reading informational text and crafting: easy, beautiful jewelry-making

reading informational text and crafting | teachmama.com

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reading informational text and crafting | teachmama.com

One of the things that my kids love to do is crafts, so when Melissa & Doug came out with the Art Activity books, I was sold.

Combining reading and crafting? Bam.

A match made in heaven.

Sure, good ole free play and open-ended art is awesome, but some days, an Art Activity book is a super way of sneaking in some reading for kids. And the ‘art’ of reading informational text to follow directions and to use drawings and diagrams to support the reading are foundational skills in nearly every grade level of the Common Core State Standards.

Reading informational texts is something covered in some way almost every year in the English Language Arts Standards. As parents, let’s do what we can to support our kids’ learning from home.

It’s a win-win-WIN.

Maddy rocked out the informational text reading this week with the help of Melissa & Doug’s Craft and Create Mixed Metal Jewelry set. And she’s loving her new jewels.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Reading Informational Text and Crafting– Easy, Beautiful Jewelry-Making:

I knew that Maddy would love this Mixed Metal Jewelry Set, because right now she’s totally into accessories and jewelry.  And she’s also into doing things independently.

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

And she really did love it.

She took off from the start, opening the set and reading and following the directions.  She began by setting out all of the pieces. And then she started with the Layered Earrings.

We chatted along the way, checking out a few different design options and deciding on the silver-bronze-silver graduated layered discs. Love it!

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

 

She made these adorable earrings!  Aren’t they to die for?

Next she moved onto the braided bracelet.

As she read, she used the photographs and diagrams to help her more clearly understand the steps.

 

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

Especially when it came to the four-strand braid, she used both the diagram and text. I held one side of the bracelet as she braided, and I totally learned something new!

I have never in my life braided with four strands, but Maddy figured it out and explained it to me as she went. Super real-life application of an important reading skill–and Common Core State Standard.

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

Her bracelet turned out so awesome.

And not only did we learn how to do the four-strand braid, but we also learned some cool, new ways of tying off bracelets, combining strands, and connecting the mixed-metal washers and rings.

So fun.

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

reading informational text and crafting: jewelry-making | teachmama.com

I really think this is only the beginning.

Maddy so loved jewelry-making that we’re heading to the craft store for some mixed metal pieces this weekend.  Though the set comes with plenty of pieces, Maddy was busy and included a handful of pieces in each one she made.

It will be so awesome to see her apply her new skills to the other pieces we purchase at the store.  She felt great about what she made and looks forward to making more. Love. It.

In my opinion, there’s nothing better than this! It’s real-life and purposeful informative text reading at its finest!

melissa doug blog ambassador buttonfyi: I wrote this post as part of the Melissa & Doug Blog Ambassador program.   Melissa & Doug has long created rockstar products that nurture creativity and thought in our children, which is why I am so proud to be a part of this program.

As always, my opinions and ideas are my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator.

10 must-read multicultural children’s books

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10 must-read multicultural children's books | recommendations for younger and older readers @teachmama

Today is Multicultural Children’s Book Day, and we are celebrating diversity in children’s literature!

Woo-hoo!  You better believe I’m all for it.

Our kids must read a wide variety of books, books that feature characters of all shapes and sizes. They need to read about different families, foods, and cultures.  Different holidays, customs, and crafts.  Different experiences, events, and celebrations.

It’s imperative that our books reflect the world around us, and, in my opinion, there’s no better way to open up the doors of conversation and learning rather than with books.

And though there are a million, trillion books out there, today you’ll be able to add some great, new titles to your list for your next library trip, thanks to my list here and the many other bloggers who are writing about their favorite multicultural children’s books today.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 10 Must-Read Multicultural Children’s Books: I’ll be honest. I’m kind of cheating here.

Narrowing this list down was pretty tricky for me, since I have a boatload of favorite multicultural children’s books.

But what I also realized is that because my own kiddos (10, 8, and 6 years old) are slowly moving over to that YA (young adult) bookshelf, my picks are a bit of both.

I couldn’t help it.

My top five must-read multicultural children’s books are:

  • Cora Cooks Pancit, by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore  | Little Cora learns the art of cooking pancit with the help of her mama on a rare day when her brother and sisters are out of the house.
  • The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush, by Tomie de Paola  |  I love Tomie de Paola’s take on this Indian legend about how a young boy, the artist of his tribe, creates a painting to fulfill his Dream-Vision.
  • So Far from the Sea, by Even Bunting  |  The Iwasaki family visits Manzanar, where Japanese were interned during WWII, and little Laura says goodbye to her Grandfather in a touching and memorable way.
  • The Legend of the Bluebonnet, by Tomie de Paola  |  The story of a courageous Comanche girl and how she parts with her most prized possession in order to help her people is moving and unforgettable.
  • Mama’s Saris, by Pooja Makhijani  |  I have always loved the grace and beauty of not only the sari but the story of how important it is for a little girl to wear a sari like her mother.
  • I also love, love, love the A Child’s Day series–a day in the life of a child in some part of the word.   It’s a photo journal, a glimpse into what life is like for children all around the world. Love these.

diversity quote maya angelou |  teachmama.com @teachmama

For slightly older kids, I love these multicultural books for young adult (ya) readers:

  • The Recipe for Adventure series, by Giada DeLaurentiis  | (ages 7-12)  Adventure, cooking, and a whole lot of Italian family is the focus of this series which follows Alfie and his sister Emilia all over the world as they solve mysteries and sample food along the way.
  • Aloha, Kanani, by Lisa Yee  |  (ages 8+)  Kanani’s Hawaiian life is totally foreign to her New York City cousin, Rachel, but the girls have a whole summer to learn from each other and embrace their differences.
  • Children of the River, by Linda Crew  | (ages 9+) Sundara and her family move to Oregon to escape the Khmer Rouge army, and Sundara struggles with balancing her Cambodian identity with the new American lifestyle.
  • The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros  |  (ages 13+)  Beautiful and poetic, this coming of age story tells Esperanza’s experiences growing up in the inner city.
  • The Contender, by Robert Lipsyte  |  (ages 13+ ) Alfred works hard to stay out of trouble, but he finds out that a winner isn’t always the guy who comes out on top.

It’s really just a start. I have a ton more to recommend, but I do want you to check out other folks’ recommendations as well!

Want to know a bit more about Multicultural Children’s Book Day? Sure you do.

blogger buttonMission of Multicultural Children’s Book Day: Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries.

Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

The event’s sponsors are Wisdom Tales Press, Lee & Low Books Chronicle Books, and Susan Daniel Fayad: Author of  My Grandfather’s Masbaha.

Do check out the other great bloggers who are participating in the Multicultural Children’s Book Day event:  

2GirlsLostInaBook · 365 Days of Motherhood · A Bilingual Baby · A Simple Life, Really? · Africa to America · After School Smarty Pants · All Done Monkey · Andi’s Kids Books · Anita Brown Bag  · Austin Gilkeson · Barbara Ann Mojica ·  Books My Kids Read · Bottom Shelf Books · Cats Eat Dogs · Chasing The Donkey · Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac · Children’s Books Heal · Church o Books · CitizenBeta · Crafty Moms Share · Discovering The World Through My Son’s Eyes · Early Words · Flowering Minds · Franticmommy · Gathering Books · GEO Librarian · Gladys Barbieri · Going in Circles · Growing Book by Book · iGame Mom · I’m Not The Nanny · InCulture Parent · Itsy Bitsy Mom ·Just Children’s Books– Kid World Citizen · Kristi’s Book Nook · Mama Lady Books · Mama Smiles · Mission Read · Mother Daughter Book Reviews · Mrs AOk · MrsTeeLoveLifeLaughter · Ms. Yingling Reads · Multicultural Kids Blog · One Sweet World · Open Wide The World · P is for Preschooler · Rapenzel Dreams · School4Boys · Sharon the Librarian · Spanish Playground · Sprout’s Bookshelf · Squishable Baby · Stanley and Katrina · Teach Mama · The Art of Home Education · The Brain Lair · The Educators’ Spin On It · The Family-Ship Experience · The Yellow Door Paperie · This Kid Reviews Books  · Trishap’s Books · Unconventional Librarian · Vicki Arnold · We3Three · World for Learning · Wrapped in Foil 

 

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phonemic awareness and classification with zoo magazine pictures

phonemic awareness and classification with zoo magazine pictures | guest post by @aubreyhargis on @teachmama #weteach

phonemic awareness and classification with zoo magazine pictures | guest post by @aubreyhargis on @teachmama #weteach

The following guest post is written by the amazing Aubrey of Montessori Mischief. If ever you wanted to know about Montessori education, do check her blog.It’s awesome.  And beautiful.

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  • Phonemic Awareness and Classification with Zoo Magazine Pictures, by Aubrey Hargis

Making educational fun out of something free to us is not just part of our budget-friendly Montessori home school approach – it’s a challenge that the kids and I all embrace together.

Every day my three year old makes a jammie-clad dash for the mail out the front door. Our mail carrier is often caught in the act, and we wave madly until he gives us a thumbs up. Often it’s all bills (not fun), and sometimes advertisements (more fun), and if we’re very lucky, it’s letters written to us or glossy magazines from the zoo.

And a glossy magazine from the zoo it was that day. Out from the magazine came the staples and out from the cabinet came the scissors.

phonemic awareness and classification with zoo magazine pictures | guest post by @aubreyhargis on @teachmama #weteach

My six year old and three year old both chose favorite animals to cut out, and a stack quickly piled up on the kitchen table. What to do now?

We put our heads together. We thought hard. We stared at the animal cut-outs around on the table, and silently, like playing a Ouija board, our fingers began shifting them this way and that. Birds of a feather. Hooves together. Scales and claws. Furry paws. And by the time we finished clumping them all into groups, we were grinning.

“What are these?” I asked my three year old.

“Birds!” he shouted.

“And these?” I asked my six year old.

“Mammals!” he yelled, hands high in the air with excitement.

phonemic awareness and classification with zoo magazine pictures | guest post by @aubreyhargis on @teachmama #weteach

 

phonemic awareness and classification with zoo magazine pictures | guest post by @aubreyhargis on @teachmama #weteach

I grabbed a piece of paper and began writing down the names of our groups (classification): mammals, reptiles, birds, fish…

We discussed the characteristics we saw as we compared and contrasted our groups.

I believe it was my three year old who began naming the animals one by one and emphasizing the beginning sound (phonemic awareness): “O-O-Ostrich. B-B-Bear.” Quickly, I cut up some squares and added letters as we said the names together. You should have seen my three year old very solemnly placing each letter on each animal.

If the pieces hadn’t gotten scattered during their pretend play, it would have been nice to glue them to a big piece of posterboard, or even to back on cardstock, laminate, and adhere velcro for a felt board experience.

Suddenly, the world of junk mail has opened up a world of educational possibilities for us. No longer will I be simply tossing it all in the recycling bin. Who knows what will arrive next? We’ll be racing to the door to find out tomorrow!

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Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your fun, on-the-fly learning with your kids, Aubrey! How inspiring!!

Aubrey HargisAubrey homeschools her two kiddos and writes at Montessori Mischief, where she shares parenting tips and Montessori teaching tricks. You can find her hanging out with Montessori newbies in her Montessori 101 group. Follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, or Google +.

 

 

Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards:

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

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

rockstar sunday promo teachmama

other posts in the series:

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

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

summarizing: at-home practice of a super-important reading skill

summary checklist teachmama.com

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summarizing: at-home practice of a super-important reading skill | close reading a text

The other day, Maddy came home with not necessarily a homework assignment but a challenge from her fourth grade teacher: find the story of Prometheus and explain the connection between ‘Flame’ (an interactive pen in her classroom) and the story.

What was to be nothing more than a five or ten minute reading and jotting down of ideas turned into a quick refresher on how to summarize a passage.

Summarizing is a difficult task when it comes to reading, and it’s made more difficult when the text is challenging.  Myths are hard! All those names! The crazy things that those gods and goddesses do!

But with some modeled help of close reading, it was a little easier.

Here’s the skinny. . . 

  • Summarizing– At-Home Practice of a Super-Important Reading Skill:  In order to adequately summarize a text, the reader has to totally understand what he or she read.

‘Close Reading’ is actually a specific, deliberate reading strategy used to aid readers in comprehension. 

I chose to use it because of the difficulty of the myth.

Close Reading passages helps aid students with comprehension, and often Close Reading is used with nonfiction texts. However, it can be used for just about any passage if need be.

Essentially, Close Reading is just what it sounds like–looking very closely at a text or passage. ‘During a close reading, students explore the deep structures of a text. . . identifying the ‘bones’ of the passage’ (

Close Reading involves several prescribed steps that are really pretty simple:

1. First reading: teacher shares purpose and students annotate (highlight or mark) text

2. Chatting and charting: talk about what was read and chart on sheet or on graphic organizer

3. Second reading: return to text to answer several specific text-dependent questions

4. Chatting and charting: talk about what was read and what new information was gleaned

5. Independence: students somehow demonstrate their new understanding, making connections, inferences, independently and with confidence

summarizing summarizing close reading steps | teachmama.com

At home, after my kids have spent an entire day at school, it’s hard to push them to do something that sounds as involved as this.  But really? Because we did this together, it wasn’t all that hard.

In order to complete Maddy’s homework challenge, we first searched for “Prometheus Story” and found How Prometheus Gave Fire to Man, which I printed and stapled together.

I handed it to her and thought we were finished. But when I asked her to tell me what happened in the story, she had a really hard time.

summarizing: at-home practice of a super-important reading skill

Zeus, this god, like was angry with Prometheus and his brother. They were all fighting.  Wait.  I’m not sure. Prometheus . . . he’s this . . . I don’t know. 

Okay, well let’s look at it together, then.

Grab a pen or a highlighter. Let’s read it. We’re going to highlight all of the important information. We want the information–not the teeny details, okay?  Let’s focus on finding out who exactly Prometheus was.

summarizing: at-home practice of a super-important reading skill

We read the first few paragraphs together–it was only a 2 1/2 page print out–and I took the lead and thought aloud as I identified all of the important information on the first page.  She took over for the second page.

For any first reading, it’s helpful for kids to have a reason to read. Maddy’s reason was to find out who Prometheus was.

After we finished the first reading, we went back and I said, Okay, let’s look back at the highlighted words and phrases and read them.

So we did.  Any questions she had, I answered with ‘Let’s go back to the text to find out.‘ After she was clear on the basics, we were ready for a second quick look at the text.

We should have a better idea of who Prometheus is after this reading, but I want you to read through it one last time thinking specifically about what your teacher asked you: ‘How does the story of Prometheus compare to Flame?’ (Again, Flame is this interactive pen they have in their classroom.)

She read through it a second time, with this specific focus.

I said, Your teacher wants you to bring in an index card with a few pieces of information about the Prometheus story on it. What might be the first thing you write down?   A summary of this short text can be written in 2-3 sentences and should cover only what is essential: what happened and why, who was involved and what was the outcome.

 

summary checklist  teachmama.com

We talked through her quick summary, making sure it was specific and concise.  If I thought she added something that wasn’t necessary, I asked, ‘Is that a detail or essential information?’

Then I asked again: How does the story of Prometheus compare to Flame in your classroom? 

She thought for a minute, looked down at her index card, and looked at me. I think the story connects to Flame in our classroom because when Prometheus gave humans fire, he gave them a lot of power. Maybe Flame gives us power to do things in our school?  (Yaaaaay! Hip, hip hooray! She got it!)

I think you have a really good idea there. Take it to school tomorrow and see what your teacher says.

Summaries are super-important. And Close Readings are important, too.

But what’s most important for kids is to have them recognize the connection between what they’re reading and their own little lives.

In a recent article in The Reading Teacher, the authors explained that this was the key in their research with Close Reading in a fifth grade classroom: ‘Connecting close reading to real-world applications and writing tasks motivated students to review the text with attention to detail, language, and back-ground knowledge’ (p 118 Students’ Close Reading of Science Texts)

For Maddy, her connection was understanding what she read so that she could go back to school and share her findings with the class.

And that’s it.  Quick summary talk during homework time.  I’ll definitely be doing what I can from home on summarizing; it’s a super-important skill and big for all English Language Arts Common Core grade levels.

 

Three cheers to the following resources for help with this piece:

Grant, Maria C , Lapp, Diane , Moss, Barbara & , Johnson, Kelly. (2013). Students’ Close Reading of Science Texts: What’s Now? What’s Next?. The Reading Teacher, 67(2), 109–119.

Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement (2007), Harvey & Goudvis.

Guiding Readers and Writers (Grades 3-6): Teaching, Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy (2000), Fountas & Pinnell.

 

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word building, letter writing, stamping to spell

stamp to spell

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stamp to spell | use stamps for early literacy learning and spelling | teachmama.com

 Originally published on 2.23.11 but republished because it’s that important.

During Maddy’s homework time yesterday, Owen had one task on  his mind: he wanted to write a get-well letter to his buddy who recently had surgery.  He knew exactly what he wanted to write–he told me at least two times during the day what his letter would say, and we knew exactly what we wanted to put in his pal’s little ‘get well quick’ package.

But my O-man wanted to make his letter special. He wanted to make it fancy he said, because he wanted to really cheer his buddy up.

So I brought down the alphabet letter stamps–our favorites from Melissa & Doug–and I asked if he wanted to stamp his letter.  Score! He did, so he got stamping. . .

. . . and while Cora initially began her own letter to Owen’s friend, she quickly switched gears and decided that she instead wanted to ‘stamp names’. So stamping names my little Cora did.

All the while, Maddy and I rocked out her homework, and I’ll tell you, overall, homework time went pretty smoothly for us.

  • Word Building, Letter Writing, Stamping to Spell: Before Owen began, he dictated his letter to me.  I wrote it down and placed it next to his blank card and the alphabet stamps.

I asked,  Do you want me to make lines for you, Owen?

No, I know what to do, he said.  And apparently he did. He got rolling and only stopped when Maddy mentioned something to him about spaces between words.

You should really try putting two fingers on the paper and use that as the space between words so it’s not all one big word on the page. That’s what my teacher taught me last year.

stamp to spell | teachmama.com

Owen tries out Maddy’s ‘two fingers for a space’ trick.

I confirmed her suggestion, and Owen started using his two tiny fingers as spaces. He got hung up when there wasn’t enough room on the page for the ‘u’ in ‘you’ so I tried to squeeze it in for him. It didn’t work:  Now it looks like a ‘q’ Mommy. Come on. Really, what am I good for anymore?

So I did what I could to fix it and he didn’t ask me for help again.

stamp to spell | early literacy | spelling | teachmama.com

stamp to spell | teachmama.comMy sweet, sweet Owen was so proud of his letter.   And he should be.

And I really didn’t need to, because he did know what he was doing. Sure, he moved back and forth between uppercase and lowercase letters, but at this point, that’s no big deal. He used his eyes to follow the words on the letter I wrote, found the correct letter stamp in the set, and then marked that letter on the page. That’s not easy.

Sure, he got tired and decided to omit a whole line of his message, but that doesn’t matter. It wasn’t an easy task, and he worked hard.

He stamped some flowers, dogs, hearts on the front of the card, and he added his own few hearts for his buddy.  If that doesn’t cheer a guy up, I’m not sure what will.

stamp to spell | early literacy | spelling | teachmama.com

stamp to spell | early literacy | spelling | teachmama.com

  • Stamping Family Names: While Owen stamped his letter, Cora stamped our family’s names.

Lately, she’s brought down our Family Name Chart at least once a week; she’s traced names, doodled on the page, anything.  Sometimes she just has the chart next to her as she colors.  Maybe because she likes the ‘older’ pictures of our family? (Cora was maybe a year old when I made it. . . )

The Family Name Charts are here to download if you’d like. They include three charts: one with MOMMY, DADDY and 3 blank spaces; one with Mommy, Daddy, and 3 blank spaces; and one with 5 blank spaces.

new family name chart (in Word, so you can change it yourself), or new family chart–BLANK ( as a pdf, so you can write in the names yourself).  Enjoy!

Cora began with Maddy’s name; she said, I need an ‘M’, I need an ‘M‘.  And when she found it, she stamped it.  Then she’d continue: I need an ‘A’, I need an ‘A’, I need the ‘A’. . . as she searched for it in the box.

stamp to spell | early literacy and letter recognition | teachmama.com

 

stamp to spell | early literacy | letter recognition | teachmama.com

Once Maddy was stamped, she went on to Owen, but before she started, I drew four little lines for her.  You can put the letters right on these lines so each letter is in the right place, I said.  I did the same for her name and Brady’s.

It was hard enough for her to follow the letters from the sheet, to the stamp set, to the paper, and keep them all in the correct spot, so I thought the little lines would give her a little help.

 

stamp to spell | early literacy and letter recognition | teachmama.comCora stamped family names.

And that’s it.  Cora stamped out family names, Owen stamped his buddy’s note, and when Maddy was finished with her work, she stamped a few fancy pictures for her pals.  Quick, easy, and worthwhile time spent for everyone, building words, writing letters, and stamping to spell, all the while practicing fine motor skills and spelling.

Our kiddos don’t always have to write in order to learn letters and words; in fact, sometimes when we mix things up a bit, they’re even more interested in ‘playing’ and (secretly) learning.

Want some other cool ideas for creating words and sending messages? Check out:

Have fun and feel free to link up any other ideas you have–I’m always up for more sneaky fun ways of spending time with my kiddos!

 

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books as gifts: holiday ideas for kids

books as gifts

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books as gifts

 

For any occasion, books are my go-to gift.

From baby showers to birthdays, graduations from preschool or highschool, for well-wishing or comfort-giving, books are a rockstar way to show people you care.

This holiday, my pal Allie and I have been sharing a ton of our book-giving recommendations over at the Scholastic Raise a Reader blog.

I’m sharing only a few of our picks here.

Please hop on over to Scholastic’s Raise a Reader to learn more about the books, picks, and ideas.

Here’s the skinny:

  • Books as Gifts–Holiday Ideas for Kids:

boxed sets for toddlers

great boxed sets for toddlers

book sets like:

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gifts for all kinds of princessesprincess books: gifts for every kind of princess

books like:

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best reading gifts for digital kidsbest reading gifts for digital kids

gifts like:

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10 ebooks for older readers10 eBooks: must-haves for older readers

I love the Storia eBook versions of these books for older readers (or check out the hardcopies below):

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book sets for kids who love adventure and mystery

book sets for kids who love adventure and mystery

book sets like:

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find best bookshow to find the perfect book gift for kids: using Scholastic’s Book Wizard

Not sure what to get but know for sure your child has some favorite authors, themes, or genres?

Check out Scholstic’s Book Wizard for more recommendations, catered specifically to your loved ones’ needs and levels!

Just a start here, friends. Just a start!

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the polar express night: a holiday family tradition

the polar express night: a holiday family tradition

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polar express night The following guest post is written by Karen Blake. Karen is a teacher, mom of three, and aunt of many.  She’s a lover of traditions and is quite honestly one of the most creative and crafty friends I have.

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Traditions are my favorite.

And Christmas traditions are the absolute BEST!

My husband, Doug, and I have  a number of fun traditions with our three little ones, Keegan (4 years old), Brigid (2) and Declan (10 months), but one of my all-time favorite traditions was started way before my little family of five was created.

That tradition is Polar Express Night, or as my nieces and nephews like to call it, P.E.N.  And this holiday tradition was put into place way before the movie came to the big screen!

  • Polar Express Night–A Holiday Family Tradition:

Here’s a little bit of history on how this night came about.  I’ll try my best to make it brief, but I want you to see how this fun family event has evolved.

I went to college to become a teacher.  It was in my children’s literature class, that I discovered Chris Van Allsburg’s  book, The Polar Express.

polar express night - teachmama.com

I fell in love with this story and it was on that day that I knew I would do something special with my students once I graduated and had my very own classroom.

Well, that dream came true.  Every single year, I would read The Polar Express to my students.

The students would bring blankets and sit on the floor, and I would hand out hot chocolate and cookies and then read the story.  At the end, I would give each child a bell. I called each student separately and as I put the bell around their neck, I would say to them:

polar express quote: teachmama.com

I always teared up when I did this, too, and I was sure my fifth graders thought I was a nut!

This classroom tradition was special to me, but it wasn’t until former students would come back to school to visit during the holidays, wearing their bells and telling me how they will never forget our Polar Express Day, that made me realize what that message really meant to them.

So, because of this, I started a Polar Express Night with my nieces and nephews (who were, and still are, the world to me!).

How Polar Express Night (P.E.N.) began:

When I started P.E.N, there were seven nieces and nephews.  This was 12 years ago.  Since then, we have gained two more nephews, one more niece and my three babies.  I was single and living on my own in my small townhouse when I invited my 7 nieces and nephews (ranging from age 2-9) over for a special story.

polar express night - teachmama.com

They were so cute and little and so very excited.  I did exactly what I had been doing in my classroom.

We read the story, drank hot cocoa (with lots and lots of marshmallows and whipped cream, of course) and cookies and they each received their bell.  Those were the simple days.

Oh my, how P.E.N has grown! 

My 2nd year, I decided to have them all spend the night.  It was just the best!  We all got in our jammies, ate pizza and went on with the tradition we started the year before.  I couldn’t give them bells again, so they all received a special holiday mug from me.

polar express night - teachmama.com

polar express night - teachmama.com

The whole night and the gifts just got bigger and bigger as the years went on!  This is why still today, I hold P.E.N– and even the niece and nephew that are in college can’t wait for this night.

Each P.E.N is unique and special. 

I wanted each P.E.N. to be unique and special, so in addition to the book, we would have an activity.

But of course, each year had to be different.

polar express night - teachmama.com

Here are some of our yearly P.E.N activities:

The year that new traditions started.

The year that The Polar Express movie came out on DVD and that really helped with “activity time”!  That’s when new traditions started.

We now start with the book and then we put the movie on and pop the popcorn (everyone has a job: marshmallow person, chocolate shaver, pour the packet of hot cocoa helper, whipped cream squirter, stirrer, server, etc).

polar express night - teachmama.com

We don’t drink our hot chocolate or eat our cookies until that scene of the movie comes on!  Honestly, we start the movie, hit pause when that specific train scene comes on and then we all grab our cup of yumminess and handful of cookies and we sing along to the Hot Chocolate song.

And yes, the kids have aged and they are no longer ages 2-7, they are now 12 years older and still singing and having fun.

So, for the past several years, the Polar Express Night plan has been:

  1. eat pizza,
  2. read the book,
  3. watch the movie (with all of the treats),
  4. do an activity.

Some of the activities have been:

P.E.N has a new home and continues to grow.

In 2007, I was newly married and in my new house.  I’m not sure my husband knew what he was getting into!  I was now out of my small townhouse and in my new home, which meant more room!

polar express night - teachmama.com

Thank goodness, because everyone was bigger and this gave P.E.N a new level of excitement.  Aunt Karen had more space to run around and we didn’t have to sleep on top of each other.

Each year that we gained a new niece or nephew, it too brought a new level of excitement.  The older kids were excited to share this special night with their new cousin.  Most of the kids didn’t start the sleepover part until they were 4 or older, but we never let them think they were missing out on anything.  They stayed until the movie ended and we just pretended it was bedtime after that!

And when Karen’s babies arrived?

I couldn’t wait to have my own children and have them be a part P.E.N too, but when my first child was due two months before Christmas I just didn’t know what I was going to do.  Do I have Polar Express Night with a two-month-old?

Silly question, Karen, of course you do!  What would Christmas be without it?

So, when you are the aunt of 9 nieces of nephews and have your newborn little son, you have Polar Express Night and you have a blast.  And when you have 10 nieces and nephews, a 2 year old and a 4 month old SUPER colicky baby girl, you still have Polar Express Night, because again, what would Christmas be without it?

And then when you have a 3 year old, 17 month old, and you’re 8 months pregnant, you STILL have P.E.N, because what would Christmas be without it?!

No regrets.  None.  I would be sad if I didn’t have those memories.  Who needs sleep anyway??!!

Polar Express Night is everyone’s favorite.

So, now we have a total of 13 beautiful people that look forward to this tradition.  My youngest, Declan, will experience his first this year, and it will be memorable for all.  Every niece and nephew finds the excitement in introducing this tradition to their little cousin.

My toughest part of the night? What creative activity and gift do I come up with?  I put that pressure on myself, because I want to make it perfect for them, but I know that isn’t the important part.

polar express night - teachmama.com

polar express night - teachmama.com

Some of the gifts I’ve given are:

  • the holiday t-shirt,
  • the mug,
  • a snowman making kit,
  • a grab bag,
  • Polar Express pillow cases,
  • gift cards to their favorite places,
  • and many more.

My favorite?  The “I survived Aunt Karen’s Polar Express Night” t-shirt!

polar express quote

The best part of that was when we all happened to go to church at the same time the day after P.E.N and all of the kids were in their t-shirt!  This sure did make me smile, and I laughed out loud when someone tapped my mother on the shoulder and said, “Who is Aunt Karen and what is Polar Express Night?”

Memories to last a lifetime.

The most important thing is that a group of boys and girls that love being together are making memories that will last a long time. Maybe they will even continue this tradition years and years down the road when I’m just “too tired”!!!  That won’t be anytime soon, though–I can guarantee that!

I love to hear the whole gang discuss the memorable moments.

polar express quote

They like to remember the laughs that they have had, the arguments on who would be the “whipped cream squirter” for the night, what team won family trivia, who had the best gingerbread house, and we always find ourselves trying to list the gifts that they received each year.  I will admit, some have been quite memorable!

What P.E.N means to me.

I’m looking forward to my 2013 P.E.N.  I’m sure that some of the teenage nieces and nephews may think they are getting a bit old for it, but I believe that deep down, they  just don’t want to miss out and truly do love it as much as I do.  Hopefully when they all wake up the next day, and I feed them their stacks of pancakes and piles of bacon (I truly feel like a diner cook), they will think, “I’m so glad I didn’t miss out on this.”

polar express night - teachmama.com

I recently emailed my college niece and asked her what this night means to her.  Here is her response:

“Polar express night means a lot to me. It’s not just time to spend with cousins, because we do that plenty during the year, but it really makes us appreciate each other.  We all have roles to play and we know everyone’s favorite part of both the movie and the night in general. For some, it’s the cookies, for others it trivia, and for some it’s hot chocolate.

One thing that has been pretty special is welcoming new cousins to it. When we started, Ryan didn’t sleep over, or James and last year James did for the first time. Not to mention your new babies, that adds a great addition, not just because they are cute, but because we become more responsible with them around.

We have more tolerance for each other -which is a little bit bad to say- but through those arguments/tiffs that occur every once and while we are given an opportunity to apologize and grow. polar express quote 2

Christmas day is wonderful, as is Christmas Eve, however Polar Express Night offers something extra that those other days don’t. It is a night to spend with the people that will be your friends for life, the people you can tell anything to, laugh with and cry with. They have felt the same sadness as you, and the same pride, that comes with being a member of the Collins family. I love Polar Express night and couldn’t imagine Christmas without it.”

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!  And remember, believe in the magic of Christmas!

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, Karen,  for sharing this fun and meaningful holiday tradition with us!

——————————–

karen blake guest post teachmama.comKaren spent 13 years in the classroom, teaching 5th grade and doing what she could to make her students’ learning meaningful and magical. Now, she’s at home raising her 4, 2, and 1 year old, tutoring students, and working for Rendi, where she captures families’ magical memories for sharing and display.  Right now, she’s most likely busy planning this year’s Polar Express party for her many little bell-ringers.

Find out more about Rendi and check out Karen’s pins on family and learning!

Looking for more wintertime activities to add to your family’s traditions? Check out:

Or check out any of teachmama’s posts on Christmas or traditions!
fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

our cookie baking day: favorite family annual holiday tradition

holiday baking day cookies

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

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

All. Day. Long.

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

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

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

It’s a favorite family annual tradition.

Here’s the skinny. . .

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

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

Kiss Cookie Recipe 2013 Teachmama

Kiss Cookie Recipe 2013 Teachmama

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

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

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

holiday baking day cookies -

holiday baking day cookies

holiday baking day cookies

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

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

holiday baking day cookies

holiday baking day cookies

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

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

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

We’ve spilled bags of chocolate chips.

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

holiday baking day cookies

Some years are easier than others.

How we schedule our day:

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

 

holiday baking day cookies

holiday baking day cookies

holiday baking day cookies

 

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

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

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

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

holiday baking day cookies

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

holiday baking with kids eBook

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

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

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

 

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

holiday baking with kids eBook: 15 kid-friendly, family-favorite recipes and treats

holiday baking with kids

post contains affiliate links

 

 

holiday baking with kids eBook on teachmama.com

It’s no secret that I am a crazy huge fan of getting kids in the kitchen.

Early and often, let’s tie those aprons onto our littles, pull the stepstools out, and let our kids cook, bake, and make meals with us.  But let’s plan a bit and put our kids in the driver’s seat.

Let’s let ’em read and gather ingredients.

Let’s let ’em understand and follow steps.

Let’s let’ ’em measure flour, crack eggs, and drizzle icing on the cookies they put on cooling racks.

Why not?

The kitchen is a classroom right there in the center of so many of our homes. It’s the hub. The happy place. The command station.

holiday baking with kids

So what better way of kicking off this exciting and joyous, sweet-filled season than by bringing our kids into the kitchen for some serious holiday baking?

The holiday baking with kids eBook is here to save the day.  You can grab it for $10.00 which is quite a steal for a book you can use online and in hard copy.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Really. It’s pretty cool.

  • 15 kid-friendly recipes.  Fifteen.  Many never before shared on teachmama.com.

holiday baking with kids eBook teachmama.com

  • Favorites.  Like Kiss Cookies and Chocolate Chip and Sugar Cookies.  And Iced Pumpkin Spice Cookies and Death by Chocolate and Lemon Squares.  And? Our Christmas Morning Ugly Breakfast recipe.

holiday baking with kids ebook from teachmama

  • Made kid-friendly with large, clear font.  Created with attention to what early readers need as they learn and expand their reading skills, the font is large so kids can read it even the recipe book is on the counter and they are standing on a stool.

holiday baking with kids ebook ingredients

  • Layout that works.  Kid-tested for the last five years, this layout really works.

Recipe step-by-step instructions are large and are accompanied by a relevant photo to clarify instructions.  Kids can check off ingredients as they gather them, and if the paper is in a plastic sheet protector, a crayon or dry erase marker will easily wipe clean when finished.  Photos for every ingredient and recipe step.

holiday baking with kids ebook ingredients

  • Consistent format. Actions are in bold. Ingredients are underlined. Photos for almost everything.  The format is consistent. Kids especially thrive on consistency.

See? I’m looking out for you. We’re in this together. I got your back. Always.

 holiday baking with kids eBook teachmama.com

Sure, it’s hard when kids are involved sometimes because the mess may be bigger, or we may be crunched for time, or we may just want to enjoy some peace while kids are watching tv and we can prepare dinner, but as parents, we must jump on these prime opportunities for learning and fun with our kids.

holilday baking with kids ebook print - 1

 

holilday baking with kids ebook print - 2

 

holilday baking with kids ebook print - 3

 

holilday baking with kids ebook print - 4

Ready? Let’s do it.

My friends, the Holiday Baking with Kids eBook is a sweet $10.00.  You can print it as many times as you need, so really, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Mostly because my readers are rockstar and always read their email from me first thing. So I wanted to offer you guys a little gift.

The Holiday Baking with Kids eBook is quite the holiday deal.

HUGE and happy thanks to my awesome mama for always inviting us into the kitchen with her when we were little. I would never be so welcoming into my own kitchen if I hadn’t learned from her as an excellent example.  Big *hugs!* to you, Mom!  Love you!

What about you?  How do you feel about kids in the kitchen?  Is there a favorite recipe I need to add to the next one? Let me know!

fyi: Affiliate links are used in this post.

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

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

post contains affiliate links

 

 

3 cool kids 3 cool books | what we are reading

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

I totally get it.

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

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

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

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

So here’s the skinny. . .

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

Check out the video for the details:

 


 

 

 

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

 

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

Let me know!

 

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

top 2 insider secrets for motivating your kids to read

top 2 ways to motivate kids to read

Every parent hopes that their kids grow up to be readers, right?motivate kids to read

Sure above all, we hope our kids grow to be happy, law-abiding, well-adjusted human beings, but beyond that, wouldn’t it be nice if our kids were readers, too?

Wouldn’t it be awesome if our kids not only knew how to read, but they also really enjoyed reading, choose to read for pleasure, and loved talking to us about the books they’ve read?

Right. It’d be so awesome.

But it doesn’t have to be that far-off of a dream.

There are some things we can do at home–things that don’t cost a million dollars and don’t require all that much effort on our parts. Perhaps a deliberate decision to change, but it’s totally manageable.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Top 2 Insider Secrets for Motivating Your Kids to Read: Having just finished a graduate course called Motivating Students to Read, this information is truly backed by a boatload of research.

It’s not rocket science.

It may not be surprising.

And you may not want to hear it.

But here it is:

 

What do you think?

Ready to take the plunge and really make a difference in your child’s reading?

Let me know–would this work for your child? Have you tried it?