word building, letter writing, stamping to spell

stamp to spell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stamp to spell | teachmama.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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3 reasons you should create a family media agreement

family media agreement

family media agreementOur family just signed our first Family Media Agreements.

Yep. We’re a digital family in a digital age, and it’s about time we got all the important stuff out on the table. Signed it. In ink. Totally bigtime.

What’s a Family Media Agreement and omg how much does it cost? No worries! No stressing! It’s all good. A Family Media Agreement is not a big deal but. . . well, really, it is a big deal.

Very simply, a Family Media Agreement is a contract of sorts signed by family members that outlines safe practices for online behavior.

It opens the door to frequent conversations about keeping kids safe online, in the same way that discussing stranger safety does. And a lot of the same concepts apply.

Anyone can create a just-for-your-family Media Agreement, and especially if you have kids who use mobile devices, who surf the web, or who play interactive platforms like Minecraft or Club Penguin, you may want to consider taking this step.


family media agreement


Here’s the skinny. . .

  • 3 Reasons You Should Create a Family Media Agreement (TODAY!):

1. It begins a must-have conversation. Online safety is no joke. Kids are smart and kids are quick.  And it’s true that they may know a lot more than we did at their age, but if your kids are online and you haven’t talked to them about big stuff like stranger safety or how to keep them safe online, it’s time.

We said to our kids, Hey guys. We’re having a quick but super-important Family Meeting after dinner tonight, and it’s about Family Media Agreements. We know that being online–being connected–is fun and important to you. But there are things we have to talk about–and expected behaviors we have to agree upon–before we move any further.

family media agreement

Because Maddy and Owen are using Club Penguin, which allows them to interact freely with other players, we have to make sure that your behavior in this game is safe, smart, and secure.

We talked about what they knew about being safe when they are online, and they made connections between safe online behavior and safe offline behavior (a whole lot is the same: treating others with respect, keeping personal information (name, location, age, etc) to yourself, or notifying an adult if anything at all makes you feel uncomfortable.


family media agreement

family media agreement


2. Your kids deserve it. They do. Many adults feel overwhelmed, intimidated, and afraid of the internet. They check Facebook, maybe even Instagram, but beyond that, they feel like they ‘just don’t know enough’ to help their kids much more.

And that’s not true, and it’s not okay. We just can’t give up that easily, and there’s no reason to.

You can ‘get’ the internet, even if you’re not all that tech-savvy. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account, if you never heard of Vine or SnapChat, have anxiety about Twitter, or never re-pinned a pin on someone’s board over at Pinterest, no worries!

family media agreement -

family media agreement

You can ‘get’ this. You really can.

What you need to know: (there’s a ton more to this, but the bare bones are below)

  • You must have access to your kids’ log-ins and passwords at all times. Bam. You’re paying the bills. You need and deserve this.
  • Terms of Service for most all social sharing platforms say users must be at least 13 years old for use, according to COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). There. So if your kid is younger than 13 and is begging to get on Instagram, tell her it’s not legal.
  • You should have your Google, Yahoo, Bing, and YouTube settings adjusted or in ‘safe mode’ so that adult content cannot filter through. Not perfect, but it’s a start.  When your Google is in Safe Mode, bubbles will show in the upper right corner of the screen. I like that.


family media agreement -


family media agreement -


  • Your computer should be in a central area of the home. Mobile devices should be used on main floors, with an adult nearby.
  • Kids need help when they are searching online. Help them with search terms, reliable sources, and finding and understanding the search results.
  • Kids should be unplugged–UNplugged–when they go to bed. Phones and mobile devices should be with the parents, charging and resting so they’re ready for a new day.
  • Need or want more? Check out Our Digital Kids Series or pick up a copy of my pal Amy Lupold Bair’s Raising Digital Families for Dummies book! Fabulous, top-notch resource for all things family, safety, and security!


family media agreement
3. Family Media Agreements are quick, easy, and free. Really.

We used the free Family Media Agreement available on Common Sense Media, which is one of my all-time favorite sites ever, ever, ever in the whole, wide world, and we only adjusted it slightly to make it fit for our family. Find one that is age-level appropriate.

family media agreement common sense

Check it out. Print it. Talk about it. Sign it. And you’re done.

Read through it with your family and make sure it’s cool with everyone. Every member must be on board for this to work.

This is a signed, binding agreement. It’s serious. And if your kids like their devices and want to keep them, then some rules must be in place. What I love about this agreement is that the parents’ piece acknowledges that online time is important for kids–because it is.


Common Sense Media is a site that every family should become fast friends with, for so many reasons.

I honestly pull out my Common Sense Media app any time I’m about to turn on an unfamiliar movie for the kids because it shares a short summary, ratings, and ideal age ranges for any game, app, tv program, book, song, video game, or movie.  But I regress. . .

The following resources from Common Sense Media will be super-helpful for helping you prepare your Family Media Agreements:


our digital kids

Keep it light, but keep it serious. Do it over dinner or over ice-cream sundaes. Do it with your own family or gather several families and do it together. It doesn’t matter how–it just matters only that you do it. 

If we don’t start having open, honest conversations with our kids about online safety, we’re nuts crazy.

Is the Family Media Agreement perfect? Nope. Is it a rockstar attempt? Yes. But like every biggie conversation, this should be frequent. It’s not a one-time and done deal.  Keep it posted somewhere central and if need be, do a refresher every few months.

Do you have a Family Media Agreement?

Have you considered it?

Do let me know! I’m always up for learning better ways at managing this big job of parenting our digital kidsThank you, thank you, thank you to Common Sense Media for all you do to keep my family smart, safe, and strong online!


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teaching left handed kids to write: grasp, stages, positioning

teaching left handed kids to write: grasp, stages, positioning

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teaching left handed kids to write


The following guest post is written by Christie Kiley. Christie has the job I find amazing and awe-inspiring: an Occupational Therapist.  The work of these professionals is absolutely incredible. Christie is an O/T and mom of two teeny-tiny ones; she writes MamaOT.com. Check it out.


I am so honored that Amy invited me to share some tips with you today about how to teach lefties to write!

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I work with kids on handwriting all the time. I have found that people are often intimidated or confused about how to teach left handed children to write. To be honest, there really isn’t that much difference between teaching right-handed and left-handed children to write, though there are a few important things to keep in mind. If you are teaching a left-handed child to write, don’t be scared!

Here are a few tips for teaching left handed children to write:

  • Teaching Left-Handed Children–Developmental Stages:


teach left handed kids to write


1) Remember that hand dominance is not expected to fully develop until the Kindergarten years, between ages five and six. If you have a toddler or preschooler who is exhibiting a left-handed preference, it’s possible he could still switch over to become a fully right-handed writer by the time he reaches Kindergarten and begins formal writing instruction. Don’t “force” your kiddo to be left handed because you’re afraid of what might happen if he ends up switching to the other hand. If you allow him opportunities to explore using both hands, he will most likely develop a preference and eventually dominance that utilizes whichever hand demonstrates the greatest skill, strength, and dexterity.

2) If your child truly has established a left-handed dominance, make sure he knows and can verbalize the fact that he is left handed. Sometimes well meaning classroom volunteers and even teachers will switch kids’ pencil to their right hand because they may just assume the child is right handed. This can obviously impact kids negatively and confuse them, so teach them to be able to communicate the fact that they are left handed.

  • Teaching Left-Handed Kids–Grasp:

3) Encourage use of the “tripod” grasp (pinch pencil with index finger and thumb, rest it on the middle finger) just like righties do. This will help with developing dynamic finger movements and proper wrist position later down the road so your child is less likely to “hook” his wrist like lefties are known to do. Children in our current educational system often are not taught how to correctly hold their pencil. Many right handed kids can figure it out just fine but because positioning is a bit trickier for lefties, they may be more likely to develop bad habits that will make it harder for them to grasp and control the pencil as they get older and the writing demands increase.

left handed kids

4) Teach your lefty to hold the pencil in that tripod grasp about 1 to 1 1/2 inches above the tip of the pencil. When lefties move their fingers up the pencil a little higher, it allows them to see what they’re writing so they are less likely to have to hook their wrist in order to have a good view. This should also help them smudge their writing less. If your child keeps forgetting or doesn’t know where to place his fingers, put a sticker at the height he should pinch the pencil in order to provide an easy visual cue.

5) There is no need to purchase any sort of “special” pencils or grippers for your lefty unless it has been specifically recommended by an occupational therapist. Lefties are fully capable of grasping the pencil as maturely and efficiently as righties. However, it’s important for lefty kiddos to use left-handed scissors because of the way the blade is oriented; it allows kids to see where they are cutting and lefty scissors cut cleanly rather than folding or bending the paper. Don’t have access to lefty scissors? Just flip your right-handed scissors upside down in order to switch the blade orientation. This isn’t ideal as far as finger placement goes (thumb will then go in the large hole and the fingers will cram in the little hole), but it’s a quick fix if your lefty needs it. You can purchase left handed scissors by clicking here.

  • Lefties–Arm and Paper Position: 

6) As your lefty kiddo gets older and starts to write more (such as at the end of Kindergarten and moving into first grade and beyond), encourage him to angle his paper with the left corner pointed up. Righties tend to angle the right corner of their paper up, and lefties should do the same with the left side. It places their writing arm in a natural position to be able to write on the lines as they move from left to right without having to excessively hook their wrist.

7) Teach left handed writers to place their paper to the left of their body so they can see what they’re writing. When they finish writing across an entire line, their hand should either be slightly to the left of their midline or just in front of it. This allows them to move more naturally as they keep their wrist straight (rather than hooked), minimize smudging while writing, and see what they are writing.

left handed kids and writing

8) Encourage your child to utilize the right hand as the “helper hand”. Teachers do not always explicitly teach children to stabilize their paper with their non-dominant hand and, for some reason, this is especially true for lefties. The more consistently they stabilize their paper, the less likely it is to slide around and cause frustration while writing.

9) When teaching lefties to copy letters and words, make sure their model is either above where they are writing or directly to the right side of where they are writing so they can actually see it. Most worksheets place the model letter or word on the left side and then leave a blank space on the right for the student to write the letter or word. This is difficult for lefties because their left arm automatically covers up the model, so it may take them longer to complete or may lead to more mistakes because the model is covered up the majority of the time. Not fair to them! The popular handwriting program “Handwriting Without Tears” recognizes this unique need when it comes to the positioning of models and they have customized all of their worksheets so that they are accessible for both righties and lefties. Thank you, HWT!

  • Teaching Left-Handed Children to Write–Letter Formation:

10) Letter formation is generally the same for lefties as it is for righties. Be sure to teach your child to write the letter “o” in the same direction as righties, which is in the counter-clockwise direction. This will help him with his overall speed and fluency of writing later on down the road. The only real difference in formation is that lefties can “pull” their little lines backward to cross their letters (like for lowercase “f” and “t” and for capital “A” “E” “F” “H” “J” “T”) by going from right to left rather than “pushing” from left to right. This is really just to make it less likely that they will tear the paper but if they are able to draw those little lines from left to right like righties, it will also help their writing speed and fluency in the long run.

Regardless of whether your child is left handed or right handed, kids in the preschool years should be focusing mostly on fine motor play as opposed to actually using a pencil and writing letters. Be sure to focus on activities that encourage him to pinch with his thumb and index finger (strengthening those tripod muscles), coordinate the use of his right and left hands together (cutting goes in this category), and generally develop the foundational fine motor strength and skill needed for later writing. Crayons, markers, chalk, paintbrushes, sponges, and other non-pencil writing utensils should be preschoolers’ main tools for coloring and drawing. Additionally, short non-pencil tools are preferred because they help develop that good tripod grasp by naturally encouraging children to pinch with those tripod fingers rather than using additional fingers or a fisted grasp.



I hope these tips are helpful for you and your child as you dive into the world of left handed writing!

00mamaotChristie is a mama to two precious kiddos (a newborn and a toddler) and an OT to many. Join her on her blog (MamaOT.com) where she shares helpful tidbits learned from life as both a mom and a pediatric occupational therapist. Want even more helpful tips? Then swing her Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter (@mamaotblog) to find even more helpful tips and tricks.




Thank you, thank you, thank you, Christie, for sharing!

Looking for more activities to promote fine and gross motor in your little loves?

Stop by and follow these great educational Pinterest boards, filled with indoor fun ideas to engage children in fun activities to promote the development of these foundational fine motor skills:


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creative hands-on learning for kids: tabletop surprises

creative, hands on learning for kids | tabletop surprises

post contains affiliate links


creative hands-on learning for kids: tabletop surprises


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

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

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

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

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

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


This week we got creative and crafty.

Here’s the skinny. . .

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

tabletop surprises recyclables

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

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

invention with recyclables

invention with recyclables

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

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

invention with recyclables

invention with recyclables

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

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

invention with recyclables

invention with recyclables

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

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

invention with recyclables

invention with recyclables

invention with recyclables

invention with recyclables

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

Seriously? So fun.

———————————————————————-tabletop surprises flowers

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

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

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

flowers for learn and play

learn and play with flowers

puzzles melissa and doug - 10

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

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

puzzles melissa and doug - 14

puzzles melissa and doug - 15

puzzles melissa and doug - 16

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

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


tabletop surprises day learn to draw

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

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

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

learn to draw with donna young

drawing lessons with donna young

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

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

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

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

focus: fine motor, hand eye coordination


tabletop surprises day floor puzzles

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

puzzles huge and happy floor puzzles

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

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

focus: fine motor, gross motor, problem-solving


tabletop surprises day story starters

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

story starters computer

story starters computer

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

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

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

story starters computer

story starters computer

story starters computer


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

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

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

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

tabletop surprises button

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

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

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


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math, literacy, and creative summer learning: tabletop surprises

math, literacy, and creative summer learning: tabletop surprises

math, literacy, and creative summer learning: tabletop surprises

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

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

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

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

Fun stuff.

Here’s the skinny . . .

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

We’re three weeks in. Here we go!

tabletop surprises sudoku

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

Sudoku puzzles are logic-based number puzzles.

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

sudoku  tabletop surprises

sudoku  tabletop surprises

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

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

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

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

tabletop surprises sign language cover

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

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

1. Put the cards in ABC order.

2. Learn your name in sign language.

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

4. Show me what you’ve learned!

sign language cards  tabletop surprises

sign language cards  tabletop surprises

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

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

Consensus was they liked this one.

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

tabletop surprises day money

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

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

tabletop surprises letter writing

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

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

Send a little ‘hello’ to

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

tabletop surprises letter writing

tabletop surprises letter writing

letter writing tabletop surprises - 4

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

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

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

tabletop surprises descriptive writing

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

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

descriptive writing tabletop surprises -

descriptive writing tabletop surprises -

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

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

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

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

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

digital and hand-drawn bookmarks: modern kid masterpieces

digital and hand drawn bookmark designs

digital and hand drawn bookmark designsThe Washington Post’s KidsPost is hosting a bookmark design contest for its Summer Book Club.

So between shoving Cheerios and oj in their faces at breakfast on Tuesday, Maddy, Owen, and Cora decided that they were going to enter the contest–and win.

I’m doing mine on Pixie, Owen declared.

I’m drawing mine because I am so good at drawing and coloring.  Cora.

I’m using Pixie, too. I’m like getting really good at it, said Maddy.

With that, breakfast was over and kids shuffled into the craft room to work on their bookmarks.

It was only shared in Tuesday’s KidsPost, so the turnaround time is quick, but if you want your kids to get in on the bookmark design par-tay, then get them thinking, designing, and creating stat.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Digital and Hand-Drawn Bookmarks– Modern Kid Masterpieces: Modern kid masterpieces because in no time flat, kids can pull off something really fantastic when they put their mind to it.

And it always amazes me to watch my kids concentrating and working hard–whether it’s on the computer, creating a digital design–or whether it’s on the table, pen or markers or watercolors in hand, blank paper in front of them. It’s cool.

digital and hand drawn bookmarks

The bookmark contest skinny’s in Tuesday’s KidsPost.

So to get my kids started, I turned on the computer. Owen got set up with Pixie–still one of our top choices for digital creation for kids–and he didn’t stop until he was pleased with his bookmark–only about 10 minutes later.

Maddy and Cora started drawing. I cut several 5″ x 2″ blank bookmarks, and they colored, drew, and created.

summer reading bookmark contestl


summer reading bookmark contest


Contest Details can be found on the KidsPost site, but essentially:

  • it’s open to kids ages 5-13;
  • bookmarks should be 5″ x 2″;
  • it should be an original design with the “Animal Adventures” theme;
  • the winning design will be given to every participant in the KidsPost Summer Book Club;
  • the contest ends on Thursday, May 29, 2013 at 5pm;
  • bookmarks can be sent to the KidsPost offices or emailed to kidspost@washpost.com.

That’s it.

They worked a little on their designs that night and a bit the next morning, and then I scanned the finished products and sent them in!


summer reading bookmark c


summer reading bookmark contest


What I think is so rockstar about this is not the bookmark design contest–sure, it’s cool but contests come and go. If one of them wins, it’ll be awesome. But if not, that’s okay too.

What I think is really awesome is how differently Maddy, Owen, and Cora thought about and then created their designs: Owen knew immediately what he wanted to do and used Pixie for one and drew another; Maddy used Pixie for her design and changed and re-arranged and changed and re-arranged.  And Cora’s had to be exactly as she pictured them and drew both of hers.

Though there was the inevitable quibbling through this event, I heard collaborating:

Um, Maddy, I want to make it so the dog is like thinking ‘Animal Adventures’ so do you know a way to make that bubble? or

Do you think kids will want an orange background or a green one?

our digital kidsHow do you spell ‘squirrel’ again?

That’s it.  Masterpieces by my modern, digital kids.

I am pleased that, with support from school and home, the kids are comfortable enough to use Pixie quickly and successfully.  Pretty cool.  And these skills? All transferable–can be used for this contest or another or something down the road.

Happy bookmark creating!

fyi: Thanks to The Washington Post’s KidsPost for hosting this and other kid-happy contests and for being just so . . . awesome.  And thanks to Tech4Learning (creators of Pixie) for also being just so. . . awesome.

how to get your kids started with texting: texting 101

how to get your kids started with texting: texting 101

post contains affiliate links


How to get your kids started with texting cover


Texting is big.

For tweens, it’s really big.  It’s like the coolest thing ever.

And everyone is doing it (or so they think), and so Maddy has asked for months and months and months to have her very own phone so she can text her friends.  Share photos.  Do all the things she thinks every other 9 year old in the world can do except her.

Quite frankly, my husband and I aren’t ready to get her a phone because we don’t think she needs one–and at 9 years old, she really doesn’t.  We also don’t want to buy her an iTouch just because the other kids have one; we have two iPads in the house, so we don’t feel like we need another device.

It’s tough—a fine line for parents between creating rules and boundaries with technology and supporting them gently by guiding kids into a safe spot.

So this weekend, we took a big step (for us) into the big time: we got our kids started with texting.

We set the kids up with texting on an older phone, and now they are flying high, feeling good, happy little birds.  Like they’re riding the technology cruise ship.

And it’s a start.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Get Your Kids Started with Texting:  We’ve got our kids set up texting on a freebie platform on our old MyTouch phone.

We created a collaborative account for Maddy, Owen, and Cora under TextPlus Free account.  It’s free, and there are ads, so be forewarned.

get kids started with texting

 The kids’ phone which functions only as an android device and not a phone, phone.

However, our kids are pretty good about not touching ads in freebie games, and at 9, 7, and 6, they have a pretty firm understanding that if they touch these ads on purpose, their time online is over.

You need to be careful with TextPlus Free, though, as the ads run in a bar right under the texting box.  With this program, users get a number to text from, so we shared that number with aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

Then I added each person to the contact list under names the kids would recognize: Grandma cell, Nanny cell, Aunt Mary, Mom cell, etc.

get kids started with texting - 04

Yes, the phone needs a little cleaning. . .

get kids started with texting -

. . . but the kids don’t care.

Our goal with this was simple:

  • to give the kids a bit of controlled freedom as they communicate with family members and friends that we agree upon;
  • to let them have the feeling they have their own technological ‘space’ to have games that we decide upon and to take photos;
  • to give them a chance to show us that they can handle this bit of technological freedom and room to breathe.


get kids started with texting - 04


As protective, first-time parents, we (okay, I) was totally freaking out about this step, so we :

  • set the settings to the loudest spots so we could hear them texting and knew when new texts came in;
  • have a rule that the phone stays in the house and on our main living area, not downstairs or in bedrooms;
  • require that the kids turn off the phone each night and are careful with charging it;
  • removed all programs we could that were not relevant for the kids;

It’s understood that we’re reading along with them, and our first and foremost message was that texting is the same as talking–you interact with respect, kindness, and manners.


get kids started with texting -


get kids started with texting - 04

We’re learning as we go.

Serious parental learning going on over here, but we feel pretty good about this first baby step as we support our kids with this big step: it’s texting 101, parent-style.  Though I use technology every day–many of us do–it is just so important that we walk our kids through these steps instead of throwing them in headfirst or just assuming they know how to handle it.

our digital kids

Are our kids young for this? Probably. But it’s a different day and age, folks, and we’re doing the best we can.


What am I missing? Please let me know if you’ve been here before and if you have advice to share.  Leave ideas in the comments, please!

This post is part of my series: Digital Kids– Teaching, Supporting, and Parenting 21st Century Learners


fyi: this post contains affiliate links

how to write limericks for loved ones

limericks for loved ones

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how to write limericks for loved ones


Who knew that National Limerick Day was May 12?

It’s true.  National Limerick Day is celebrated on May 12 to honor Edward Lear, the creator of limericks. May 12 was Lear’s birthday.  Who knew?

And while I’m at it, who knew that limericks could be a really fun way to show loved ones you care–in a totally fun, completely silly way, of course!?

It’s been a long, long week here with two of us flat out with the worst colds we’ve had in ages, but Owen and I put aside our tissues and cough drops one afternoon long enough to really get silly with limericks.

We did a bit o’ rhyming, playing with syllables and sounds, and laughing.  We blinged them out and made them fancy with our Melissa & Doug stamps. Then we popped them in the mail.

And we realized that limericks certainly deserve a wee bit more air time, and they can put a fun spin on showing friends and family you care.

Just in time for Mother’s Day, Cora, Owen, and I wrote some limericks for loved ones that will be put in the mail (hopefully!) in time for the big day.

Here’s the skinny . . .

  • Limericks for Loved Ones: Limericks are five-line poems that follow a specific rhyme pattern and syllable pattern.

Sounds complicated but they’re not.

Because our only trips out this week were to the doctor, our mailed Mother’s Day gifts to out-of-towners, had to be quick and creative. Though we made the beautiful Butterfly Pens, we planned to gift them when we saw them in person. Plus butterfly pens may be tough to send.

So we played with limericks, catered to our loved ones for Mother’s Day.

limericks for loved ones -

Once you pick up the rhythm and sound of the limerick, they’re rather easy to write.

For example:

There once was a lady called ‘Mom’,

who you could say was quite the bomb.

She gave us all hugs,

and swept up the rugs.

She kept the house nice and calm.

The rhyme pattern is AABBA, with the syllables for each line being 8-8-5-5-8.

Yes. I know. Mom, bomb, rhyme fine, but calm is a stretch–the classic ‘slant’ rhyme. I get it. I came up with it on the fly, okay?


Limericks for Loved Ones | silly poems full o’ love by teach mama


I came up with a quickie sheet because I knew that Owen worked better when he could see words on the page and hear them as they’re spoken. And I knew that limericks were pretty interesting mix of reading and math, so I was pretty sure my boy would dig ’em.

Which he did.

limericks for loved ones


First, I read the examples of the limericks on the page and asked if Cora and Owen could hear any patterns or make out the ‘secret sauce’ of limericks.

I reminded them to listen to the sounds, the rhythm, and the words.

They were pretty on target but it helped for them to see the limericks on the page to see the red and blue words, the words that rhymed, and to see the lines on the page.

We talked about syllables–the beats, or rhythm in a word or phrase–and we talked about rhyme patterns: ABA, ABBA, ABAB, etc.


limericks for loved ones

the brainstorm cloud for Nana

And then?

We brainstormed.

Hugely important step in all writing but the step that is often sadly forgotten.

We first decided who our limerick would be about–my mom, their Nanny–and we wrote down everything we could think of about Nanny.

Owen decided our first line would be, There once was a lady named Gayle, so we wrote down all of the words we knew that rhymed with ‘Gayle’.


limericks for loved ones


We talked through the limerick, line by line, cooperatively writing the whole thing.

I wanted to do this first one together so that Owen and Cora would be able to try the next on their own, but as it turned out, we wrote all of them together. Fine by me.

The syllable piece along with the rhyme is pretty tough for little ones.


limericks for loved ones

Cora copies the final draft of the limerick. . .

limericks for loved ones

. . . cuts it out. . .


limericks for loved ones

 . . . and mounts it on cardstock.

From there, we were ready to do some serious limerick blinging.

Using our trusty Melissa & Doug stamps, Owen and Cora stamped their little hearts out, beautifying the area around the limericks.  They used our Animal Stamp Set to add some little friends, the Friendship Stamp Set to add some flowers and hearts, and the Alphabet Stamp Set and to personalize their piece.

limericks for loved ones


limericks for loved ones


limericks for loved ones

 When they were finished, we popped the special limericks into a few manilla folders and mailed them off to our loved ones.

Here’s to hoping that these silly poems put a smile on the faces of the women we love so much–and will sure miss seeing!–this weekend on Mother’s Day. Turns out limerick-writing was a fun and unusual way of sending a few happy hugs through the mail.

And along the way, Owen and Cora were doing some serious work because limericks really do push your listening and creative-thinking skills.  They did a great job with them.

Happy National Limerick Day!


melissa & doug BA badge 2013

This post was written as part of the Melissa & Doug Blog Ambassador program.

As always, opinions and ideas are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and by my three little limerick-writers.

how to use iPad notes for quick, fun interviews

ipad Notes interviews

use ipad notes for interviewsWe’ve been biting our nails over here, waiting for a new baby to come and slowly moving back into school mode after Spring Break.

As Maddy, Owen, and Cora are becoming more and more comfortable with our iPad, trying new apps and becoming more skilled at our favorites, what I’ve realized is that we’ve neglected a lot of the basic iPad features.

Notes is one of them.

So one night after things had settled down and we were hanging up in Owen’s bedroom, I introduced them to Notes.

Very cool. Very casual. And we incorporated Notes into fun, quick interviews between ourselves, so we added in some extra writing, thinking, speaking, and listening practice.

Don’t have an iPad? Not to worry. You can do the very same thing in any document-creation platform (Word or Works), or you can do it with pen and paper. No sweat.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Use iPad Notes for Quick, Fun Interviews: iPad Notes is super-easy.

Just open up the application which is already included on the device.

It looks just like a legal pad of paper–nothing too fancy.

My purpose was really simple: to get Maddy, Owen, and Cora familiar with this simple application and let them know that the iPad can be used for a lot more than the games they’re used to playing.

ipad notes for interviews


Did you know that our iPads have this cool application installed? I asked.  It’s called ‘Notes’ and it’s really just like an electronic notepad. Cool, right?

Responses: What could we use it for?  Why do we need it if we have real paper?

I’m not sure what we can use it for–I have some ideas, and I’m sure you could think of 100 ways to use it. And why use it if we have real paper?  Maybe just because we can.

I showed them how to use it, and everyone typed their name and a few other random words on the pad.

Hey! Let’s interview each other, I suggested. These legal type notepads always remind me of interview pads–I’m not sure why. What might be a good first question to ask someone you’re interviewing?

We started there and really very quickly made our way to some thoughtful questions. Each kiddo took a turn typing it in, and thedigital kids teachmama.com buttonn when we had a good list of about 10 questions, we passed around the iPad, asking each person the question and typing in the answers.   Not only were the kids thinking about their questions and the best, most clear wording, they were also thinking about letter sounds and spelling.

And when it came time to ask questions, we were all doing some good listening–something that I know we all need work on.


And that’s it. Super fun–short!–but worth taking time to try. I’m glad we did.

There wasn’t a whole lot of time for a cool wrap-up of this little, impromptu event. And there wasn’t a group hug at the end after we shared our answers; rather it was a quick scramble to showers, books, and bed when we realized how late it’d gotten. And though we tested bedtime, it was totally worth it.

Quite frankly I’m looking forward to exploring a few more of the ‘basics’ of our techy devices along with the social media platforms my kiddos see me using quite frequently.

Next up: Photo Editing–Let Kids Play with Pictures

texting as a learning tool: reading, spelling, composing

texting as a learning tool

texting as a learning toolMy kids think texting is so cool.

They think cell phones are cool.

They think cell phones are so cool that they still argue over who gets to have our old, battery-free cell phones that don’t even turn on anymore.

They think it’s cool to answer my cell phone if they notice their dad or aunt or nanny or pap are calling, and they think it’s cool to unlock the screen, answer, mute, put on hold, and hang it up.

So recently, I’ve been playing on it.  For learning’s sake, of course.  I’ve been using texting as a learning tool–for sneaky reading, spelling, and composing practice, and so far? They’re game.

Here’s the skinny:

  • Texting as a Learning Tool–Reading, Spelling, Composing: My kids are not unique in their adoration of the cell phone. Kids everywhere love them.

Since Maddy, Owen, and Cora do not have phones and do not have their own iPod Touch or anything similar to call their very own, the times I allow them to use my phone are pretty golden yet.  For years now, my kids have loved my phone for gaming, playing, buying time when needed.

But only recently have I really tried to steer them in a different direction–trying to teach them how to use the phone while texting in a safe and controlled way.

texting to learn -- owen

 Owen sends a message to his dad. . .

texting to learn =-close

 . . . asking if he’s heard their favorite song on the radio.

Simple, really, and a time-saver for me while I’m making lunches in the morning, straightening up, organizing, or preparing dinner.

But if we have a few minutes, I’ll ask something like:

  • Hey Owen, would you please text Daddy a quick ‘have a good day’ message? You decide what it should be.
  • Will someone please send Dad a message asking him if he is coming home right after work?
  • Will you please answer this text from Dad?  Tell him that I  . . .
  • Who wants to take a minute and send Daddy a quick ‘hello’ note before breakfast?
  • Who has a minute and wants to send an aunt a happy text?
  • Anyone up for a quick text to Aunt Jenny? Want to ask how Wyatt or Myles is doing?
  • Tell me a funny joke or something that made you smile today, and let’s text it to Aunt Mary. I think she needs a smile.


texting to learn -- cora

Cora’s in on the texting fun.

texting to learn -- cora close


Quick prompts that I try to not make completely, word-for-word specific so that the kids have to think about it and compose the message on their own.  It’s not easy to take someone’s general idea and make it into a comprehensive message; that’s a skill that takes practice.

And though I don’t have the kids text people every single day–maybe a few times a week–it’s something they want to do.  And it gets them reading, spelling, and composing in a cool and creative way, so I’m going with it while I can.

I ask that they sign off their text with their name so that the recipient knows what’s going on, and that’s it. I always check before they hit ‘send’, and they always ask for permission before they open up my messages.  Those are the rules.  And those rules are relatively easy to keep up with, when one kid is using the phone at a time.

digital kids teachmama.com button

 And right now there’s no LOL, C U LTR, HTH, ROTFL, or XYZPDQ (I had to throw that in there because I can’t think of any ‘cool’ text lingo right now).  If they’re sending texts from my phone, they’re using the correct words. There’s more than enough time for texting lingo in the years ahead, I’m sure.

So that’s it.

Quick, easy, texting as a sneaky learning tool for reading, spelling, and composing. Buying time sending messages to family members, short ‘hello’ or silly, brighten-your-day messages, 2.0.

One more teeny, tiny baby step in the raising of our digital kids.

Do your kids text? How? How often? Under what parameters? Do tell–I’m learning as I go!

Next up: Learning, practicing, using, and loving Power Point for our International Night display

new year’s interview: fun family tradition

new years day 2013 - 27

new years interviewIt’s New Year’s Interview time! (I can hardly believe it!)

This year, we made some minor adjustments to our traditional New Year’s Family Interview because as the kids get older, I’m more interested in their thoughts and reflections than on their favorite color or best friend.

So after our late-afternoon fondue dinner, we busted out with the biggie ice-cream sundae fixings.

We made monster sundaes, got all crazy on sugar, and then got to work on our interviews–a fun and easy family tradition that we’ve all come to appreciate and cherish.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • New Year’s Interview–Fun Family Tradition: It’s really just that–a fun family tradition and nothing more.

No pressure, no stress, just a few questions to kick off the year and to summarize where we all are as far as favorites, dreams, ideas, and activities are concerned.

new years family interview icecream

Before New Year’s Interviews? Ice-cream!!

We make sure all (or most!) of our ice-cream dishes are away, and then we get rockin’ and rollin’ on our interviews.

Each page of the interview is only a half-sheet, which I think is perfect; it’s not intimidating, and it means that answers can be short and sweet.

I did make some changes this year.

  • What is your favorite color?
  • What is your favorite food?
  • Who is your best friend?

Have changed to:

  • What is your favorite thing to wear?
  • What is one cool thing you learned last year?
  • Who do you like to hang out with the most?

I just thought the new questions lent themselves to more thought than the older ones. But if you want the older ones, download last year’s New Year’s Interview version. No biggie!

new years interview

Owen zips through his. . .

new years interview

. . . and Maddy takes her time on hers.

But it also means that because two people’s answers can fit on a sheet, that the kids should complete theirs first–that way, there’s no ‘influencing’ of answers or ideas from another person’s responses.  So the kids grab a pen and find a quiet spot, and they complete their interview.

When they needed support with reading or writing, my husband and I took turns helping them. Now, I just sat across the table from Cora because she wanted to do it all on her own since this year, the ‘coolest thing she learned’ was how to read. (Yay!!!)

new years family interview

Cora works on her interview–all by herself.

When everyone has completed his or her interview, we take turns reading answers and sharing.

Sometimes, we video everyone reading, and other times–it’s cool just reading them.

new years day interview

And then we share our answers!

And then we clip them all into our rockstar New Year’s Interview binder and read answers from past years.   Sometimes, the kids get a real kick out of seeing up-close how much their handwriting (or spelling) has improved, and we always have a giggle when we see the first year’s–Cora’s scribble across the page and Owen’s teeny name, Maddy’s attempts at writing on her own.

The 2014 version just has a teeny, tiny difference: 2014 written on the header. Here’s the new year’s family interview 2014 for you to download: family interview 2014

Here’s the 2015 New Year’s Family Interview: family interview 2015 | teachmama.com

new year's interview: fun family tradition

Please, if you choose to share, link to this post instead of the attachment page–thank you!

It’s a great–easy!–tradition that can be started any time.  Missed New Year’s? Do your family interviews every President’s Day or Mother’s Day and start your New Year’s then.

It doesn’t matter.

What matters is that the kids are thinking, the kids are writing, the kids are reflecting, and the family’s doing something fun together.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, peaceful 2015 filled with love, laughter, and time together!

Need some more fun New Year’s ideas?

Check out:

Please feel free to pin this post for later!

new years interview | teachmama.com