family-friendly courses even existed or that if you have a small group and want to form your own class, you can simply call and form your own.

try something new fishing

baby turtle — came to check out the newbie fisherpeople

I’m betting that it’s the same in most areas, and all it takes is a look at the local recreation department’s website.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Try Something New– Fishing With Kids: Really, I had no idea that our county parks and recreation department even offered courses like this. If I did, I would have started this madness a while ago.

My girlfriend called and arranged this adventure, and it involved paddle boating and a private fishing lesson for fifteen.

try something new fishing

Our instructor taught us how to cut the worm for hooks. . .

try something new fishing

 . . . and then carefully unlatch the hook before casting.

We learned about how to bait the hook, how to cast, and then how to reel our catch in.

But most importantly, we learned that fishing takes a whole lot of patience.

try something new fishing

try something new fishing

But after a while, we got lucky!

Some of us did, anyway. Maddy, Owen, and Cora came close to grabbing one, but didn’t score a catch.

Our friends did, though, and they told us how pokey the fish scales felt–and how surprised they were that they weren’t smooth and slippery.

 

try something new fishing

try something new fishing

It. Was. Awesome.

No, I’m not a fan of the worm part, I’ll be honest. But fishing for the first time with my kids–and their buddies–was a lot of fun.

It reminded me a few things:

  • that there are so many incredible learning opportunities so close to home;
  • that it is so important it is to spend time with other moms and kids;
  • that there are a boatload of hidden treasures right under our noses;
  • that it’s good to get out of your comfort zone every now and again;

try something new fishing

  • that learning new skills is good for the soul (casting? it was hard for me, I’ll admit. . . );
  • that engaging in family activities that require patience is muy importante in our immediate gratification lifestyle;
  • that being outside in a beautiful location makes us all so happy and refreshed.

And really? That’s it.

Super fun new-for-us summertime learning in a totally new-for-us location.

Want a few new activities for your family to try?  Check out our New For Us Friday posts and follow our neat-o, fun, new things for us to try board!

And tell me in the comments–have you tried fishing? How’d it go for you?

summer fun cards of 2013

summer fun cards 2013

summer fun cards 2013 Every year for the last few years, we’ve rocked out our Summer Fun Cards in the first few weeks of the summer.

We choose an afternoon, we gather markers and index cards, and we brainstorm and write down everything fun we want to do during the long summer months.  It’s all about summer and fun and we throw our ideas onto little index cards.

Summer. Fun. Cards.

Our refreshments of choice usually involve freeze-pops or ice-cream, and our attire is usually swimsuits or tank tops.

We talk about summers past, we talk about what we loved and what we wished; we talk about what we want to do and what we absolutely don’t want to do.

It’s fun.

This year, in order to ensure that we don’t miss a beat, we changed things up just slightly.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Summer Fun Cards, 2013: In years past, we’ve created the cards, punched a hole in the corner, and hung them on our railing right smack dab in the middle of our house. Like this:

summer fun cards

Or like this:

summer fun cards

This year, we’ve mixed things up a bit thanks to inspiration from my smart friend Heather and her boys.  We added something and moved locations.

We added a small box on each card, reserved for a checkmark once the fun event is completed.

summer fun cards

Maddy’s thinking Great Wolf Lodge. . .

summer fun cards

. . . and Cora’s got Disney World on her mind.  Way to dream big, ladies!

summer fun cards

visit Dutch Wonderland, eat crabs, eat ice-cream, and pick strawberries

And we moved the cards to our door leading into the garage—a door we open and close any time we leave the house.  That way, there’s no missing our cards and no escape from our summertime fun.

This year we also tried to add a box to each card, but some missed the box.

summer fun cards

Owen’s pretty straightforward and illustrates sparingly. . .

summer fun cards

. . . but he does have high hopes for our birds.

Up on the door they went.

Ready to check off as we go!

What did we add this year?

  • pick strawberries
  • pick blueberries
  • go to Cold Stone
  • go to Jimmy Cone (we love sweets)
  • go mini golfing
  • camp out back
  • teach the birds to talk
  • go to Disney World
  • go to Great Wolf Lodge
  • go to Dutch Wonderland
  • go to a baseball game

summer fun cards 2013

 summer fun cards 2013

We also added:

  • swim in at least two different pools
  • eat crabs
  • catch lightening bugs
  • eat s’mores
  • go to the pool
  • go to Nanny & Pap’s
  • go fishing
  • Wii party
  • have a yes day
  • try kayaking or boating
  • have a magic show

And that’s it! Just a little variation from Summer Fun Cards 2012, Summer Fun Cards 2011, and Summer Fun Cards 2010.  

Summer Fun Cards have become a tradition–a simple one!–that we all really enjoy and appreciate. And it’s never too late! All you need are a few ideas, a few cards, and a few weeks of summer. Let the fun begin!

For me, it’s not a contest to fill our summer with nonstop activities. Summer Fun Cards help me to move through the days more intentionally–that’s all. And I know that we only have so many summers with our kids under our roofs as kids, that I really want to make the most of it while I can.

Is it easy? No. Do I want to punk out and do nothing some days? Absolutely. And we do. Believe me.

These are just ideas–and it’s fun to dream, right?

driveway shuffleboard math

driveway shuffleboard math

post contains affiliate links

 

driveway shuffleboard math | teachmama.com

 

It’s so funny how sometimes, sneaky learning shows up organically–completely unexpectedly–in our day.

Driveway Shuffleboard Math is no exception.

We were out front, enjoying a brief break in the rain, when Owen pulled out a fun bouncy ball.  I was trying to sweep the sidewalk and had lazily left our broom resting against the house while I got the mail.

Maddy and Cora were using chalk on the walkway.

Owen brought the broom to the ball and shuffled it down the driveway, trying to aim the ball so that it hit me as I walked up with the mail.

Ten points for me if I get you, Mom!

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Driveway Shuffleboard Math: And so it was born from my son trying to hit me with the ball.

Not so much to injure me as much as scoot the ball my way, like a pinball machine. Or shuffleboard.

So we’ve called it Driveway Shuffleboard, and here’s how it goes:

1. Grab a ball, broom, and chalk.

driveway shuffleboard

driveway shuffleboard

 

We used our fun Sunny Patch ball from Melissa & Doug which I just love because it’s cute and which the kids love because it reminds them of a cooler version of their P.E. balls at school.  No joke they really say that.

We used our hose to keep the ball still until we were ready, but depending on the slope of your driveway, you may not need one.

The great thing about Driveway Shuffleboard is that you can make it work for you.

  • Don’t have a driveway? Play on the sidewalk.
  • Don’t have a big broom? Kick or push the ball.
  • Don’t have a super outdoor ball? Use a ping pong ball.

Easy. Quick. Like learning on the fly should be.

driveway shuffleboard

driveway shuffleboard

2.  Draw your point value at the bottom of driveway.

We used multiples of five so that it was easier for adding scores, but you could use any numbers that work for you.

driveway shuffleboard

3. Play!

We really just took turns shuffling the ball down the driveway, trying to reach the higher points on the edges–20!

There’s no wrong way to do it–really, there isn’t.

driveway shuffleboard

driveway shuffleboard

4.  Keep score.

We do this differently every time we play–sometimes in teams, sometimes individually. Some days we add the scores as we go, and other times we add them at the end.

We usually play until we run out of room for the scoreboard. That’s how hardcore we are.

driveway shuffleboard

That’s it. Totally low-key. Totally fun.

Try it in other ways, too:

  • use 100’s and make your scores really, really high (kids LOVE it!)
  • make one column a *CRAZY* one that requires kids to dance, sing, or cartwheel if they roll onto it
  • make them ALL crazy ones and don’t keep score

Many ways to play. The important thing? You’re together, the kids are having fun, no one’s arguing, and they’re learning a little along the way.

Happy summertime learning!

 

fyi: Though I am a Melissa & Doug Blog Ambassador, this is an unsponsored post. I just really dig their stuff. Period. 

Affiliate links are included in this post


how to host a summer reading book swap event

summer reading book swap | teachmama.com

summer reading book swap Summer is almost in full swing, and for our family, there’s no better way to begin our summer fun than with a Summer Reading Kick-Off Party!

Each year, we invite a few friends over and turn it into an easy Backyard Book Swap.

It’s a great way to ease into summer and to remind kids that they still have to keep their brains moving over the long, hot months.

We always make it super-casual, and we always keep it fun.  This year, we kept it even more simple by having Maddy, Owen, and Cora walk home with some swim and dive buddies, books in hand, ready to swap.

The cool thing is that anyone can host a Summer Reading Book Swap.  And the par-tay can be done in the backyard, basement, or playroom. It can be in the beginning of the summer, middle, or even the end of summer–morning, afternoon, or evening.

All you need are some eager friends and a few books.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Host a Summer Reading Book Swap: In my opinion, for any get-together, you only need a few necessities: food & fun people. That’s it.

But for the Book Swap, you’ll need a few books, of course!

We rarely send out formal invites–more of a quick email or phone call thing for us–but if you’d like, you can use the super-cute Summer Reading Book Swap invites below:

summer reading book swap invite

You can make your Book Swap a potluck where everyone brings something to share, or you can do what we did–provide snacks.

Our pals packed the main courses of their lunches (a sandwich or bagel) and we had fruit, veggies, chips, and drinks to share. And of course, we had freeze-pops for dessert!

summer reading book swap

Decorations? Easy. Big posters.

I’m a huge fan of graffiti walls, so we did what we could. A few posters where kids could write down their favorite books and characters. That’s it!

summer reading book swap

summer reading book swap

Kids ate lunch when they first got here, because hungry kids post-swim practice are no fun for Book Swaps!  So with full bellies, we were ready to move into the swap.

How do eleven kids actually swap without having the event turn into a big, awful brawl?

They draw straws!

summer reading book swap

 I cut a bunch of straws in varying lengths. Everyone picked one, and I told them to hide it once it was picked. Keep the size a secret.

Then I said, Okay, guys, we have to figure out who has the shortest and who has the longest and everything in between. So take a few minutes, figure out who has what and put yourselves into perfect straw-size order. When you’re finished, tell me by clapping three times together.

They were excited about it and got rolling right away–it’s a fun activity for a big bunch of kids and cool to see who steps up to organize.

summer reading book swap

summer reading book swap

summer reading book swap collage

It was a lot of fun.

Once the kids put themselves in order from smallest straw to tallest, I gave each child a sticker with a number 1-10.

Then I reminded them about how to choose “just right” books, and we talked about what it means to choose a book that “fits” you.

summer reading book swap collage

our ‘best fit’ bookmarks will be great reminders for the kids as they read

Then I called numbers 1, 2, and 3 up to choose their first book.

After the first group, numbers 4, 5, and 6 went up.

Finally, 7, 8, 9, and 10 hit the table to choose books.

We went through the groups a few times so that each child could grab 3-5 books, and if they really wanted another, after everyone went, they could grab another.

It worked out great.

summer reading challenge scholastic

summer reading challenge scholastic

Once everyone was settled with books, we chatted about the Scholastic Summer Challenge. My friends from Scholastic sent along some fun Summer Challenge goodies–books, bookmarks, pins, stickers, and tattoos!–so the kids had seen news of the Challenge and were curious.

Many kiddos had already grabbed a bunch of the Summer Challenge bookmarks and shoved them into each of their ‘new’ books.  I showed them that the bookmarks explained a little bit about the Summer Challenge and included a website where participants could actually track their time reading.

I also told them: scholastic summer challenge

  • The Scholastic Summer Challenge is a fun summer reading initiative that really makes it easy and fun for families to read. 
  • Scholastic is doing what they can to help kids prevent the summer slide–when kids forget what they learn during the school year–and to help kids read at least 11 books this summer–11 is the ‘magic number’ people think kids should read over the summer, but we know it should be more.
  • If you log your minutes read on the Scholastic Reading Timer, you can help beat Scholastic’s World Record from 2012 of over 95 million minutes read. Some schools are even doing it together and the winning school will get a visit from the author of Captain Underpants!
  • The Challenge runs from May 6th- September 6th, so there’s still a LOT of time to get involved!
  • Kids can log their minutes read each day and win prizes!

I showed them the Reading Timer on the iPad, and after our guests left, I registered Maddy, Owen, and Cora for this year’s Challenge. It only takes a few minutes to sign them up, and I know they’ll love logging their minutes. I tied their time to their school–so they’ll also love watching that time change throughout the summer.

Knowing how close we keep our iPads and phones, I know that updating the times will take no time at all. Cool incentive for our tech-savvy kiddos, too, to be able to log on and log time after they read.

And that’s it! Just a fun–hot!–Summer Reading Book Swap made so much more fun with great kids and a fab program.

Our summer plan:

What do you think? How do you kick off summer reading with your kids? Let me know in the comments!

fyi: Many thanks to Scholastic for sharing some sweet summer reading goodies with us.  This is an unsponsored post, written only as an honest parent and educator who is grateful and proud to work with such a great company as a writer for the Scholastic Parents Raise a Reader blog.

5 ideas for sneaky learning and backyard fun

5 super sneaky ideas for fun backyard learning

5 super sneaky ideas for fun backyard learning

Hip, hip hooray! Summer is here!

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous for us—not too hot and not too cool. It’s the spring we always seem to miss here in the DC suburbs.

I know it’s short-lived, though, so I’ve been using our great weather time to the max.  And so should you.

Here are 5 quickie ideas for sneaky learning in your own backyard. Fun ideas for helping kids learn a little while they play.

Nothing too fancy, crazy, or time-consuming.  Just a few cool ideas that will get your kids’ brains moving and creativity flowing.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 5 Ideas for Sneaky Learning and Backyard Fun:

Water Painting

  • fine motor practice
  • talk about tripod grip
  • talk about letters, numbers, and sounds
  • use the time to talk about names and how to write names
  • watch water evaporate in the sunshine

paint with water

2.  Dissecting, Examining, and Learning about Flowers

  • talk about the parts of a flower
  • let your kids feel the parts of a flower
  • really use what is in your yard

easy backyard fun with flowers: dissecting, examining, and learning about flowers

3.  Backyard Alphabet Hunt

  • kids are movin’ and groovin’
  • talk about letters and letter sounds
  • compare and contrast sounds
  • kids can see and hear and feel letters and sounds

backyard alphabet hunt

4.  Backyard Fragrance Experiment

  • use the plants and flowers you have in your back yard
  • let your kids use all of their senses
  • sneak in some mathy-language with most, least, same
  • kids are hands-on learning, experimenting, and trying

easy backyard fragrance experiment

5.  Backyard Rainbow Hunt

  • talk about colors
  • get your kiddos moving
  • celebrate plants, animals, and all things nature

backyard rainbow hunt

With just a little bit of planning–or totally on the fly–you can sneak in a little learning in your very own backyard in ten minutes or thirty. Whatever you have will work.

The time to learn? Now!

How to you sneak in some backyard or outdoor learning? Do let us know in the comments–I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences!

smart summer fun ideas: 2013 calendar

smart summer fun ideas: 2013 calendar

teachmama smart summer Hard to believe that in just a few days my kids will no longer be third, first, and Kindergartners and will instead be fourth, second, and first graders!

UN-believable.

Maddy wasn’t even in Kindergarten when I started this blog, and now she’s in fourth grade. Oh my gosh time is flying.

We will not let summer zip by us this year.  No way, no how.

Instead we will control the speed with which we move by making sure we fit every single fun thing in that we want, from the first ear of corn we eat to the last lightening bug we catch. We’re doing it.

And so can you.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Smart Summer Fun Ideas — 2013 Calendar: I shared our Smart Summer Calendar last year about this time, and it worked great for us.

I liked the flexibility it gave us because we never had specific, must-do activities each day; rather, it allowed for collaboration and weekly planning which worked better for our family overall.

 

teach mama’s Smart Summer Cal 2013 by teach mama

 

And though the big picture idea is one thing, it also helps for us to have a general daily plan–an everyday (or almost everyday) schedule even for summertime. Otherwise, it’ll all get nuts.  Kids thrive on patterns–and really? Adults do, too.

Here’s our general, and I mean general, daily plan for summer.  It will change big come the end of July, when the kids’ swim and dive seasons end:

Teachmama Smart Summer Daily Plan 2013 by teach mama

 

Really, until I share our (eeeeee!) totally exciting plan for summer reading, that’s it.

We’ll be making our summer work for us–throwing in everything fun we love, thanks to our soon-to-be-made Summer Fun Cards, the we teach summer learning eBook, our Everyday Journal cards, Everyday Math ideas, and more.

Stay tuned!

Until then, if you have a favorite summer learning resource, please do share it! We had an awesome twitter event this week, all focused on summer learning. I cannot wait to share the resources and our findings!

If you can’t wait (and I don’t blame you!) do check our pinterest board for summer cool & fun for kids or the summer learning ideas 2013 board!

summer learning eBook: 30+ free, fun learning ideas for summer

we teach summer ebook

We’re thrilled to share that our third annual summertime learning eBook has hit the presses today! we teach summer ebook

The fab parents and teachers of the we teach forum have submitted tons of rockstar ideas for keeping summer filled with creative, unique, and crazy-cool fun from start to finish.

We’re sharing these ideas in an eBook, free to all members of the forum–and anyone can join! The goal of the forum is really to share the tools and resources we all need so that we can learn, share, and grow as parents–and teachers–for our children.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Summer Learning eBook–30+ Free, Fun Learning Ideas for Summer:  That’s right. Free. Fun. Ideas for all summer long.

The eBook features:

  • Over 30 ideas for summer learning from talented we teach members
  • Craft ideas
  • Cooking ideas
  • Literacy ideas
  • Math ideas
  • Science ideas
  • Focused play ideas
  • Indoor and outdoor options
  • Considerations for taking learning a step further

we teach summer ebook chapters

From easy, cool crafts for rainy days, to dried flower stamping or hunting through local parks and playgrounds, from creating an A to Z summer to playing sudoku on your driveway, the ideas in this book are fabulous.  Pretzel-making, learning letters and numbers, practicing computation, and developing fine motor and gross motor skills, the book has you covered all summer long.

Your kids–and you–will have a blast.  We guarantee it.

we teach summer ebook

 

The great news? The eBook is totally and completely free for all members of we teach, and anyone can join the forum.

Though it is a public forum, membership is approved and some resources–like our rockstar eBooks–are reserved for members only.

 

weteachgroup.com

we teach summer ebook dividers

Many thanks to the following we teach members who are contributors of this year’s eBook:

We will be pinning ideas and recognizing our awesome eBook sponsors on our we teach pinterest boards, so stay tuned.

Not only will the eBook contributors’ ideas be pinned, but we’ll also pin every single other submission–so it’ll be sure to be packed with cool ideas.

 

Join us for a twitter event on June 11, 2013 to kick off the publication of the eBook and to chat about summer learning. Here are the details: summer learning twitter event.

This will be sure to be an unforgettable summer, filled with fun learning for families!

learn through play eBook bundle: spring & summer fun learning

learn through play spring ebook bundle cover

learn though play ebooks*Though the Learn Through Play eBook Bundle special is over, you may still purchase these eBooks at any time!   Just click through to the ones you are most interested in, and purchase from that book’s main site!*

I’m thrilled beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to be a part of a rockstar mix of bloggers who have worked out a fabulous deal for their readers: a spring eBook bundle.

An it’s a crazy-awesome deal, for a short, short time.

Brought to you by Melitsa of Raising Playful Tots and Cathy of NurtureStore, along with some of my fave bloggers and authors, the Spring Learning Through Play special offer is now open – but for April 8th to April 14th only.

We have put together a package worth over $130 – but available to you at a very special price – of e-books and resources, all based around Learning Through Play.

This Spring Special Offer includes books, resources and an on-line course, and covers sensory play, outdoor play, art and crafts, positive parenting, learning to read and write, math and lots more. There’s so much in the bundle it will give you ideas to use with your children all spring and summer long.

You’ll recognize the authors as the writers of some of your favorite blogs – check out the full details below to see who’s joining in.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Learn Through Play Spring eBook Bundle:  This special bundle of books is available for you to buy only between April 8th and April 14th. So buy it now or you’ll miss the deal!

spring book bundle

 

I’ve read the books (and written one of them!) and I’m so happy to recommend this offer to you. These gals really know their stuff and the books and resources are packed full of fantastic creative and practical ideas that you can use with your children. There are sixteen different authors joining in, bringing you over $130 worth of resources. And, guess what – you can buy the lot for just $9.99!

Want a sneak peek of what’s included? Sure you do!

The Garden Classroom brings you fifty-two creative and playful outdoor activities, giving you a whole year’s worth of garden-based projects to enjoy with your children. Value $9.99

ScienceArts inspires children to explore the world of science through art with open-ended experiments. 141 pages of art experiments amaze & delight children as they discover the magic of crystals, light, constellations, plants and more. All scientific reactions and concepts explained. Value $9.99

spring book bundle

The Playful Family encourages and challenges busy parents to slow down and spend quality time together with their children, regardless of their age. With nearly 100 ways to connect, engage and play together this easy-to-read e-book is a must-have resource for any parent interested in becoming more playful and happy while raising children. Value $4.99

Connecting Family through Creative Play is a 30 day e-Workshop designed for families who wish to connect with their children on a daily basis through simple, creative play. These ideas are perfect for parents looking to find a balance between the everyday responsibilities and connecting with your child in meaningful ways that fit into your family’s daily rhythm. You will receive daily messages from us in your inbox with inspirations to play, ideas for connection, and resources to help spark your imagination, including access to a private Facebook community. {Please note this course is running April 29th 2013 to May 28th 2013 only and you must register on the course before May 15th 2013} Value $25

Alphabet Glue is a downloadable e-magazine for families who love books, and aims to help more families to incorporate creativity, imagination and all things literary into their everyday routines. Each issue contains leveled book recommendations organized by theme, bookmaking tutorials, story-building activities, and hands-on projects that complement favorite titles in children’s literature or teach basic elements of science. Value $11

spring book bundle

The Alphabet Summer Learning Pack is a collection of flexible summer learning ideas organized around an “A to Z” theme. Use these resources to prevent the dreaded “summer slide” and build fun learning routines into your summer plans. Ideas are simple and flexible, so families can pick and choose the activities that work for their particular child and schedule. They provide opportunities to practice key literacy and math skills, and they leave plenty of time for lemonade stands and sand castles. Value $7

Backyard FUN brings you 13 Art Lessons and Craftivities to create your own Backyard Fun Camp at home or in your classroom with step-by-step instructions, supply lists, and full color photos. The supplies for these fun and easy projects will come from your own art and craft stash, garage, hardware store, and recycling bin! Value $10

Alphabet Crafts lets you create the alphabet from A-Z with fun crafts that promote more than just letter recognition. Kids will love making their own alphabet and forget that they are learning in the process. With 5 exclusive crafts never published on No Time For Flash Cards. Value $8

The Alphabet Mega Pack includes 12 hands-on games that teach children to recognize the names and sounds of letters – skills that are important for learning how to read. Each activity includes easy to follow parent instructions and helpful photos. The games are addictively fun for kids AND their families! Value $6

  • Raising a Creative Kid: Simple Strategies for Igniting and Nurturing that Creative Spark by Jillian Riley of A Mom with a Lesson Plan

Raising a Creative Kid will help you raise a creative thinker by simply setting up a creative environment, using intentional language, and nurturing mistakes. This easy read is full tips and tricks that will help you transform your environment into a creativity growth center. Value $7.99

5 min reading tricks for raising rockstar readers button

  • 5 minute reading tricks for raising rockstar readers by Amy Mascott of teach mama

Fifteen 5-minute reading tricks that cover everything from teaching names to what parents should say during read-alouds, from learning sight words to reading fluently. It’s about rolling out the red carpet for our rockstar readers. Now. Whomever you are, wherever you are, no matter how busy you are. Value $10

  • Parenting with Positive Guidance: Building Discipline from the Inside Out by Amanda Morgan of Not Just Cute

Parenting with Positive Guidance gives you the tools for understanding your child’s behavior and effectively teaching and guiding your child toward increased self-control while fostering a healthy parent-child relationship. 100+ pages of information you can start using today! Value $9

Treasure Basket Play lets you learn step by step how to make your own natural sensory baby play activity with a Treasure Basket. Includes case studies and interview with a sensory play expert on using Treasure Baskets. Value $8.95

spring book bundle

Issue 2 of Play Grow Learn is packed full of playful fun with 55 pages and over 100 activity ideas. Includes ideas for creating family stories with internationally acclaimed author Hazel Edwards, an exclusive full colour, printable sea themed bingo game, 12 pages of active and outdoor play ideas, recipes, art, literacy, creativity, construction, imaginative play, books and more! Value $4

Spring Literacy and Math Activities and Games includes 15 fun learning center ideas. Skills worked on include, addition to 8, patterns, counting to 20, measurement, number sequencing, abc order, writing 3 letter words, rhyming, syllables, compound words and more. Value $8

 

How to buy and download the bundle

You can buy the bundle on any device, including computer, Apple, Android and portable devices. You’ll get an instant download of the books and resources so you can start enjoying them straight away. The book will be sent to the e-mail address associated with your paypal account. The delivery system gives you 9 attempts at download within 120 hours, so you can buy now and do the download a little later if you prefer.

spring book bundle

 

A note about mobile devices

Depending on the apps you have installed and your operating system you might be able to go ahead and download each book on your mobile device but if you have any doubts or problems, we recommend you use a computer to download the books and then share them to your mobile devices.

 

Happy spring (and summer) learning, and please let me know what you think!  Many, many thanks!