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.



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:



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.


Now it’s our turn.

Keep parents happy by. . .

target cartwheel |

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.


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.


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!


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 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.

VolunteerSpot: parents AND teachers can win BIG for back-to-school (sponsored)

volunteerspot get spotted volunteering

sponsored post




volunteerspot get spotted volunteeringI’ve been a longtime fan of VolunteerSpot for the ease with which I can participate in and organize events at my kids’ school.

I’ve loved them for really changing the way people can manage events–big and small–and I’ve loved them because their service is free.  No joke. F to the R-E-E. Free.

But this back-to-school season, I love them even more because they’re offering not one but three $1500 grants to people who ‘get caught’ volunteering at their child’s school.

Parents and schools aren’t the only ones who win here, though.

Teachers, if they just try VolunteerSpot, can win two iPad mini’s –one for them and one for a friend. Or two for their class. Awesome, right?

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • VolunteerSpot–Parents AND Teachers Can Win BIG for Back-to-School:

Let’s get it straight: two cool things thanks to VolunteerSpot

1.  three grants of $1500 for people who volunteer and

2. one giveaway of two iPad mini’s to a teacher who uses VolunteerSpot.

Makes me want to dance.


For volunteers:

How to Enter to Win (You can do one of these, or all.)

1. Use VolunteerSpot during August to Take the Pledge to volunteer for your school. Don’t worry if you don’t have a specific activity to sign up for yet; just make the commitment to help out with one thing this school year.

Just be sure to include your school’s name when prompted during the easy registration process. Boom! You’ve got 1 entry already.


2. Use VolunteerSpot’s FREE online sign up sheets during August* to organize the parent volunteers for any school activity: back-to-school events, classroom helpers, carnivals, book fairs, hospitality teams & potlucks, concessions – any activity that involves multiple volunteers will be easier to manage with online sign ups and scheduling.

How to Get More Chances for Your School to Win

Invite (okay, bug) your neighborhood friends and fellow parents to use VolunteeerSpot this August too. Every new Pledge and new activity organized in counts as an entry for your school, so the more people you can get to sign up, the more entries to win $1,500 your school will get.

Post it on Facebook, or even better, email your whole class and ask them to take the pledge too. You might even remind people to take the pledge when you see them on the first day of school. Isn’t it worth it for the chance to win $1,500 bucks for your school?

VolunteerSpot Logo

One Last Brilliant Idea

Maybe you’re not the person who gets super involved in organizing activities for your school, but you probably know who is. Send the link to this page ( to the person you know who is most involved with your school’s parent/school organization. That way, even if you don’t need to organize an activity with VolunteerSpot right now, you can still help someone else out AND help your school win.

The Rules

If you have really bad insomnia, you can read the official rules here. Zzzzzz.

If not, here’s an easy-to-read summary:

  • 3 schools will be chosen at random to win. Each will receive a $1,500 grant from VolunteerSpot for their designated school’s parent-teacher organization.
  • You must be at least 18 years old to enter for your school.
  • You must reside in the United States. (We know, we know, but international sweepstakes laws are just too complex for us to handle. We are sorry!)
  • The following uses of VolunteerSpot count as entries: registering and school organizer or teacher/educator VolunteerSpot account (it’s free!), setting up an activity, signing up for an activity someone else has set up, and pledging to volunteer.
  • The sweeps will run from Aug 1- Aug 31st, so enter now! Winners will be drawn at random and notified in September.

If you still have questions, please click HELP at the top of and contact us.


teachers ipad mini volunteerspot
For teachers:
How to Enter to Win TWO iPad minis1. Use VolunteerSpot’s online sign-up sheets during August to simplify scheduling:

  • parent-teacher conferences
  • guest readers & volunteers
  • class snacks
  • potlucks or parties
  • trips & tournaments
  • any activity with multiple sign ups

(If you use email for any of these tasks right now, you know what a pain it is to contact and re-contact everyone involved, not to mention organizing everyone’s replies. No more!)

2. When you register your account, just confirm that you are a teacher/educator and enter the name of your school when prompted, you’ll be automatically entered to win!

3. BONUS! When you enter the name of your school, your school’s parent-teacher organization will also be automatically entered to win $1,500 in our back-to-school  Get Spotted Volunteering in August sweeps.

Volunteerspot logo option


Once you’ve tried VolunteerSpot for yourself, be sure to tell a fellow teacher to enter too. That way of she (or he) wins, she might just share that second iPad mini with you. Sweet!

Of course winning two iPad minis would be totally cool, but also we hope that once you try VolunteerSpot you’ll tell other teachers about it because it makes sign-ups so much easier. Please let us know what you think!

The Rules

If you’re having trouble sleeping, you can read the official rules here. Zzzzz.

Alternatively, here is a summary:

  • The winner will be chosen at random from among all eligible entries.
  • You must be at least 18 years old to win.
  • You must be a teacher or educator employed by a public, parochial or independent school.
  • You must reside in the United States. (Sorry, we dislike this rule too, but international sweepstakes laws are just too complex for us to handle. We are sorry!)
  • You must use VolunteerSpot to organize an activity between Aug 1- Aug 30. The activity may occur at a later date, but you must create the sign up sheet during August.
  • The winner will be notified in September.

If you still have questions, please contact us by clicking Help at the top of

Really. That’s it. Hope that you or your school is super-lucky this year, and if you are. . . please let me know!
Off to share this post with my school, PTA, and teacher buddies!
Here’s to a rockstar 2013-2014 school year, and huge and happy thanks to VolunteerSpot for making it easier to support our schools and teachers!
fyi: Though I am a longtime fan of VolunteerSpot, I was compensated for my time in sharing news of this rockstar campaign. My opinions, as always, are my very own, influenced only by my experience as a parent, teacher, and volunteer.

give words as a gift: word conscious kids use wordle

give words as a gift

playing with words

It’s that time of year again, when the fliers start coming around collecting money for teacher gifts.  And collecting for teachers’ gifts–on top of other household expenses–can really put a strain on your budget.

Why not get a little digital with your kids this year and give words as a gift?

Words are celebrated with Wordle, and I love it.  Words are art with Wordle.

In the attempt to create word conscious, word-loving kiddos, celebrating words this way is a fun and cool way of sharing messages of thanks with people you care about.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Give Words as a Gift–Word Conscious Kids Use Wordle: I discovered Wordle about a year or two ago, and I’ve been  in love ever since.

Wordle is simply a free site that creates collages out of words.   “Word Clouds” is what they call what they create.

And you can enter single words manually or you can cut and paste a paragraph, or you can paste in a url.

I entered and I came up with the following wordle designs:

teachmama wordle 3

And I clicked ‘randomize’ and came up with the following design for the same url:

teachmama post wordle 2

The more times a word is entered, the larger it becomes.

I totally love it.

So for Mother’s Day this year, along with our Butterfly Pens and Limericks for Grandma and Nanny, the kids played with words.  And with the words, we created Wordle designs for their grandmas.

Really, the whole process is so simple. I asked Maddy, Owen, and Cora to brainstorm a list of ten words that came to mind when they thought of Nanny and then again for Grandma.

give words as gifts

Cora works on her list of words that come to mind when she thinks of her Nanny. . .

give words as gifts

. . . and though Nanny is not tall by any means, I guess she’s tall to Cora.

Though I think this is a great exercise when talking about parts of speech, my focus for this gift of words was not to creat a Wordle of just adjectives.

I really wanted it to be more like a word splash–any and every word that the kids thought of when they thought about their grandmas.

More like a burst of happiness coming from the kids.

give words as gifts

Maddy and Owen’s lists for their Nanny

The cool thing about this words as gifts exercise is that the kids came up with repeated words for their Nanny and Grandma, so those words appear larger on the final product.

Together, we decided on the layout we liked best, and then I clicked ‘print’.  Instead of printing, I saved the design as a pdf.

That way, I had more control over the size.  I wanted to add designs to 5 x 7 frames for the final gift; I think they turned out so cool.

give words as gifts

Design number one. . .

give words as gifts

. .  . and design number two. Both grandmas LOVED them!

Though we gave them as Mother’s Day gifts, I think Wordles are super-awesome for other things as well.


  • end-of-the-year teacher gifts–use student names or memories or adjectives to describe the teacher
  • gifts for camp counselors
  • gifts for campers–each person shares a favorite camp memory
  • party favors or shower gifts
  • bookmarks
  • positive message reminders
  • summer fun Wordles instead of summer fun cards
  • end-of-summer book lists of books read
  • family re-caps of reunions, vacations, or events

Love them.

family meeting highlights

We hadour digital kids a family meeting a few nights ago, and I made a Wordle with our highlights:

Printed it out as a pretty reminder of what we covered. . .

And that’s it.  Simple, pretty, personalized gifts for loved ones and another way to help our digital kids play with words.

Have any other ideas for Wordles? Share ‘em! Dying to know!

3 all-time best games to play with sight words

3 all-time best games to play with sight words

how to play games with sight wordsWhat games do you play with sight words?

Sight words are words that we all need to be able to read quickly and automatically in order to be strong readers, and the more we allow emerging readers to interact with these words, the better!

There are tons of hands-on ways to play with sight words, but these three games are total winners in our family’s book.  We’ve played them year in and year out with sight words so that Maddy, Owen, and Cora learn these little–but important!–words.

And the great thing? Play them with spelling words, vocabulary words, any words your kids need to learn and know.  Mix it up and play it with numbers and numerals. Bam.

But wait. How do you know which list of sight words to use?

Where do you get the cards that you need in order to play these three games?

Glad you asked.  It’s all right here.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 3 All-Time Best Games to Play with Sight Words:  Here are three fun and easy games that get your kids playing with–and learning—these important little words.

3 of the All-Time Best Games to Play with Sight Words



So there are just three of my kids’ all-time favorite ways to play with sight words.

But where are the words themselves?

In order to pick up some freebie word cards for playing sight word games, click on the photo of the post to grab some word cards:


go fish--sight words

Go Fish! A fish out of water–games for playing sight words

sight word memory

Sight Word Memory  –All of the word cards are here, including ABC cards

wordo sight words

WORDO! A game for word-learning

Wait. Sight words. High frequency words. Early emergent words, fluency words. Word wall words.

What in the world is the difference?

Essentially, they’re all focusing on words that all readers must know, and commit to memory, in order to be the best readers they can be. That’s it. Many school districts and counties offer their own specific list, or maybe they go with the Dolche or Fry list. The Dolche list is older, the Fry list is more updated.

Word Walls? What? Word Walls are walls in a classroom used as a tool to help teach young readers new words.  Word Walls are just that—words filled with words! Words are placed in alphabetical order and are introduced to children throughout the year, and after introduction, the child needs to lean and know the word.  These words include word family words (-at, fat, cat, mat, etc) and high-frequency words, many of which are sight words.

Need or want more on word wall words?

Need or want more on sight words?

The main thing?  Don’t sweat it. Your kids will learn these words eventually–and the best way to ensure that is to read early–and often!

And okay. . . play some games with sight words as well.  Questions? Let me have ‘em!  I’m happy to help!

how to make butterfly pens: a sweet spring garden gift

butterfly pens sweet spring garden gift

butterfly pens cover

For Teacher Appreciation Week, for Mother’s Day, as a birthday party favor, or for any occasion, these butterfly pens are indeed a sweet spring garden gift!

No glue, no sewing, no lengthy prep, these butterfly pens are totally quick and so easy.  And so beautiful.

And the really cool thing is that they’re easy enough that kids can get involved no problem. They can show their love and appreciation by helping to create these, while working their fine motor skills along the way.

With a little trip to the craft store, you’ll have everything you need–and some pieces you may have under your roof already.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Make Butterfly Pens– A Sweet Spring Garden Gift:  Another big win for these guys is that they make use of all that mixed-up, almost-on-the-outs PlayDoh that you’ve had sitting around.

butterfly pens sweet spring garden gifts

 Your Butterfly Pen Spring Garden supplies


Biggest tip? Spend the extra on good-quality butterflies. So worth it.

You’ll need: (affiliate links are included)

butterfly pens playdoh

Then get started!

1. Make weights for your pails. The pails are light. The pens are light. So if you don’t weigh them down somehow, they’ll tip over and just be a pain in the neck.

Maddy, Owen, and Cora just scraped together baseball-sized globs of old Play-Doh, rolled them into balls, and shoved them in the bottom of their silver pails.

butterfly pens playdoh bucket

2. Wrap Butterflies around the pens.  The way these butterflies are made makes it really easy to wrap them onto the pens.

Take the caps off of the pens and start from the top, wrapping the butterfly wire around the pen.

butterfly pens

The butterflies are already attached to wire. . .

butterfly pens

 . . . so wrapping the pen is totally easy.

butterfly pens

Now you just need to cover the wire with tape.

3.  Wrap the pen with Duct Tape.  This may be the most difficult part of the whole process, and it’s not even that difficult. Just tricky.

One thing to remember is that they do not need to be perfect. They can’t be perfect. And the more we remind ourselves of this, the more fun  you’ll have doing it.

butterfly pens duct tape

Cora cuts the tape–not easy–so better for an adult to do it.

We cut the Duct Tape long enough to leave a teeny, tiny bit over the top and then we cut it short enough so that it ended before the curve of the pen tip.

Totally impossible to make these completely flat, so we went with the bumpy, wavy look.

butterfly pens butterfly wrap

Owen wraps his pen for his teacher. . .

butterfly pens butterfly wrap

. . . and so does Cora.

One thing we were careful to do was to flatten the very tip of the wire and then double-up on the tape.

Otherwise, if we didn’t, the pointy part of the wire would poke fingers as they used the pen. Ouch. Lucky it was an easy fix!

butterfly pens wrap

Tiny bit of tape at the end did the job. . .

butterfly pens wrap

. . . and we thought the ‘wave’ of the wire through the tape made the pen look more ‘grassy’.

butterfly pens wrap

4. Fill the pail with grass. So easy. Plop it in.  Bam. Done.

Just don’t skimp on this because otherwise it’ll look strange. If you want to put a big bunch of glue on the Play-Doh to keep the grass in place, that works, but we didn’t do that.

butterfly pens grass

Crinkle-cut paper worked so perfectly as grass for our little butterfly gardens.

5. Add your butterflies and flowers to the little gardens.  So fun.

The very first thing Maddy, Owen, and Cora did was pick the colors of their butterflies, so when it came time to add theirs to the garden tins, they knew exactly which three to grab.

No need for glue; the butterfly pens stick in pretty tightly among the crinkle-cut grass. Woot!


butterfly pens planting the garden

Adding just a dab of glue to the flowers . . .

butterfly pens planting the garden

. . . so that they don’t fall out . . .

butterfly pens planting the garden

. . . of the garden. Just a wee bit because it’s really okay if they move around a little.

butterfly pens planting the garden

Final little butterfly pens and little gardens? So cute. So totally cute.

butterfly pens planting the garden

We love them.

They couldn’t be more beautiful, and really, each one of the kids was so proud.

And so was I.  Here’s to hoping that everyone who receives one loves her little butterfly garden!

And that’s it–just a little springy craft in the name of Teacher Appreciation and Mother’s Day. But really? It’s a super-cute something that could be used for any occasion!

We made one for each teacher, one for each grandmother, and one for great-grandmother. Shhhhh.

Though we made flower pens for our teachers and grandmothers and great-grandmother last year, the response was so great that we thought we’d do it again.  New teachers meant it wasn’t a repeat gift for them, but I’m betting that the ‘mothers’ used their flower pens so frequently, it just might be time for replacements!

Happy butterfly-garden building!


fyi: Affliliate links are used in this post, which means any time you click on one and buy from Amazon, we get a teeny, tiny, miniscule percentage of your purchase. Every little bit counts, and we totally and completely appreciate you using our links!

quick and easy inexpensive thank you gifts for teachers

easy thank you gifts for teachers

thank you gifts for teachersNo matter how or when you do it, it’s an important time of the year to offer a sincere ‘thank you!’ to teachers, especially with National Teacher Day and Teacher Appreciation Week just around the corner.

Teacher Appreciation Week is the second week in May! Every year! That’s right.

But as a mom of three, I know that often, it’s really hard to scrape together the cold, hard cash for all of your kids’ teachers’ gifts.  Especially if you include your kids’ extra-curricular teachers, or their para-educators, support teachers, and adminstrators, there are a lot of people who support your child’s education.

It’s also hard to find time for putting together a thank you gift.

There are ways, however, to say ‘thank you’ without spending a trillion bucks.

And without buying dollar store junk that will fare well as White Elephant gifts for holiday parties.  And without spending a trillion hours on a craft you saw on Pinterest that looked a whole lot cooler on a pinboard than it does in real life, on your kitchen counter.

Go simple.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Quick and Easy Inexpensive Thank-You Gifts for Teachers: These are simple but sweet. And seriously functional.


thank you gifts for teachers

Simple thank you’s for teachers that are fun, frugal, and functional.

What teacher couldn’t use a well-made plastic container?

And what teacher couldn’t use some sweets?

Right. And when you combine them and add a little happy message, it’s sure to bring a smile to his or her face, any day of the week.

For our little teacher thank-you gifts, which Maddy, Owen, and Cora gave to their teachers one day this year, we went with the Systema Klip-It minis.  The kids use the lunch cubes every day, and we have come to love and trust this brand.

We used bold, vinyl alphabet stickers and added the following words to one side of each container:

  • thank you
  • love
  • joy
  • peace

And then we filled each small container with hard candy.  Bam. Done.


thank you gifts for teachers - 01


Each child wrote a small note to the teacher, which we included with the gift.

Notes make a big difference for teachers–for anyone, actually.  Both my husband and I still have boxes of personal notes from parents, students, and colleagues, and it’s amazing how rewarding it is to look back and read those every so often.

Maddy, Owen, and Cora gave the ‘Thank You’ boxes to their classroom teachers, and they gave the ‘Peace’, ‘Love’, and ‘Joy’ ones to their Religion School teachers. However, I’m betting that any of these messages would work for either teacher.


thank you gifts for teachers

The Sistema colored containers looked great with white stickers. . .

thank you gifts for teachers

 . . . and the clear containers looked great with black or rainbow stickers.

All wrapped up with a little curling ribbon, these little tokens of appreciation looked pretty good to us.

And from what the kids said, their teachers were quite pleased.

All I know is that I am thankful Every. Single. Day. for the gifts that are my kiddos’ teachers. Every day I am thankful because I know firsthand how difficult their jobs are and how every year the demands are more and more great for teachers.

So to be a gifted teacher–to be able to reach children and teach children? Not easy.  Not easy in the least.

You better believe I’m saying thanks.

Tomorrow? A whole lot more on Teacher Appreciation. Woot.

fyi: Affiliate links are used in this post.

helping kids use PowerPoint for presentations and serious learning fun

helping kids use powerpoint

helping kids use powerpoint It’s Spring Fair time, Science Share time, Reader’s Tea, Poetry Share, and International Night time at schools all around the country.

Kids are sharing their learning, and they’re learning about sharing. Or at least they could be!

My kids are a bit technically-savvy, love anything laptop, iPad, or DS–so for International Night this year, I took a little time to show my kids a few things about PowerPoint.

And honestly? They loved it.

It wasn’t all that involved–it was by no means the end-all PowerPoint intro. Just a touch. Just a taste.

And instead of making double work for us, we used the PowerPoint slides we created to decorate our France board.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Helping Kids Use PowerPoint for Presentations and Serious Fun: I suppose the ‘serious fun’ part may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the bottom line is that using PowerPoint for our France presentation for our school’s International Night sure upped the kids’ interest factor.

And doesn’t that count for something?

Last year, we did Madagascar for International Night. This year? France. Naturally. Maddy’s night poster

The kids love using Pixie, so Owen jumped right in and made us a France flag to include.

I started off by asking Maddy, Owen, and Cora if they wanted to try something a little bit new for their project this year–if they wanted to use a bit of technology alongside our poster for International Night. They did. So we got rolling.

I said, Okay, well we’ll try a tool called ‘PowerPoint’ that I’ve used for many of my own presentations and that Daddy also uses for his presentations at work. With PowerPoint, you can make slides that show your information. And then you can print your slides.

I thought it would be cool to make a PowerPoint presentation that we could play during International Night and use the slides to decorate our big poster. Does that sound okay to you?

It did. Phew.

So we began:

1. We built background knowledge on the format. I showed them a really quick example of a PowerPoint presentation I used for a meeting I had a few months ago so that they knew how a PowerPoint presentation could look:



2. We started fresh. I opened a new presentation [File -> New Presentation].

power point theme change

I showed them all of the ways we could change basic format and fonts.

We chose one that we thought would be simple and clear but bright and cool: Newsprint.

power point presentation newsprint


3.  We brainstormed.  We wrote down all of the topics that we wanted to include in our presentation, trying to cover all of the things people would want to know about France. We came up with: Intro, flag, food, clothes, language, people, art, buildings, history, school, and sports.

international night poster brainstorm

Then I showed them how to create new slides: [Insert–> New Slide OR Insert–> Duplicate Slide].

Maddy set us up with a new slide for each of our topics.

power point new slide


4. We researched.  We jumped over to PBS LearningMedia. We used KidRex. We used Time for Kids and Kids National Geographic.   The kids came up with the search terms, something that we’ve done quite often in the past.

We went simple, and we found what we needed: France map; food in france; france and clothes.


international night research


international night research


5. We created. For the sake of time, we added information to the slides as we found it. We did our best to read information, put it into our own words by summarizing it, and then typing it into each slide.

Because our focus with this was simply to get them some basic information on France and to get them familiar with PowerPoint, I didn’t worry too much about proper citation of photos and information. Believe me, as a former high school English teacher, I totally understand how important that is; however, I had to choose my battles here.

Instead, I created a ‘Resources’ page at the end of our slideshow, and anything we took from the internet, we added to that page. I felt it was enough to emphasize the importance of not just grabbing from the internet, but it also emI showed them how to

When we needed images, I showed them how to change our search terms on Google from ‘Search’ to ‘Images’ and drag the ones we wanted to use to the desktop.

google search

Then we could easily insert the new images into our presentation.

6. We added transitions.  In a really basic way.  Since I knew we’d keep our presentation on a loop, I knew I wanted to have the transitions advance after a few seconds, so we changed that, and we unclicked ‘on mouse click’.

power point transitions

7. We moved slides. I showed Maddy, Owen, and Cora how to view the presentation with the slides on the left side [view–> normal] OR [view–> slide sorter] so that we could easily move slides into a different order.

We moved them around in a way that we thought made the most sense.

france ppt full screen

8. We saved it. We saved it as a movie [file–> save as –> movie] so that it would loop while we stood at our booth.

9. We added, edited, and revised. And soon our presentation totally rocked the house.

10. We printed. We printed each slide four on a page because we thought that was the best size for our poster.  We followed [print –> preview –>images per page –> four], but I’m sure there are a million other ways to do it.

11. We blinged our board.  We covered it in France’s colors: red, white, and blue.

We added letters at the top: FRANCE.

We cut out our slides with fancy scissors.

international night poster

And we mounted each slide on another piece of construction paper.  Because doesn’t everything look so much more beautiful when mounted on colored paper?

international night poster

And we blinged a bit more, signed our work, and we were finished.

international night poster

international night poster

12. We gathered our French materials.  Thank goodness for our good friends whose grandmother is French and for my husband who has some French connections at the school where he works because our French display rocked.

We had flags, children’s books, a beret, French money, posters, and more. And we picked up some croissants at the grocery store, cdigital kids buttonut them in thirds, and gave our friends a little (teeny) taste of authentic France. Or as authentic as we could muster with us not being very French for real.

We set our France Presentation on autoplay, and we were good. To. Go. Woot.

Want a few more advanced PowerPoint links for your Digital Kids?   Check out:


And really? That’s that. The kids had fun. I had fun. And they were proud of their display.

Was it perfect? Hardly. Is this PowerPoint tutorial perfect. Far from it.

But it’s here to prove that with a little bit of effort, we can give our kids a taste of something more technologically advanced than they may think they are capable of. And perhaps this little touch of PowerPoint may give them more confidence when it comes to doing another presentation down the road.


Next up: iPad Notes–fun family interviews

5 min reading tricks for raising rockstar readers

5 min reading tricks for raising rockstar readers

5 minute reading tricks

It’s here.

My first eBook on reading and literacy and all that stuff I really, really love.

And I’m totally psyched.

5 min reading tricks for raising rockstar readers.

There you have it. That’s all you need, right?

Sure it is.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  •  5 Min Reading Tricks for Raising Rockstar Readers: 15 of ‘em, my friends. Fifteen tricks that are in themselves filled with several other tricks.

So it comes out to a whole lot more than fifteen, but who’s counting?

Essentially, it’s a busy parent’s guide to all that you need to get on the road to raising a rockstar reader. And we all want our kids to be reading rockstars, right?

5 min tricks to raising rockstar readers

Here’s why:

Reading is my favorite thing.

But I totally get that it might not be yours.

So because I love it, and because I am continually amazed, in awe, and humbled by the process of reading acquisition—kids learning to read, working hard at reading, and becoming better readers—I want to help you.

I want to help you because I know I can—and I know you can. It’s easier than you think. And with just a few minutes a day, a few times a day, you, as a parent, can help your child become a strong reader—even if you don’t consider yourself one. It’s cool. I’m not great at math. At all. I need help. Still do. It takes a village, and I need a math guy (or gal) in mine.

The crazy thing is that even before children are able to read texts on their own, they can develop vocabulary, oral language, comprehension strategies, phonological awareness, and print awareness just by participating in a read-aloud with an adult.  It’s amazing how much power and potential exists in that small amount of time.

We got it. We know what to do, now let’s get moving!

5 min reading tricks clip

The 5 min reading tricks for raising rockstar readers eBook is a $10 download that includes 15 tricks covering:

  • comprehension strategies
  • reading readiness
  • fluency
  • what parents should say during read-alouds
  • books as gifts
  • the importance of series
  • and much more!

AND everyone who purchases the eBook is invited to join a special, private group on the we teach forum–just for sharing reading tips, asking questions, and getting more reading success tips!  You will be emailed an invitation upon purchase!

How cool is that? The reading love goes on and on. . .

5 min reading tricks For a cool-cat 10 spot, this gem could be yours, and I thank you. 

But more importantly, your little rockstars will thank you.



 $10. for 5 min reading tricks for raising rockstar readers:

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5 min tricks book walk cover 
There you have it.

I hope you like it–and let me know what you think about 5 min reading tricks for raising rockstar readers!

  • tweet me with your feedback
  • leave me a message on my Facebook wall with what you liked–or didn’t care for
  • let me know what else you need–and I’ll be sure to include it in the next one!


 $10. for 5 min reading tricks for raising rockstar readers:

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Many thanks, friends, and three cheers to our reading rockstars and you!–their parents– who are rockin’ it out with the reading thing!

read across america week: resources GALORE!

we teach #RAA twitter event

we teach #RAA twitter event One of the reading and literacy world’s biggest months is just around the corner, so we’re kicking it off with a fantabulous twitter event–and we want you to join us!

Read Across America Week is the first week of March, beginning with Read Across America Day on March 1.

The Leadership Team over at we teach is hosting a twitter event this Wednesday, February 27, from 8:30- 9:30pm ET, and we’re thrilled that we’ll be joined with some really incredible education rockstars. Celebrities.  Famous folk.

Think: tons of lesson plans, crafts, cooking, and learning ideas for how you can ring in Read Across America day in your home or classroom–or home classroom!! And add to that happy thought some really big guns in the education space, and you’ve got yourself a pretty hot event.

Prizes. Plus, there will be prizes. Woot!

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Read Across America Week–Resources GALORE!: After some serious brainstorming about how we could get our forum members really excited about all of the awesome resources out there for reading literacy, Jacquie, our fearless Community Manager, suggested: How about a twitter event?!

And we all agreed: perfect.

So whether you have your own resources to share (super!) or you are searching for some innovative, exciting ways to celebrate Read Across America (cool!), we hope you’ll join us on Wednesday night for a little reading and literacy loooove.

And we’ll be rockin’ some awesome prizes as well!

we teach header
Join us for a twitter event with we teach members
weteach community managers  & celebrity experts

to share resources for teaching and learning on Read Across America Day!
**  follow:
#weteach #RAA  **

Who:     Parents, teachers, caregivers, expert panelists, and YOU!

Celebrity Experts:

What:    February 27th resource-sharing twitter event!
Why:     To enlighten, share, and promote awesome Read Across America Day resources, ideas, and more!
Prizes:   2 Melissa & Doug education-fun packs; 1 PBS festive Cat in the Hat prize pack; 5 $25 Storia gift cards
Where:  Twitter! ( #weteach #RAA
When: Wednesday, 02.27.13 from  8:30-9:30 pm ET
  1. log onto twitter
  2. follow the hashtags #weteach #RAA
  3. tweet, re-tweet (RT), and tweet some more!
Helpful hints:
  • visit all of our celebrity experts’ sites and bring questions, comments or concerns to the event
  • make sure you are following all of the the hosts and all of the celebrity panelists so you don’t miss a beat!

We’re looking forward to seeing you there–and if you can’t make the event, we’ll have all of the resources listed on a page on the we teach forum. We’ll share the link here!

high school basketball games: why families should go

high school basketball games

high school basketball game with kidsTotally new-for-us this last month was something that I wish we would have done sooner, but I think our kids are finally at just-the-right age.

Just like the ole days (at least for me!) we spent a recent, wintery Friday night in a brightly-lit high school gymnasium, rockin’ it out at a high school basketball game.

And it was a total blast.

Maddy, Owen, and Cora had so much fun that we all want to return sooner rather than later, and the following week we even hit a local college’s gymnastics competition. We’re addicted to local sports.

And it’s not a bad thing.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • High School Basketball Games–Why Families Should Go:  There are probably a good dozen or so reasons why families should take some time out to support local sports, but I whittled it down to three.

high school basketball games with kids

 1. The Teamwork. There’s some serious teamwork going on at high school basketball games–or at least there should be.

And even if you’re not watching a stellar team full of future NCAA or NBA stars, a good coach should run a team tightly, with a whole lot of cheering and support for each other.

Most teams now have chants or little team-building rituals that are great for our little guys to see.  It not only gives them something to aim for down the road (Wouldn’t it be awesome if I were part of a team like that?!), but it gives them something to talk to the ‘big guys’ about next time they see them in the neighborhood.


high school basketball games

2.  The ‘Big’ Kids. C’mon, guys, really, there’s no reason to fear ‘big kids’ — and I’m not even saying that because I was a high school English teacher.

Big As parents of young children, I’m realizing first-hand how important it is to find responsible, creative, fun ‘big kids’ as role models for my own ‘little ones’.  Part of the reason that Maddy, Owen, and Cora all love their summertime swim team is because of their coaches–who just happen to be local high school and middle school kids.

And to see those very same ‘big kids’ shooting hoops on the high school court–or cheering or dancing or playing in the band–is so totally beyond cool for them.


high school basketball games for families

3.  The Excitement.  Especially now, later in the season, these games are surprisingly exciting. And I’m not even that big of a sports gal.

But when it comes down to the semi-finals and finals–add two ‘rival’ teams from across town–there is a buzz in the air.  There’s usually a mostly-full gymnasium, and often schools even bring out the band or dance squad.

It’s really cool.  Loud, yes–but cool–and so exciting for our little ones to see.


Are there more reasons we should support local sports? Ohmygosh yes! But these are just a few off the top of my head.  Should parents be on the watch for some crazy outfits, some nuts language, and maybe some on-the-court arguments? Yep.

But isn’t that life? Talk about some perfect ‘teachable’ moments about topics that might not otherwise arise in the safety of your own home, right?

So google your local high school, check the basketball schedule, and head on out there! Stretch bedtime for one night, and enjoy watching the stars in your kiddos’ eyes.  Buy ‘em some popcorn and Skittles, and they’ll talk about it for weeks to come.

And then? Try the less-popular sports, a debate match, or a drama production.  The sky’s the limit.

Just enjoy the family time and the new-for-you fun!

how to throw a rockstar valentine’s day class party

how to throw a rockstar valentine's day party 2

valentine's day class party ideasIt’s not easy running a class party–for any holiday–but with the right help and planning, any Room Parent (and his or her small army) can pull one off with ease!

Valentine’s Day class parties are no exception.  There’s no magic formula, but I’m a firm believer that this parenting gig is hard enough–and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

Especially for our fearless, brave, admirable Room Parents.

This isn’t rocket science, but I do know it’s easier for some folks than others to find the right mix of games, crafts, and snacks to introduce to elementary schoolers. I know it’s easier for some to delegate duties to parent volunteers, organize and plan, and stand in front of a group of kids and get them from Point A to Point B with smiles on their faces.

But all Room Parents deserve a hearty (gentle) pat on their backs for taking on the j-o-b. It’s not easy.  And we’re all busy.

I’ve only been a Room Parent a few times, and I certainly wasn’t perfect, but these are some things I did–with the help of my co-parents and our small army of volunteers!–and I think the Valentine Day parties all went pretty well.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Throw a Rockstar Valentine’s Day Class Party: In most schools, there’s not a whole lot of time for the actual party.

valentines day class party

My class party ‘plan’– nothing fancy and a work in progress, but it helped!

And in most schools, the ‘big’ crazy fun event is delivering those love-filled Valentine cards. So I think the delivery should be the main activity–though there needs to be a few other games and activities thrown in the mix for sure.

Here are some pointers I’ve used in the past to keep parties moving, keep kids smiling, and keep teachers thankful their students were having fun:

  • Set-up/ Prep: Sent out this Valentine’s Day Class Party Note about three weeks before the party. And then really use your parent volunteers!  Make a quick and easy ‘Party Plan’ for all of the volunteers to have on hand during party day.
  • Prepare Goodie Bags: Just a few dollar-spot items–pencils, stickers, temporary tattoos, nothing fancy. But the goodie bag is a great landing spot for the crafts and sweets from the party, too. And my feeling is that if there are goodie bags at the end of the party, there’s no need for prizes in between.
  • Decorations: I’m not big into decorations, because I’m much too boring. I think you’re good with streamers, dollar store tablecloths, and pink napkins. But other than that, unless you can keep them every year–to use for the next party–I think they’re a waste. Only because the kids don’t care–they’d rather have more games, more goodies in their bag, more goodies during the party.

Move the desks into four clusters, and put a tablecloth over each set of desks. That way, when kids are finished eating, it’s quick clean-up!

valentines day class party

  • Divide the class into 3-4 smaller groups.  That way, they can rotate between fun stations without a hitch.  Divide them by having them pick heart foamies (or stickers, or numbers, or whatever) out of a hat.  They can slap that sticker on their shirt, and there’s no question about what group each kid is in. Start the party by arranging groups, and have each group give a big cheer: Let’s hear the pink heart group give a happy shout! C’mon, purple hearts, let us hear you!. .  .
  • Let them eat sweets and deliver valentines. Priority numero uno. But do it in shifts! Have the parents put the snacks out on plates while other parents are decorating. Do not let it be a kids’ choice free-for-all, and really go easy here!  Store-bought Valentine cupcakes, a cookie, juicebox, and fruit. Bam. Done.

Say, Okay, first graders, while everyone’s eating, let’s have the Purple Heart group grab their Valentines and deliver them to their classmates.  Deliver them with a smile, and when you receive one, I think Mr. [teacher’s name] would love to hear his students practice good manners! I’m sure we’ll be hearing lots of ‘thank you’s!’ from this great group of smart first graders!

Once the sweets are eaten, trash cleaned up, and Valentines delivered, time to get your game on!

valentines day class party partner match

  • Play GAMES!:
  • Start with Valentine Partner Match–Put a card face-down on each student’s desk, and then explain that the game is Valentine Partner Match.   The goal is for each person to find the ‘match’ to the person on his or her card–they may be buddies, pals, or sweethearts.   Tell them to flip their card, wave their card in the air, and then look around the class to see if they can find their partner. After a few minutes, tell them to go stand by their partner.  Then collect the cards, hand them back again, but put them on their backs. Now let them try to find their match, and it’s a wee bit more difficult!  (Get really crazy and add your principal and vice-principal to the blank cards–the kids will get a kick out of it!)
  • Next, divide them into their groups, and put the parents to work!
    • Group 1: CraftThe crafts for these parties have to be SO EASY IT’S NUTS, especially for the little guys. So, so so easy.  Soooo easy.  And if it can be a craft sans glue, even better.  But there should be a sample made so the kids (and parent!) know what they’re making, and the craft supplies should be in individual bags, so there’s no fumbling for pieces.  And there should be a bag of ‘extra’ supplies in case one kid’s missing that one pink sparkly heart.  I like craft stores for this kind of thing–you can buy easy crafts for under ten bucks, and most sets have enough for 18-20 crafts.

    Consider something like the Mini-Stained Glass Hearts or something similar–no glue, pretty, and kids love them!

    valentines day class party mitten race

    • Group 2: Mitten Candy Race — Big, adult ski gloves and wrapped candy equal silly fun for kids. Divide the group into two smaller groups of 3 kids each. Have them stand in two lines facing each other, and put a pair of ski gloves on the first person in line. That person must unwrap a piece of candy while wearing the gloves, put the candy into his or her mouth, and then pass the gloves to the next person who does the same thing. First line to finish wins! [Obviously, be cautious of choking here–choose candy wisely and remind kids that it’s not who eats it quickest but who unwraps it quickest!]


    • Group 3: Valentine HEART Bingo — Good, calm-down bingo game with a Valentine’s Day theme.  Valentine’s Day HEART Bingo can be downloaded and shared here (valentines day HEART bingo). The biggie thing here is to have bingo markers and to print out the bigger cards along with the game–the words are under the item, so there’s a wee bit o’ learning that can go along as the bingo caller can point to the larger card when the smaller cards are flipped: Okay, I flipped ‘H’ and the ‘fire heart’. Everyone look for the ‘fire heart’ under ‘H’–it looks like this. . . First one with five in a row, shout ‘HEART’!!!
      valentines day class party HEART bingo


    • Group 4: Candy Hearts & Chopsticks — A bunch of chopsticks and a bunch of candy hearts means some serious fine-motor work for elementary schoolers! Pour a few handfuls of candy hearts into a centralized bowl, and give each child a small paper plate or small paper cup.  Then let ‘em at it! The winner will be the person who moves the most candy hearts from the bowl to his or her plate in the set time.   Give each kiddo a sandwich bag to save his or her winning candy!
  • Free time at the end of the par-tay? Nothing like a good ole fashioned game of Freeze Dance! Make sure you bring your CD player and your kids’ favorite Kidz Bop CD, and you’re good. To. Go.

A few supplies you may want or need beforehand:

Class parties have been held for years and years and years and years, so let’s start sharing our trade secrets, right?  Anything else to add? Please leave me a comment with your ideas, both successful and not-so-successful.  We’re all in this together, so let’s share what works!


Like these ideas? Please pin ‘em and share:

how to throw a rockstar valentine's day party |

What are your favorite Valentine ideas for kids? I’d love to hear ‘em!

Here are a few of ours:

valentine's day class party ideas


valentine's day class party ideas, 2.0 |


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