back-to-school shopping: the secret to keeping kids happy AND parents happy

back to school : happy kids, happy parents

back to school shopping Back-to-School shopping can be crazy, stressful, and anxiety-producing for kids and parents alike.

But there are a few things we can do to make this annual event lighter, easier, and more fun for everyone.

We’ve kept our kids actively engaged in our back-to-school shopping ever since they were tiny, and this year was no different. However, as they get older, we make adjustments to keep them in the loop–from beginning to end.

We did a whole lot of pre-shopping research and planning, printed out their shopping lists, and then hit the stores.

And once we were there, we tried Cartwheel from Target that I really think is beyond cool for customizing and personalizing a shopping experience. Easy and free. Two ‘musts’ for anything that I incorporate into my life.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Back-to-School Shopping– The Secret to Keeping Kids Happy and Parents Happy:

Keep kids happy by. . .

back to school price shopping tabletop surprise

back to school price shopping tabletop surprise

 

1. Making them involved from step one.

This year, because we have a rising 4th, 2nd, and 1st grader (UNbelievable!), we had the kids help with even deciding where to do our shopping. As one of our tabletop surprises, they went through the circulars, compared prices, looked at their lists, and made some shopping decisions.

And then? We shopped.

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back to school shopping

 

 

2. Making shopping for supplies a ‘scavenger hunt’.

Each year, I’ve created a ‘kid-friendly’ shopping list for Maddy, Owen, and Cora. Their lists included everything they needed for the year along with hopeful donations for the classroom.

We read through the list together, and then the kids are on their own to search for each item (not really–we do it together!).

back to school shopping

back to school shopping

Each kiddo gets his or her own shopping back, list, and pen or pencil. And they’re free birds.

Need a list?

We’ve used:

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back to school shopping

3. Organizing ‘loot’ after you get home.

The cool thing about this is that not only are kids re-reading the list, you’re getting a chance to see that everything on the list actually makes it into the bags that you’ll take to Open House.

It reminds me of the way kids root through their Halloween loot after Trick-or-Treating–they really do love going through their supplies once shopping is finished.

And if we weren’t able to locate an item? Now’s the time to circle it, highlight it, and make sure we find it before the big day.

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Now it’s our turn.

Keep parents happy by. . .

target cartwheel | teachmama.com

1. Saving money.

Really. Totally one of the most fabulous things out there, Target’s Cartwheel is so crazy cool, it’s nuts.

The concept is simple: you choose up to 16 items you are shopping for, add them to your ‘cartwheel‘ via computer or mobile device, have the checkout person scan your special code at the register, and BAM! you get a huge discount.

And if you use it enough, you can earn badges, awards, and even more savings.   You can actually even link Cartwheel to your Facebook account (though there’s no pressure to do so), and then you get to see what your friends are buying, what they’ve saved, and what you’re missing out on if you don’t start using your own cartwheel.

They’ve got items organized in Collections so shopping is completely easy.

target cartwheel logo

Though admittedly I created my Cartwheel months ago, I let it sit, forgot my login and then re-created my Cartwheel again only recently and then (believe this. . . ) forgot to use it at the checkout for our back-to-school shopping (what is wrong with me?), many of my friends have used it and have saved HUGELY.

How do I know they did? Because I tell them about these great things then forget to use them myself and then thanks to the power of social media, I can tell how much they’ve saved because Cartwheel lets the whole world know (if you want–if you don’t want the world to know, you can adjust your settings). But don’t we all brag about great deals we find? I know I do.

Cartwheel does it for you.  Try it. And let me know what you think.

And then send me a text reminding me to use mine.

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target redcard happy

2. Creating a card that makes sense.

The reality is that I often lose receipts. And I often buy things I need to return. And occasionally I forget to return those items.  It’s a beautifully ridiculous combination, I’m afraid, one is equivalent to nails on a chalkboard for my poor, loving, patient husband.

So the REDcard makes sense for me.  It makes sense for my familia.

No need for me to get into the nitty gritty of the card, but check it out for yourself.  It’s a happy card.

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take charge of ed target

3.  Giving back.

Any time you use your REDcard, not only will you save 5%, but 1% of that savings will go to an eligible K-12 school of your choice.

The program is called Take Charge of Education, and literally all you have to do is visit the site, register your card and choose your school. And tell your friends to do the same. Because at the end of the year, your kids’ school will receive a check–thanks to your spending at Target.

Seriously. So do it. Because you know you spend a handful of cash at Target. Might as well have some of that go back to your school, right?

 

target give with target

 

But the giving doesn’t stop with your school–even though it sure is nice.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: Target has made it a goal to give $1 billion to education by 2015 through their their numerous programs and initiatives, like the incredible School Library Makeovers for one.

They’ve just re-launched Give With Target for a second time–and it’s awesome.

Here’s the deal:  (from the Target site)

Simply select a K–12 school from the list of eligible schools and vote for it weekly until September 21 or until $5 million has been awarded, whichever occurs first. It takes just 25 votes to start. After that, Target will donate $25 to your selected school. Upon receiving 25 votes, each additional vote equals $1 more for up to $10,000 per school. If your favorite school is not on our list, please choose another school.

give with target email screener

Target’s making it insanely easy to share, to vote, and to remind your friends, to, since they’ve all hooked up with Facebook for this one.

You can use their nifty little email template to share the news with your class, PTA, principal, friends, family, you name it. Share it. And if you to, and if you have enough sharing and voting going on, your school can really see some cold, hard cash, thanks to Target.

Just think about the books, equipment, technology, teacher training, and field trips that kind of money can buy. Nuts.

Start sharing, friends! Start the sharing!

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That’s it. We’re at year number five of buying school supplies and doing the elementary school thing, so we’re kind sorta hitting a stride.

No, it’s not perfect. But we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve now to keep kids–and parents–happy for at least a little bit of the experience.target inner circle

What works for your family? Any tricks for maintaining peace or bringing some big smiles to your crew? Do share!

fyi: This is an unsponsored post, written as a parent and educator who wants to share a few good–pretty darn great–things when I see them. As part of Target’s Inner Circle program, I am privy to a behind-the-scenes look at all things Target, but that in no way, shape, or form influences what I write about them.  Honestly, the more I learn, the more I like ’em. 

Please be sure to follow the links for more specific information about these programs and campaigns.

learning during read-alouds: improving fluency

help kids improve fluency

help kids improve fluencyThis is a re-post of a November 16, 2011 post because it’s totally worth revisiting.

 

Fluency is a tricky–but totally important–element of reading comprehension.

No. Question. About it.

And though research is funny about fluency’s roll in reading comprehension, I’m a firm believer in the fact that in order to fully understand what is being read, it must be read fluently.

Lately, improving reading fluency has been my focus for Maddy and Owen. And I’ve realized that there are a ton of ways to make fluency practice fun, and I’ve been reminded that what works for one kiddo won’t always work for another.

Here’s the skinny:

  • Fluency: Fluency is defined by Pikulski & Chard as ‘efficient, effective word-recognition skills that permit a reader to construct the meaning of text. . . fluency is manifested in accurate, rapid, expressive oral reading and is applied during, and makes possible, silent reading comprehension.’

Their definition is a synthesis of the definitions in the Report of the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) and The Literacy Dictionary (Harris & Hodges, 1995), so it’s pretty solid.

I, personally prefer the definition of fluency developed by Mrs. Victoria and her second-grade class (as shared in Cahill & Gregory’s article): Fluency is reading like you talk, not too fast and not too slow, with expression and no sounding out.  It’s also important to understand what you read.

I like that definition. It’s easy and basic and sums up–in language that everyone can understand–the beauty and importance of fluency.

tips for improving reading fluencyModel, model, model fluent reading. We HAVE to.

Though there’s debate over whether or not fluent reading involves comprehension, I’m going to get bold and say I truly believe there has to be a link between the two.  You cannot possibly read fluently without understanding what you’re reading, and you cannot truly understand what you’re reading if you’re not reading fluently.  Right? Right.

There. I said it.

So a few months back, when I was chatting with Maddy about a book she had just read–a simple Junie B. Jones chapter book–and she was unable to tell me what happened, I kind of secretly freaked out.  As I watched and listened and watched and listened some more over the next few days, I realized that something was off.

Maddy was speed-reading and not comprehending.  She sped through each page–skipping words and misreading words and barely breathing or paying attention to punctuation in the least.  And I think that part of the reason was to try to get to the parts of her Junie B. books where Junie B. used the type of language that isn’t permitted at our house.  (Why we have these books in our house, I’m not sure, but that’s a whole other story. . . ).

So I decided that if I was going to practice what I preach and not scream SLOW DOWN!!! Stop! What does that say?! NO!! You’re wrong!! then I needed to do some thinking and moving. And fast.

tips for improving reading fluencyJunie B. books . . . hard for fluency practice.

 

Here’s what I did to help Maddy improve her fluency:

1.  I modeled fluent reading.  I read, read, and read some more. I read the Junie B. books that I can barely stand. The books I want to throw out the window.

And gradually I invited Maddy to read a page here and there, and soon it evolved into me reading every other page. And it’s fine.  It’s better.

tips for improving reading fluency

I still shake my head and tsk and tsk more when Junie speaks like a baby or uses incorrect English grammar, but it’s fine. It won’t be forever.

And as we’re reading different texts together at night, Maddy’s more inclined to read more out loud as her confidence is increasing.

2.  I had her re-read.  For passages that made Maddy really giggle and laugh and widen her eyes at Junie’s horrid behavior, I read the whole passage one time, and then I’d shut the book and pretend to totally freak out.

I can’t believe this. I cannot believe her, Maddy. What is she DOING? Please re-read this paragraph just so I can hear it again. I don’t believe it.

And she gladly re-read.  And if she was speedy, I’d say, remember how it sounded when I read it–make it sound the same way.

3.  We tapped our fingers.  At the beginning, after numerous attempts at modeling and having Maddy re-read only to speed through a passage, I had her tap her thumb and pointer finger together at the end of each sentence.

I said, Okay, I can tell it’s hard to stop reading because you love Junie so much, but I’m having a hard time keeping up. And remember that fluent reading should sound like talking–and we have to talk slow enough so that people can understand what we’re saying, right?So how about after each sentence, we pinch our fingers together–just for a second–to remind us that we need to stop and breathe a sec? Sound okay?

She was game. And after a few awkward sentences, sometimes too-long pauses, the tapping became more natural, more habitual, and eventually her pace slowed to a more natural one.

And now she usually starts out tapping but scraps it a few pages in.

4.  We mixed it up. We read shorter pieces–poetry, magazine articles, news articles, craft books–you name it.

I recognize that Junie B. books can be difficult for fluent reading because (thankfully!) Maddy doesn’t speak like she does, so I wanted Maddy to really hear herself reading short texts that she could read fluently and with ease.  Anything goes–cereal boxes, ingredient lists, photo captions in the newspaper, short magazine blurbs and poems.

And so far, she’s digging it.

5.  We celebrate successes.  When Maddy reads a passage really well–paying attention to text pacing, expression, and content–I try to point out exactly what she did that rocked.  Instead of saying something generic like, Oh that sounded great, or I like how you read that, I really get specific.

Maddy, you sounded exactly like Warren might sound when he said that to Junie.  You really made his voice sound sad.  Or Maddy, love that short pause when you saw the hyphen–that’s exactly what it’s there for–a break.

 how full is your bucket

fyi: This is just a starting point!   There are a bazillion ways to make fluency practice fun–and I am eager to try them out and share the other things we’ve been doing over here–but I needed to initially have Maddy slow down and pay attention to punctuation.  She needed to breathe. And slowly–slowly!–she seems to be engaging more with the text, remembering more, and paying closer attention to the concepts now that she’s paying closer attention to the words on the page.

We’ll see. . . .

 

 More of the skinny:

When I really took a step back and looked at what Maddy was doing as far as reading, I was surprised–and slightly taken–by the fact that she wasn’t able to adequately summarize (or even explain just a little bit!) the texts she was reading.  And she reads a lot.

Ever since she was teeny, Maddy went to bed with a huge pile of books.  And as she read them, we’d either hear a thump! clunk. thump. . . thump, as she dropped them from her bed to the floor, or we’d find a big pile of books next to her tiny body when we checked on her before we turned in for the night.

For a long time, I didn’t worry about Maddy’s reading; she made great strides in Kindergarten and again in first grade, and when she hung out on the same level for a few months last year, neither my husband nor I sweated it. It’s normal for kids to make quick level-leaps in the beginning (especially through Kindergarten and first grade), and often, once they reach a certain point–they kind of stay stagnant.

There are a ton of levels in Kindergarten and grade one; ideally, kiddos move from level A to J during this time, as they move through Early Emergent and Emergent Reader Stages while they’re learning the basic concepts of print, alphabetic principles, phonological awareness, and early phonics.  And then in grade two, the move can seem small–K to P–but the strides are great.   Readers slowly begin to tackle more difficult sentence structures, less repetition, more of a reading comprehension focus.  They hang out in levels for a longer period of time, which is why there is a larger number of books in these level ranges.

This is another simple but totally important reading comprehension strategies as part of my Read-Aloud Learning series. I am LOVING it, and thanks to the following *awesome* articles I used as a reference for this post:

Applegate, M. D., Applegate, A. J. and Modla, V. B. (2009), “She’s My Best Reader; She Just Can’t Comprehend”: Studying the Relationship Between Fluency and Comprehension. The Reading Teacher, 62: 512–521. doi: 10.1598/RT.62.6.5

Cahill, M. A. and Gregory, A. E. (2011), Putting the Fun Back Into Fluency Instruction. The Reading Teacher, 65: 127–131. doi: 10.1002/TRTR.01018

Pikulski, J. J. and Chard, D. J. (2005), Fluency: Bridge Between Decoding and Reading Comprehension. The Reading Teacher, 58: 510–519. doi: 10.1598/RT.58.6.2

independent learning, poetry and play: tabletop surprises

tabletop surprises week 5

post contains affiliate links

 

 

learn and play independently tabletop surprises
The greatest thing about tabletop surprises is that they afford my kids the opportunity for some seriously fun independent learning in cool and creative ways.

Because learning–especially in the summer–should be fun, right?

Right.

This week, we traveled a bit to hang with our familia in the Keystone State, so we only rocked our tabletop surprises four days this week.  And Friday? Our boy celebrated his big numero ocho cumpleanos. So we made our tabletop surprise especially for Owen.

We added a little bit of math, a little bit of reading, a little bit of critical thinking, and a whole lot of on-their-own-time kinda fun.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Independent Learning, Poetry, and Play– Tabletop Surprises:

tabletop surprises mealtime math madness

  • Mealtime Math Madness with Melissa & Doug Math Fact Placemats: This tabletop surprise moved from the work room table to our kitchen table–and it stayed there pretty much all week long.

I’ve always been a fan of mealtime learning, placemat parties, and using the many hours spent at the breakfast table for newspaper reading, sneaky learning, personal discovery, and more.

learning fun placemats tabletop surprise

learning fun placemats tabletop surprise

So when I found this sweet line of fun, wipe-off placemats from Melissa & Doug, I wanted to dance.   Really. Like running man al kinda dance.

We have tried the Alphabet & Numbers set, the Advanced Skills set, the Basic Skills set, and the Math Skills set. We haven’t tried the Fun Skills set (my poor, poor kids).

What I love about these sets is that though the problems are not mixed randomly, my hope is that kids will see patterns in the answers that will help them down the road. I don’t know. I can hope though.

learning fun placemats tabletop surprise

Love the wipe off crayons that are super easy to write with and bright enough to see. Love that there’s one mat each for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division and the answers are on the back of each. So if the kids aren’t up for writing, then at least they can eat and stare at the answers. Maybe the answers will sear into their brains if they look at them long enough. . .

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tabletop surprises day poems

  • Poems–Memorizing & Reciting:  I love poems for so many reasons, but for kids, poems can be a super way of working on reading skills.

Check out how we rocked some serious poetry this week: Reading, Reciting, and Memorizing Poems

Fluency, memorization, and recitation are three big open doors when it comes to poetry, not to mention the creativity, writing skills, language play, critical thinking, and comprehension strategies you can practice.

 

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tabletop surprises day shopping

  • Back-t0-School Shopping & Lists: Our family totally digs Back-to-School shopping, and it’s a tradition to kinda ‘do it up’ every year.

We’ve had the kids use their own school supply shopping lists from day one, and each year I do a little something to support Maddy, Owen, and Cora in their reading and management of their personal lists.

This year, I put them to work even before we arrived at the store.

back to school price shopping tabletop surprise

back to school price shopping tabletop surprise

 

I printed out supply lists from the school website, and I let them go.

Owen in particular had a great time trying to figure out the best places to buy Skylanders most inexpensively, and once he figured that out, he spent a few minutes plowing through his list.

The challenge was having them incorporate the coupons I had on the table–that involved some serious math practice.

Though this tabletop surprise required more support than I had anticipated, it was worth it. Now we have our back-to-school shopping plan outline for the weekend.

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tabletop surprises day free electronics

  • Free Electronics:  Really, for Owen’s birthday, all he wanted was a free day for electronics.

So that’s what we gave him.

Free reign of the Wii, the Nintendo DS, the LeapFrog LeapPad, the LeapFrog GS, the iPad, and the iPad mini, and my boy was in hog heaven. The best gift I could have given him, he said.

No Game Time Tickets. No timers. Nothin’.

I had to do a lot of deep breathing to ease my anxiety over my kids’ brain cells being zapped by the second, but surprisingly, they didn’t spend all day on electronics. tabletop surprises buttonJust a whole lot of it.   Gulp.

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Stay on top of the Tabletop Surprises by checking out the past few weeks if you’ve missed them:

Or check out some fun ideas from a our Smart Summer Challenge a few summers back.

 

fyi: affiliate links included in this post

reading, reciting, and memorizing poems

memorizing and reciting poems

post contains affiliate links

 

reading, reciting, and memorizing poems

 

For our tabletop surprise today, we rocked some major poetry.

Knowing that poetry reading is sometimes less intimidating than reading other texts and knowing that right now my Owen really isn’t into reading anything that doesn’t have the word ‘Skylanders‘ in it, I needed to think outside the box.

My kids usually dig poetry, and they have been digging the flexibility of our tabletop surprises and they totally dig getting in front of a few people and hamming it up.

So today? We did some reading, reciting, and memorizing of poems.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Reading, Reciting, and Memorizing Poems: That’s it.

That’s what we did.

reading, reciting, and memorizing poems

I put a handful of poetry books on the table, with a note that said:

Today:

1. Find a poem (or tw0!) that you love

2. Practice reading it over and over and over

3. Can you memorize it?

4. Read it to our family tonight!

And I let ’em at it.

I set out some of our favorite poetry books:

reading, reciting, and memorizing poems

We talked about ways to memorize things:

  • copying it over and over
  • reading it repeatedly
  • reading it line by line, and remembering it by sentences
  • recording yourself reading it and listening to it over and over
  • committing it to memory by one or two lines, and adding as you go

 But the emphasis was not on memorizing–that was only if they wanted to.  The emphasis was on reading the poem in the absolute best way you possibly could. To really ‘own’ the poem like it was your very own.

 

reading, reciting, and memorizing poems

No nursery rhyme books today. We went big. Or kind of.

The only rule was that everyone had to find a poem that had as many lines as his or her age.

That way, no one could grab a 2-liner and call it a day.  They had a total blast challenging me to find a poem with as many lines as my age, but we finally agreed that I could put a few together to add up to all of my years.

Whatever it takes, right?

reading, reciting, and memorizing poems

Cora carried her book around for most of the morning, reading and reading and reading her chosen poem.

Sometimes she’d read it silently, but most times she demanded that someone watch her and listen. Most of us gladly obliged.

When my husband got home from work, even he practiced a few poems.

And after dinner, we had our poetry recitation!

Maddy was the only gal who memorized hers. And proudly wore the Harry Potter robe she’s been sporting for the last week.  Owen copied his onto a connected stretch of Post-it Notes, and Cora read hers from the book.

reading, reciting, and memorizing poems

We clapped, hooted, and hollered when someone was finished, and we tried to give them meaningful praise for what they did well: You read that in a way that sounded just like you were talking! Excellent phrasing–we could really understand that long poem better when you read it that way! You said each word so clearly! No WAY you memorized that 10-line poem! Way to use your brain!

It was totally fun. So we’ll definitely do it again before summer’s end.

Excuse me while I head out to read some more poetry. . .

 

Why should we do this with our kids? Because teeny, little poetry packs a big punch. That’s why.

Lyndsay A. Gurnee, of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute says that “the use of poetry in the classroom is the best way to reach out to learners of different academic levels by activating the imagination of each individual student” and that is absolutely the reason I tried it with my crew (Gurnee, Lyndsay A.  Motivating Reluctant Readers Through Poetry, Yale University: Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/ 8.6.13).

More on why poetry rocks:

Check out:

  • Reading Poetry in the Middle Grades because even though the poems may be a higher level for elementary school kids, I truly believe the concepts and methods for approaching the poems can be adapted for younger readers.

 

fyi: affiliate links are included in this post

creative hands-on learning for kids: tabletop surprises

creative, hands on learning for kids | tabletop surprises

post contains affiliate links

 

creative hands-on learning for kids: tabletop surprises

 

Tabletop Surprises have been a saving grace for us this summer.

Quick and easy learning on my kids’ own time.  They’re digging it.

This week we incorporated some serious creative hands-on learning that involved critical thinking and math, science, and literacy skills. I’d say that by far our first two days were Maddy, Owen, and Cora’s fave activities hands down.

What are Tabletop Surprises? If you follow me on Instagram, you’d know what I’m talking about because each day I’ve shared a quick photo of each day’s surprise each day of the week.

Tabletop Surprises are fun learning or creative thinking opportunities for the kids on our craft room table. Just sitting there.

Waiting for someone to come along and try ‘em out.

 

This week we got creative and crafty.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Creative Hands-on Learning for Kids–Tabletop Surprises: Each day is a little different.  And honestly? This has been so much fun for me as I think of cool things for the kids to do.

tabletop surprises recyclables

  • Create & Invent With Recyclables: Really, all I did for Monday was put out a handful of random recyclables, and the kids went to work trying to design and create something that could help someone or something.

I wasn’t sure how it would go, but it was the hit of the week, by far.

invention with recyclables

invention with recyclables

I put a little note on a big box of recyclables—paper rolls, tubes from the toulle from our fairy skirts a while back, plastic containers, you name it. I didn’t put out every recyclable we had; rather, I tried to keep it simple while at the same time provide them with a range of objects that would be usable and cool.

I wanted to keep it open for the kids and make the sky the limit.

invention with recyclables

invention with recyclables

Along with the recyclables, I put a roll of duct tape and a roll, a roll of clear packing tape, and a roll of masking tape on the table.  And a few pairs of scissors.

Maddy, Owen, and Cora literally sat at the table for an hour or more. And when they finished, they took turns presenting what they created to a small  audience of each other and me.

invention with recyclables

invention with recyclables

Though none will end up taking first place in Invent America! this activity kept their brains moving and creativity flowing.

Maddy created what she set out to be an automatic dog feeder but that morphed into a binocular system of sorts.

invention with recyclables

invention with recyclables

invention with recyclables

invention with recyclables

focus: Creative thinking, fine motor, engineering, critical thinking, speaking, and presenting

Seriously? So fun.

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  • Playing with Flowers:  We’ve done this about once a year, and the kids love it. Whenever we have older flowers that are on the outs—ready to be tossed—I let the kids pull them apart.

Because who doesn’t like to have permission to pull petals off of flowers?

On three separate trays, I put a paper plate with several flower stems.  I included a small sheet of Parts of a Flower in case they wanted to accurately identify any of the parts, but they weren’t really into it.

flowers for learn and play

learn and play with flowers

puzzles melissa and doug - 10

I also included a small life cycle of a flower book for Cora that she could color and label as well.

This activity ended up moving from our craft room table to our back porch, and it quickly transitioned from a calm, cool, indoor science lesson into an attempt to make potions and perfume.

puzzles melissa and doug - 14

puzzles melissa and doug - 15

puzzles melissa and doug - 16

Maddy, Owen, and Cora used jars for water and smashed and smushed petals, tiny pieces of stem, grass and dirt.  They added yellow pollen, tiny parts of the flower centers, and every petal they could find.

focus: Sensory discovery, fine motor, creative thinking, free play, science

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tabletop surprises day learn to draw

  • Drawing Lessons:  Drawing lessons was not at all my intention today, but I stumbled across the most amazing site packed full of free resources that I had to use them.

In my opinion, this was the coolest thing we did all week.

I literally stumbled across the most amazing site by Donna Young called Donna Young’s printables and resources. On it is such a wealth of resources for at-home learning, it’s nuts.

learn to draw with donna young

drawing lessons with donna young

I put a little note on the table explaining what they needed to do, and I let ’em at it.

Though it’s difficult to sort through it all, I started with about four sheets of Drawing blocks for younger children and several of Drawing Ia.  I wanted it to be engaging without being too tough for them.

They loved it.  A few blank sheets stuck to a clip board, a handful of newly sharpened pencils, and the kids found time throughout the day to sit down, draw, and relax.

We’ll definitely return to this site, as the options seem to be endless.  Though I totally love and appreciate free play, open-space creativity, and free-form drawing, I also love that this gives kids a challenge–replicating lines and shapes and working hand-eye coordination.

focus: fine motor, hand eye coordination

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tabletop surprises day floor puzzles

No note needed, I gathered all of our big Melissa & Doug floor puzzles and put them on the table. Many we’ve picked up at yard sales over the years, many were gifted to us, and some we’ve bought ourselves.

puzzles huge and happy floor puzzles

Some, the kids can do with their eyes closed. Others, like the 100- piece and 300-piece puzzles take more time, but they’re willing to work at it.

By the end of the day, our living room floor was carpeted in a huge T-Rex and a bunch of underwater scenes, horses running, presidents, USA maps, the planets, desert, you name it.

focus: fine motor, gross motor, problem-solving

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tabletop surprises day story starters

Essentially, Story Starters is a free site that lets users choose a theme and then helps them generate ideas For more on Scholastic Story Starters, check out the quick post I wrote about Story Starters for Scholastic Raise a Reader blog.

story starters computer

story starters computer

The kids really liked using this site, and though they did need support at the beginning, soon they could manage and navigate on their own.

The cool thing is that with every writing piece, kids can save, download, or print their final product.  Newspaper articles, journal entries, postcards, you name it.

And for activities like this, I do feel thankful that we have two tiny Asus Netbooks–great size for little hands, for sure.

story starters computer

story starters computer

story starters computer

 

And when stories are printed, they are formatted in cool ways. Kids loved this.  And they loved that they could share what they did with their dad when he got home from work.

For Cora and Owen, I let them get started with typing and then I took over as they dictated. I wanted their ideas to flow and didn’t want them to be hindered by their weak typing skills. It worked out great.  Maddy liked trying to type on her own, and I let her go.

With all free writing, I didn’t get hung up on spelling, punctuation, or the like. I wanted the kids to freely write, get all of their ideas down, and not worry about mechanics.

Again, something we’ll definitely revisit.  Totally worth it.

tabletop surprises button

And that’s it. Week four of our free-bird weeks of summer, and we’re enjoying every day.

Stay on top of the Tabletop Surprises by checking out the past few weeks if you’ve missed them:

Or check out some fun ideas from a our Smart Summer Challenge a few summers back.

 

fyi; affiliate links are included

math, literacy, and creative summer learning: tabletop surprises

math, literacy, and creative summer learning: tabletop surprises

math, literacy, and creative summer learning: tabletop surprises

We’re week three into our tabletop surprises, and this week, we rocked some sneaky math, literacy, and creative thinking.

The kids woke up to some easy activities and ones that required more thinking—and two that required more movement. Sign language was one of the week’s activities.

The basis for tabletop surprises is just to let Maddy, Owen, and Cora find their own time to do these little activities that sneak in a little bit o’ learning and fun into their days.

They take all of five seconds to set up and prepare, and it’s a whole lot of pulling from resources that are around the house—from our own focused learning at home, or from my previous classroom teaching experience.

Fun stuff.

Here’s the skinny . . .

  • Math, Literacy, And Creative Summer Learning– Tabletop Surprises:   Set up and then go. That’s it.

We’re three weeks in. Here we go!

tabletop surprises sudoku

  • Sudoku: That’s right. Sudoku is hard. Number sense and critical thinking and logic all wrapped up into one pretty, griddy package.

Sudoku puzzles are logic-based number puzzles.

I found mine on KrazyDad, where I found the mazes a few weeks back.  Free. Tons of them. So worth checking out. I totally heart KrazyDad.

sudoku  tabletop surprises

sudoku  tabletop surprises

I printed some Easy ones for Monday’s tabletop surprises.   Even some of  Easy level ones were tough for the kids.

I’ll definitely throw Sudoku  in the mix again before the end of the summer because the puzzles were that hard for the kids. I’m not sure how we hadn’t tried them before, but Sudoku was on my mind from the cool outdoor Sudoku on this year’s we teach: summertime learning eBook.

Maddy, Owen, and Cora solved the Kid ones quickly—and they should have. They were super easy. But the Easy ones really challenged them. I think I need to learn more about how to solve them, some of the tricks and logic strategies myself, and then I’ll give them the skinny before trying this activity again.

My plan? To read up on the Sudoku Space site which has a pretty detailed explanation behind the puzzles.

tabletop surprises sign language cover

  • Learning With Sign language: I got these great sign language cards from a friend who moved a few years ago, and every so often I pull them out for the kids.

For our tabletop surprise on Tuesday, I simply gave them the following challenge:

1. Put the cards in ABC order.

2. Learn your name in sign language.

3. Learn two more words of your choice in sign language.

4. Show me what you’ve learned!

sign language cards  tabletop surprises

sign language cards  tabletop surprises

Owen ran with it and impressed Maddy, Cora, and I while we ate breakfast. He’s my early bird and usually gets his tabletop challenges finished before the girls finish breakfast.

Maddy and Cora move a little later, usually tackling the challenge after lunch or late afternoon.

Consensus was they liked this one.

Want to give it a go? Download and print one of the free sign language cards from the ASL site or these little sign language alphabet printables from abcteach.

tabletop surprises day money

I think the problem was that I didn’t have a lot of money out for them to play with—we didn’t have a ton of coins to actually play with or fill the coin wrappers. I get it. It’d be hard to spend time counting coins and then not actually have $2 in nickels to fill a wrapper completely.

Anyway, it was out on Wednesday, and they enjoyed sorting the coins from the non-coins (Chuck-E-Cheese tokens, foreign coins, random small, coin-like objects).  I think you can grab coin wrappers at any bank (at least you could a while back), or you can find them very inexpensive on Amazon.

tabletop surprises letter writing

  • Letter Writing: The other day, Cora received a little ‘hello’ note from one of her classmates, and it reminded me of how much kids—mine, especially—enjoy getting mail.

So on Thursday, I put out some note paper, pens, and envelopes and a little note that said:

Send a little ‘hello’ to

-Nana! -Cousins! -Grandparents!  -Friends!

tabletop surprises letter writing

tabletop surprises letter writing

letter writing tabletop surprises - 4

What got them stuck was the envelope and how to address it properly.  I made a little sample, and it helped a bit.  Spelling their cousins’ names? Also tough.

Clearly we need to do more practice here or at least I should update our Family Playing cards.  I’ll add it to my list.

I just liked how this got Maddy, Owen, and Cora thinking, writing, and sending a little love.  We need to do it more often, for sure.

tabletop surprises descriptive writing

  • Descriptive Writing: Inspired by our Stop, Observe, and Write activity from last summer’s Everyday Journals, I threw a card from the Everyday Journals on a clipboard along with some journals and notebooks.

We had breakfast out on the back porch, and then the kids took some time to find a quiet spot and write.

descriptive writing tabletop surprises -

descriptive writing tabletop surprises -

It was quick, it was easy, and my hope was that they would be able to tune into what they saw, heard, smelled, felt, and maybe even tasted as they sat, listened, and wrote.

The key? Modeling. You sit and write with them, sharing what you wrote so that they hear what descriptive writing sounds like.

And that’s it. Just an average, thoughtful, summer week.  And along with some trips to the pool and nearby parks, some errands and chores, it was a pretty sweet week.  Though it’s crazy, and I’m behind on all of my work, emails, and cleaning, I am thankful and blessed.

Stay on top of the Tabletop Surprises by checking out the past few weeks if you’ve missed them:

Or check out some fun ideas from a our Smart Summer Challenge a few summers back.

learn and play independently: tabletop surprises week 2

tabletop surprises week two

post contains affiliate links

 

tabletop surprises week two

 

One rockin thing about tabletop surprises is that kids can learn and play independently. On their own time, when they’re up for it.

And that flexibility has been huge for us since our summer swim and dive schedule has been totally crazy for the last few weeks.

Another cool thing about creating these open invitations for exploration is that tabletop surprises allow: one day something free and crafty, another day something that is a little more thought-provoking and complex, an activity that requires a bit more time.

Survey says that these are a big win for us so far.

If the kids are game, I’m game.

This week, we used some math and reading skills, played with water and worked those fine motor skills.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Learn and Play Independently–Tabletop Surprises Week 2:

tabletop surprises button

Quick refresher: Tabletop Surprises are fun learning or creative thinking opportunities for the kids on our craft room table. Just sitting there.  Waiting for someone to come along and try ‘em out.  Open invitations to play.

Here’s what we did this week. . .

tabletop surprises mad minute math

math facts fun pens tabletop surprises -

  • Mad Minute Math Facts with Crazy Pens:  I am a huge fan of crazy pens. Added to anything, any sort of work, crazy pens up the fun factor by like a million percent. At least in my book.

So Mad Minute Math facts, paired with crazy pens– our bumblebee pens, some fun flip flop ones, and other crazy pens, were a pretty decent hit for the kids this week.

math facts fun pens tabletop surprises -

math facts fun pens tabletop surprises - 2

I use Mad Practice Sheet –a free website where you can put in any parameters you want, and the mad minute practice sheet is ready for you to print immediately. Love. It.

I printed several double-digit addition sheets, some single digit addition and subtraction, some multiplication, and some money problems. All free.

tabletop surprises day water fun

tabletop surprises day water

  • Indoor Water Fun:  My kids love playing with water, so all I did today was set up a few trays with–you got it–water.

I raided our small recycle bin and added some recyclables–small yogurt cups, play-doh ones, spice containers, and tiny glasses–that were clean and were waiting for a fun opportunity like this to arise.

I brought out some syringes that we’ve used before, and we were good to go. Ready to roll.

Added them to the tray, poured a little h2o in the big container, and that was it.  The novelty of playing with water in the house–in the craft room–where we normally have a no snacks, no drink rule made this activity especially fun for the kids.

tabletop surprises day magazine hunt cover

  • Magazine Reading & Magazine Hunt: Magazines are a great way to sneak in some meaningful reading time when you don’t have a whole lot of time to spare.

So I put out a bunch of magazines we had around the house–ones that my kids subscribe to or that we picked up along the way.

Along with the magazines, I had the Magazine Hunt cards out so that Maddy, Owen, and Cora could grab a card, hunt for what it asked for, and be on their merry way.  I think Maddy just grabbed a magazine and hit the couch.  Owen and Cora might have tried a card or two. Either way? Fun.

abletop surprises day puzzles

puzzle morning tabletop surprises

  • Puzzles, puzzles, puzzles: Simple. We were running crazy on Thursday, so three puzzles did the trick.

Only three: a 100 piece dinosaur puzzle, Melissa & Doug Construction Puzzle Set, and the Alphabet Giraffe puzzle.

puzzle morning tabletop surprises

puzzle morning tabletop surprises

puzzle morning tabletop surprises

These are puzzles that were small enough to fit on the table and were ones that we’ve had for a while. Old favorites.

Though the 100-piece didn’t get finished, the other ones were done and re-done throughout the day.

I think we found the Alphabet Giraffe puzzle at a yard sale years ago; the best $1.00 I ever spent because Maddy, Owen, and Cora have played with this for years and years and years.

 tabletop surprises day stencils

  • Stencils: We haven’t used stencils in forEVER.

So when I put these out on the table, I thought that either the kids would love them or totally ignore them.  They really did both.  Owen and Cora loved them and Maddy ignored them.

But I’m leaving them out over the weekend in case they feel stencil-inclined on Saturday or Sunday.

tabletop surprises day stencils
tabletop surprises day stencils

What I think drove the kids to the table, maybe even more than the stencils, was the cool paper I sent the stencils out with: frame paper from Melissa & Doug. Very fun–big sheets with a different frame on each page so that a masterpiece looks like a framed work of art even if it’s a simple stencil drawing.

That’s it–just a fun bit o’ learning for the week. . . got lots of cool stuff in store for the upcoming week because swim and dive are over!

fyi: Affilliate links are used in this post for your convenience. Use them and a teeny, tiny, super-small part goes to us–and we thank you!

how to help kids choose just right books

how to help kids choose just right books

how to help kids choose just right booksIt’s hard to watch a child struggle trying to read a book that is too difficult, especially when the kiddo is adamant about plowing through it.  Whether the struggles be with decoding the words on the page, with reading fluently, or with understanding what’s being read, it’s hard to watch.

Because though for many of us reading comes naturally and without thought, for others, reading is a continual struggle.  A long and laborious, difficult and painstaking process.

That’s why book choice is so important.

Muy importante.

Like really, really, really important.

Though children do need to be able to choose the books they read, if the child doesn’t choose a book that ‘fits’, it can really be downhill from there. He or she can get into a pattern of choosing books that won’t fit, making reading difficult and unpleasant.

But there are techniques and strategies that parents can employ to help guide children into choosing the ‘best fit’ books for their kids—books that match the child’s own strengths and abilities.

Nothing fancy or difficult, just a few quick reminders that your child can commit to memory that will ultimately provide him or her with skills that will make trips to the school library, media center, or book corner a whole lot more meaningful.

Here’s the skinny . . .

  • How to Help Kids Choose Just Right Books: I say it loud and clear right here. . .

 

And if you want the bookmarks to use for your own kiddos or classroom, please help yourself.

Best Fit Bookmarks: best fit books bookmarks

best fit bookmarks | teachmama.com

best fit books bookmarks | teachmama.com

I’d appreciate a pin, link back, tweet, or shout if you do choose to use them.  And if you have suggestions, I’d love to hear ’em!

(And if you choose to share them, which we hope you do, please link to this post instead of to the attachment page! Thank you!)

How do you help kids choose just right books? Let me know what has worked for you in the comments section below.

kid-friendly july 4th treat: flag cake

july 4th flag cake

july 4th flag cakeOne of our favorite summertime traditions involves sweets (big surprise).

Every year for as long as I can remember, the kids and I have made a July 4th flag cake.  It’s simple. It’s sweet. And it’s so pretty, it’s hard to take.

It’s a 100% kid-friendly July 4th treat: the traditional flag cake.

All you need is a boxed cake mix, cool whip, strawberries, and blueberries, and you’re ready to rock and roll.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Traditional July 4th Flag Cake:  Though there’s nothing magical or wild about this cake, kids love it.

And like any family tradition, they look forward to doing it each year. They love buying the supplies, baking the cake, and assembling the flag.

They love bringing it to parties or picnics, and they love eating it.

It’s super-easy, which I love.  Perfect for parents who are trying to get it all done and make it look like they’re doing it in style.

Here’s how you do it:

july 4 flag cake

july 4 flag cake

1.  Clean the berries & bake the cake.  Be sure to get the kids involved. Have them read the recipe and follow directions, or allow them to add ingredients, crack eggs, or scrape the pan.

july 4 flag cake

 

2.  Ice it with Cool-Whip.  Because really? Cool Whip rocks.

We just like the way the whipped topping makes it taste more like a shortcake and less like a heavy, fruit-topped birthday cake.

july 4 flag cake

july 4 flag cake

3.  Cut the strawberries in half.

july 4 flag cake

 

july 4 flag cake

4.  Make your flag!  We usually do four lines of six blueberries in the upper left hand corner for the ‘stars’ and five rows of strawberries for the ‘stripes’.

Helpful Hint: use a toothpick to poke tiny holes where the fruit should go so that they stay in a straight line.

july 4 flag cake

 

july 4 flag cake

That’s it. Super-easy. Super-fun.

A sweet way of ringing in Independence Day, if you ask me.

july 4 flag cake

 

How do you ring in the 4th? What are your family’s Independence Day traditions?

how to host a summer reading book swap event

summer reading book swap | teachmama.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the skinny. . .

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

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

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

summer reading book swap invite

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

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

summer reading book swap

Decorations? Easy. Big posters.

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

summer reading book swap

summer reading book swap

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

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

They draw straws!

summer reading book swap

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

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

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

summer reading book swap

summer reading book swap

summer reading book swap collage

It was a lot of fun.

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

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

summer reading book swap collage

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

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

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

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

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

It worked out great.

summer reading challenge scholastic

summer reading challenge scholastic

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

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

I also told them: scholastic summer challenge

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

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

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

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

Our summer plan:

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

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

3 for real things you should do with your kids this summer

3 for real things you can do with your kids this summer cover

3 for real things you can do with your kids this summer

Emails and magazines and pinterest and facebook and twitter and the newspaper are all chock full o’ great and crazy ideas for parents right now, and I’ll be honest–I’m overwhelmed.

So rather than try to do it all–and rather than ignore it all–I’ve whittled it down to 3 for real things you can (and should) do with your kids this summer.

I say ‘for real’ because how many of us have pinned 8 million things on our pinterest boards with the intention of ‘really, really doing it this summer’ with our kids?

How many magazine pages have you ripped out and shoved in a folder (or your purse) with the goal of ‘really, really making that recipe for the July 4th picnic–or whatever)?

Why are these ‘for real’? Because you’ll make habits out of them. That’s why.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 3 For Real Things You Can Do With Your Kids This Summer:

1.  Word-A-Day Cards: Really. Check it out. Printables for your family that feature a word a day.

Talk words at breakfast. Use ’em throughout the day.  Do it. After the initial pain of printing and cutting, you’ll have them, and  you’ll be surprised at how much your kids will look forward to them.

They’ll even get into adding their own. Soon the whole family will be involved.

——————-

2.  Everyday Journals or Everyday Name Books:  It’s just about getting into the habit of doing something at the same time every day.

Whether it’s the name books for little guys or the journal for the bigger guys, do something. Do it after the pool or as a wind-down from camp; do it before breakfast or after lunch.

It’s something. And it totally counts.

——————-

3.  Read: C’mon. Reading is easy.  You can read anywhere, any time, and it all counts.

Get yourself psyched for summer reading–because I get it–we sometimes have to psyche ourselves up for these kinds of things.

Need a few books to get your kids back into the reading game? Here are five books that will get them excited about reading this summer, and 10 ways to make reading a priority for your family.

——————-

3 things. You totally have this. And if you can’t do all three? You know what? It’s fine.

Pick one and run with it.

Your kids will thank you for it.

we teach ebooks cover

And? When you’re really running hard and need some more inspiration head to we teach for these totally free rockstar eBooks.

Member-created and packed full of awesome ways to sneak some learning into your every day.