2 tricks to an organized school year

3 hands on math games pinterest cover

tricks to an organized school year cover

How do you stay organized during the school year?

What do you do to not get lost in the sea of papers your kids bring home from school each day?

Where do important papers go?

What ‘tricks’ have kept your family organized during this busy back-to-school time?

The very funny thing about this ‘2 Tricks to an Organized School Year’ is that I started the video for it right after I sent How Every Family Can Start the School Year Off Right live.

And I was all proud of the video piece, and I was all smilin’ from the great feedback and emails I received from readers about the blog post, and I was all feelin’ good about how organized our life was.  Everything was well and good.

Then I walked up to school and picked up Maddy, Owen, Cora, and two of their friends.

They played at the park for a while, ate some snacks, played some more, and we then came on home.  I did not–and I repeat–did not follow my own advice that I share in today’s video because, well, it was Friday.

And it was a double playdate.

And it was a long weekend.

And we were planning on heading out for one last hurrah at the pool.

And, well, it was Friday.

And what we realized–on Sunday!–was that we didn’t have Owen’s backpack with us.

Backpack. Gone. Missing. Nada. Zip. Zero on the O-Man’s backpack.

We were so totally organized, and we were so totally starting the school year off right that we lost our kid’s backpack the first week of school.

Somehow, I managed to bring home five lunchboxes, a few extra bags, a few water bottles, five kids, and four backpacks.  Four.

The good news was that on Monday, we packed Owen’s soccer backback, we all walked up to school, and we all hit the good ole Lost and Found.  And lo an behold, sitting right there, in the center of the stage in the All Purpose Room (because it was, after all, day six of school so the Lost and Found box wasn’t even out yet), was Owen’s backpack.

Sitting there, all lonely through the long weekend, waiting for us to find it.

Owen and his backpack were reunited. Woot!

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 2 Tricks to an Organized School Year: Take ’em or leave ’em, but know that even as hard as I try, I’m totally far from perfect.  I’m just doing what I can to get by with a smile on my face, keeping the family smiling and sneaking in a little learning–for all of us–along the way.


Hopefully you can find the humor in the lost backpack experience, considering the fact that in this video I’m all about staying organized, and I mention more than once that organization is an every day, every hour, all-the-time job.

Maybe I should stay more on top of things, huh?

What are YOUR tricks for staying organized through the school year? Is there something you’ve done that’s really worked? Do tell!

how every family can start the school year off right

successful school year know teachers

how to start the school year off right

Several years ago, I wrote about how to make the school year a smashing success, or. . . actually how to make the school year as successful as humanly possible.

It included 10 easy steps that any family could follow in order to start the school year off on the right foot. 

I just looked back at it, and I decided it’s totally worth sharing again, because, well, with a little prep and a little thought, every family can start the school year off on a positive note.

Every one of us wants the school year to be successful for our children–and us–so here’s a few simple ‘tricks of the trade’ coming from not only a parent of three elementary schoolers but also an educator who has been ‘on the other side’.

And sure, my husband–also an educator and school administrator–added his two cents’ so we’ve really got it covered here.  Now we just have to make sure we’re doing these 10 simple things–

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How Every Family Can Start the School Year Off Right: Here they are–successful new-school-year survival tips, in no particular order, so that we all start the school year off in the best way (humanly) possible:


1. Make early and frequent contact with your child’s teacher. Don’t be afraid to send an email if you have a question or concern, or just send a note to say ‘hi’ and introduce yourself. Ask how you can support classroom learning at home, and ask how you can help the teacher–by classroom volunteering or doing what you can at home.

Have your child write a Hello Teacher Note before school starts or even during the first week or month of school so that she feels a special connection with her teacher. It helps!

successful school year know friends


2. Know your child’s friends. Plan a weekend play date, even if it’s only for an hour or two, and don’t let the kids hide away downstairs or up in your kiddo’s room. Make a snack together, play a game together, or pull out a craft to do together.

Get to know these little friends now, and listen to how everyone interacts. If necessary, jump in if you don’t like what you’re hearing and talk about how kind friends speak to each other, how to share. or how to take turns. Ignoring behavior we’re not comfortable with is just like saying it’s okay.


successful school year know friends


3. Eat at least two dinners together each week. It’s hard. Verrrry hard, I know, with soccer practices, lessons, and late work days. But sitting down to dinner as a family has been proven to lead to healthier kids, happier families, and stronger family relationships.

It’s a great time to talk about the day, make sure your kids are chewing with their mouths closed (really!), and to actually sit down and look at your cute kids before they run off and turn into 20-year-olds tomorrow night. And the meal? Doesn’t have to be fancy. Just has to be something on the table that you eat together.

successful school year home for everything


4. Make a home for everything. When your kiddo walks in the door, shoes make a beeline for the shoe shelf, lunchbox gets emptied then heads to his landing pad on the counter, backpack drops in the box. No questions asked.

Then when you get a second, unload the take-home folder and recycle (yes–recycle immediately!) the papers you know you won’t need, hang up one ‘super-star’ assignment on the fridge, file the important papers in your file folder, and put the night’s homework on the table where your child does homework. Done. Check. Move onto the next thing.

successful school year homework


5. Create a structured time and place for homework. For some, it works to get homework completed immediately after walking in the door and finishing snack; for others, homework’s best saved for after dinner. It doesn’t matter when you choose–just make a choice and stick with it. Everyone fares better with routine, so start one for homework asap.


successful school year school

6. Become a familiar face at school. If you walk to school, introduce yourself to the administrators (and don’t be afraid!) while they’re out on bus duty and say hello each time you see him or her. Say hello to the secretaries and be extra nice to them because their job is not easy, either. Don’t expect these busy people to remember your name right away, but use their names when addressing them if you can.

If you are able, join the PTA or PTO, but don’t sweat it if you can’t–you can still help in other ways. Consider asking the PTO President or School Director how you can help–from home. I’m sure she’ll come up with something.


successful school year ask and listen

7. Ask your child questions and listen to the answers.

Yes:Hi, Honey, so happy to see you! What did you do in P.E. today? OR What book did you read in Reading Group? OR What was your favorite part of your lunch? OR Did you like about the assembly today?

No:Hi, Honey! Did you have a good day?

Shoot for specific, open-ended questions and go with whatever he wants to talk about. Close-ended questions (that result in a yes or no answer) stop conversation before it begins. And rapid-fire questions about what you want to know but what he’s not ready to share are enough to make a kid want to turn around and run back to the bus for safety.

So make sure you breathe–and let your child breathe, too. And what isn’t covered on the walk home can be covered during dinner or at bedtime.


successful school year extra curricular

8. Get your kids involved in at least one extra-curricular activity. Even if it’s one little thing that gives them a chance to interact with other kids and burn some steam, it counts.

Whether it’s a community sport, a craft club, a scouting group, or a youth group, it doesn’t matter. Kiddos need some little something to call their own when they’re young. And even if an extra-curricular is not in the budget, make it a goal to attend a free event at the library, church, or in the community several times a month.


successful school year meet parents

9. Meet parents. Respond to the Room Parent’s plea for help, and remember her name when you see her at Back-to-School night or at the class party.

Get to know the moms, dads, grandparents, and sitters who walk their kids to school or the bus stop. Ask parents–especially the seasoned ones–questions, and learn a little from them if you can. Learn which kids belong to which parents. Exchange contact information so that you can text someone to give you a hand if you’re running late one afternoon, or meet up at the playground after school.

successful school year thankful

10. Be thankful. Be supportive. Be grateful. Teachers’ jobs are seriously more difficult than most people can imagine. The amount of work that they do–during the week and on the weekends–to prepare lessons, ready their classroom, research best practices, work with specialists, grade schoolwork, respond to parents, attend meetings, and (for many) continue their own education–is insane.

So we need to be thankful for their hard work–today and every day–not just Teacher Appreciation Week or at the end of the year. Sign your emails with a sincere, ‘thank you for all you do‘ and mean it. Ask what you can do to support them, and follow through.

Say ‘thanks’ to the administration, the para-educators, the specialists, the custodians, and the lunchroom workers because they’re all working towards creating a safe environment for your child to meet with success and have the best year possible. So why wouldn’t you want to be thankful for, supportive of, and grateful for this school community?

And there you have it-just 10 quickie ways that you can start the school year off on the right foot. 



Want all of these reminders in a happy little printable?

how to start the school year right | teachmama.com

how every family can start the school year right _ teachmama.com



We can do this–I know it!

Want a little more back-to-school fun? A few more rockstar resources?


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our super-special Kindergarten lunchbox love notes

kindergarten love note necklace

special kindergarten lunchbox love noteOne of my first, most distinct happy, happy memories was when I was six years old.

I was eating my very first lunch out of my very first lunchbox, in my first-ever time in the cafeteria, on my very first day of first grade.

And I don’t remember much from that lunch aside from the fact that the most beautiful, most amazing, most fancy and  most special hair comb that I had ever seen in my life was in my very own lunchbox. 

I remember feeling nervous and excited and worried.  I pulled it out of my lunchbox.  The comb was a translucent pink, and hanging from it were three or four incredibly delicate, soft, small feathers.  And there were beads–white and pink beads.  They all hung from a pinkish leather string, all attached to the comb.

I loved it.

I remember reading the simple card from my mom–I think it was an index card–that said something simple, nothing that I remember verbatim but something that conveyed to me that my mom was thinking of me–and that she loved me very much.

I’ll never forget it.

I had the comb for years and years and years and years and every time I saw it, I thought of that day–that day when I felt so grown up and proud, yet so small and sad, at the same time.

Perhaps that’s why I’m all lunchbox-note crazy, but I just know for a fact that the way that note and that very simple gift made me feel I wanted to share with others–especially my own little loves.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Our Super-Special Kindergarten Lunchbox Love Notes: So yes, I’ve always done my best to send Maddy, Owen, and Cora off to school with some sort of lunchbox love note, but when each of the kids headed off to the wild world of Kindergarten, I sent them with a little something extra special.


kindergarten love note necklace

For Maddy, it was a fancy ribbon barrette.  

I’m sure I was thinking of the one my mom gave me.

For Owen, it was a small license plate with his name on it.

He loves seeing his name on things.

For Cora, it was a simple necklace on a long pink chain.  She isn’t always up for things in her hair–but jewelry?  She’ll take it just about any day.


kindergarten love note necklace


And really, along with a very simple, easy-to-read happy first day note, that’s what I put in my new Kindergartner’s lunchboxes.

It’s not about giving the kids gifts–it’s about a little surprise to celebrate this big and exciting step.  And to let them know I’m thinking of them.

That’s it–just a little, under the radar tradition for our family–our super-special Kindergarten lunchbox love notes–started by my most amazing, totally incredible, always thoughtful, and absolutely fabulous mom.

Here’s to hoping I can do a half as good of a job raising Maddy, Owen, and Cora as my mama did my sisters and me.

3 ways to talk to your kids about books

read and talk with your kids

read and talk with your kidsI remember a time, not so long ago, when Maddy, Owen, and Cora would talk to me for (what seemed to be) hours upon end about things. Just anything.  Books, ideas, dolls, bugs, colors, toys, you name it.

And some days they still do.  Some days, they’re hit with something and they’ll go on and on and on and on about. . .  you name it.  Anything.  Just like the old days.

But now, as they get older, as they want more playdates with buddies (which I know are important), more sports and classes (also important), more time with electronics (also important, in smaller doses), and more time to themselves (also very important), the time we spend actually talking about things seems to be waning.

Which makes me nervous.

I know that it’s more important than ever for me to keep the lines of communication open for Maddy, Owen, and Cora from here on out.  I also know that if I continue to play a role in their education now–their learning, reading, homework, and games–that it will be easier for me to do so down the road, when school gets more challenging and when they may really need support.

Getting most kids to talk about things that genuinely interest them is easy–or easier than getting them to talk about less interesting things, perhaps–but getting kids to talk about other things, like books they’re reading–isn’t always so easy.

So after some considerable thought and research on the topic, I’ve come up with three ways that any parent can use to get their children to talk to them about the books they’re reading.  They’re things that I’ve used with my kids for some time, and they’re things that should give you a foot in the door.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 3 Ways to Talk to Your Kids About Books:  We want our kids to read. And we want them to choose books that are a good fit for their abilities.  And if we can talk to our kiddos about the books they read, it’s a total win-win.

Take a look:


And that’s it. . . just three simple ways to get your kids to talk to you about what they’re reading.  Three ways that will (hopefully) open the door for more regular conversation between you and your children about books and three ways for your children to see that you recognize the importance of their reading and you want to learn more.

When kids talk about what they read, they’re more likely to remember what they read, to continue reading, and to think more deeply about the topic. So go ahead, start the conversation!

And if you have another great way of getting kids to talk about the books they’re reading, share it in the comments!  Want more read-aloud  learning ideas, be sure to check out my other posts on Learning During Read-Alouds.

how to prepare your child for kindergarten — summertime prep

wordo sight words

how to get your child ready for kindergarten: summertime prepThis time last summer, we were gearing up to send off my sweet boy to Kindergarten, and this year, it’s my baby’s turn.

Cora will walk into those elementary school doors this time, and then it will just be me.  I’ll walk home by myself, to an empty house, with a happy dog, until the kids’ day ends at 3 o’clock.

I can’t even begin to think about it, or I swear I’ll bawl my eyes out.

But what’s been keeping me focused this summer, along with our crazy swim and dive schedules, trip to the beach, and visits with family, has been the idea that my job as a parent is to do all I can to prepare my littlest for her big Kindergarten year.

So rather than reinvent the wheel, I turned to my archives a bit to see what we did last summer to get the O-man ready for his big Kindergarten year.  I made some adjustments, changes, and adaptations for Cora.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Prepare Your Child for Kindergarten:  We’ve been doing a lot of these things with Cora for quite some time now, but like I’ve said before, she’s my trickiest.  Sometimes she’s feelin’ it, and sometimes she’s not.

So I’ve had to be flexible, and so has she.  She’s had to do a lot of waiting as I’ve supported Owen and Maddy along the way.

But the great thing is that even if you haven’t done much up to this point, you can start now (yes, right now, like immediately after you read this–) to get your child ready for kindergarten, even in the last few weeks before school begins. . .

everyday name book

The Everyday Name books are just one way we celebrate–and practice!–names around here.

  • Practicing name writing: Kids should be able to write their names by the time they get to kindergarten. Really. Kids are 5 or 6 by the time they hit elementary school, and many have been in preschool or daycare for a year or two before that.  That’s a lot of time for practicing the few letters that make up a child’s name.

The writing doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be legible. Most likely on day one, kiddos are going to be asked to write their names, and what a confidence boost for a nervous child if he’s able to do it!

Do this by: Starting an Everyday Name Book; playing with names, playing with family names; finding any and every excuse to write names!  Practicing and practicing and playing games with family names.


  • Talking about letters–and identifying them and knowing their sounds: There are tons of ways of playing with the letters of the alphabet, and by kindergarten, children should be able to identify most–if not all–of both uppercase and lowercase letters.

Sure, they’ll learn all about letters throughout the kindergarten year, but it’s important to make sure that children are able to identify of most of the letters so that they can focus on learning the sounds they make–often this is the more tricky part.  But we can help them learn letters, and we can do it in really fun, sneaky ways.

Do this by: Checking out 10 fun ways of helping kids learn their ABC’sdoing ABC Hunts; playing clothespin games with letters; putting letters on lids, play alphabingo; playing some alphabet board games; exercising with ABC’s; going on a backyard alphabet hunt; doing an on-the-road (or at the grocery store or anywhere) alphabet hunt.

wordo sight words

WORDO! is a super-awesome game for playing with words, reading and writing.

  • Rockin’ some sight words: Many school districts suggest that parents even start some sight word practice with their rising kindergartners before school starts, and I think it’s a really great idea. Most children know that when they go to kindergarten, they’ll learn to read. And learning sight words–the words that are best learned by memorizing because they need to be recognized quickly and automatically (and because many don’t follow phonics rules!)–can be a confidence booster just like learning how to write names can be.

But the days of standing in front of a child flipping flashcards and making them read them for you are over. There are a ton of cool ways that kids can start practicing–and learning–these words that trump the ole ‘drill-and-kill’ methods.

Do this by:  Playing Words Three Ways; taking out the magnetic letters and using them for building sight words; using sight-word word searches; making wiggly words; writing sticky finger words; playing sight word Go Fish! or Memory; playing WORDO!; or check out a ton of other cool ways to play with sight words.

number chart 3

Number Boxes are a great way for kids to connect numerals with quantities.


  • Playing with numbers: We will do a lot of number-playing this summer, in card games, in street sign games, and in simple pool-snack-bar addition, but it’s really important for our kids to be exposed to math concepts and have a general number sense before kindergarten.newspaper weather math

Counting during walks, lining up Lego guys and counting them as you add them to the bridge you just built, or something as simple as timing how quickly ice-cubes melt in the sunshine all helps build a solid mathematics foundation in our kiddos.

Do this by: Including math in your everyday activities or newspaper reading; counting money and skip counting; playing with numbers and number words; pulling out the ole grid games; reading some math-poetry; playing with number boxes.  Creating fun ways of remembering how to write number 5.


  • Reading, reading, reading:  We really cannot read too much to our kids. We can’t. Reading can–and should–be done throughout the day, in a number of ways and not just reserved for before bedtime when everyone’s beat and you can hardly keep your eyes open.

We–as parents–need to show our kiddos that we don’t only read our friends’ and family members’ Facebook updates; it’s our job to demonstrate to kiddos that we read instructions so we can put together that bookshelf from Ikea, we read the newspaper so we know what’s going on in the world, and we read recipes so we know how to make Nanny’s awesome zucchini bread.  And probably most importantly–we need to show our kids that we read for pleasure. We read to relax, we read for enjoyment.

We want them to get psyched for kindergarten and learning to read because then. . . then the world is open to them and they can learn about anything and everything they want!

Do this by: Reading, reading, reading. Reading about back to school. Reading the newspaper. Reading street signs, reading cereal boxes, reading the words on their Wii games. Making reading fun. Talking about words and celebrating words.  Throwing in easy, natural reading strategies during read-alouds.

shoelace box

The Shoelace Box–or Ribbon Rows–no matter what you call it, it works.


  • Tying shoes (and zipping and buttoning): Yep. Kids should start learning how to tie shoes, zip zippers, and button buttons. and though most are wearing flip-flops or crocs right about now, they’ll be wearing sneaks soon–and they’ll feel great if they can tie those pups themselves.

It was Owen’s goal last summer–but it only happened recently, and with a lot of practice–that he learned how to tie his shoes on his own. It’s not easy for many kids, and it takes practice. But it may be a great summer rainy-day activity in the next few weeks. . .

Do this by: Making a shoelace box.  Though Maddy taught herself on her dolls’ clothes and by wearing dress-ups, Owen used the shoelace box for about four weeks this winter and spring, and he finally got it. His ties aren’t perfect, but he can (almost) do it on his own.   When it comes to zippering or buttoning, have your child practice by zippering or buttoning the sweatshirt that you’re wearing so she sees how it works more clearly than when she tries to zipper or button the one wearing the sweatshirt herself.  Yours is bigger, too, so that sometimes helps.

me on the map

Me on the Map may help kiddos learn their stats.


  • Memorizing their info–full name, phone number, and address:  Kids should know their stuff by elementary school.  If they don’t know their whole name–first, middle, and last–then start on that pronto! They don’t need to spell the whole thing (that would be nice . . . ) but your child needs to know that he’s Travis J, or Travis Johnson, not to be confused with Travis K, Travis O, or Travis W.

Okay, so the phone number and address are a little more difficult, and admittedly, I’m not sure that Maddy knew ours when she went to kindergarten. But Cora will know his, because I’m now a much older and wiser parent (not really).

Do this by: A good friend of mine taught her girls to memorize their phone number with this song, set to the tune of preparing kids for kindergartenFrere Jacques (Are you sleeping, are you sleeping? Brother John. . . ):

1-2-3, [Insert your own phone number for these–]






Call any time. [I can’t remember if these are the words she used, but these are the words our family uses.]

Call any time.

The address? The only thing we’ve done is the Me on the Map activity, but aside from that, I don’t have a trick for learning addresses. But I know that we talk more about it than we did with Maddy, and even if Cora doesn’t know our exact number, she at least knows our street name.


  • Talking about stranger safety: Ugh. I totally despise this ‘life lesson’ but it has to be taught–over and over and over.

Do this by: Watching The Safeside: Stranger Safety DVD with the kids and being informed myself was all we did, have done, and plan to do with Cora. It’s a great reminder for all of my kids–Maddy, Owen, and Cora.


  • Eating lunch out of a lunchbox: Many kids do this at preschool before they hit the big K-year, and Cora’s preschool included. But when her new lunchbox arrives, I’ll pack it–just like I will for the first day–and we’ll have a picnic somewhere.

Do this by: Packing his lunch in his brand-new, just-for-kindergarten lunchbox and picnicking somewhere!

shrinky dink backpack

  • Blingin’ her backpack:  I have read that it’s not wise to get backpacks monogrammed with kids’ names because then it’s easier for a stranger to call their name and lure them way.  I don’t remember where I read it, and don’t mark my words.

So rather than make a huge, fancy name-plate for new Kindergartners, I do think it’s important to personalize their bags a bit.

Do this by:  Making something simple and fancilicioius, like the felt flower pins we made for Maddy, or make it a little more subdued.  Last year for Owen, we blinged his backpack with personalized Shrinky Dinks, and we have plans for Cora in the works!


  • Saying ‘Hello’ to her teacher: We’ve done this every year since Maddy started Kindergarten, and the kids love it–and I think the teachers do, too.  We even made adaptations in our Hello Teacher Notes last year for Maddy, since she’s a bit older.

It’s just a quick introduction–nothing fancy or involved–between student and teacher before Open House, Back-to-School picnic, whatever.

Do this by: Sending Hello Teacher Notes to the new teacher.  We’ll find out Cora’s teacher pretty soon, so once we do, she will write his letter which tells the teacher a little bit about her, and she’ll send a blank one to the teacher. She will complete the letter (some quick one-word answers–I know teachers need a summer break!), and she will use the stamped envelope we provide to send the response back to us.


kindergarten prep

Let them play, let them play, let them play. With new friends and old.


  • Hanging with friends: It’s so important for kids to have at least one familiar face when they walk into the building, but I am well aware that that is not always possible.  I do know though, that at this point in time, so many communities have online message boards that help with the organization of a summertime playdate.  So take a second, sit down at the computer, and do a little research!

Do this by:  Post a park playdate event on a community message board, something along the lines of: Let’s get the Bayside Elementary School 2011 rising kindergartners together!  Plan to meet at [this park] on [this date] at [this time].  Bring snacks! Bring outside toys! Siblings welcome!!  Any questions, please contact [your email].

And be sure to stop by the grocery store for some cheap freeze pops if you can and bring paper and a pen so you can gather everyone’s contact information for the next park playdate. preparing kids for kindergarten

Or post a sign at your community pool or the library or wherever.  You can meet at the library, or just meet with some of the parents the first time, or send a note to your MOMS Club or church or even the counselor at the school could possibly help connect you to a person who may be able to help you.


  • Giving her jobs:   Having kids listen to verbal directions–and then follow them–is super-important for success in school.   I have no secrets as to how we get our kids to follow directions (they don’t always, believe me), and my husband and I are perpetual students in this parenting gig–learning every single day.

For us, Gem Jars (and now Gem Jars 2.0) have worked and Game Time Tickets have worked as incentives for listening and being respectful. But it’s uber important to give kids specific tasks with clear directions so they practice those listening skills.  Maybe it’s not always a ‘Get in there and clean your room‘, ‘Hang up those wet towels!!’ or a ‘Please turn off the light‘– maybe if we occasionally throw in a ‘Please make yourself–and me–a huge bowl of ice-cream‘ or a ‘Will you please teach me how to play Mario Kart?‘ they’ll listen more closely. . .


  • Giving her space:  It’s hard, but free time is important. I’m not talking about setting our kids free to roam the ‘hood with the instructions to return at dinnertime. I’m talking about taking a break from our helicopter tendencies, from our incessant worrying, from our need to fill space and time, from our perpetual ‘where-is-she-and-what-is-she-doing?’

Kindergarten’s a big step.  And our kids need to know that we have confidence in their success.

Thanks to a good friend of mine, I recently read an article in the July/ August 2011 The Atlantic, How to Land Your Kid in Therapy.  Interesting stuff. Gave me a ton to think about and is totally worth reading.


  • Giving them love: I’ll never stop hugging and kissing on my kids. I can’t keep my hands off of their sun-tanned shoulders and bleach-blonde heads.  I love the feel of Owen’s calloused, monkey-bar hands; I adore Cora’s crooked, self-cut bangs, and my heart sings when Maddy hugs me with her whole body–her long legs included.  Their hoots and hollers crack me up and the sparkle in each of their blue eyes is enough to bring me to tears.

But I have come to realize that love comes in so many different forms–and that a hard part of demonstrating love for my children involves me letting go, even if it’s just a little.  I’m working on showing them my love for them by letting them fall and get themselves back up.  Letting them run to me with a skinned knee instead of me running to them, waving a band-aid and Neosporin and a face full of worry.  Allowing them to explain to their coaches why they were late for swim practice rather than me doing the explaining. Not bringing back-up goggles when they lose their second pair in two days.

Showing my sweets that I trust in them and believe in their ability to bounce back.

It’s not easy–but I’m trying.


And so it goes. . . my second-to-last summer before my baby is off to Kindergarten.  Let’s do what we can to enjoy the journey!kindergarten prep | teachmama.com

2 crazy cool ways to use shoeboxes

shoebox cover

two ways to use shoeboxesLet’s face it, times are tough for a lot of us, so it’s due time that we really begin to use what we have in clever and creative ways.

How about shoeboxes? Many families buy about two pair of shoes for each child every single year, so that amounts in a whole lot of shoeboxes for families.  Let’s use ’em!

With all of our kids’ toys and crafting supplies, it makes sense to put shoeboxes to use; many of the boxes are so sturdy, they rival the plastic storage bins, and hey–these puppies won’t end up clogging up our landfills once we’re long gone.  So they’re handy and green.  Sweet!

This Quick Trick I’m sharing two crazy-cool ways to use shoeboxes–one for teaching kids an important life skill, and the other for keeping your crafts a little more organized.  Quick. Easy.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 2 Crazy-Cool Ways to Use Shoeboxes: Kids need to start learning how to tie their shoes before they walk through those doors to Kindergarten.  Many won’t have mastered it by then, but they all should have at least tried.

The Shoelace Box has proven to be a life-saver for teaching my sweet Owen how to tie his shoes, and we’re starting Shoelace Box practice with Cora this summer.

And because this has been the summer for retro crafts (more on that later!) we’ve needed to find ways to organize our ribbon.  Welcome to our world, Maddy’s Ribbon Box.

Take a look. . .


Want a little more information on teaching kids how to tie their shoes?  Check out our original post on the Shoelace Box.

Want more information on retro crafts? Coming soon!

How do YOU use shoeboxes for learning and fun? 

what to do with children’s artwork

childrens artwork 5

what to do with children's artworkThis time of the year, I always seem to be drowning in my kids’ artwork.

The nifty system of organization I started in September has long expired, and piles of paper surround us. So with some quick thinking and crazy determination, a few years ago I devised a plan.

We had to reclaim our home and get out from under the piles of paper.  And surprisingly, it was much easier than I thought.

It took all of a few minutes to organize and then appropriately sort Maddy, Owen, and Cora’s year’s worth of artwork and school papers.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • What to do with Children’s Artwork (or. . . 3 Cool Ways to Use Children’s Artwork and Come Out From Under the Sea of Masterpieces from School):   Sure, putting artwork on mugs, or taking photos of each and every one and then saving them to the computer are totally cool ideas.

But the reality is that I have about five years’ worth of family photos to organize and put into photo albums, so why would I add to my mile-long to-do list?  I need quick, practical, and cheap.

Because frankly, it gets expensive to order a photo mug, t-shirt, or mouse pad for every family member at every holiday.

The here and now is that come June, we have piles of Maddy, Owen, and Cora’s artwork everywhere.


Here are the 3 cool ways we use our kids’ artwork:


And that’s that! Three ways–of many possibilities–for using our kids’ artwork in practical, keep-mom-sane kind of ways.  A Quick Trick that works for us and has for the last few years!

I’d love to hear how your family manages the art work pile-up.   I know there are a million ways, so please do share!!

quick trick: mind-blowing math tricks

mind blowing math tricks

It’s no secret that I am not a math person.mind blowing math tricks

And it’s really no secret that my kids’ math skills will soon (hopefully!) surpass my own.

I cried my way through calculus (no joke), and I’d rather walk on fire than take another statistics course.  While my friends would quickly calculate the final cost of that awesome pair of shoes at 25% off with a $14.75 store credit and (shhhh!) a pal’s employee discount, I’d still be stranded at the 25% off part.

Or I’d pull out my super-secret tiny purse calculator.  (It was before we all had smartphones, thank you.)

I have to think through or write out just about any sort of math computation.

So I’m a huge fan of tricks.  And songs.  And just about anything that makes this math mountain easier for me to climb.

But are ‘math tricks’ okay for kids to learn? What do you think?

Here’s the skinny on a math-happy Quick Trick I learned recently that I find so totally cool. . .

  • Mind-Blowing Math Tricks: A few weeks ago, someone told me about the 9 times tables trick.  At this point, I have no idea who that person was (sorry!), but if you were the person, please remind me.

I had never heard of it before, so when I showed Maddy, she was pretty amazed. So very happy.

It goes like this:

  • 9 times tables trick— take 9 x 3 and put your third finger from the left down.  Then count the number of fingers on the left side of that finger (here you get 2) and on the right side of the finger (you get 7).  Put those numbers together (27) and there’s your answer.  9 x 3 = 27.

Why does it work? I have no idea.  But it’s so cool.

mind-blowing math tricks

 Maddy tries out her ‘new’ multiplication by 9 trick.

Want to read about some tricks for:

  • multiplying by 4?
  • multiplying by 11?mind-blowing math tricks, 9 times table
  • multiplying by 12?
  • multiples of 3?

And want to know why the multiplying by 9 trick works?  Check out 5 Cool Math Tricks You Didn’t Know over on Mom’s Homeroom; it’s full of mind-blowing mathy-math tricks that may make this road a little easier for your kiddos.

But I especially love what math expert, Laura Laing believes about these crazy math tricks. Kids can benefit from knowing math facts cold’ she explains, because ‘when the arithmetic is simple, children are allowed to focus on more complex concepts’.  We get that, right? Just like our kiddos need to have a solid knowledge base of sight words so they can focus on comprehension instead of decoding.

However, Laura feels that children should have a strong foundation of basic math skills before the ‘math tricks’ are introduced–this is usually around grades four or five.  (Shoot, so poor Maddy will be off here. . . )

She explains that ‘straight memorization is not always the best’ and that ‘when kids spend a great deal of time really unpacking what these math concepts mean, their understanding is far more likely to extend toward many other concepts’ (5 Cool Math Tricks. . . ) which . . . well, yes, yes, and yes! Save the tricks for a little later so the understanding is a little deeper.

But a few tricks in a kid’s back pocket won’t hurt, right?

Do you have any other math tricks that work for your little ones? Have you shared them with your kids already, or are you waiting for a strong, foundational skill-set to develop? I’m so curious! Do tell. . .


fyi: This blog post is part of an incentivized online influencer network for Mom’s Homeroom. Mom’s Homeroom is brought to you by Frosted Mini-Wheats.

quick trick: how to teach kids to write number 5

number 5 step 3

how to teach kids to write number 5Many, many children I know have a difficult time learning to write number five.

Actually many children I know have a difficult time writing many of the numbers because they don’t have many opportunities to write them like they do with letters.  But I think that especially when kiddos turn five–and when they’re ready to head to Kindergarten–it’s important that they know how to write ‘their’ number. 

Five is a big year–at least it is in our house.  It means preschool is nearly over.  It means Kindergarten is around the corner.  Five just sounds bigger than four. For us, five is big.

So this Quick Trick focuses on a silly little way that we teach our kids to remember how to write that sometimes tricky numero cinco.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Teach Kids to Write (the sometimes tricky) Number 5: Giving kiddos many, many opportunities to practice writing both letters and numbers is key to having them meet with success.

Lots of practice, many varied techniques, and making it all silly–and fun!–so they don’t even realize they’re learning has been a focus for us since the kids were little.  So this silly little saying is what did it for Maddy, Owen, and Cora, and I have my dad to thank for it.

It’s helped us all learn how to write that big, important number 5.



And that’s it! Hope it works for you, and if you have any techniques you use to teach your kids the other numbers, please share! I’d love to learn more from the experts!

quick trick: how to eliminate bickering

quick trick: how to eliminate bickering

Do your kids bicker?how to eliminate bickering

About where they sit in the car. . . or who gets the last bowl of the ‘good’ cereal?

About who gets the first shower, the comfy seat in the living room, or the chance to talk to Nanny & Pap first?

About which show to watch, which person they get to ‘be’ for Just Dance 3, or which Barbie they get to play with?

Mine do.  And some days, my head feels like it’s going to explode by 6pm.

But this little Quick Trick has helped put an end to a lot–a LOT, not all, but A LOT–of the everyday bickering under out roof.  Along with other things, like our Gem Jars and Game Tickets, this makes up one piece of the ‘proactive parenting’ puzzle.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Eliminate Bickering– My Day, Your Day:  We started this years ago, when Maddy was 5, Owen was 3, and Cora was barely 2 years old, and we used it for a good long time.how to eliminate bickering

And we’ve just now brought it back, like a favorite pair of jeans, with Maddy being 8, Owen 6, and Cora 5.  And I’ve realized that we really needed it.

I’ll take anything I can get in this game:

As the kids get older, they naturally have more freedom; they have–and need–more room to move.  Which means more time to play together downstairs, out back, or in their rooms.  Which means mhow to eliminate bickeringore opportunity to bicker over little silly things.  Sure, we often jump in when we need to, to help them work through conflicts, struggles, and challenges.  But this lil baby makes things easier for us.

And I have faith that this simple, little Quick Trick will hopefully make this parenting gig a wee bit easier and reinforce for our kids the need for patience, turn-taking, and priority.

Do you have a Quick Trick–something that has saved your sanity on more than one occasion? Hold tight. I’m going to start asking the experts–YOU!–to share yours!

quick trick: play. outdoors. (no matter the weather!)

outdoor play m

play outdoors in any weather, play outsideWho knows what happened to winter this year?

I am convinced that we had absolutely no snow this year because this was the first time I ever–ever!–bought snow boots for Maddy and Owen (because lucky Cora has Maddy’s hand-me-downs) before the season started instead of scrambling like a maniac at first word of a snowstorm.  I saw those boots, in the sizes I needed, calling to me back in October. 

I thought I outsmarted the universe by buying them, and instead the universe outsmarted me.

Anyway.  It’ll drop buckets of snow next year, and my poor kids will suffer in tight boots. I’m only kidding. (Not really.)

However, snow or no snow, I said before that my kiddos really need free time for free play.  But now I’m mentioning that they really need time outdoors.  Out back.  Over at the park.  Outside–anywhere–so they can feel the sun and the wind or the rain and the breeze.

Or the snow.  (Whatever.)

I can’t say it enough, especially because it seems that every time I turn a corner lately there’s another article stressing the importance of free time, creative play, with an outdoor focus.

And I get that. Boy, do I get that.

So this little Quick Trick is quick and simple, and it has a little added bonus: a giveaway!–all in the name of outdoor play for kiddos.

play outdoors in any weather, play outside

Kiddos need time to be outdoors. . .

play outdoors in any weather, play outside

climbing trees or just hanging out.


I’m grateful to have connected with a totally new-for-me company who just so happens to make incredible clothes for children, especially outerwear.  We’ve had a chance to try out a few products from Polarn O. Pyret for the last few months, and my kids love them. And my kids haven’t really ever loooooved their coats.  Until now.

And one lucky teach mama reader will have a chance to win $50 towards some new gear for his or her little ones.  Yay!

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Play. Outdoors.  (No Matter the Weather!):  We know that though this week may be the exception, that there are rarely ‘perfect’ spring days.  Spring here in the eastern part of the US really does come in like a lion, with the wind, the chill, storms, and extremes, and it goes out like a lamb.  Finally, by May, the temperature’s a bit more consistent, the sun is (usually) shining, and everything seems a bit more. .  . peaceful.

And though it’s not always easy to schlep little ones outdoors when the weather’s a little ‘less than perfect’, we really need to try to get them outside.

play outdoors in any weather, play outside

It doesn’t have to be something big. . .

play outdoors in any weather, play outside

. . . it can be a walk through the neighborhood or . . .

play outdoors in any weather, play outside

. . . a walk in the woods.

Despite the weather, kids need to get out. And it’s our job to take them there.

According to a September 2009 column (Recess–It’s Indespensable!) in the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Play, Policy, and Practice Interest Forum, there are some pretty important reasons for giving our kiddos free time outdoors each and every day. 

In fact, the article focused on the importance of recess–a time the authors describe as ‘It was a time to be outdoors; to organize our own games; to play on the swings, slides, and other playground equipment; or just to hang out with friends’ because, according to research, a staggering number of children don’t have time allotted to play each day (gasp), and some kids who do have ‘recess’ each day have it for only 1-15 minutes (huge gasp!).


play outdoors in any weather, play outside

Being outdoors has positive cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical benefits for children.

There are some real reasons that kids need time to play outdoors each day, cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical reasons:play outdoors in any weather, play outside

  • Children are less fidgety and more on-task when they have recess, and children with ADHD (attention deficit/ hyperactivity syndrome) are among those who benefit most.
  • Brain research shows a relationship  between physical activity and the development of brain connections.
  • On the playground, children exercise leadership, teach games to one another, take turns, and learn to resolve conflicts.
  • In a free choice situation, children learn negotiation skills in order to keep the play going.
  • On supervised playgrounds, particularly where children are taught games and conflict resolution skills, there is little fighting.
  • Children who are active during the day are more active after school, whereas children who are sedentary during the day tend to remain sedentary after school (couch potato syndrome).
  • Children’s activity levels are generally higher during recess than during physical education (PE). Recess and PE serve different purposes.

Information from NAEYC Play, Policy, and Practice Forum.

So let’s do it, right? Let’s get our kiddos outside. No matter the weather.


play outdoors in any weather, play outside

We know that some days, it doesn’t even matter what the weather is like–kids just need to be outside.

But for so many, the crazy spring weather is a deterrent, though it doesn’t have to be because some days, all you need is decent gear to keep your little ones comfortable outdoors.

Polarn O. Pyret wants to encourage families to make every day a play day this spring (I like that!), and the week of March 12-16 (that’s this week!) they want parents to pledge to get their kiddos outside, no matter the weather.  So hit those playgrounds, walk to school, so some outside chores, or just enjoy a hike.  Share your photos or play ideas on their Facebook page!

And to celebrate, Polarn O. Pyret will be coordinating a spring outerwear promo (20% off) from March 1-March 18, and hopefully parents can find some great gear for their little ones.  Half the battle is just finding the right clothing to keep kids comfortable outdoors, and these are products that do it. Hands down.


GIVEAWAY: A $50 gift card to Polarn O. Pyret!

Do you want to win a $50 gift card to Polarn O. Pyret?!

  • All you have to do is leave a comment here sharing what YOU look for in children’s outerwear!play outdoors in any weather, play outside

For extra entries:

  • Tweet this: Play outdoors! And win $50 for @polarnopyretusa on @teachmama — http://wp.me/p1NAxy-1F8 #play #weteach #ece #giveaway
  • Share this post on your Facebook page–very easy!
  • Share this post with a friend (just tell me who you shared it with!)
  • Pin this post on Pinterest! (Use ‘pin it!’ button below post!)


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

This is a quick giveaway for a Quick Trick, and it ends Saturday, March 17, 2012 at midnight ET. Winner will be chosen by ‘And the Winner is. . .’ and will be notified on or around 3/17/12.  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: I am a PO.P Brand Ambassador, and I received products for review (including the snazzy fleeces in the photos), but my opinions–as always–are my own, influenced only by my three littles who have been the ones using the PO.P products.  This is an unsponsored post, and PO.P is providing the $50 gift card to one teachmama reader for the giveaway.