elf, the broadway musical: discount tickets and giveaway- baltimore lyric opera house

elf the broadway musical lyric opera house

post contains affiliate links



elf the broadway musical lyric opera house

elf, the broadway musical, is coming to the Baltimore Lyric Opera House next week.

And I’ve got two tickets to give to a teachmama.com reader and a rockin discount code for everyone else.

Not in or around the Baltimore area? No sweat. elf the musical is hitting the whole country.  It’s bound to be near you sometime between now and mid-January.

Not hitting your area? Buy elf, the movie. It’s a total riot. Not the same as elf: the Broadway musical, but hey–I’m trying to get everyone on board now that our family has found elf.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • elf–Broadway Musical: Discount Tickets and Giveaway for Baltimore Lyric Opera House: My family literally just discovered elf, the movie with Will Ferrell, last year.

Not joking.  My sisters and friends were in complete disbelief when I shared on Facebook: Found the BEST holiday movie ever–elf!


  • Amy. Are you kidding?
  • Where have you been?
  • You must be joking.
  • You’ve JUST seen it? Have you been living under a rock?
  • That’s the best holiday movie of all time–your poor kids!

Not really sure how that happened that we missed it for so long, but one lucky, day we stumbled upon it.  It was playing as a holiday tv special.  From that day on, we were hooked.

elf really is a hysterical, absolutely silly, totally hilarious movie.

And now? It’s on stage.

elf: the broadway musical

elf the broadway musical

And it’s coming to the Baltimore Lyric Opera House next week. And I’m giving away two tickets to two lucky teachmama readers.  SO fun.

Can’t get there on Friday, November 22? No prob.  Use the code FAMILY to buy one, get one FREE on tickets for Sunday evening, November 24!


GIVEAWAY: one set of TWO tickets to elf: the Broadway Musical at the Baltimore Lyric Opera House on Friday, November 22, 2013 at 7:30pm.

Do you want to win TWO tickets to elf: the Broadway Musical at the Baltimore Lyric Opera House on Friday, November 22, 2013 at 7:30pm??!  Yes, yes you do.

Please use the Rafflecopter widget below to throw your name in the hat:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

This giveaway ends Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at midnight ET and is open to anyone and everyone who can make the Friday 22, 2013 7:30 pm show. Winner will be chosen by ‘Rafflecopter’ and will be notified on or around 11/20/13.  Winner must respond within one (1) day of notification or forfeit the prize, in which case an alternate winner will be selected.  Tickets will be picked up at Will Call on 11/22/13.  All Official Sweepstakes Rules apply.

fyi: I received a family pack of tickets in exchange for writing this post.  As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my personal experience as a parent and educator.

Affiliate links are used in this post.


the national book festival: what it is and why you should go

national book festival what it is and why you should go

national book festival what it is and why you should goThe National Book Festival is this weekend, September 21-23, 2013.


It’s awesome.

And it’s free.

It’s on the National Mall here in DC, but if you can’t make it, don’t fret.  There are tons of online resources available–so it’s kind of like you’re there even if you’re far from our Nation’s Capital.

Honestly, it’s one of my most favorite weekends of the year, and that’s not an exaggeration.

This year? On Saturday, I’m thrilled about trying to catch a glimpse of KEVIN HENKES (of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, Owen, A Good Day, many others…), Fred Bowen (from our fave Washington Post section, the Kids Post), Veronica Roth (no joke! she wrote Divergent and Insurgent), the Poetry Out Loud winners, & more.

And Sunday? GIADA!!! Did you read about her new books for kids? Yes. She combines cooking and adventure and kids. We read all about it in the Kids Post this very day.  They’re called the Recipe for Adventure series, and the first takes place in Naples and the second in Paris.

Also? Mark Teague (LaRue books, Pigsty, and more), Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner & A Thousand Splendid Suns) & more.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • The National Book Festival–What it is and Why You Should Go:

Follow @LibraryCongress on twitter because the Library of Congress hosts the event along with honorary chairs, President and Mrs. Obama.   If you go, use #NatBookFest to add your tweets to the mix!

  • What it is: The festival is essentially a celebration of books and reading. It features 100+ authors, poets and illustrators in several pavilions where you can actually meet and hear firsthand a ton of different poets and authors, get books signed, have photos taken with storybook characters and participate in a variety of activities.

national book fest extras

So check out the schedule. Figure out what two or three authors you and your kids want to see. Then search your house for your favorite books by that author, shove the books, some sunscreen, some waters, and some snacks in your backpack, and get your tail on down first thing in the morning.

In the past, they’ve had reusable bags and posters available for visitors, and you just wander around, smiling and happy and in disbelief that you’re in the presence of seriously awesome literary rockstars.

  • Where it is: Between 9th and 14th Streets on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Sunday, Sept. 22 from noon to 5:30 p.m.   Rain or shine.
  • Why you should go: I wrote about the awesome of the National Book Festival last year, but it is worth repeating.

Check it out:

national book fest -- bring your family

This year:

  • Scholastic will be there again, sharing how a number of authors and illustrators have shown what Read Every Day means to them.  Check out information on Scholastic’s eBook platform, Storia, and Build A Book yourself!
  • PBS Kids will be there again, sharing news on the new series, Peg + Cat, and tons of favorite PBS Kids characters will be there for pictures, like Abby Cadabby from Sesame Street, Arthur, The Cat in the Hat, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Curious George, Daniel Tiger from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Martha from Martha Speaks, the cast of SUPER WHY!, WordGirl and Peg and Cat from the new PBS series.  Educator resources will also be shared. Love it!
  • The Digital Bookmobile will also be there again, along with a number of other cool tents, sponsors, and resources and activities for kids and families.

national book fest fun

Will we see you there?

If so, and you have a Girl Scout in your family, she can earn a National Book Festival badge just by going!

nat book fest girl scout badge

Need more information?

Have you been there before? What suggestions, advice, or experiences do you have to share?

Talk about some serious learning in the every day when and if you can make it down!


fyi: This is an unsponsored post, written only to share news of an awesome event I’d love to see more families in the DC metro area take advantage of.

Affiliate links are used in this post; when you click on a link, we get a teeny, tiny little percentage of the sale. Thank you!

how to make the most of a day trip to museum, farm, or amusement park

make the most of family day trips

sponsored post


make the most of family day trips


Now that our swim and dive seasons are officially over, it’s time for a few good family day trips. And our close proximity to Washington, DC, Baltimore, and Annapolis mean that we have a boatload of day trip options at our fingertips.

My friends at Melissa and Doug have been focusing on travel all summer in their Traveling With Kids: Tips & Tricks series. It’s been a riot to follow, but now I’m ready to do some traveling myself!

No matter where you live,  there’s bound to be some nearby mini-road trips for your family to enjoy, and there’s no better time than summer to put on your adventure boots.  Or flip-flops.

Perhaps it’s a nearby farm, museum, or historic building.  Even exploring a new-for-you town or sporting event can be a great day trip.  If you’re close to a bigger city, visitors’ centers, newspapers, or local family blogs can give you a good starting point.

When Maddy, Owen, and Cora were tiny, my ‘job’ for our local MOMS Club was to organize tours of local businesses.  With only a quick call to the manager or owner, we were given super-fun, behind-the-scenes looks at bakeries, flower shops, recycling centers, farms, ice-cream shops, and more–all within a 5-mile radius!

It was a blast.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  •  How to Make the Most of a Day Trip to the Museum, Farm or Amusement Park: No matter where you choose to go, day trips are ideal for sneaking in some fun learning before, during, and after the adventure.

day trip learning before

Before the trip: Before the trip can mean before you even get in the car or it can mean time in the car. Either way, there’s fun learning to be had!


  • Doing pre-event research. Visit the farm, museum, or city website, and find some kid-friendly resources. Many sites have ‘Before You Go’ sections that help to prepare young children for their visit. Print out maps, view photos, and let your child in on the fun!  It’s about activating schema–getting brains ready for the learning they’ll be doing by talking about what they already know about a topic. Once they get to the location, children can more easily connect what they know to what they’re learning!
  • Using travel time. Time in the car (or on the bus, metro, or train) is great time for learning.  Try traditional travel games like the License Plate Game, Flip to Win Hangman, or Travel Bingo.  Or try The Box Girls Travel Sets like we’ve done in the past.
  • Checking out these 7 Pre-Trip Educational Adventures by my friend Zina of Let’s Lasso the Moon.
  • Downloading the Road Trip Mini-Mag from Melissa & Doug and Highlights

day trip during event

During the trip: Sometimes it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by excitement on a day excursion, but taking time to focus on the learning opportunities can help kids to slow down and really appreciate where the adventure!


  • Asking for information.  When you arrive, ask for brochures, fliers, maps, or free resources for families. Most often, locations are happy to share what they’ve created, and you can use them as a guide for the day, as well as for follow-up at home.
  • Attending on-site events.  If there are demonstrations, shows, or hands-on events for children, definitely attend them! Allowing kids to experience the location in a multi-sensory way will help them to remember, appreciate, and enjoy the learning.
  • Finding beauty.  Take time to point out beautiful art, buildings, signs, animals, or displays.  Though we, as adults, think that kids will naturally notice these things, often they will not unless we bring it to their attention. It’s as simple as: Wow! Look at the feathers on that peacock! The blues, greens, and purples shine in the sunlight! or Can you even believe how huge this building is? It seems to reach the sky!
  • Incorporating their strengths. If your child loves math, make a point of counting the butterflies you see. If she is a scientist at heart, be sure to make connections between experiments she’s conducted at home and what you see today. Loves geography? Talk about where you are and where you’re going in relation to other places he’s been.
  • Reading environmental print. Read signs, labels, descriptions. Read posters, pamphlets, and anything printed in and around the area. It all counts, and it all helps build reading skills!

day trip after the trip

how to make the most of a day trip to museum, farm, or amusement park: before, during, and after activities


After the trip: Keep the energy going even when you get home. Even if it’s the day after your adventure, taking some time for reflection and follow-up is totally worth your time.


  • Making Day Trip Art.  Free time to create art based on the day’s adventure is a fabulous way of allowing kids to wrap up the experience and talk about what they learned.  Ask kids to sit down, and together, brainstorm some of the event’s highlights.  Talk about what you all loved and didn’t love, and then let them go!  With a few stickers (try the Alphabet and Numbers stickers and Pink Sticker Collection) and drawings on the Melissa and Doug Picture Frame Pad every little drawing looks like a masterpiece.

how to make the most of a day trip to museum, farm, or amusement park: before, during, and after activities


how to make the most of a day trip to museum, farm, or amusement park: before, during, and after activities


how to make the most of a day trip to museum, farm, or amusement park: before, during, and after activities

Talk about what you all loved and didn't love, and then let them go!  With a few stickers (try the Alphabet and Numbers stickers and Pink Sticker Collection) and drawings on the Melissa and Doug Picture Frame Pad every little drawing looks like a masterpiece.

I totally heart the works of art Maddy, Owen, and Cora created after a recent trip to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  We saw bones–big bones!–belonging to some really big animals.  And we saw a rockin’ iMax movie on Surfing and Waves.  Clearly they were some of my kids’ favorites.

 With a little bit of planning and a tiny bit of prep, you can really sneak in learning before, during, and after any day trip–no matter where you choose to go.  These few tips will surely help you maximize learning–and fun!–not to mention create memories to last a lifetime!

melissa & doug BA badge 2013


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


Affiliate links are used in this post.


summer fun cards of 2013

summer fun cards 2013

summer fun cards 2013 Every year for the last few years, we’ve rocked out our Summer Fun Cards in the first few weeks of the summer.

We choose an afternoon, we gather markers and index cards, and we brainstorm and write down everything fun we want to do during the long summer months.  It’s all about summer and fun and we throw our ideas onto little index cards.

Summer. Fun. Cards.

Our refreshments of choice usually involve freeze-pops or ice-cream, and our attire is usually swimsuits or tank tops.

We talk about summers past, we talk about what we loved and what we wished; we talk about what we want to do and what we absolutely don’t want to do.

It’s fun.

This year, in order to ensure that we don’t miss a beat, we changed things up just slightly.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Summer Fun Cards, 2013: In years past, we’ve created the cards, punched a hole in the corner, and hung them on our railing right smack dab in the middle of our house. Like this:

summer fun cards

Or like this:

summer fun cards

This year, we’ve mixed things up a bit thanks to inspiration from my smart friend Heather and her boys.  We added something and moved locations.

We added a small box on each card, reserved for a checkmark once the fun event is completed.

summer fun cards

Maddy’s thinking Great Wolf Lodge. . .

summer fun cards

. . . and Cora’s got Disney World on her mind.  Way to dream big, ladies!

summer fun cards

visit Dutch Wonderland, eat crabs, eat ice-cream, and pick strawberries

And we moved the cards to our door leading into the garage—a door we open and close any time we leave the house.  That way, there’s no missing our cards and no escape from our summertime fun.

This year we also tried to add a box to each card, but some missed the box.

summer fun cards

Owen’s pretty straightforward and illustrates sparingly. . .

summer fun cards

. . . but he does have high hopes for our birds.

Up on the door they went.

Ready to check off as we go!

What did we add this year?

  • pick strawberries
  • pick blueberries
  • go to Cold Stone
  • go to Jimmy Cone (we love sweets)
  • go mini golfing
  • camp out back
  • teach the birds to talk
  • go to Disney World
  • go to Great Wolf Lodge
  • go to Dutch Wonderland
  • go to a baseball game

summer fun cards 2013

 summer fun cards 2013

We also added:

  • swim in at least two different pools
  • eat crabs
  • catch lightening bugs
  • eat s’mores
  • go to the pool
  • go to Nanny & Pap’s
  • go fishing
  • Wii party
  • have a yes day
  • try kayaking or boating
  • have a magic show

And that’s it! Just a little variation from Summer Fun Cards 2012, Summer Fun Cards 2011, and Summer Fun Cards 2010.  

Summer Fun Cards have become a tradition–a simple one!–that we all really enjoy and appreciate. And it’s never too late! All you need are a few ideas, a few cards, and a few weeks of summer. Let the fun begin!

For me, it’s not a contest to fill our summer with nonstop activities. Summer Fun Cards help me to move through the days more intentionally–that’s all. And I know that we only have so many summers with our kids under our roofs as kids, that I really want to make the most of it while I can.

Is it easy? No. Do I want to punk out and do nothing some days? Absolutely. And we do. Believe me.

These are just ideas–and it’s fun to dream, right?

local ethnic restaurants: a family food adventure

ethnic restaurant family food adventure

Before kids, my husband and I talked a good game. We had big plans. ethnic restaurant family food adventure

We’ll pack up everything!

We’ll move across the world!

We’ll teach at an Amerian school abroad!

Yeah! Life is too short!

Let’s live this adventure!

But then came coaching jobs, teaching jobs, activities, all of those years of friends’ weddings, and then. . .  babies.

And we were stuck here. Not stuck, but stuck.

So we stayed—and it looks like we’ll stay for a while. But that doesn’t erase our love of food and love of adventure—we just have to find more creative and at-home ways of filling those holes.

And we’ll teach the kids a little something along the way.

We do a lot of new-restaurant and new-food trying over here, and we believe that local ethnic restaurants are a hidden gem–a trip away from home but at home.

A few days ago, while my husband was on his yearly man-adventure—his golf trip—I grabbed my fearless, 8-and-a half-month-pregnant sister and dragged her on the kids’ and my latest food adventure: a local ethnic restaurant.  An Ethiopian restaurant.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Local Ethnic Restaurants– A Family Food Adventure:  This I love Ethiopian food, but more than the food, I love the experience of eating at an Ethiopian restaurant.

Lucky for us, here in the DC Metro area, there are tons of really amazing ethnic restaurants, and Ethiopian restaurants here are some of the best.

ethiopian with kids bread


I scored a coupon for our restaurant and was sure to take it along—you never know how these food adventures will go, so you might as well make sure to keep it as cost-effective as possible.   I know my kids are pretty food-brave, but again, you never really know until you get there.

I had prepped Maddy, Owen, and Cora for this adventure just in conversation:

You, Aunt Katie, and I are going on a food adventure while Daddy’s away. We’re trying a new restaurant–with totally new-for-us-food, and I think you’ll love it. Oh, but you can’t use utensils.

ethiopian with kids juice


ethiopian with kids apps


Huh? Whaaaa? was about all I got.

You heard me–food adventure. Can’t wait!! It’s Ethiopian food–one of Daddy and my favorites. You’ll love it–chicken, lamb, veggies. . .

But what did you say about the utensil thing? Can you repeat that? The ‘no utensils’–

Oh yeah, you eat everything by scooping it up with bread–it’s a flat bread, and oh man you’ll love it.

From that point on, the kids were hooked. Hooked.


ethiopian with kids main course


ethiopian with kids maddy


I told them about the food adventure on Wednesday when my husband left town, and they talked about it until Friday.  I didn’t want to show them pictures–though I know I could have found them with a quick click of the mouse–because I wanted to leave a lot up to their imaginations. I wanted to prep them in a fun and cool way.

Because I really wasn’t sure how the no utensil thing would go.

By the time 5pm on Friday rolled around, they were getting anxious. And they were tired from a 5 full-day week. Note to self: new restaurants, 30 minutes away should be reserved for a weekend or early, early dinner, especially when there’s a tired 5 year old involved.

It was an adventure.

We all searched for the proper address, found the restaurant and popped in–and immediately felt like we had stepped into a new city, somewhere totally different from what we were used to.  Everything was a learning experience, from the seating options to the menus, to the decor.


ethiopian with kids decor


We relied heavily on our waitress’s recommendations, and they were right on spot. We tried:

  • guava juice & mango juice
  • sambusas: triangular shaped pasteries filled with beef, green peppers, onions, and peppers and lentil-filled
  • doro alitcha, key fitfit, fasolia bekarot, cabbage for four: a mix separate dishes consisting of chicken, eggs, lamb, potatoes, greens, and cabbage, served on top of injera, the Ethiopian flat, spongy bread
  • popcorn: free and Owen totally took advantage of it

The food. Was. Amazing.  And the only rule was that you had to try the food twice before you wrote it off.

Maddy ate her little face off. Owen tried everything, tried it a second time, but didn’t love it. And though Cora was pretty tired and rather cranky, she toughed it out.  For the most part.

ethiopian with kids decor 2


And though I wish everyone loved it as much as Katie, Maddy, and me, Owen scarfed the popcorn and Cora ate enough of everything though she wasn’t the most pleasant dinner company.  In fact, our littlest one walked herself up to bed the minute we got into the door but woke up the next day asking to go back. Maybe it wasn’t in the cards for her that night.

But to know that the kids were able to step out of their comfort zones for a night, give it a good, ole try, and live to tell about it ranks it as a win in my book.

It’s cool when you can pick from a wide range of ethnic restaurants in a close proximity from your house on any given night. We’re lucky to have that option, and I know we don’t take advantage of it as often as we should.  

I know this kind of local ethnic family food adventure can’t be an every month thing–it’s too expensive, and we’re too busy. But it made me more excited to keep an eye out for new ethnic restaurants, and I am going to make it a goal to try at least one restaurant–or one ethnic dish we can cook at home–each season. Now on our list? Jamaican, Thai, Vietnamese, Salvadorian, French. We’re on a mission.

That’s do-able, right?

What do you think? What ethnic restaurants have been big scores for your family, and what have been your flops? Do tell! I’d love to hear!

alphabet and reading on the road

alphabet and reading on the road

alphabet and reading on the roadThe kids and I spent the weekend in Pennsylvania, showering my baby sister and her husband with love for their soon-to-be baby boy.

Though we experienced a little more excitement than we had planned (more on that later!), our trip back to Maryland was totally uneventful–and we spent the 3 1/2 hour ride unplugged, chatting, kids dozing, and playing some old school roadtrip games.

We brought back some oldies but goodies and did a wee bit o’ alphabet playing and reading on the road.

Silly stuff that got Maddy, Owen, and Cora’s brains moving and eyes hunting for letters, words, numbers, and more.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Alphabet and Reading on the Road: This was a simple throwback games with a bit of a new twist.

Our goal was to find the whole alphabet, similar to the days of our Alphabet Hunt on the road, but this time when we found a letter, the person who found it had to call out the word it was a part of.

So our focus wasn’t to find a word that began with each letter of the alphabet.  Rather, it was to locate each letter of the alphabet on the environmental print we encountered on the road–street signs, billboards, trucks, buildings, etc–and to read the word in which that letter was located.

And the really funny part is that between Pennsylvania and Maryland, there are a whole lot of towns, roads, highways, and the like with names that are heavily influenced by its rich Native American history.  We encountered lots of words that were really tough to pronounce, but they forced everyone–each one of us!–to slow down and do some serious stretching of the words.

alphabet and reading on the road

Sure, along the way we heard a lot of:

  • E! I see an ‘E’ and it’s in ‘Allentown!’
  • Got it! Found the ‘O’ in ‘Road’!
  • Ooooh, I found a fancy ‘L’ and it’s in ‘Cab-el-las’ –Cabellas!
  • Oh my gosh! Double ‘X’ in ‘next exit’! Doubles!!

But there was also a lot of

  • Uh, there’s an ‘M’ and it’s in uh. .  .Kroomsvale. No, Krums. Krums-ville. Krumsville. I think that’s it.
  • Hey! I found an ‘R’ and it’s Len- Lenhart-Lenharts-Lenhartsville! Lenhartsville!

It was cool–and it was a really fun ‘next step’ for the alphabet hunts we’ve done while on the road.

What I loved most was the kids’ excitement over finding letters in the environment–we were really, truly playing with environmental print but also using it for some reading work as well.   There were no winners.  There were no losers. We were just working together, on the hunt for the alphabet and reading along the way.

Though we played about three rounds, we took breaks in between for snacks or restroom stops.  And each time, they’d be all in it to win it–to find every last letter. I think we skipped ‘Q’ the second time around, but who’s really keeping track?

Jennifer Prior and Maureen Gerard, in Environmental Print in the Classroom: Meaningful Connections for Learning to Read, (2004, International Reading Association) cite the importance of environmental print in early literacy education. Though their research and resources are more directed toward using environmental print in classrooms, their findings hold true for at-home learning.  The authors state:

Our research suggests that the adult is the key element to effectively using environmental print to teach beginning reading skills. When an adult draws attention to the letters and sounds in environmental print words, children are more likely to transfer this knowledge to decontextualized print—text without color and graphics.

I truly believe that the adult who first brings environmental print into focus for kiddos–at home or on the road–should be the parent.  It’s all about creating word conscious kids, kids who love, appreciate, and celebrate language, appreciate it, right?  

So let’s get on the alphabet hunt–and start reading along with it!


huge thanks to the following for points of reference:

Prior, J., & Gerard, M.R. (2004). Implementing an Environmental Print Curriculum. In Environmental Print in the Classroom (pp. 25-74). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

keeping families safe while driving: safely go

keep families safe while driving with safely go

keep families safe while driving with safelyThough our number one priority as parents is to keep our kids safe–all of the time–it boggles my mind the number of people I see looking at their phones while driving.

With kids in the car.

Two hands texting or searching or whatever.

Way back when Oprah was promoting her No Cell Phones While Driving campaign, you better believe I signed that baby.  It was, and is, still incredibly important that anyone driving my kids around does not even think about texting while behind the wheel.

It’s not legal. It’s not safe. And it’s insane to think that that is even an option for people anyway.

But with Bluetooth technology, I do chat while driving–as long as it’s hands-free.

Gulp. There. I said it. I know I am not alone.  And I try try try not to, but sometimes, it’s the only time I’m sitting down, and it’s the only time I have to chat with my sisters, parents, or girlfriends.

This New For Us Friday, I’m psyched to share something that a good friend of mine recently let me know about–an app that helps keep families safe while driving. It’s cool. It’s free.

I’ve been using it for weeks now.  And it’s helping me to stay focused on what’s important while driving.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Keeping Families Safe While Driving–Safely Go: Safely Go is a little app that does big things.

It keeps your family safe on the road.  And it’s free. (Who doesn’t love free? And how can you not want safe?)


keep families safe while driving with safely

The Safely Go app is right there under my clock. Ready to go, safely!

The concept behind Safely Go is simple: you put your phone in ‘driving mode’ when you get in the car, and you’re ready to drive safely, focusing on the road like we all should be, while you’re behind the wheel.

When you activate Safely Go, you put your phone in ‘lock mode’ so anyone who texts you gets an auto reply message, and your phone will only accept calls from three designated VIP Contacts.

I love it because it reminds me to stay focused on the road. And yes, I’m embarrassed to say it, but if I’m alone and stuck in traffic, yes, I grab for my phone.  And even then, it’s not a smart idea.


keeping familes safe while driving with safely go

my Safely Go driving mode screen: my VIP Contacts and two driving apps

While you’re in driving mode with Safely Go, you’ll only have access to your top 3 ‘driving apps’ on your screen, like your navigation or maps.  Of course, at any time, you can make an emergency call with the click of one button.

It’s more than cool. While you’re in the car, you move into driving mode. You’re focusing on the road and putting your phone aside.

This fancy little happy app is available for any android user–so everyone android wins here. It’s made by Location Labs who has a long history (more than a decade) of creating apps to promote families’ and kids’ safety and “digital wellness,” and these apps are available as subscription services, in partnership with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint.  In fact, you may have been using these apps without knowing they were Safely products–AT&T FamilyMap, T-Mobile FamilyWhere, Sprint Mobile Controls, to name just a few.

So it’s a great company with a really great focus. I’ll take it.

That’s it–just a little New For Us Friday app that I think is totally worth sharing with parents, teachers, caregivers, any and every family out there.

fyi: This post is part of a sponsored campaign with Safely Go. Though I was compensated for my time in reviewing and sharing the Safely Go love, as always, my thoughts are completely my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and the three crazy cool kids I try to keep safe. 

beach learning: hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs, ghost crabs, sand crabs & more

beach learning hermit crabs

beach learningThe beach can be difficult vacation for families with young children, there’s no doubt about it.

Beyond even getting there–the packing, the long drive, the daily to-and-from the beach with a million trillion supplies–being there is sometimes hard, too.

Even with a ton of hands on deck, by the end of the week, the sand, the over-tired kids, the sun, the sand, the sand–everywhere!–is enough to make even the most relaxed parent a little edgy.  However, I have to say that once we passed the diaper stage, things got a lot easier.

This year, we could really have fun at the beach–jumping waves, building sand structures, and learning.

The shore is a science class at your fingertips, and for those of us who don’t get to the beach but once a year, there’s so much exploring to do, that it’s nuts.  The beach is an ideal time to really focus on raising curious kids–kids who observe, who question, who wonder, and who want to learn more.

At the Delaware beach we visited–Bethany Beach–we had the opportunity to do some serious firsthand discovering; long walks, quiet hunts, a whole lot of digging, and an equal part of being still allowed us to find some real treasures: horseshoe crabs, ghost crabs (our first!), sand crabs, and more.

And the really cool thing is that no matter what beach you hit this summer–or any time of the year–you can do the same and find treasures of your own.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Beach Learning — Horseshoe Crabs, Ghost Crabs, Sand Crabs & More: Don’t get me wrong–we didn’t make our vay-cay one long research session, that’s for sure.

We spent hours and hours in the water.  We rode waves and jumped waves and boogie boarded and floated and floated some more.  We dug and played and dug and played some more.

But what we did throughout the trip was simple:

  • We really looked at what was around us.
  • We took long walks–with a bucket–so we could save our treasures.
  • We asked questions about the things we didn’t know or didn’t understand.
  • We were really excited to share with others all of the new things we were learning.

And what we couldn’t figure out on the trip, we figured out when we got home–or on the way home.  Specifically, we learned about crazy amounts of crabs.  Horseshoe crabs, sand crabs, ghost crabs, and hermit crabs.  And we learned about manta ray egg sac and a little bit about the ocean waves and tides.

beach learning horseshoe crab

Yes, that guy was alive. And yes I wanted to scream.

Here’s what we found:

  • Sand Fleas (we’ve always called them ‘sand crabs’):But these are the little guys we dig up right where the water breaks.  Maddy, Owen, and Cora love to find them and then let them tickle the palms of their hands. You can tell where they are by the air bubbles that come up through the wet sand.
    • Sand Fleas site — everything you ever wanted to know about sand fleas and so much more. Seriously.


beach learning: curious kids

Those little holes were everywhere–lucky us to catch a glimpse of the ghost crab!

  • Ghost Crabs: These are totally new to us–I have never seen them at the beach ever–and I’ve been going to the Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey beaches my whole life.    We came across one on an afternoon when Maddy, Owen, Cora, and I were taking a long walk. Cora screamed, MOMMY!! IT’S A SPIDER!! MOOOMMMMY!!And by the time I got there, all that remained was a tiny hole in the sand.

    beach learning: manta ray egg pouch

Thanks to the Wild Kratts, Maddy and Owen knew exactly how this egg sac worked!

  • Skate or Ray Egg Sac: Seriously! Maddy found something totally strange and unusual, and she asked a lifeguard what it was.  He said it was a manta ray egg sac, and then immediately, Maddy and Owen started spewing off facts about what it was and how it worked.  Thank you, Wild Kratts!

    beach learning hermit crabs

Hermie, chillin in her condo while Maddy and I learn about how to k

  • Hermit Crabs:We’re thrilled to welcome ‘Hermione’ or  ‘Hermie’ for short, into our family! Maddy decided to use her allowance money to buy a new sister, and we’re totally excited.  But we’ve never had a hermit crab before, so we’ve had to do a bit o’ learning. . .


In Turn Your Family Vacation into a Real Education, on Mom’s Homeroom, Susan Perry, a Los Angeles-based social psychologist and author of Playing Smart: The Family Guide to Offbeat, Enriching Learning Activities for Ages 4-14, is quoted as saying that “Non-school times are wonderful for showing your child that learning happens anywhere and everywhere, and is, in fact, an integral part of life that can be fun, and can be shared.”

She goes on to say that parents shouldn’t “over-structure the learning, rather let it happen naturally.”  And I couldn’t agree more, especially on vacation.

But I can’t stress enough that it has to start early! Curiosity about the world starts with our littlest guys when they are still teeny, and we, as parents and teachers, must continue it with modeling and supported learning from here on out.  Happy beach learning!


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

make family road trips FUN: the box girls conversation starters (& giveaway!)

make family road trips fun

make family road trips fun with conversation startersRoad trips are not always the easiest on families, but with a little preparation on busy parents’ part, road trips can be memorable, relaxing, and fun.

Believe it.  Fun.

All you need are a few pre-planned road trip games and simple activities to keep kids busy.

And I’m not talking about throwing in six movies back to back to back so the kids are glued to the screen the whole time or allowing the kids to play on their Leapsters or DS or GameBoy for ten hours.

And, though I remember very fondly singing my heart out to Debbie Gibson’s Out of the Blue (You know it–Shake your love, I just can’t shake your love. . . ) tape over and over and over and over with my three sisters on a unexpected 7-hour drive to the shore when I was younger, I’m not talking about organizing a family sing-along that will cause most parents’ brains to explode by the end of the trip.

For this New For Us Friday, what we found–and what we used on our way to the Delaware beach this past week–is something that made all of us smile.  This simple road trip game got us talking and laughing and really–get this–actually enjoying the ride and our time together in an over-packed mini-van.

We had so much fun that the kids wanted to play again when we took a short excursion to visit friends in Ocean City, and they could barely wait to play until we reached the highway on our return trip home.

And thanks to Melissa & Doug, one lucky teachmama.com reader can win one part of this road-trip fun–a set of the Box Girls Family Road Trip Conversation Starters to take on their own end-of-summer road trip!

Be forewarned–it’s not just for girls (my two favorite guys loved it, too!)–and you may end up taking some last-minute road trips just so you can play it a little more.

Here’s the skinny:

  • Make Family Road Trips FUN— We’ve always had to plan out our road trips, especially since oftentimes I was taking three very young children on a 3+ hour drive to and from my parents’ home.

So it’s normal for me to think pretty hard about what we’re bringing in our activity bags to keep the kids occupied.

family road trip

The Family Road Trip Conversation Starters kept us chatting. . .

But the Box Girls Family Road Trip set got everyone involved, everyone occupied, and everyone thinking and chatting.  At first we were not sure how they’d work, since the box says the game is for children 8 years and older, but our kids–5, 6, and 8 years old–loved it and were totally able to participate.

The Box Girls is a line of products from Melissa & Doug geared toward helping groups of people–girlfriends, family, classes, camps, you name it–talk to one another.  That’s it. Talk, laugh, think, question, share, and laugh.

Each box contains cards with questions, conversation starters.  And you can ‘play’ the game as loosely as you’d like, requiring each person to share his or her response for every question, taking turns, or participating as they feel comfortable.family road trip --license plate map

We used the Family Road Trip set which includes 45 conversation starters, 25 quiz cards, 10 game instruction cards (just reminders of the classics many of us know), and 6 paper maps of the US that kids can use to check off license plates for the license plate game.  It was really so simple–but so fun.

The cards covered questions like:

  • What three things do you want to do or see on this trip?
  • Complete this sentence: I brake for. . .
  • Have you ever been lost?
  • What favorite souvenir have you brought back from vacation?
  • If you were a travel agent and booking your family’s vacation, where would you send your family?

The Quiz Cards were a little tough for my crew, who have yet to learn geography, but they covered cool topics like Which state is known as the ‘beaver state’? and Name the only state in which the first two letters are vowels.  Right up my husband’s alley.

I liked the Game Cards because they were quick, concise reminders of great games to play in the car. 20 Questions, Travel Scavenger Hunt, and Counting Games along with others were there to keep things moving along smoothly.

We will definitely keep the Family Road Trip Cards in the car to use for any time–long waits, unexpected trips, and of course, our next road trip. . . which very well may be sooner than we’ve planned, since road trips are rockin’ when you’ve got a few cool things to do.

family road trip

. . . thinking, and smiling for our whole trip to the shore! Woot!

The great thing about the Box Girls Conversation Starters? You don’t need to go on a road trip to use them.  There’s a Box Girls Family Dinner set of conversation starters, a Box Girls Family Dinner Faith Set , a Passover set, a Christmastime set, a Thanksgiving set, a Birthday set, a BFF set, and more.

I’m looking forward to picking up a set for Maddy’s next buddy’s birthday and the Thanksgiving or Christmas set during holiday time with family.  I know that as the kids get older, talking may get more difficult for so many reasons; I really believe that something small like this will help us to keep an open, engaged, comfortable line of communication with our kids from here on out. And if family and friends can be involved, the more, the merrier in my book!


GIVEAWAY: a Box Girls Family Road Trip Conversation Starter Set from Melissa & Doug

Do you want to win a Box Girls Family Road Trip Conversation Starter Set from Melissa & Doug?!

  • All you have to do is leave a comment here sharing when your family would use the Family Road Trip Conversation Starter Set!

For extra entries:

  • Tweet this: Make your next Family Road Trip FUN with help from @MelissaandDoug on @teachmama  http://wp.me/p1NAxy-21z  #weteach
  • Share this post on your Facebook page–very easy!
  • Share this post with a friend (just tell me who you shared it with!)
  • Pin this post on Pinterest! (Use ‘pin it!’ button below post!)melissa and doug blog ambassador

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

This contest ends Saturday, August 4, 2012 at midnight ET. Winner will be chosen by ‘And the Winner is. . .’ and will be notified on or around 8/04/12.  Winner must respond within three (3) days of notification or forfeit the prize, in which case an alternate winner will be selected.  All Official Sweepstakes Rules apply.

fyi: This is an unsponsored post; as a Melissa & Doug Blog Ambassador, I was given this set of Box Girls Family Road Trip Conversation Starters and one teachmama.com reader will receive one for the giveaway.  Affiliate links are used within the post, so if you’re interested in buying one for yourself, please consider clicking on the links!  Opinions here are all my own, influenced only by my three little travelers and our road-trip driver. 

summer fun cards: making the most of our summer

making summer fun cards 2012 - 6

summer fun cardsOne of our most favorite parts of summer is making our Summer Fun Cards.

We’ve made them for the past three years, and each year I’m thrilled that each year the kids really seem to get into it. Summer Fun Cards are like our Christmas wish list for summer.

So when Maddy saw it on our calendar for last Friday, she asked every. Single. Day. if we could make them.

We ended up not waiting until Friday and rather doing them here and there Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Monday.  And they’re filled with ideas new–and old–and we cannot wait to get to them.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Summer Fun Cards: We don’t make these fancy.  They’re certainly not a beautiful work of art like my dear friend MaryLea’s.

But ours are pretty, and they do make a super-colorful hanging along our railing.

summer fun cards

Cora works on the roller coaster in the picture for Dutch Wonderland. . .

summer fun cards

. . . and Maddy draws a shark and a dolphin. (Huh?)

We started making them after lunch last Wednesday, much to Maddy’s prodding, and because the kids are already familiar with what they are, our Summer Fun Cards didn’t need much of an intro from me.

summer fun cards

This year, our cards included some oldies but goodies:

  • ice-cream from Jimmie Cone
  • go to the beach
  • eat crabs
  • make s’mores
  • go berry picking
  • see July 4th fireworks
  • catch lightening bugs
  • eat breakfast outside
  • sleep at Nanny & Pap’s

But they also included some new-for-us ideas, some of which are just a tad bit silly:

  • go on a ropes course
  • swim with sharks and dolphins (and live)
  • see MA (something) 4! (translation: see Madagascar 3 at the movies)
  • go to the aquarium
  • swim in a new pool
  • go geocaching


summer fun cards

Our Summer Fun Cards finished–

summer fun cards

–and hung up so we see them every day!

And that’s it! Just a quickie, fun start to the summer–a sure-fire way that we make time for all of our favorite summertime things!

Happy Summer, all!

digital family summit: conference for tweens, teens, and parents (with full pass giveaway!)


digital family summit: conferenceI am totally over the moon about a family-friendly, tech-happy conference coming to the Keystone State.

It’s an event that is the first of its kind–new, exciting, and cutting edge.  When I heard about it, I literally danced.

It’s the first-ever conference for tweens, teens, and parent bloggers, vloggers, writers, and online content creators, and I am thrilled to have been asked to be a media partner and speaker. And am I happy about the fact that it’s in Philadelphia, PA, only minutes away from where I grew up? Oh, yeah!

But I am even more excited that I have been asked to do a giveaway for family conference passes to the summit–an amazing prize that includes full conference passes for five family members, admission to all sessions and the welcome reception, six meals during the conference, and more.

The Summit is June 29th through July 1, right after school lets out so families have the whole summer to practice what they’ve learned.

So totally exciting, I know.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Digital Family Summit— Conference for tweens, teens, and parents: Though Maddy, Owen, and Cora are not ‘out there’ on the web, they are, I believe, tech-savvy kids.

Though they do not write their own blogs, upload vlogs to YouTube, or Skype on a daily basis, they are aware of the fact that I am a blogger and writer and that’s ‘just mom’s job’.  For a long time, when I’d take the kids to blogger events, they thought that all the women present were ‘teachmamas’, that everyone had a blog called ‘teach mama’ and that everyone wrote a blog about fun learning with their kids.


digital family summit: conference

What does Owen need? Food. . . What does he want? A computer.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I took the kiddos on a ‘blog tour’ of sorts, showing them the blogs of all of my pals that they knew (and the kids they play with at local events): Jessica,Leticia, Stacey, Elena, Kim, Sandie, Robin, Jean, Stephanie, Amanda, J.J., Kristen, Susan, and more, as well as many of other of the bloggers I chat with on a regular basis: Allie, Valerie, MaryLea, Stacy, and Zina, that they realized the scope and range of blogs and bloggers out there.

Then when we launched the teachmama.com channel, they became even more interested in the social media space because, as they explained, their ‘mom was on tv’.  (They didn’t realize that it was their mom who recorded it, their mom who uploaded it, and their mom who promoted it, but that’s fine, right?)

digital family summit: conference

What Owen wants to be when he grows up. . . a blogger.  Awwwwh.

Even though my children are on the younger end of the audience for whom the Digital Family Summit is directed, I am totally excited to take them to this event because I love that kids will learn and connect, be inspired, and get engaged in blogging, entrepreneurship and social media. I want them to more fully understand the space and to know the wide world of options, ideas, and adventure that lie ahead. I want them to know that there are a boatload of cool careers out there and that they are no longer boxed into the standards: doctor, lawyer, or teacher.  So exciting.

The conference plans to have workshops on food blogging, travel blogging, video, photography, and gaming and animation that impart hands-on skills, and other sessions feature tween and teen bloggers and entrepreneurs as well as adults on topics including:

• The 21st Century Paper Route: How to Make Money From Your Blog or Videos
• Safety First: What Every Kid (and Parent) Needs to Know About Internet Security
• Social Media You Need for College
• Becoming an Overnight Sensation
• Secrets of Professional Blog Design
I will be speaking on the Parenting Digital Kids panel with Leticia Barr of Tech Savvy Mama, Sandie Angulo Chen of Urban Mama, and Grace Duffy of Formerly Gracie, which will be an hour-long session packed with information on safety, managing screen time, education and technology, digital etiquette, and more.  I do hope to see you!
The list of speakers has just been announced, and it includes amazing tweens/teens Adora Svitak and Tori Molnar; professors and professionals Ricarose RoqueSree Sreenivasan and Abby West; and parent bloggers you may know including Sheila Dowd and Michele McGraw.
They’ve got a ton of sponsors lined up, including Microsoft, Scholastic and Ubisoft – they’re cooking up amazing activities and engagements for youdigital family summit: conference and your kids.
Bring the whole family this June 29-July 1 in Philadelphia, PA, a fantastic family-friendly city, to grow together and have fun!  Conference registration includes all meals, parties and snacks for everyone in your family.
Use promo code WETEACH for 20% off your registration; early-bird pricing ends May 31, so register today!



GIVEAWAY: One Digital Family Summit Conference Family Pack Ticket (up to 5 people, value $879)

Includes all conference workshops, sessions and keynotes; 6 meals, 3 snacks, plus a welcome reception; Visits with our sponsors in our Expo Hall and in activity-filled Sponsor Suites

Do you want to win Digital Family Summit Conference Family Pack Ticket?!

  • digital family summit: conferenceAll you have to do is leave a comment here telling me WHY your family needs to go to the Digital Family Summit!

For extra entries, get creative!!:

  • Tweet this: 
  • Win a family pass to Digital Family Summit on @teachmama http://wp.me/p1NAxy-1UT @DigiFam #weteach #giveaway
  • Tech-savvy tweens, teens, and parents: win family pass to @DigiFam on @teachmama http://wp.me/p1NAxy-1UT #giveaway
  • hey #bloggers! Learn, share, grow at Digital Family Summit! Win family conf pass on @teachmama http://wp.me/p1NAxy-1UT
  • Share this post on your Facebook page–very easy!
  • Share this post with a friend (just tell me who you shared it with!)
  • Pin this post on Pinterest! (Use ‘pin it!’ button below post!)
  • Create a short (less than ONE minute!) vlog and upload it to YouTube with a link to this post and a link to the teachmama.com YouTube Channel (teachmama1)–explaining why your family needs to attend the Digital Family Summit!

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

This giveaway ends Thursday, May 31, 2012 at midnight ET. Winner will be chosen by ‘And the Winner is. . .’ and will be notified on or around 5/31/12.  Winner must respond within three (3) days of notification or forfeit the prize, in which case an alternate winner will be selected.  All Official Sweepstakes Rules apply.

fyi: This is an unsponsored post, which I wrote as a media partner and conference speaker.  I received conference passes for myself and my family because of the nature of my relationship with Digital Family Summit, but all other opinions are my own, influenced only by my three kiddos.