what to do when your kids find their “passion”

20 project teachmama.com

The following guest post is written by A.J. Juliani, an author, teacher, and ‘learning addict’.   A.J. is a K-12 Technology Educator who believes in #20time and #geniushour. He’s a father and blogger, and you need to check him out.what to do when kids find their passion

He’s even thrown in a rockstar freebie for you. (He seriously rocks.)

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  • What to do when your kids find their “passion”, by A.J. Juliani

My daughter had been singing for almost two hours with no break. The song “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” from the Frozen soundtrack was on repeat, and my wife and I looked at each other.

“She’s pretty good,” we both said as she added a new piece of choreography to her accompanying dance.

In fact, my mind started running about how good she really was, and how great she could become. We all want the best for our own kids and our students. In my daughter’s case we made sure she had a variety of experiences trying new things. From tee-ball and soccer, to swimming and gymnastics, my wife and I watched and supported her along the way.

But this was different. We always knew she liked singing and dancing, but now it had taken on a whole different level. I wondered if my daughter had found her first “passion”.

Chances are you’ve been in this same spot as a parent or teacher. We give our kids a lot of opportunities and when they finally find one they enjoy, we are excited by the possibilities. Sometimes parents and teachers may try to guide a child down a certain path of sports, or music, or learning based on their interests…but usually we wait for that spark of passion to come, and when it does the big question is: What next?

As a high school English teacher I was able to answer this question of “What Next?” when I ran a “20% Project” with my students three years ago. The project was simple. It is based on the “20 percent time” Google employees have to work on something other than their job description. It has been well documented, and Google has exponentially grown as a company while giving this 20 percent time.

After we came back from winter break I gave them this handout:

The 20% Project*

1. For the rest of the year, 20% of your time in my class will be spent working on something you want to work on.

2. It has to be some type of learning, and you have to document it (journal etc).

3. You’ll present your accomplishments to the class twice (and will not be graded on it).

4. That’s it. Have fun. Find your passion. Explore it. Enjoy learning what you want.

X___________________________________________

 

Mass confusion set in. Most of my students were trying to figure out what the catch was, asking questions like: “So what are we getting credit for?”, “What kinds of things can we do?”, “Why aren’t we being graded?”, and “I don’t get it Mr. J, what are we supposed to be doing?”

After a few minutes more of explanation my students began to come around. I was not going to grade them on this project, but I was going to keep them accountable. Many times in education we believe the only way to hold students accountable is by giving some form of assessment. But for this project the assessment was in the process. It was how they learned with passion, and learned because it was their choice.

20 project teachmama.com

As I watched my daughter sing I thought about the ways my students dealt with finding and acting on their passions. Some students had a difficult time figuring out what they were really passionate about. Others jumped right in to learn something new. While many of my students struggled with figuring out what to actually do with their time. For each student I had to figure out how to best guide and help them through this process, there wasn’t one fix that would help all of them.

However, there are three important steps that I had each of my students do during our project that helped both them and me answer the question of “What’s next?”

First, my student had to make sure they were truly passionate about what they wanted to learn. In order to differentiate between hobbies, interests, and passions I had them create a “March Madness” bracket and go through a process of elimination. When they pitted their interests against each other, it became clear to them which was really a passion that they could do all day if they were allowed to.

For younger students, I might have them use this PinterestPowerPointTemplate I made to put their interests together and go through a smaller process of elimination. This visual is also a big help regardless of the age.

Second, we had to create clear steps of what they were going to do to learn more and get better at their passion. If they wanted to play the guitar they’d first learn how to string it and play a chord before jumping into learning a song. This process showed them what growth would look like each time they came back to the project.

Third, they would have to find a mentor or guide to help them get to the next level. Often this could come in the form of a book, a YouTube video tutorial, or even a real person. But they would need guidance to continue the growth steps.

The final piece of this was putting it all together and presenting to their peers. While this can be scary, it is also needed. You can’t hide your passion from the world, we need to see it!

I knew with my daughter that three things were true:

1. She thoroughly enjoys singing, and could do it all day if she was allowed to!

2. She wants to get better. Always trying to learn a new song and perfect her rendition.

3. She was going to need help and guidance to get to the next level.

My wife and I enjoy singing but we aren’t going to be able to help her get to the next level. In this case we’ve started looking at lessons and new opportunities to let her grow. I know that I want this always to be my daughter’s choice, because as soon as we begin making decisions to force her down a path, that’s when our kids pull away and begin to lose the initial spark and passion we always want for them.

When your kids find their passion, or begin exploring new interests, make sure you give them choice before giving them guidance. Their instrinsic motivation is what is truly important, and if we can help them do what they love, then learning won’t be a chore. It will be fun and exciting…like it is supposed to be.

Looking for more 20% Time and Passion Learner information?

aj juliani guest post teachmama.comVisit AJ’s blog at AJJULIANI.COM. AJ is a K-12 Technology Staff Developer, and author of two books: “Teach Above The Test” and the upcoming “Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom”. He is also the founder of Education Is My Life and the new digital magazine for educators, “The Best and Next in Education”.

Connect with AJ: Twitter/ Blog/ Google+

Get My Free eBook

Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards:

This post is part of our new Rockstar Sunday posts.  Each week, I will highlight one ‘rockstar’ in the parenting and education field.  These posts? Seriously awesome.

Have something you’d like to share that in some way relates to fun learning, school, technology, education, or parenting? For a short time we’ll be accepting Rockstar Sunday guest posts.

 rockstar sunday promo teachmama

other posts in the series:

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

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

how every family should celebrate martin luther king, jr day

building compassion with children through community service

post contains affiliate links

 

 
fun ways to celebrate martin luther king jr day

I love the idea of doing some sort of service project for the community to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy.  Imagine how great the world would be if every family did something small for others to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

It would be amazing.

And the awesome thing is that there are dozens and dozens of fun ways that families can work together to give back and all year, but especially in January, when we mark , Dr. King’s birthday.

In 1957, Dr. King said, ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’

This year, my family will very easily be able to answer that question.

Will yours?

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How Every Family Should Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Choose something. Anything. Just make sure it’s some way of serving others.

Some things that your family can do to give back:

 

building compassion with children through community service

building compassion with children through community service: Pink and Green Mama

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Parenting Children with Grateful Hearts and Generous Spirits; Gratitude Garage Sale

parenting with grateful hearts– gratitude garage sale: Educators’ Spin on It

surprise happy day notes

Some cool crafts you can do together that will spark discussion:

 

Read about MLK & learn about service:

 

What will you and your family do? How will you mark this day and carry on MLK’s legacy of service?

 

fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

advanced learners: 8 ways to support them at home

Ways to Support Advanced Learners at Home_thumb[4]

Ways to Support Advanced Learners at Home

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

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

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

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

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

I am honored to be here at Teach Mama today.

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

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

 

Time to Build, Read, and Create

1. Give Them Time


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

Leave Things Behind to Be Found

2. Strew Things

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

Snap Circuit - Hands On Introduction to Electronics

3. Limit Screen Time

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

4. Play Games

Board Games for Brainy Kids

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

5. Challenge Them

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

6. Teach Them Life Skills

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

7. Spend Time in Nature

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

 

 

Find Teachable Moments by Being Available

8. Find “Teachable Moments”

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

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Natalie Photo

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

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

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

Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards:

This post is part of our new rockstar Sunday posts.  Each week, I will highlight one ‘rockstar’ in the parenting and education field. These posts? Seriously awesome.

rockstar sunday promo teachmama

how to keep your family sane during a kitchen renovation

5 ways to keep family sane during home reno

post contains affiliate links

 

 

5 ways to keep family sane during home reno

It’s been pretty quiet on the blog for the last few weeks, but it’s been insanely busy on the home front.

We’re undergoing a major kitchen renovation.

Combining the dining room, craft room (sob!), and kitchen.  Breaking down some walls.  Opening up the place.

Letting some light in, and trying something new.

I’ll be the first to admit that it hasn’t been all that pretty. But there are a few things we’ve been doing to try to keep our family sane. We’re still not finished, but we’re getting there. We can see the light.

For our family, it’s been absolutely insane.  But fun. Kind of.

Three weeks without appliances. All of our worldly possessions from three rooms shoved into our living room. It’s dusty. It’s a mess. It brings cray-cray to a whole new level.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Keep Your Family Sane During a Kitchen Renovation:  I think any time the kitchen is involved with a renovation, it’s time to pull out all the stops.

The kitchen is the command center of the home. It’s where all the action begins and where it usually ends.

And when the kitchen’s all torn up, life can get a little nutty to say the least.  Though I have not handled this experience as gracefully as I wish I have, I’m doing what I can to maintain my sanity.

Here are my feeble suggestions for others who may soon experience the joy of having their kitchen gutted. . .

 

how to keep family sane during home renovation

1.  Go with it.  Accept the chaos.

Really. My pal who is always on top of things–the one who cleans up after the cleaners, who is always on time for everything, and in whose home we follow the ‘no shoes’ rule–gave me this advice: Go with it. Accept the chaos.

Go with it.

5 ways to keep family sane during home reno | go with it | teachmama.com

See me? Don’t I look totally happy just ‘going with it’?

5 ways to keep family sane during home reno | go with it | teachmama.com

5 ways to keep family sane during home reno | keep kids involved | teachmama.com

But that advice, coming from my friend, really stuck.

Amy, you have to just go with it. Don’t fight it. Accept the chaos and you’ll be fine. You can’t clean. There’s dust everywhere. Just go with it.

I have repeated that phrase over in my head more times than I care to admit: Just go with it. Go with it. Go with it. 

It’s been my mantra.  When my kids see me, the Joe-Cool Mom, just ‘going with it’ and embracing the chaos and ignoring the dust and mess, they are more likely going to be able to ‘go with it’ too.

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5 ways to keep family sane during home reno let it go  teachmama.com

2. Let a lot go.  Let a lot go.

The first few days, I tried to remind the kids to eat over their paper plates and to grab a napkin before they sat in front of the tv to eat their dinner (gasp!), but after a day or two, I let. It. Go. I. Let it go.

You want to walk around the ripped-up kitchen floor, eating potato chips out of the bag? Sure. Go for it.

5 ways to keep family sane during home reno | go with it | teachmama.com

There’s Brady. Letting it go.

Cereal for an after school snack? Absolutely. And you want to walk around, bowl in one hand and spoon in the other? Awesome.

No appliances for another weekend, thanks to bad weather? No problem.  ¿Como se dice ‘take-out’?

Maddy, Owen, and Cora, who are allowed to buy lunch one day each week, bought lunch every day for three weeks. While I convinced myself that it was fine, they acted like they won the lottery.  See? It really was fun.

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ways to keep family sane during home reno stick to routine  teachmama.com

3.  Try to stick to the routine.

Because our renovation started a few weeks before winter break and stretched to few weeks after, our routine was pretty much crazy from the start. December is nutty. Always.

But while the kids were in school, I homework in one spot–even if it was the coffee table in the basement.

Through the entire renovation, I kept out a sweet pot of pretty white cyclamen given to me for the holidays from a neighbor. We usually have flowers of some sort out in containers or tiny bud vases, so I really wanted to keep something beautiful around through the ugly parts of the reno.

It helped.

5 ways to keep family sane during home reno | stick to routine | teachmama.com

5 ways to keep family sane during home reno | stick to routine | teachmama.com

We ate dinner as a family, even if it was Chinese take-out.  And it was take-out quite a bit because we don’t have a laundry sink so doing dishes was difficult in the tiny bathroom sink.

Though we totally lost track of whose day it was, I kept our daily schedule up and rolling every day.

And when everything was packed away and I couldn’t find the dry erase markers, I printed out our schedule from our family google calendar on a one-pager and taped it to the tile.

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5 ways to keep family sane during home reno- chronicle the adventure - teachmama

4. Chronicle the adventure.

And in the vein of ‘going with it’, we’ve been chronicling the whole renovation adventure.

Taking pictures every single day and talking about the progress each night.

keep your family sane during a home reno | chronicle adventure | teachmama.com

5 ways to keep family sane during home reno | keep kids involved | teachmama.com

keep your family sane during a home reno | chronicle adventure | teachmama.com
When we’re finished, I’ll put it all together in a photo book–the good, bad, and the ugly.

And for a few weeks, a whole lot of it was ugly.

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5 ways to keep family sane during home reno keep kids involved  teachmama.com

 5.  Keep the kids involved.

We have tried to keep the kids involved in every aspect of the process, from beginning to end.

Since this is their house, we wanted them involved in the adventure.  This has meant that we asked for their opinions in all choices we had to make: from cabinet color to countertop, from drawer organization to paint colors.

This isn’t always easy, and some decisions were made even before we asked for opinions (we knew we wanted white cabinets and dark countertops), even inviting the kids to the conversation is important.

5 ways to keep family sane during home reno | keep kids involved | teachmama.com

 

Figuring out where to put each item and what drawers made the most sense for us was a hugely fun part for the kids.

I wrote all of the drawers and cabinets we needed on small sticky notes. And we all worked together to figure out where we should put each item.

And then? We all worked together to put the items in the proper places.

Some kids wiped out drawers while others loaded. It made the process move much more quickly, and everyone was a part of it.

5 ways to keep family sane during home reno | keep kids involved | teachmama.com

keep your family sane during a home reno | keep kids involved | teachmama.com

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These five tips should be prefaced by a biggie: Say YES! to offers of meals and help.

We are hugely thankful to my husband’s parents for generously providing us with invites to dinner, with warm, cooked meals, and for support through this.

Huge thanks to many of our friends who invited us over for lunch or dinner or threw a gift card our way to offset the growing cost of eating out each night.

Though it has not been easy and Owen cried hard at the thought of the renovation (But I loooove the kitchen the way it is. I don’t want it to change. We don’t need it to chaaaange.), now that we’re close to the end, everyone is loving the new kitchen and big, open new room.

Have you done this before? What were your secrets to success–and sanity-savers?  Do tell! 

 

fyi: affilliate links are used below

you buy one, we GIVE1 — the mother company

you buy one we give1 the mother co

you buy one we give1 the mother co

From now until the end of the year, the amazing people at The Mother Company are running a rockstar promotion that I think everyone will love.

It’s learning in the every day times a hundred.

It’s parenting support that makes me want to dance.

It’s holiday giving to the max.

It’s a teaching dream.

It’s thinking about others, sharing some awesome, and serious, all-around cool.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • You Buy One, We GIVE One–The Mother Company:  Love this.

The Mother Company will donate the same product you buy to the preschool of your choice.  And wherever a preschool is not designated, they’ll donate the product to HeadStart.

So whether you’re scrambling for a holiday gift for teachers or need something more for your own kids’ stockings, consider checking them out.

I’ve shared my love for The Safety Show.

I still totally love it.

you buy one we give1 the mother coI also truly love The Friendship Show and The Feelings Show.   All three shows are extremely well done; they are engaging, smart, and clever ways of teaching kids super-important skills: empathy, understanding, conflict resolution, and more.

Kids of all ages will appreciate the ideas in these shows. Maddy, who just turned 10, Owen, 8, and Cora, 6 years old, have all watched these several times in the last few months.   They’re quality products, and kids as young as 3 or 4 would love them.

All three can be purchased in a huge money-saving set of three: Ruby’s Studio 3 DVD Holiday Gift Pack.

Or add some related books to the DVDs with the gift sets.

Whatever you choose, if you enter the code: GIVE1 at checkout, and your purchase will be doubled. You get what you purchased (of course!) and you let The Mother Company know what preschool you want your second item to go to, and bam. It’s done.  Everybody’s happy.

Whether your kids are still in preschool, or you choose to gift a preschool in your community, or the HeadStart program, this is a seriously big win in my book.teach kids to be smart strong safe

 

But really? The big winners are all of the littles who get to view these stellar products.

Thank you to The Mother Company for thinking about them.

 

fyi: I do work with The Mother Company as part of their ambassador program, but as always, my opinions and ideas are truly my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator.  I just really think these products and this promo rocks.

our cookie baking day: favorite family annual holiday tradition

holiday baking day cookies

Every year, one of our advent calendar activities reads: Cookie Baking Day!  annual cookie baking day

And what that means is that no matter the day–it’s always a surprise!–the kids and I ditch everything (and I mean, everything. . . ahem. . . ), don our aprons, and bake.

All. Day. Long.

My mom did this for us when we were growing up, and it’s one of my most fond childhood memories. It was special. It was crazy. It was busy and fun.

I knew that when I had children I’d do the same. It’s not hard. And when the kids are really young, baking one or two kinds of cookies is all we did.

As they get older, their roles in the day become bigger, and they become responsible for a bit more.

It’s a favorite family annual tradition.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Our Cookie Baking Day–Favorite Family Annual Holiday Tradition: Our Cookie Baking Day is a day we all look forward to.

It’s a lot of work, but in the end, we have dozens and dozens of cookies that we take to holiday parties and give to our neighbors as gifts.

Kiss Cookie Recipe 2013 Teachmama

Kiss Cookie Recipe 2013 Teachmama

The teacher in me looks at the day as an opportunity for some real-life reading, math, and science learning. The parent in me knows that the day is an opportunity for the kids to spend one special, unexpected day together, making memories and working hard at something that is important to each one of us.

Do the days always go picture-perfect? Um, no.

Do the cookies always look beautiful, taste scrumptious, and look bakery-fab? No, no, and no.

holiday baking day cookies -

holiday baking day cookies

holiday baking day cookies

Do the kids get along harmoniously, taking perfect turns and following instructions top to bottom? No and no.

Does the kitchen get totally rocked by the end of the day, like a small bomb exploded in our house? Absolutely.

holiday baking day cookies

holiday baking day cookies

There was the time that Maddy slid across the counter and sent the salt shaker splattering into our dough.

The many times, while the kids were learning to crack eggs, that eggs exploded like fireworks in tiny hands.

We’ve had milk spilled, cookies fall, and ingredients forgotten.

We’ve spilled bags of chocolate chips.

We’ve seen Brady steal aprons and oven mitts; we’ve experienced burns and power outages.

holiday baking day cookies

Some years are easier than others.

How we schedule our day:

  • Light planning: Before our Cookie Baking Day, Maddy, Owen, Cora, and I talk about what kinds of cookies we’ll bake that year.  Some years we try new kinds, and other years, we stick to old faves.
  • Big shopping: I take their suggestions into account and do the shopping for ingredients. Because the day is a surprise for them, I make the general cookie-baking plan. I hide the ingredients so no one notices.

 

holiday baking day cookies

holiday baking day cookies

holiday baking day cookies

 

  • Big surprising.  The kids wake and get ready for the day as normal. Then whomever’s day it is opens the Advent Calendar and reads that day’s Advent Activity: It’s Cookie Baking Day! Let’s bake, bake, BAKE!!
  • Serious baking. We start before breakfast, making one dough and refrigerating it. We make another dough and send the first tray into the oven. We continue all day long, through dinner.

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

  • Some eating. We break for meals while cookies bake.   Of course we test the cookies along the way. Come ON.
  • Light resting.  Really, the kids only rest for one show after lunch, and even then, somebody takes a turn to stay with me in the kitchen. When I say we work all day, we really do work all day.

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

  • Big sharing. We put many of our cookies away in tins, but one thing we really look forward to is assembling small packages of cookies for our neighbors. Not everyone–that would be crazy–but for a handful of close neighbors, we put an arrangement of our cookie-creations together in a pretty tin or container, and we deliver our sweets one day that week.  So fun.

Do you want to give the Annual Cookie Baking Day a try at your house? Sure you do! It’s totally not too late!

You can follow the recipe below for some kid-friendly recipe reading:

 

Hershey Kiss Cookie Recipe: kid-friendly recipe from teachmama by teach mama

 

And if you like this, check out our whole Holiday Baking with Kids eBook!  15 recipes your family will love.

holiday baking with kids eBook

Or check out some other fun recipes from our friends at Target–some new twists on classic faves.

How do you handle holiday baking? I’d love to hear:

  • what are your fave holiday treats to bake?
  • do your kids help in the kitchen?
  • who do you share your sweets with?

 

fyi: This post was created as part of my collaboration with Target, the #MyKindofHoliday campaign, and Target Inner Circle. As always, the thoughts and ideas are my own.  Target sent us a Ninja Gingerbread Cookie Set among other baking, decorating, and sharing supplies because they totally, 110% support our #mykindofholiday @target traditions!

3 cool kids, 3 cool books: what we’re reading now

3 cool kids 3 cool books | what we are reading now

post contains affiliate links

 

 

3 cool kids 3 cool books | what we are reading

It’s hard to find books that work for your kids.

I totally get it.

So every so often, I’m going to share 3 cool kids, 3 cool books: what we’re reading now.  It’s a quick look at the books that my kids, Maddy (age 9), Owen (age 8), and Cora (age 6) are digging.

It’ll be a vlog, because they’re quicker for me.

And you’ll get the insider’s scoop–why my kids like the book or series and why I like the book or series.  As an avid reader, a former high school English teacher, a Master’s Degree in Reading, you better believe I have some ideas.

Above all, though, I am a normal parent who really just wants my kids to enjoy reading.

So here’s the skinny. . .

  • 3 Cool Kids, 3 Cool Books– What We’re Reading:

Check out the video for the details:

 


 

 

 

But if you just want the quick and dirty link to the book, here you are:

 

What do you think? Are these faves in your house?  Any recommendations you think we should check out?

Let me know!

 

fyi: Affiliate links are used in this post, which means nothing other than if you use the link provided, teachmama.com gets a teeny, tiny percentage of your sale. Bam.

teach kids to be smart, strong, and safe: the safety show

teach kids to be smart strong safe

sponsored post

 

 

Talking big topics with your kids is sometimes so hard.teach kids to be smart strong safe

Especially if you’re as emotional a person as I am.

But as our kids get older, these conversations have to be as regular as breathing. We’ve got to talk openly and often about cyber safety, bullying, stranger safety, scary news, hunger, and all those topics we wish didn’t exist but really do.

We’ve got to do everything we can to prepare our kids for this big game of life–the good, bad, and the ugly.

I feel grateful to have the opportunity to work with a brand whose sole focus is to help parents raise ‘good people’.  A lot of what I write about here deals with just that—how we, as parents, can raise kids who are well-rounded, smart, savvy, and safe.

Our kids don’t need to be perfect. We don’t need to be perfect. We just need to be good. people.

So when The Mother Company asked me to check out their new show about keeping kids safe, you know I jumped on the opportunity.

The cool thing is that everyone wins here.

The Mother Company is offering teachmama.com readers three rockstar opportunities: a sweet discount code, the chance to win one of three copies of The Safety Show, and an invite to one of their Safety Show screening parties around the country.

Not kidding.

Here’s the skinny. . .

The goal of The Safety Show? To ‘inspire, inform, and empower’.

 mother co 'the safety show'

 mother co 'the safety show'

I love it.

And it really does.

The Safety Show is about an hour. It takes place in Ruby’s Studio and consists of a series of animated, stop-motion, and music videos –short sketches tied together with the same important theme–staying smart, strong, and safe.

Kids are reminded to:

  • listen to your gut
  • ask for help
  • speak up for themselves
  • own their body.

 mother co 'the safety show'

 mother co 'the safety show'

The Safety Show is easy for kids to relate to because they can connect to the situations in the shorts. They hear the kids speaking and nod because they ‘get’ what they are saying.

This heavy topic isn’t made light with silliness or nonsense in an attempt to make kids laugh to relieve the anxiety they feel; rather, kids are empowered to listen to their ‘uh-oh’ feeling, to ask for help, and to speak up for themselves. They’re learning that it’s okay to say ‘NO.’

Check out a trailer for The Safety Show here:


So great, right?

What I also love is the Boss of My Body video, which you can check out below:

It empowers kids to be the boss of their body under all circumstances–with their peers on the playground, with adults, with friends, with anyone.  No matter their age or size, this song reminds kids that they ‘hold the key to the safety of me’.

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The Safety Show: Launch Events —  are you nearby? The Mother Company would love to have YOU attend their free launch events for The Safety Show!

  • New York: October 19 & 20
  • San Francisco: October 27
  • Chicago: November 9
  • Dallas: November 16

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Special friends & family discount code for all teachmama.com readers

  • 25% off of your entire order when you purchase The Safety Show
  • at checkout use code:  safe143
  • think: family, friends, schools, troops, & more

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GIVEAWAY: one of THREE copies of Ruby’s Studio: The Safety Show 

Do you want to win your own copy of Ruby’s Studio: The Safety Show??!  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, November 1, 2013 at midnight ET and is open to anyone and everyone because the copy of The Safety Show will be available via electronic download. Winner will be chosen by ‘Rafflecopter’ and will be notified on or around 11/1/13.  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 sponsored post, written as part of The Mother Company’s Blog Ambassador program.  As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my personal experience as a parent and educator.

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:

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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.

when talking to teachers: 5 tips for parents

when talking to teachers 5 tips for parents

when talking to teachers 5 tips for parents

As a writer for Scholastic Parents’ Raise a Reader blog, I’m always surprised at what sparks the most conversation among readers.

I recently wrote Talking to Teachers: What Every Parent Needs to Know, and it raised a boatload of emotion over on the Scholastic Parents’ Facebook page.

Really. I was quite surprised.

Check it out.  And tell me. . .

What do you think?

Am I missing the mark?

Do you agree or disagree?

Did any of the comments strike a nerve with you, as a parent or teacher?

Share your thoughts on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page, or find me on twitter, @teachmama, and let’s continue the conversation!