how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary

how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary

Summaries are difficult.

Writing summaries, oral summaries–it doesn’t matter.

Both? Difficult.

No matter the student’s age, the act of reading something–anything–and either retelling or summarizing is really, truly tough.

how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary

Summarizing is a skill that must be explicitly taught. And it’s a skill that must be modeled.

And it’s a skill that is worth revisiting time and time again, year after year.

This year, Maddy’s been challenged with the weekly task of reading her choice of a news article and summarizing it. I love the assignment. Personally, any repeated effort to improve a student’s reading and writing skills is a win in my book.

However, her summaries were rough at first. Really rough.

So I dusted off my teaching resources, updated a few things, and handed her this: the 1-hand summary.

Here’s the skinny. . .

How to Teach Summary Writing–The 1-Hand Summary:

My goal with this was to have it work for anything Maddy chose–a news article, a magazine article, anything. And for the most part, it works.

I started with the very article that Maddy chose for her homework–a piece from The Washington Post about Jennifer Yu, a local chess champion.

Maddy knew she needed some support with her summary writing assignment; she had written summaries for about four weeks, and each time, we worked together on multiple edits.


how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary |


how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary |

Her summaries were not summaries.

She was including her opinion.

She was missing major details.

She was adding too much detail.

She was not including the ‘stuff’ of summaries.

So I handed her the 1-Hand Summary Sheet.

We looked at the hand and talked about the components of a strong summary:

  • title and author
  • strong topic sentence
  • facts and no opinions
  • conciseness–say everything you need to say in as few words as possible
  • 5 W’s and H are covered (who? what? why? where? when? and how?)

We read the article together.

And then I showed her the sample summary.

how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary |

how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary |

Kids must see models. They must. There’s no way kids automatically know what a good summary looks like or sounds like.

So reading the one I created helps. We talked about why it works.

We talked about some strategies to use while reading to save time later: highlighting or circling important details or putting a star or a checkmark in the margins. You can even write in the margins if it’s a newspaper article.

We talked about how this summary includes the infamous 5 W’s and H (who? what? why? where? when? and how?) but incorporates them in an easy to understand paragraph.

how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary |

We talked about why the topic sentence is so important.

We talked about how you can grab words and phrases from the title of the article to make your writing easier.

The 1-Hand Summary helps.

I love the format of this 1-hand summary.  Yes, it covers the typical: Someone. . . wanted. .  .but then. .  .finally.

But for a more advanced writer, it includes a topic sentence where students can incorporate the title and author of the piece. I think that’s important. And it will prepare kids for higher level writing down the road.

how to teach summary writing: the 1-hand summary |

The 1-Hand Summary is here to download if you’d like: one hand summary writing _

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In order to succeed in school and in life, strong readers need to be able to summarize what they’ve read.

Summarizing is a foundational skill of the Common Core State Standards.  It’s a building block and a necessary component of any comprehensive reading program, and summarizing is an element of every grade, every year:

Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

But even before the CCSS’s were around, we all know that summarizing is a skill necessary for success just about anywhere.


Want a few more resources for summary writing?



A few more resources on summary writing:


fyi: Huge thanks to the following resources for information here: | Literacy Implementation Guidance for the ELA CCSS | The Washington Post article by Tom Jackman

3 reading posts you don’t want to miss

family reading time  scholastic  pinterest


Have you even checked out the ole teachmama site lately?

We are all fancied up! Big changes for us–after more than 6 years!

Go see it–for real:

But don’t get too excited yet. I’m still working out the kinks over here and plan the BIG reveal at the end of the week.

Until then, I want you to check out a few things I’ve been sharing over at Scholastic Parents’ Raise a Reader blog.  Click the photo to read the post!

Change your family’s life in 20 minutes each week:  

family reading time  scholastic  pinterest

The “Family 20″ will change your family’s reading life.



7 ways to find books your kids will really love: 

find books your kids will love  scholastic  teachmama pinterest

Giving kids books is one thing. Giving kids GREAT books is another.


Favorite books of my favorite babies: 

fave babies' fave books  pinterest  scholastic teachmama

Sometimes, the most random books make your kids’ favorite list.

And that’s it for now.  Definitely check out the other posts that Allie and I have written for the awesome Raise a Reader blog. We write there every, single week, so there is a ton of fab facts, ideas, and more for you to check out!

Do you have questions about reading or learning? Hit me with your questions–I’d love to hear them and help you out!

And? This week.

I. Cannot. Wait. to share what else we’ve got up our sleeves.


Stay tuned!

read across america day EVERY day of the year

celebrate read across america every day |

This post was originally published on March 1, 2013 but we’re republishing because it’s that important. 


celebrate read across america every day |


It’s Read Across America Day!  Only something that everyone’s been talking about for days and days and days and days now, but don’t worry if you’re already in your pj’s or missed the boat altogether.

Don’t worry if this is the very first time you’re hearing about it and now you feel like  you’re the only kid not invited to the party. TO-tally not so!  Everyone’s invited to this bash–no matter who you are, where you are, or what you read.

Read Across America Day is a simply the day that marks the birthday of Dr. Seuss.  Read Across America Day has kids all over the country reading Seuss, rhyming, watching Cat in the Hat and The Lorax videos, and wearing a whole lot of red and white stripes to school.  And Read Across America Day kicks off THE reading month: across america day every day

But I really think that Read Across America Day–and the whole hoopla of reading-excitement that follows through most of March–should be carried on every day.

In my opinion, reading can–and should–have a place in everyone’s house on every day of the year. That’s right. Every. Single. Day.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Read Across America Day EVERY Day of the Year: You got it.

Check it out–


In this quickie video I’m sharing 3 ways that families everywhere can bring home the Read Across America excitement any day they choose.

I touch on three easy things any parent can do to make their home a literate environment, to raise word-conscious kids, and to make books a constant conversation.


What am I missing? What else could–and should–parents do to bring Read Across America home all year long?  Let me know in the comments section, please!


fyi: want to check out the books I mention in the vlog?

Some affiliate links are used. Many thanks for considering!

trace, copy, recall–learn those spelling words!

trace, copy, recall--learn those spelling words!

originally published November 8, 2010


trace copy recall |



Maddy has been so proud of her spelling and word-learning progress over the last few weeks (and so are we!).  She really is borderline excited when I print out a new list of Spelling Word Cards for each list, which makes this teacher-mama want to do a jig of joy.

Maybe it’s that we’ve upped the ‘fun factor‘ of word learning, or maybe she’s riding the high of her success; either way, I’m loving it because her spelling work is something that we’ve begun to look forward to each week.

We’ve been starting each new spelling list with the same activity–Trace, Copy, Recall–except that instead of tracing, she’s been writing the word twice.  Because until tonight, I didn’t think to make a handy-dandy little sheet so that she could trace the words.  Maddy was simply copying once from the word card, copying then from the word she wrote, and then covering both and writing the word from memory.   Poor, poor Maddy.

It only took a minute for me to whip up a little Trace, Copy, Recall sheet so that she actually could trace the word the first time, and I’m so excited because I’ll just modify the template each week for my happy little speller.  Woo-hoo!

  • Trace, Copy, Recall: As only one of the many fun ways to learn spelling words, I really think it’s worthwhile to begin with this activity because it prepares learners in a graduated way to begin committing the words to memory.

When kiddos trace the letters of the word, they’re getting their fingers ready to write the letters.  When they copy the word, they’re composing the letters for a second time and working their brains to remember the letter order.  That final recall of letters forces students to think about the letter sounds as they fit together to form the word.


trace copy recall | learn words |

Maddy’s trying to recall the spelling of one of her ‘short o’ words.

 trace copy recall | learn words |

I encourage Maddy to say the letters out loud, and although she sometimes loses steam by the end of the list, if she says the letters at least one time for each word, I’m happy. When kiddos say the letters as they write them, it’s one more way to ensure that the letters, sounds, and patterns make their way into the learners’ brains–the combination of  the physical writing and the vocalizing helps.

When she’s finished with the word, she checks her work with the word on the card.  Then she reads the word aloud and moves on.

It’s short, it’s worthwhile, and it seems to help build a slight foundation for the rest of the week’s Spelling Word Fun if we start with this.  So we’ll keep it up, I suppose. . .


In case you’re interested, here’s what we’ve been using to help support Maddy’s spelling word work:


Word Cards:

trace, copy, recall--learn those spelling words!


Trace, Copy, Recall Sheets: trace copy recall |

Fun Ways to Learn Spelling Words:

20 fun ways to learn spelling words


So, should every student in every be coming home with spelling words every single week? What’s the deal?

All recent reading research points to the fact that the ole days of  random spelling word lists should be long over and that the approach to spelling instruction should be more word learning than simply spelling memorization.   The word-learning approach is “teacher-directed yet student-centered” and when integrated into a comprehensive literacy program, this kind of instruction can most fully “help support young children’s literacy development”.  It should be systematic, organized, and individualized.

Essentially, Word Study instruction should be:

  • based on individual student’s multiple, varied assessments;
  • used with homogeneous, small-group instruction;
  • given special class time each day;
  • teaching word knowledge (about words), not just the words  themselves;
  • clearly demonstrated and used in reading and writing instruction;
  • incorporated in strategy instruction (how to read, write, and use the word);
  • used with the Word Wall;
  • involving time for ‘Word Work’ and play with the words;
  • integrated into authentic reading and writing experiences.

What does this mean for you? It means that if your child is not coming home with a spelling list each week but she is following some sort of Word Study program in school, one that contains all–or most, or even some, of the above elements–then maybe there’s no reason for a spelling list after all.

If your child is coming home with a spelling list each week, and the words aren’t grouped according to similar patterns or sounds, and the words seem totally random or disconnected, then maybe you want to talk to the teacher about the Word Study program they’re using.  Ask why they’re using it and how it supports the balanced literacy program.

For more, please see Williams, Phillips-Birdsong, Hufnangle, Hungler, Lundstrom’s article, “Word Study Instruction in the K-2 Classroom” (The Reading Teacher, April 2009).  The information and quotes in this post are taken from this article.  It amazed me how much reading research the authors integrated into this article, and I found it extremely informative.

christmas guess the word game

holiday guess the word game

christmas guess the word game |

My kids are basically a captive audience at breakfast, and they have been for a long, long time.

Whether they’re staring at the cereal boxesreading the newspaper, chatting grammar, or doing brain teasers, it always seems like they are waiting for some sort of activity while they throw back their Cheerios or waffles.

Because they love the Guess the Word Game that we play at their Halloween class parties, we made a holiday version.

I like the simplicity of this activity, it’s mobility, and the many different ways you can adjust the rules.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Christmas Guess the Word Game:

The premise of this game is super-simple: one person holds up a card with a word on it and tries to guess what it is.

christmas guess the word game |


christmas guess the word game |

But here’s the thing: the card holder does not look at the word.

And everyone else gives one-word clues to help the person guess it.

We play in a few variations:

  • the fewer words it takes to guess, the better;
  • the person who can guess the most words in row wins;
  • for a challenge: all of the clues must begin with the same letter; or
  • all of the clues must rhyme with the word on the card;
  • add a timer.

christmas guess the word game |

christmas guess the word game |

Fun, simple.

And when the kids help me generate a list, sure, they know what’s coming, but it’s still fun.

They feel more a part of the game when they are the co-creators.

Want to download the cards?

The Christmas Guess the Word Game is here to download as a pdf if you’d like: christmas party word guess game

The last page is blank so you can add your own!

(If you choose to share this post, super! Please just link to this post instead of the attachment page, though! Thank you!)

 christmas guess the word game christmas party word guess game


Want a few more holiday-inspired gift ideas or activities? Check out: 

Follow along on pinterest:


Follow amy mascott @teachmama’s board christmas ideas for kids and family on Pinterest.


photo books for kids and family: 15 best, coolest, most clever and creative

photo books for kids and family: 15 best, coolest, most clever and creative

post contains affiliate links
the best, coolest, most clever and creative  |



I’m a hardcore fan of the photo book.

Actually, I’m a fan of any book, but photo books have a special spot in my heart because I love to make them, and I love to get them.

And? They have happily replaced the ole book o’ photos that once took me for-ev-er and a day to assemble.

Photo books are super as gifts, and they’re super as learning tools for kids.

Once you get those creative juices flowin’ you can really come up with some pretty awesome ways to use photo books, each one more cute and clever than the next.

I like the photo books on Mixbook and Shutterfly personally, but you check them out and see what works best for you.

Both very frequently have rockstar sales going on.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Photo Books for Kids & Family–15 Best, Coolest, Most Clever & Creative:

the best, coolest, most clever and creative  |

1. Sports Season: A super idea for a coach’s gift, a sports season is a super-cool photo book in itself.

Really. Take a few photos at each game, then add them to a folder on your computer each time you sync your photos.

Head to a few of the practices and get some shots there.

unique and cool photo book ideas

Be there for team photo day, and hang out around the photographer. Most likely if you explain that you’re making a gift for the coach, he or she won’t mind if you sneak a photo of each kid on the team. Put each kid’s photo around the team photo (see above!), and the book is sure to be a win.

Don’t sweat it if you can’t remember every child’s name. You don’t even really need text to make this book a hit.


the best, coolest, most clever and creative  |

2. Holiday Decorations:  Last year, we made a ‘Christmas at Nana’s House book for my nana, and she loves it. LOVES it.

We took tons and tons pictures at Christmastime last year and saved them for a Mother’s Day book. She didn’t even really notice that as she and the kids were eating Munchkins at her kitchen table, I was snapping shots all around the house.

Because my nana is getting older and because we all know how important holiday decorating is to her, this is one book we will all cherish for many years to come, especially when she’s too tired to take her hundreds of Santas out for us all to oooh and ahhhh over.

Get your own cool, creative photo book started now at!


the best, coolest, most clever and creative  |

3. Capture a Memory, a Life Event.

When Maddy was going into first grade, she had her tonsils and adenoids removed. She was crazy nervous, as was I.

But to make the experience a little lighter, I photographed every single step, from beginning to end. Together, we were making a book, I told her. And we were.

Brave Maddy is not Maddy’s favorite book now, I’ll admit it. She doesn’t like to see her tiny, worried face on the page, nor do I. But I do think that eventually we’ll be happy we have it. Sometimes–on rare occasion–I’ll catch Maddy paging through the book, explaining things to Cora or Owen. Perhaps if there are any surgeries in our future, this book may make the process easier for us.


click here for ‘family photo books–quick, easy, and affordable for super-busy moms


the best, coolest, most clever and creative  |

4. House Snapshot.

My nana has always said she has the prettiest house on her street, so a few summers ago, I took photos of it. In and out, up and down, I shot it all. And then I put it into a book, just like her Christmas one.

And? She loves it.

Yes, her house is beautiful when it’s all decked out for the holidays, but it’s also really gorgeous all year long.



the best, coolest, most clever and creative  |


5. Best Times With Grandparent

My mother-in-law went to New York City with us last year for a blogging event, and it was an absolute blast.

It was the kids’ first time taking the train into the city, skating at Rockefeller Plaza, and staying in a hotel at Christmastime. So we chronicled the whole trip, start to finish.

Then I put it into a book, and we gave it to my mother-in-law for Mother’s Day this year. Sure, it was a few months behind, but it didn’t matter. She still loved it. And so did we.


the best, coolest, most clever and creative  |

6. Baby’s First Year

There’s nothing like a baby’s first year, that is a fact.

So the first year is a great time for a photo book, and for those of us who’d rather not bust out the glue, tons of loose photos, and scrapbooking stuff, photo books are the way to go.

The templates make a first year baby photo book so easy, it’s nuts. And? You can even order a little baggie to go inside the book (or for goodness’ sake, stick an envelope in there if you need to!) so that you can hold onto that coveted first lock of hair.

Bam. Done and done.


Get your own cool, creative photo book started now at!


the best, coolest, most clever and creative  |

7.  Recipe Book

I love having all of our family’s favorite foods in a photo book.

Why not?

I want my kids to be able to recreate our easy, everyday faves, even if they are simple crockpot recipes.

So start taking photos of your dinners. Take photos of the kids at the table. These everyday memories are ones to be cherished.

And how fun will it be when you can feature your child, apron and all, standing at the stove preparing meals for the next Family Recipe book? Awe-some.


the best, coolest, most clever and creative  |


8. Craft Collage or Art Book

My kids are pretty crafty. Well, Maddy and Cora are.

And though Owen occasionally does do some drawing, he doesn’t craft and create like the girls do.

So having a photo book dedicated to all the kids’ crafts and artwork is a super idea.

You don’t need to be a fancy photographer or have crazy complex lighting to make this work, either. Choose a time mid-day, when the sun is shining, to put your children’s work in the natural light.

Photograph close up and from a distance.

Add the photos to a folder on your computer.

Share the photos with the photo book company, and voila! Photo book in hand in no time. Your kids–especially the crafty crafters–will love you for it.



Get your own cool, creative photo book started now at


the best, coolest, most clever and creative  |

9.  LEGO Creations

Or Tinker Toys creations. Or HexBug tracks. Or block towers, Or whatever your kiddo builds, this book is all about those creations.

Play-Doh castles? Crazy-cool marble runs?

Is there a theme? Did he create the entire Ninjago set? Star Wars fighters? LEGO City? Take photos. Make a book.

She (or he!) will love you for it.


the best, coolest, most clever and creative  |


10.  Church, Temple, or School Event

We are part of our church’s Gospel Drama every year, and the kids love it.

Especially if you are heading up a committee like this, having a photo book as a reference for future organizers or committee chairs is a super idea.

It could be a drama production. Maybe it’s a band concert. Perhaps it’s International Night or a Math Night.  It could be the Spring Carnival or Kindergarten Orientation.

What needs to be done first? What’s second? Who is in charge of what?

Take pictures of everything you can, and then upload them to a photo book. The visuals will help in the future, and the book can even stay in the office waiting room and be a great resource to have on hand for new-to-the-school families.


Get your own cool, creative photo book started now at!


the best, coolest, most clever and creative  |


11.  Cool Science Experiment (or Animal Facts!)

Last year, we had the super-awesome opportunity to hatch eggs at our home. It was one of the coolest experiences in our family’s little 11 year existence.

Throughout the entire egg incubation program, we took photos. And of course we made a book.

Kids love to learn about the process of egg hatching, and this little book will bring it all back to us, step by step.  Not only is it a chronicle of something really fun our family did, but it’s a memory maker in the process!

You can really create an animal fact book like this for any animal, at any time.


the best, coolest, most clever and creative  |

12.  Family ABC Book

From A to Z, there’s a photo for every letter. Some were more difficult than others, but we did it.

And so can you. Really, it’s not that hard.

Having kids’ faces in the book is so fun for them, as is including your own pets, toys, car, and clothes.

Want kids to get their ABCs quickly?

Make a Family ABC Book.


the best, coolest, most clever and creative  |

13.  Family Vacation

We don’t do this for every vacation, but for our ‘biggies’ we definitely create photo books!

Each time we went to Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, we created a book when we got home. And any time we have a question about the park, a ride, or something similar, we reach for one of our Disney books.

So fun.

Man I want to return. . .

the best, coolest, most clever and creative  |

14.  Book About Love

We create a lot of books for my nana, don’t we?

Nana’s getting old and things are much more difficult for her, but one thing has not changed: Nana loves books. She’s a lifelong reader and writer, so today is no different, even though she’s 91.

The ‘We Love Nana’ book is a simple book with little text. The main message? I love Nana.

The characters? All of us. This one took a bit more planning because I needed photos from three sisters of their five kids, but it all worked out.

A Book About Love can be a teeny book that your preschooler takes to school with him each day so that he remembers Mom is closeby.

A Book About Love can be a chance to spend one full day with one kiddo–a close-up of that one child and how much you love him or her.

It can be everything in your lives that you love, with each family member taking one or two pages to create on his or her own.

Possibilities are endless.

Get your own cool, creative photo book started now at!

the best, coolest, most clever and creative  |

15. Home Renovation or Family Move

We tore it up in her last year, and we chronicled the entire thing.

We knew that at times though the reno took an eternity, in reality, it only took about six or seven weeks. That’s nothing.

Especially for the kids, it went by in the blink of an eye.

So having a photo book to walk us through everything from clearing out shelves to moving furniture to setting it all back up is really cool.


Ooooh, and for fun, make your Family Playing Cards into a photo book this year!

A great way to help your littles learn the spelling and letters of family names, right? Turn it into a photo book (super-totally easy!) and bam. Book. Family Name Book. Awesome.


Want a few awesome deals to snag in time for the holidays? SURE you do!


What photo books can you think of? Which ones make most sense for you to create? I’d love to hear it!

You know that it’s the thought that counts!


please pin it later!

the coolest, most creative photo books for kids and family BLANK

Want a few more holiday-inspired gift ideas or activities? Check out:

must have gifts for kids and families |

gifts for sunday school teachers or CCD teachers |


kids and family gift guide from


teachmama gift guide 2012



holiday gift guide |


fyi: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Forever and always I recommend only products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”  For more information, please see teachmama media, llc. disclosure policy

best books as gifts for kids and family

best books as gifts for kids and family |

post contains affiliate links




I am so embarrassed about this, but I’ve talked about doing a post like this for books as gifts for family cover

I think I’ve even promised one the week after each of my 2012 gift guide and 2013 gift guide but never did it.


But this year, finding books for Maddy, Owen, and Cora has been so, so, so much fun.

I’m not sure why.

Maybe because they all can read now?

Maybe because the book choices we have at our fingertips for our kids–and even extended family–are spectacular?

Maybe because

So I’m thrilled to share which books we have loved this year, which books are on our holiday wish lists, and which books will definitely be under our tree this year.

I’ll organize it just like I organized the Gift Guide for Kids and Family–by age.

That might be the most manageable.

So exciting.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Best Books as Gifts for Kids and Family:

best books as gifts for family littlest guys


For our littlest guys:

  • Ten Tiny Toes, by Carolyn Jayne Church: babies love the sweet illustrations in these books, and so do parents.  And? there’s counting.  Try Here Comes Christmas for the holidays.
  • Flora and the Flamingo, by Molly Schaar. A wordless picture book, this story shows how Flora and the Flamingo become friends without saying a word. Cool way to talk about body language with kids.  Pair it with a sweet flamingo stuffed animal for a really cute gift.
  • Locomotive, by Brian Floca.  It’s a Caldecott Medal winner which means that this book totally rocks. I love the way this book brings to life the summer of 1869 when the first transcontinental railroad takes its journey from coast to coast.

best books as gifts  kids and family

  • The Book With No Pictures, B.J. Novak. 
    Remember Ryan Howard from The Office? Ever-changing dark haired young guy? He wrote this book, and it’s really fun and unique. It plays with language in a way that is engaging, exciting, and new.
  • Blizzard, by John Rocco.  Rocco shares his own memories woven in a story that teaches the important lessons of helping others and celebrating the little things. Based on his experience in the Blizzard of 1978, which some of us may actually remember.
  • Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad, by Henry Cole.  I cannot speak highly enough about this beautiful, wordless picture book. A farm girl helps a young, runaway slave who hides in her barn.
  • Exclamation Mark, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld.  This book tells the story of Exclamation Mark, who never really felt like he fit in with all of the periods and commas out there. It’s so fun and a great way to play with language and life lessons.
  • Nelson Mandela, by Kadir Nelson.  I love everything that Kadir Nelson writes, but this Coretta Scott King Honor Award winner is inspiring and enlightening.
  • The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdös, by Deborah Heiligman and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. This book is an interesting reminder that we all are born with different strengths and that one is no better than the next. For math lovers and non-lovers alike, kids will find this book incredibly intriguing.



best books as gifts for family bigger guys

For the bigger guys:

  • Geronimo Stilton: Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye, by Geronimo Stilton. Geronimo books have been around for a while now, but Cora has recently discovered them and has fallen hard. She laughs out loud at these. Owen does, too. Told by Geronimo, a witty and brave mouse, these stories always involve a mystery, and the engaging print and fonts makes them accessible for younger readers especially.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, by Jeff Kinney. It’s the Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Kids love this series.  Greg Heffley is every child. He says what’s on his mind, and he’s funny. And life doesn’t always work out in his favor. This book shares his family’s road trip, and it’s a riot. Want a chunk of the series? Get your young reader a Diary of a Wimpy Kid gift set.
  • Fantasy League, by Mike Lupica. Owen is pretty much obsessed with fantasy football lately, so when we discovered this book by talented sports writer, Mike Lupica, it opened up a world of reading for him. Lupica rocks when it comes to writing books that speak to young athletes. Love this.

best books as gifts  kids and family

best books as gifts  kids and family

  • Smile and Sisters, by Raina Telgemeier. And Drama. These award-winning graphic novels are written in Raina’s honest, funny, and engaging voice, are faves of my girls. They’re (shhhhh!) getting Drama this holiday.
  • The 39 Clues series, by Rick Riordan & co. This book series is still a fave of Maddy’s. The books are quick and clever, and they’re full of history. We listen to a 39 Clues audio book just about every time we drive to Pennsylvania.
  • The Spirit Animals series, by Brandon Mull & co. Maddy and Owen have really loved this series. And the cool thing is that there’s a ton of online gaming, support and extensions for each book.
  • The Hunger Games series, by Suzanne Collins. I’ve waited a bit to hand these to Maddy because the content is a bit mature; the Hunger Games are not the kind of game you ever really want your kids to play. It’s about survival and doing anything you can to come out on top in a dystopian society with a totally corrupt government. But Maddy asked and asked, and when I allowed her to read them, she literally read the entire three books in three nights. I’m not sure she slept much, and I had to literally pry the book out of her hands and turn off her lights so she’d rest. It’s a fantastic series if you haven’t read it, and it does allow for a ton of interesting discussion if you can read them alongside your tween.


best books as gifts for family family

Every family must-haves:

  • Humans of New York, by Brandon Stanton. I have literally gifted this book to almost every adult family member, so of course I needed to add one to our list, too. I am obsessed with Humans of New York. Looking at the photos of everyday people and reading their stories helps me keep things in perspective. I love it, and I’m hoping that it becomes a good eye-opener for Maddy, Owen, and Cora.
  • Little Humans, by Brandon Stanton.  Same as above. But all kids. All kids. Love times a million.


best books as gifts  kids and family



best books as gifts for family cool books they love

Other cool books that kids love:

  • National Geographic Kids Almanac 2015. This should be a must-purchase for families every single  year. It’s one of those books that once you pick it up, you cannot put it down. Full of fun facts from food to animals to planets, it’s awesome. It’s beautiful.
  • 5,000 AWESOME Facts (About Everything!) 2, by National Geographic Kids. Not even kidding. There are 5,000 facts in this book. And each is cooler and more interesting than the next. The photos, layout, and topics? Super cool.

best books as gifts for family final cover



Want a few more holiday-inspired gift ideas or activities? Check out:

must have gifts for kids and families |

gifts for sunday school teachers or CCD teachers |


kids and family gift guide from


teachmama gift guide 2012



holiday gift guide |


fyi: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Forever and always I recommend only products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”  For more information, please see teachmama media, llc. disclosure policy

cyber monday: magazine deal for families

cyber monday: magazine deal for families

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cyber monday magazines for whole family


This is an insane magazine deal, one that I have totally jumped on for my family.

It ends today, so you have to act mega-quickly.

Like crazy, super-mega quickly.  Like December 1, 2014 at 11:59pm EST.

You can score:

3 magazine subscriptions for $12

5 magazine subscriptions for $18

10 magazine subscriptions for $30

Magazines for the whole family from Discount Mags.

Talk about a fabulous way to get your whole family reading–together

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Cyber Monday–Magazine Deal for Families:

I went with the five magazine deal: one for each family member.

I chose Girls Life, Boys Life, Everyday with Rachel Ray, Wired, and Family Fun.

I may go back and order five more for extended family; I’m thinking Golf Digest for both my father and my father-in-law, Family Circle for my mom, Scholastic Parent & Child, InstructorSelf for my sisters.

Wait. That takes me up to six more subscriptions.

Maybe I’ll add a Yoga for my yoga instructor, Womens Day for my mom and my mother-in-law, and one extra for me? Hmmmm. 

The great thing about this deal?

  • no auto-renewals (because YES that makes it easier!)
  • free shipping (no hidden costs)
  • you can order some for your home and order some as gift subscriptions.

There’s definitely something for everyone check it out: Cyber Monday Magazine Deal for families.


Want a few more holiday-inspired gift ideas or activities? Check out: 


fyi: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. This small percentage of money helps offset the costs of hosting this blog, which helps me keep this content free for you. Forever and always I recommend only products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”  For more information, please see teachmama media, llc. disclosure policy

monthly craft gift for kids: kiwi crate

monthly craft gift for kids: kiwi crate brands | craft, experiment, and thinking subscription gifts for kids that they will totally love | gift ideas for kids

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monthly craft gift for kids  kiwi crate  teachmama.comOften people ask me for cool gift ideas for holidays and birthdays, and though I often immediately share with them my holiday gift guide (because really, it works for any time of the year!).

But when I’m away from the computer and someone asks for a quick idea for a birthday or holiday for a child, I often recommend Kiwi Crate.

Kiwi Crate is a monthly subscription gift for kids. Crafts, making, and a whole lot of cool. 

And it’s not just for girls, and it’s not just for the teenies.

It’s for all kids.

Which is why it rocks.

And right now they have a pretty sweet Kiwi Crate Black Friday Sale going on that you totes want to jump on.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Monthy Craft Gift for Kids–Kiwi Crate:

Kiwi Crate sends monthly crafts and cool, hands-on activities to kids.


monthly craft gift for kids: kiwi crate

monthly craft gift for kids: kiwi crate


Products include Koala Crate (ages 3-4 years), Kiwi Crate (4-8years), Tinker Crate (9-14 years), and Doodle Crate (9-16+ years).

Subscription Services like these are SUPER awesome gifts because not only do kids love getting mail, they love to have everything–every, single thing–they need to complete a project from start to finish in one happy little kit.

We’re shhhhhhhh ordering Kiwi Crate for our nephew this year, and I’m sure he will totally love it.


monthly craft gift for kids: kiwi crate

monthly craft gift for kids: kiwi crate

Though Cora is 7, she’ll turn 8 in March, so she could really love Kiwi Crate. If you’re not sure what to do, consider starting with a 6 month subscription and then re-evaluate after that time whether your child is a good fit for Kiwi Crate or wants to move up to the Doodle Crate or Tinker Crate.

I think we’ll end up going with Doodle Crate for Cora and Tinker Crate for Maddy and Owen. 

We’ve had several boxes to try out over the years from the good folks at Kiwi Crate, but we’ve never actually had it where one of my kids could actually, truly look forward to receiving it each month.

That? I think they’d love.

monthly craft gift for kids: kiwi crate


Especially during this time when all kids seem to want to do is be ‘plugged in’ to electronic devices, I think Doodle Crate or Tinker Crate would be great for kids Maddy and Owen’s ages, too.

These aren’t just quickie little junk projects that kids create; each set is full of hands-on, exciting, and engaging experiments or crafts. Cool things that kids will really enjoy. Several of my friends have kids who’ve used these sets, and they love them.

Check out the comparison of the Kiwi Crate Brands

monthly craft gift for kids: kiwi crate |


Doodle Crate (9- 16+) is focused on more DIY art projects.  Maddy would totally go for this one.

Tinker Crate (9-14 +) is focused on providing hands-on experiments each month.  Owen would love this, but I know Maddy and Cora would, too.

In order to keep some level of sanity in our house this year, I’m going to go with Tinker Crate for Owen so that Maddy can have Doodle Crate and Cora can have Kiwi Crate.

I cannot wait to see how it goes. And really? I’m almost 99% positive it’ll be a serious win.


And? Check out some super-rockstar deals for you for this holiday season:

  • Exclusive Kiwi Crate Black Friday Sale!
    • Starting today until 12/1/14, save 60% on your 1st month subscription to Kiwi Crate PLUS free shipping with code HOLIDAY60 at checkout.


Koala Crate >>

Want a few more holiday-inspired gift ideas or activities? Check out: 


fyi: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Forever and always I recommend only products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”  For more information, please see teachmama media, llc. disclosure policy

a must-read for raising confident kids: ‘God Made Light’

a must read for raising confident kids | God Made Light |

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a must-read for raising confident kids: 'God Made Light'

As parents, one of the things that we want most for our kids is that they grow to be happy, healthy, and confident adults.

And one simple way that we can do that is to spend quality time with our kids, reminding them daily that they are special and that they are loved.

Reminding them, too, that God loves them and that through them, His light shines is another super-important piece to remember.

Recently one of my friends published a book that focuses on just this fact. The book is called, ‘God Made Light‘, and it’s beautiful and important and moving.

It’s something that every child should have on his or her bookshelf and a perfect addition to bedtime–or any time–reading.

You’ll love it.

Here’s the skinny. . .

I’ve known that my pal Jessica and her husband were working on this book for quite some time, so when it finally arrived at my door, I was over the moon.

a must-read for raising confident kids: 'God Made Light'

a must-read for raising confident kids: 'God Made Light'

And it was even more amazing than I imagined it to be.

The message of God Made Light is simple: that God made light and that light shines within all people. And that it’s our job to share the light with others.

I love it.

So even when times are tough for our kids, when they are having a tough day or are afraid of the shadows or when the sun sets, that need to remember that they are important and special and loved. a must-read for raising confident kids: 'God Made Light'

One of my favorite passages from the book is:

‘Cause you’re just like the sun

and the moon in the sky. . .

You’re as lustrous as twinkles that dazzle the eye.

You’re as splendid as lightening,

when it flashes so bright.

’cause on the day you were born,

God said, ‘Let there be light!’ 

Written by Matthew Paul Turner and illustrated by Matthew Paul Mewhorter, this book is the perfect combination of engaging, rhythmic language, a meaningful message, and engaging illustrations.


a must-read for raising confident kids: 'God Made Light'

a must-read for raising confident kids: 'God Made Light'

My kids love it. Cora has asked for it every night for the past few weeks. And without question, I’ll read it.

And to carry on the message of love and light and confidence, I’ve also been sending the kids to school with the God Made Light Encouragement Notes for Kids: 32 reminders that God’s light shines in you.

Love, love, love them.

Along with our Positive affirmation notes for kids, it’s a rockstar combination. And the fact that the notes carry on the same messaging as this special book? Rockstar.

a must-read for raising confident kids: 'God Made Light'


My feeling is this: the more that we talk about the fact that each one of us–including our children–carry God’s love with us everywhere, all day long and all through the night, the better.

I’m hoping that knowing they are not alone as they walk into these crazy tween years will make it that much easier for them.


a must-read for raising confident kids: 'God Made Light'


I’ll give this book to my nieces and nephews for Christmas, and I’ll give it as gifts for Baptisms and First Communions.  I love it.

And I do believe it’s the perfect thing for all families to find under the tree this season.



There are a few ways to buy God Made Light and the related products.  I’m doing what I can to grab the best deals possible for you:

Tons of great resources on the God Made Light website. Definitely check them out:

god made light freebies


It’s heartbreaking for us as parents to watch our little loves go through the inevitably difficult pre-tween, tween, and teen years. Let’s do what we can to make them as seamless and enjoyable and meaningful as we are able.


fyi: Though I did receive my copy of God Made Light from my friends Jessica and Matthew Paul Turner, my opinions here are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator.  Affiliate links are used in this post

what to do when your kid just doesn’t ‘get it’

what to do when your kid just doesn't 'get it' | question from reader and answered by @teachmama

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I admit that I am the absolute worst with emails. The worst.when your kid just doesn't get it |

But I’m trying to be better.

I’ve got thousands of emails just sitting there in my inbox, and I rarely respond because I’m always busy.

And I’m so far behind that I don’t even want to go there because there’s no end in sight.

But lately I have been tackling a handful of emails each week. And it makes me feel so much better to be able to connect in this way to the readers who have become my good friends over time.

Today, one email stuck out.

And I spent a good bit of time answering, and then I felt like I had answered it before, so I looked back and not one, not two, but three other people have written to me in the past few weeks about their kids struggling with reading for unknown reasons.

So I thought I’d share my response. (And the gal who emailed said it was totally cool to do so.)

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • What to Do When Your Kid Just Doesn’t Get It:

note from reader

Subject : Struggling readers

Message : So…..what do you do when your kid just doesn’t get it? My [son] is in 3rd grade and he’s super depressed because he’s in the lowest reading group (haven’t confirmed that with the teacher, but kids know, don’t they? And given who else he says is in his group, I know, too.) and he doesn’t get to do the pull-out GT activities that his friends do.

His reading is okay, but when it comes to spelling, it’s terrible–large letters, sloppy, no punctuation or capitalization, many misspelled words, can’t get the letters on the page.

We’ve had him tested and the doc says it’s phonological processing. He doesn’t qualify for an IEP or 504 and the teachers last year dismissed the doc’s findings all together. He’s been doing a reading tutoring program for the past year. But feeling really frustrated with the school and teachers. Any advice?


my response

Oh, [friend]. I’m sorry he’s struggling. It’s so hard–for you and for him. Believe me, I get it. Thank you for reaching out.

My advice is this:
1. meet with the teacher. talk to him/her about your concerns, and ask what you can do at home. Maybe she’ll give you some insight into strategies that have worked for other students or hand you some resources that could be helpful.

when kids don't get it school

2. read with him every night. Seriously. You read out loud to him. No pressure for him to read to you. Just get him back into being excited about reading, even if that means you have to pry open your tired eyes at 8pm to read to him with energy and excitement (said from the mom who FELL ASLEEP last night while Cora was reading her book out loud to me before bed and still feels guilty about it today). Try Harry Potter. IT ROCKS. OR try silly Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Or try Magic Treehouse to start with. . . Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is SO GOOD and great for read alouds.

3. play on his interests. He likes (gag!) Pokemon? Find Pokemon books and READ them! He loves Minecraft? There are great Minecraft books on the market now (finally!), and there are books on everything from Skylanders to Star Wars to LEGOS to chess. Do some research. Surround him w/ reading material about stuff he totally digs. Magazines totally count. Get him a subscription to a magazine for the holidays–get everyone a subscription to their favorite magazine. Be excited when it comes in the mail even if you have to fake it. Dance up to the door w/ it and then make it a treat to read it. He’ll catch on. I promise.

when kids don't get it interests

4. talk about reading. Not directly, in a super boring way, but do it casually. Talk about the books you’re reading for pleasure (start doing it if you’re not already!); talk about what you read in the newspaper; talk about books he’s reading in Guided Reading and what the media teacher read to him on media day. Just a simple, ‘Hey listen to this!’ . . . or ‘Can you believe that. .. . ‘ is great. The Washington Post Kids Post is super for finding daily bits of fun stuff for kids to read. Or find the National Geographic Kids app– strange and amazing facts? something like that–my kids LOVE it.

5. make reading a family affair. Instead of plopping on a movie on Sunday afternoon or instead of letting the kids zone out in front of electronics, have a family reading date. Pop popcorn, make hot chocolate, and make a fire. Everyone grabs a book and reads in the living room–even if it’s only an hour. Then kind of talk about what you were reading. Or if that’s too hard, you and your partner (or your mom/ dad if they’re close) or sister or friend take turns reading children’s books to the kids. Each kid picks two, and you read them aloud like a silly little old-school read aloud during preschool circle time. Do it. They’ll love it.

when kids don't get it consistent

Hope this helps. I would love to hear how it goes, and just know this: you are not alone. I should probably even just post this whole answer as a blog post, because I’m asked it more often than you know. . . Hmmmm. Maybe?

Oh, and don’t forget this: hang in there and KEEP UP THE ROUTINE. I’m not yelling at you, I’m just keeping it all caps because it’s that important. It won’t make a bleep of a difference if you do this for one week or one day. Set small goals: reading aloud at night for two weeks. Then four weeks. It will make a difference–but the secret is in the consistency.

You got this. And so does he.

*hugs!* and thank you for reading.


What do you think? How would you have answered her question?
Do let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page!
Do you have a question that’s literacy related? I’m happy to give it a stab if you want to hit me with an email:
If I can’t answer it, I’ll find someone who can!


fyi: affiliate links used in this post